It’s no secret that there is a large disparity in the number of men versus women working as software engineers in the United States today. As of 2019 about 78% of software engineers were male and 22% were female according to Zippia. On top of that there is a gender pay gap with women earning only 92 cents for every dollar earned by men for doing the same work within the field. This is not only a problem of basic fairness, but it is also a problem for software engineering teams because we know that more diverse teams are healthier, more productive and more creative.
At Learning.com, we are proud of the fact that we have been able to build a software engineering team that is 50% female, a significant departure from the industry norm. We have also achieved pay equity across our organization, including within our engineering team according to an audit from ADP. We have been able to achieve this by making some conscious, but basic changes to our recruitment and hiring processes. As a result of this effort, we have enjoyed the benefits of having a more diverse, inclusive, and collaborative culture within our engineering team. This enables the creativity and problem-solving that ultimately leads to better experiences for the teachers and students we serve.
To achieve gender parity on our engineering team, we made a few specific changes to our recruiting and hiring processes. First, we decided to stop exclusively recruiting senior engineers with 5 to 10 years of experience and four-year degrees in computer science. When recruitment only focuses on highly experienced engineers with college degrees, it perpetuates the disparities in the existing workforce. If we want to diversify the software engineering workforce, then we need to be willing to bring new people into the field and this means hiring people who may have less experience but are willing to learn.
A related change is that we made our job descriptions and job postings have fewer required skills and attributes. There is a well-known study done by Hewlett Packard that showed men tend to apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women tend to only apply if they meet 100% of the stated qualifications. When we reduced the number of required skills and attributes published in our engineering job postings, we greatly diversified our applicant pool. Finally, we started using Evolved Inclusion to analyze our job postings. This is an AI based tool that analyzes job postings to help remove gender biased language. All of these changes have allowed us to recruit great engineers from a more diverse applicant pool and helped us achieve gender parity within our engineering team.
As a software engineering manager at Learning.com, I’m proud of the inclusive culture we’ve built on our engineering team and the fact that we have achieved gender parity within our organization. I’ve seen first-hand how a more diverse team is a healthier, more productive and more creative team. By making a few conscious, but simple changes to our recruiting and hiring process, we’ve built a team that is not only better for our team members and our company, but also for the teachers and students we serve.