Seeking help seeking female coders

As you might know, we’ve currently got an open-call for new developers, we’re hiring quite a bit in the next six months.

Thus far our list of people interested in the job contains no women’s names at all – zip, zero, zilch – despite us having taken soundings on how to get a more diverse sample of applicants.

I’m really, really not OK with this. I understand the gender imbalance in tech as well as anyone, but I interpret this as ‘mySociety hasn’t reached out well enough’, not ‘blame the women for not applying’.

So my question to you, the world at large, is this: what can we do right now, or this week anyway, to get some women’s names on this list before we start to vet the CVs?

Applications are still very definitely open, so anyone – male, female or other – who’d like to apply should see the original blog post for how to go about it.


  1. I only noticed this because someone retweeted it, I haven’t seen the job mentioned anywhere otherwise, so maybe you’re just not reaching enough people in general?

    Having read it now, I’d personally prefer more details – how big are the “teams” (if any), how do they communicate as its telecommute, is it maint work or new projects, how come such a wide range of skills etc.. The ad for a whole bunch of vague jobs at once is a bit.. vague.

    None of this is female specific though, were I looking right now I might apply out of curiosity.

    Also, stop worrying about that so much..

  2. I don’t have a good explanation of why there are so few female software developers, but I like Coderstack’s article’s breakdown of the number of women getting computing-related qualifications:

    I agree with the numbers there, in that I’ve never worked in a company where the ratio was more balanced than 90:10. Unless you have hundreds of names on your list, I’d expect there to be a reasonable chance than none of them are women.

    I agree with Jess’s points about the original job ad; the requirements are too general. At the point where you’re able to post a job ad, I’d expect you to have an fully-formed idea of your ideal candidate and where they’d fit into the team. In particular, you’d have a budget number that would dictate the salary you can pay and therefore the seniority and range of experience you can hire.

  3. I have worked for a few science and IT companies, and the only one who had anything like a balanced ratio of male and female developers had a very specific policy – don’t hire IT graduates. Given that it was small, and had to compete with nearby super-IT companies, it probably may not have got the best IT grads anyway – so it recruited graduates from history, archaeology, english – and mature candidates on career changes. It tested for aptitude and then spent six weeks of very intensive training.

    This obviously cost money – but it ended with a very diverse range of programmers, testers, project managers and architects, who were enthused, communicated well and worked superbly with clients.

  4. Er – hadn’t seen the advert, she says, being a job-seeking developer… so I shall take a look forthwith, thank you Girl Geeks Manchester mailing list for mentioning this 🙂

  5. You could perhaps look at offering placements to students from local colleges, with a focus on positive discrimination. That way you get to indoctrinate new geeks in the ways of data transparency, test out their aptitudes in a practical setting, and offer good people jobs at the end of their course. Plus your existing devs have the chance to improve their people management & mentoring / coaching skills.

    For the students, they get to see the insides of a very interesting organisation, implementing neat ideas (perhaps their own) — and placements give solid industry experience outside a college curriculum, always nice on their CV.

    This worked for me 10 years ago, when I was one of 3 women on a 23 person Software Engineering course. The company who gave me a placement was great, and I was very happy to accept a job with them afterwards. If it hadn’t suited me, well, a placement’s not such a long time, and once it’s over, there’s no remaining commitment on either side (not like trying to quit a job / fire someone who’s not a good fit.)

    Perhaps this is a bit longer-term than regular recruitment, I’d see it as an additional strategy, rather than replacing your advert.

  6. Offering part-time positions might help attract women with children? It’s *very* hard to get part-time programming positions from what I gather (and I am praying that the OU will let me go back part-time when my maternity leave ends!) Obviously it’s partly the nature of the job, that posts tend to be full-time or nearly full-time, but if you get somebody good, they should still be able to be useful if they are part-time I’d hope.

  7. In my opinion, the best thing is to make everyone feel equally wanted. This post draws attention to the fact that they are apparently not (apparently they are a special case that deserve a separate post), and that is usually precisely the problem.

    Instead of asking yourself ‘how can we get women on the list’, ask yourself what it is that apparently women haven’t considered applying. Have you done enough to ensure that everyone feels they are equally wanted, regardless of their gender? Does your job ad contain elements that appeal to female developers or did you go for the ‘tech savvy hungry for information, geeky and ambitious male developer’? Maybe you could mention the work life balance as well, how important family is to you and what that means for the work relationship. Next to the tech aspects of a job, those are things that more family oriented developers (both male and female) pay attention to these days.

  8. Why on earth would you not be searching for the best person for the job?

    Who cares what gender, color, race they are?

  9. @Ed

    Diversity makes groups more productive. Actually, a recent Harvard study on group dynamics specifically found that groups that included women were more productive than those that didn’t because being a woman correlates with higher social intelligence (no biology necessary: social intelligence is learned and girls in school are held to higher standards that boys.) If everyone in your group shares the same background and skillset you are artificially limiting the ideas you can possibly come up with.

    As for the job ad, the only thing I’d recommend would be adding something like, “even if you don’t think you have the background we’re looking for” after “Most of all, we’re looking for coders who look at the services we have built so far and think “I wish I’d been on that project”.” With that ad you are unlikely to get any highly-trained, experienced coders, but you are likely to get people who may have taught themselves Visual Basic to automate spreadsheet operations and Javascript to make a webpage and so forth, but don’t think of themselves as having two years of programming experience.
    It is also true that women are less likely to apply for jobs they don’t believe themselves qualified for (even when they are), whereas many men will throw their hat into the ring for nearly anything. And so making it clear that it is more about whatever-it-is-you-actually-care-about and less about a checkbox is a good way to lower the barriers to application.

    I’d also recommend reaching out through social networks (real-world or on line, either way). I came from a non-coding background and got my first job at a wedding, where I nerded out with a guy for a couple hours and at the end of it he asked, “oh, hey, would you like a job?” The more people, especially women, you can get looking out for candidates the more likely you are to find them. If your group so far is all-male, if any of them are straight and coupled get their partners in on the search. This is part of why once you have two or three women it becomes much easier to recruit future women (plus when people come in for an interview there isn’t the intimidating moment of “no one in the room looks like me”.)

  10. I’m a female web developer, and I didn’t find anything discouraging about your job post (although agreed it could be less vague).

    Unfortunately, I think it boils down to a numbers game. Cast as wide a net possible. I check sites like Krop, Coroflot, Gumtree, theFWA and social sites. Forward your job opportunity to GeekGirlDinners, MzTEK, SheSays, WomenInTechnology, etc.

    I don’t think one should sacrifice the search for a talented developer or place emphasis on things like “family values” just to draw attention from female applicants — I personally find those just reify gender notions.

    Mentioning an anti-discrimination disclaimer probably wouldn’t hurt.

  11. Someone showed me this today. I didn’t see your initial ad, mostly because I wasn’t looking for a job… but to be honest, I think I’d be put off now knowing that you’re specifically looking to see girl devs, now, because I’d be unsure of *why* you want to specifically attract them.

    I expect you just want to do a bit of outreach and diversify your applications, but if I got a job with you, a little bit of me might always wonder if I got it because you wanted more girls in your team.

    Hmm. It’s a real tough one. Although I’m certain this post will get you a few more CVs.

    (This is no slur on mySociety – I know some of you guys, and you’re all great… and I imagine you’re super nice to work for – if I was looking, I’d be tempted. Just a general muttering on positive discrimination practices.)

  12. I’m so glad you asked! I wish more companies were taking this energy and focus to include diversity in its hiring. The ad has nothing wrong with it, many things right, and moreso, your call to “why aren’t we getting women” is probably the best thing you could have done, to attract female developers (and developers of color, age, disability, etc.). A few pointers- as others have pointed out, there are just a lot less women developers so statistically the numbers will be low. Also, it’s a clannish network, so emailing or twittering privately a few mavens will get you a flow of qualified, interested, passionate women. We tend to also come in clumps, so get one or two good ones who report back that it’s a supportive environment, and soon you will have 20-30% diverse engineering pod. Public casting calls rarely pull that in.

    Just a general comment o the ad- there’s an even worse % of women who are willing and able to take risks in the startup community, so your statistical and/or probably % will be a lot lower htan the sheer number of women in engineering. Easy things that struck me, that you could change- as a former hiring manager of engineers- is that flying around, vagueness re: the actual work, and potential flakiness in the hours worked (one reading of it could say that…) would put off anyone with children or who want to have children in a few years. But, that could all be fixed with a few well-chosen copy edits.

  13. When your ad says TELECOMMUTE it should be open to women ALL over the world. By keeping it open to only UK women you are losing out on DIVERSITY.

  14. Hi Tom,

    I am posting it on Oxford Gril Geek Dinners blog now. I really hope you will get more applicants, as I would love to see more ladies involved!

  15. Have you thought of advertising on the Linuxchix jobs list?
    Especially given that almost all your projects are open-source!

    For that matter – try Mumsnet or similar? Not a techie site, but a good way to plug into a network of parents who might, male or female, be very interested in doing the work they’re trained for from home.

    I’ve worked on plenty of projects where the ratio was a lot better than 90:10 – it’s like the other Anna up there says, women techies tend to go where women techies already are. We’re not evenly distributed. Plenty of companies have none, other companies take their share instead. I’ve also heard women advised to go for big corporates if they want a family, as they’re less likely to be mysteriously made redundant shortly after they announce their pregnancy. (30K each year, according to the Fawcett Society, tho that’s not a tech specific thing).

    From my point of view: I don’t find this call for more female applicants AT ALL discouraging. I find it very encouraging, it tells me you guys are serious about considering any application I might make fairly, and that you’re aware that fairness doesn’t just “happen”, you have to work at it. If I was looking, I’d apply.

  16. I think Tom has pitched this just right; no-doubt after considering carefully what, if anything, to say.

    Meritocracy is one of the most important things to me; I abhor discrimination on other grounds be it positive or negative. There is no question these appointments won’t be made on merit, but it’s reasonable to review the applications and question if awareness of the opportunities has been spread widely enough.

    Certainly making this observation; and asking for help, has resulted in getting the word out about these positions to a much wider audience than would otherwise have been aware of them.

    Following comments both here, and on Twitter, I think it’s important to point out that mySociety at the moment is far from a male-only organisation.

    Richard – mySociety volunteer

  17. I’d also like to support the call for more female applicants. As someone who works with mysociety, it’s the the most mature geeky organisation I know. It’s tempting to think about it as a bunch of male first year computer scientists, I was one once and the 20:1 ratio at that level is not good, but mysociety is not that. It’s a diverse organisation of passionate and professional people; I don’t know many people who’d be up to it, never mind their gender. Just do it.

  18. Hi – I sent this link to my contacts (I work in the HR business press) and I think (don’t quote me) it’s fine to ask for greater diversity like this. You’re not saying you only want to hire a girl.

    I work for a media company with a web arm in Bristol and we have a relatively high proportion of female coders and developers. I don’t believe we made any special effort to find them, it was just luck maybe and obviously we were willing to hire whoever was best for the job.

    I think some organisations discourage female applicants because as one of my contacts says, it’s a total ‘sausage-fest’. I can’t see this being an issue for you – just need to spread the word. I hope me passing on the link helped.

    Good luck…

  19. A friend pointed me to this and I looked around your site. My immediate reaction to the photo on the “about us” section, was “hell, no”. The only person looking actually unhappy is female (yes, could just be distraction, but we’re talking first impressions here), and the overall atmosphere is, well, “blokey” (drinking, horsing around). That’s fine, but it will put some women off. And I hate to say it, but it’s exactly the sort of photo I would have expected from the last place I experienced sexual discrimination. So yeah, it would put me off applying.
    Luckily, I love my current job 😉

  20. If the number of women in the field truely is lower you will never reach parity without taking more than your fair share.

    It could be worse, you could have the same token women apply for many jobs but get passed over. Excluding qualified men doesn’t sound good either. Or cook the books, that would be bad too.

  21. The ad is certainly vague. As a mother, the travel aspect puts me off of applying, and I’d want more information on what telecommunications will be used plus how often I’d be expected to travel and check in at a real office.

    You must bear in mind that there just aren’t many experienced female programmers out there looking for work, you’d get maybe three or four for every 100 applicants.

    As a side note unrelated to gender, the ad mentions career change and building a career with you then later says “work with us for a little while”. With a family to support, that is confusing and the uncertainty would put me off applying.