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Picking STEMs: Recruit for Diversity with Tech Hiring

Picking STEMs: Recruit for Diversity with Tech Hiring

By: Joanne Cleaver

Women and minorities in tech are a rare commodity…and they know it.  In fact, it’s just as hard to hire them as it is to find them.

Here are a few fresh tactics to successfully recruit for diversity with tech hiring.  

High Touch vs High Tech
While mainstream recruiting increasingly relies on social networks, resume screening and algorithms, it’s often high-touch, not high tech, that wins diverse IT candidates.

“The Hispanic culture is about trust. You have to develop relationships through time,” says Andre Arbelaez, the Detroit-based chief strategic officer for Mexican software services firm Softtek and president of the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC).

It’s precisely because diverse IT candidates are so intensely pursued that they are best wooed offline in IT recruiting.

Women and minorities are extremely aware that they aren’t the norm, which makes many sensitive to overt ‘diversity hire’ pitches, says Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, CEO of, a human resources administration startup, and a well-known advocate for women in technology. 

“The women are out there,” adds Stacey DelVecchio, an engineering project manager with Caterpillar Inc., and president of the Society of Women Engineers. “You need to see them where they are…and go there.” 

Minorities in IT
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, women account for 19.7% of software developers -- the engineers who create and use the code that drives IT innovation and functionality. African-Americans comprise 4%, Hispanics 5.2% and Asians represent 29.4% of all developers.

The numbers are similar in other hot IT categories. Women are 33.7% of web developers, with African-Americans representing 4.1%, Asians, 8% and Hispanics 5.6%.

Women must survive a male-dominated, macho culture of college computer science programs and are often disappointed when the workplace culture offers more of the same, says van Vlack.

“When women are trying to find jobs as computer programmers in the most exciting technologies, such as open source, they find that they are not socially welcome,” she says.

When women are excluded from new product development teams, they are often shut out of opportunities to prove their mettle as IT innovators. Thus, they don’t get experience required for being picked for the next high-profile projects, and thus are not considered for IT leadership, explains Van Vlack. 

When employers advance women through both technical and management career tracks, they prove to potential hires that their company culture is one where women win.

Recruiting Women in Tech
DelVecchio reports that associations such as the Society for Women Engineers are eager to build unique relationships with local employers, such as partnering on career guidance programs.

By commissioning employees to be brand ambassadors to groups such as, employers can infiltrate the groups as mentors and presenters.

Somewhat surprisingly, if you’re looking for women with IT skills, the last place to look may be through social networks.

“It feels like stalking, and they’re already sick of comments from fellow students,” says Van Vlack.

Many women in IT shy away from social network profiles -- personal and professional -- precisely because they don’t want to be constantly approached by recruiters.

The Anita Borg Institute (ABI) has found that employers are finding success when they hold all managers accountable for hiring and retaining diverse staff.

The ABI is a nonprofit that advocates for women in computing. Its latest report, released in late 2013, “Women Technologists Count,” outlines proven practices for recruiting and retaining women in IT. The report recommends these tips:

  • Ensure that women are rotated into high-visibility projects in both technical and management career tracks.
  • Track the proportion of women in technical and management leadership and holding managers responsible for the cumulative results of staffing decisions. 
  • Cultivate flexible career paths that provide on and off ramps so women don’t have to choose between family and career.

Career Paths, Career Journeys
When companies offer career paths that braid technical and management skills, women and diverse candidates can envision their long-term future at that company, says Denise L. Gammal, director of research for the Anita Borg Institute.

Because diversity candidates often bring so much to the job -- from language skills to cross-cultural insights -- they are often expected to cycle out of hard-core tech into sales, marketing, and management jobs.

Yet too often, say Van Vlack and DelVecchio, an apparent promotion closes off future opportunities to return to technical work. 

That thins the technical pool of diverse candidates and perpetuates the lack of mentors, sponsors and technical career options that attract new hires. Thus it’s important to offer a technical track that leads to high-level technical advisory positions.

The Silver Bullet for Recruiters
DelVecchio offers this final ‘silver bullet’ for tech recruiters: “Ask better questions.” Don’t make snap decisions based just on a candidate’s most recent experience, especially if she has taken a lateral move and wants to return to tech. 

Says Van Vlack, “This is the single biggest thing that recruiters can do to find women: When a woman says, ‘I’m not qualified for that,’ dig deeper. She may well have 80% or 90% of the qualifications, whereas a guy will apply if he has 60% of the skills,” she adds.

Instead, to successfully recruit a diversity candidate, weigh their entire scope of technical and business skills.

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