End the Shortage — Recruit STEM Women Who Are Working at Your Competitors

Jul 7, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 3.30.03 PMI almost broke out laughing when I came across an article in Fast Company magazine entitled Why You Can’t Find Women Engineers. This title reflects a common misconception among business executives about the shortage of technically qualified women at their firms.

This often-repeated “shortage statement” is only partially true, and if you believe it, you will never fill your firm’s diversity recruiting targets.

Let’s examine this shortage issue from a different perspective.

If you limit your perspective to the total workforce availability, you may be thinking about a long-term shortage of technically trained women coming out of college. But as a recruiter or executive, you should only be focused on recruiting the relatively small number of women you need at your firm. So if you stop worrying about the total supply and instead focus on the needs of your own individual firm, you will find that there is plenty of technical female talent available … and you can easily find them working across the street at your competitor!

So the answer to the “insolvable diversity recruiting problem” is actually quite simple. Develop a competitor recruiting process that effectively identifies and then recruits away the top female technical talent who are currently working at no more than a handful of the best firms in your industry.

There Is No Shortage if You Know How to Recruit From Other Firms

I finally realized how misdirected many executives were about “the shortage” of qualified women while visiting a for-profit hospital in a major city that happened to be in a high-rise building. One of the nursing leaders in the room was verbally decrying how their hospital for several years “simply couldn’t find enough nurses to fill their openings.” I responded by simply pointing to the five hospitals that were quite visible from their panoramic view, and I asked the leaders “how many nurses do you think there are working in those hospitals within a mile?” The head nurse answered with “several thousand.” And I quickly responded with a terse comment which was “so you only need 150 new nurses each year at your facility and you can’t find them among the thousands that work within 1 mile?”

After a long period of hush, the recruiting leader broke the silence with a comment that I will never forget. She said “we will never have a shortage of nurses again; our staff deserves to work with the very best nurses and if our competitor hospitals don’t treat their nurses extremely well, we will simply recruit them away to our hospital.”

After this hospital’s recruiting program was redesigned with a focus on competitors, they never again had a nursing shortage (I didn’t check back but I’m sure that the poorly managed hospitals in the neighborhood certainly did). The lesson to be learned here is that most organizations take what I call a “social work” perspective to recruiting, where they dream of a world where there will be a surplus of nurses (and STEM women) so that every firm has enough and no one has to recruit talent from competitors.

But the reality is that your talent shortages will disappear if you practice what I call “competitor recruiting” which is where the talent marketplace rewards well-run companies with a surplus of applicants from other firms. At the same time this approach punishes those firms that don’t allow exceptional technical women to do the best work of their life. All recruiting executives need to do is reengineer your general recruiting and diversity recruiting efforts so that they are designed to identify and then recruit away the best technical talent currently employed by your competitors.

How to Identify the Top Technical Talent at Your Competitors

There are literally dozens of ways to find the names of the top diverse and women working in technology jobs at your target firms. Finding top talent in any functional area is actually quite easy because everyone knows who they are. It’s almost impossible to be successful without a significant portion of the company’s workforce knowing your name. And even externally, it’s hard to conceal the names of your leading performers and innovators. If you don’t believe me, assume that you the reader are a top performer working at a firm like Twitter. While perusing the following list of name identification approaches, see if there is any chance that you couldn’t be found using a combination of the following STEM-women talent identification methods.

The Top 25+ Ways to Identify STEM Women Working at Competitor Firms

The following is a “name identification toolkit” for who that have difficulty in finding women and diverse individuals working in technical positions.

  1. Referrals — humans are always the most effective tool for finding top talent. Ask employees at your firm to identify the top female technical talent that they learn from, that they read the blogs of, and that they see samples of their work and ideas. If you especially ask women and all top performers at your firm to identify them, you will find that they know the names almost immediately. Your vendors and consultants who have worked at multiple firms will also likely know them. For those employees without enough time to go through the complete referral process, offering a monetary reward for simply identifying the names of top women at your target firms has proven to be quite effective.
  2. Use boomerangs — ask your managers to identify top-performing women who formerly worked at your firm. An advanced LinkedIn search string can identify all recent previous employees and where they currently work in minutes.
  3. Revisit silver medalists — your own recruiting records contain the names of many women who were “almost hired” into technical positions (silver medalist are those who came in second in a recruiting search). Simply use your ATS to identify the top women who dropped out of the recruiting process or those who were finalists but were never formally offered a job.
  4. Use LinkedIn and social media — almost everyone is on social media these days, but especially technical professionals. A search of LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and on functional social media can find almost anyone. A combination of a recruiter search and the fact that your employees are looking for referrals while they are on these social media will give you the names of almost every valuable target. Obviously if your recruiting target works at Twitter, they could be found using it.
  5. At professional events — the very best in any field attend functional and industry events. Since women are obviously visible there, your employees attending can identify and approach them. Top-performing women are likely also to be speakers and panelists or they can be found using the attendee list. Use your own trade booths at conferences to identify those who walk through it, and proactively visit the trade booths of your competitor firms. Consider offering your own female employees who are attending conferences “Ask me about what it’s like to be a woman working at XYZ” lapel buttons to wear in order to attract and converse with other professional women.
  6. Ask new hires and interviewees — simply asking your own new hires who came from target firms during onboarding to identify the names of top female technical talent can yield amazing results. Even asking candidates from your target firms to “show their connections” by identifying during interviews the names of top talent at their firm can be effective.
  7. Ask references — the references of your own recently hired technical women employees will undoubtedly know the names of other similarly qualified women. Contact both women and male references.
  8. At technical events you offer — offer open houses and technical seminars on your campus to personally sell your targets. Also offer webinars and Internet “hangouts/meetups” on hot technical topics and use the signup information that you get to identify top women. Obviously if your competitors offer public events where technical women are present, you should attend them to capture names.
  9. Use a find you again profile — in order to identify the best places and media to reach technical women, ask your current top women employees “how would I find you again?” Ask them what industry and social events they attend, magazines and journals that they read, and what social media and Internet sites do they frequent. Use this information to identify the sources where corporate branding or job announcements are the most likely to be seen and read by technical women.
  10. Identify blogs and comments — it makes sense to look for STEM women who write blogs and articles. Identify those who make effective comments on important articles and blogs.
  11. Search Internet collaboration sites  sometimes the best way to identify top talent is to view their work that is available online. Visit collaboration sites like SlideShare, GitHub, and technical discussion forums to identify technically oriented women with the best work, ideas, and approaches.
  12. Use Boolean searches  use boolean search experts to identify the appropriate search strings to identify your STEM women targets on basic search engines. Search particularly for women authors, speakers, and idea generators. Also search news pieces that mention a target firm’s practices and employees.
  13. Use patent searches — many of the best idea people in technical fields apply for and are granted patents. So conducting a patent search in technical areas that your firm is interested in can be fruitful in identifying women with patents.
  14. Use referral cards — provide your highly visible employees with referral cards (designed specifically for women) that they can hand to technically qualified women they meet. The card should sell your firm and that let the individual woman know that they are special. They can be similar to business cards or they can be distributed in electronic form.
  15. At certification classes — have your employees who attend technical certification classes identify the top women attendees.
  16. On talent communities — for large companies, develop online talent communities where you build relationships over time with a group of prospects based on learning and professional issues. Only after the professional relationship is solidified do you pursue recruiting possibilities with the most outstanding women, based on their participation in the community.
  17. During benchmarking — encourage employees who are benchmarking for the best technical practices to identify any knowledgeable women who have played a major role in developing the practice.
  18. Miscellaneous approaches to consider — other miscellaneous ways to identify STEM women include using layoff lists, cold calling, visiting clubs and hobby groups that they frequently join, capturing business cards at restaurants close to your target firm, searching your own employees email and phone contact lists for names and by scanning promotion announcements and PR/press releases that are made by your target firms. 

Outside Organizations That May Help You Identify Them

  1. Use names research firms — there are numerous search firms that specialize in providing you with the names and profiles of any target group, including women-in-technology jobs. These unbundled or “names research” firms can simply find anyone fitting your profile for a fee. “Sales lead” firms can do the same.
  2. Use diversity focused recruiting agencies  there are specialized recruiting and employer branding agencies that focus on finding and recruiting both women and other diverse talent. Because they specialize, they are better able to find and understand your target recruits.
  3. Use college related approaches — the most effective approach that I have found to identify the very best college STEM women who are also collaborative and team players is to ask the grad assistant of the best professors at both noted and lesser-known technical colleges. College alumni groups remain an effective way for many years to at least identify the names of women grads. You can then use a social site like LinkedIn to find them.

Encourage STEM Women to Contact You

  1. Use YouTube videos — have your women employees produce instructional videos on advanced technical topics and place them on YouTube. Also include videos that show the working life of technical women at your firm. In the videos specifically encourage technical women to make contact with the author.
  2. Encourage blogs by your women employees — encourage women employees to write technically oriented blogs. Also encourage them to write blogs on issues that you know interest women. Encourage readers to directly contact the author.
  3. Recruit your product users — if your firm provides an Internet, mobile phone, or social media product or service, include subtle recruiting messages so that your women users will know that you are interested in having them contact you about the possibility of joining the firm.
  4. Use contests and competitions — use Internet technical contests, competitions, and awards to see who can solve your problems and then identify women among the top finalists. Also look for technical award winners and officers at professional associations.
  5. Offering remote work options is a game-changer — if you allow the STEM women who you recruit to work at home, you effectively expand your recruiting target population to literally the entire world. Because they can work from anywhere, if you have a strong employer brand and offer advanced benefits and superior opportunities, you can now attract STEM women that simply can’t or won’t relocate. And because many working women have family responsibilities at home, you will also be able to find and recruit many of those currently working at firms who do not offer these remote work options.

If you work in corporate recruiting and you are afraid to recruit away from your competitors, move into accounting. Recruiting is a competitive game, where the firms with the most effective recruiting processes, that also offer the best work environment, win. And if you worried that recruiting from your competitors will create a recruiting battle, first off you should realize that their already is one going on. Next you should realize that it is illegal to develop even informal non-recruit covenants and third, you can ward off any recruiting efforts by simply offering a superior employer brand image and work environment.

Once you get over the misnomer that there is a shortage of STEM women, the next-most-obvious step is to develop effective recruiting processes that can identify the best STEM women working at your targeted competitors. It should be obvious to any executive that with the growth of social media and Internet, finding talented women working in technical positions is actually quite easy. It becomes easier every day as new recruiting tools and approaches are developed.

There are three remaining difficult but solvable recruiting challenges related to STEM women that do remain. And they are 1) convincing them to be willing to change jobs; 2) convincing them to apply at your firm; and 3) providing an interview experience and job offer that is compelling and personalized enough to get them to accept your offer. These remaining three topics will be covered in the future articles to be found here on

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