Stop the Excuses — a Frustrated STEM Woman’s Simple Solutions to The Diversity Recruiting Problem

Jun 25, 2014
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 12.57.48 PMThere is a huge issue in the tech world where firms like Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Facebook are having great difficulty recruiting technically trained diverse women (known as “diverse STEM woman” or DSW). As a STEM diverse woman myself living in the Silicon Valley, I know and have experienced firsthand the many barriers that diverse woman face. And because of my recruiting background, I have also concluded that individual firms cannot find enough women to fill these technical roles because they have continuously used the wrong recruiting approaches that fail to address the barriers that restrict the movement of the DSW between jobs.

If you are a male corporate leader working in the tech industry, you will benefit from reading this article.

A shift in your recruiting strategy could dramatically reduce the problem, which I estimate is costing your firm up to $50 million yearly because your workforce does not accurately reflect your customer base.

My approach to solving this problem differs significantly from yours in that I have focused on identifying the motivators that encourage job change and the real barriers that restrict DSW from actually changing jobs. After speaking to and surveying many other women like me, I have identified the top five barriers that women face in applying for or agreeing to accept a job offer. These top barriers are a lack of confidence to apply, a fear that they wouldn’t fit in the new organization, a fear that this is not the right job for them, and that a male-oriented culture may proactively undermine their work at the new job.

Top 5 Barriers That DSW Face, and Possible Solutions

Barrier: Corporate leaders do not fully understand DSW and their barriers — leaders frequently lump together all DSW prospects and applicants and do not conduct market research in order to accurately identify the barriers that negatively impact applicants from each of the unique subgroups. Recruiting leaders will never solve this recruiting issue until they stop generalizing and take the time to fully understand the barriers that restrict each individual applicant.

Possible Solution: Market Research on DSW — we know from the business side of the firm that you can’t maximize sales if you treat all customers the same. My research reveals that the use of candidate market research (surveys, interviews, and focus groups with candidates) could dramatically improve recruiting results because you can then tailor the recruiting approach and the selling process to meet the unique needs and wants of each recruiting target.


Barrier — A lack of confidence to apply — Reality is, the best STEM woman engineers are undoubtedly working at an organization or have a position secured, so the first recruiting challenge is overcoming the natural inertia for them to stay where they are. Women are often less likely to have the confidence to apply for a new job when we don’t meet 100 percent of the required skills and experience. Many men on the other hand have the confidence to apply when they only meet a percentage of the requirements. A woman’s confidence may also be reduced by the fact that they have strong loyalty and that they want to avoid being criticized for even attempting to leave their current team.

Possible Solution — A DSW Referral Program — The best way to get quality candidates is through a referral program. It turns out that because DSW have this lack of confidence to apply, it takes someone who they trust or have a relationship with to refer them to the job for them to apply. My recommendation is to implement a program that is like ThoughtSpot. The tech startup was able to recruit five superstars in two weeks directly from referral and gave a very enticing referral bonus of $20,000 per referral — even if the referral was not from an employee.


Barrier — A fear that they wouldn’t “fit” in the new organization — Women view the tech industry and the firms in it as very male dominated, and as a result they often don’t see themselves as a fit for a new company and its culture. This fear that they have a more emotional approach to work won’t fit in a new company, and that may cause them to underperform during interviews or it may even cause them to prematurely drop out of the recruiting process entirely.

Possible Solution — Upper Management reaching out — Because women lack this confidence and underestimate their own abilities, having female upper management who have been in the same position as them, if not the CFO of the company, tell them that they have enough of the skills in order to succeed is incredibly powerful. It’s the idea of “I’ve been in your position before, look where I am now, and I know that you can succeed” that creates an assurance for DSW in order for them to accept the job offer.


Barrier — A fear that this job is not right for them — Women may drop out of the recruiting process even if they feel that they would fit in the new firm. DSW often fear that because they no longer have their current reliable support team, they will likely fail if they are eventually offered the job with a completely new team. Women may also want a job that can not only be fulfilling / meaningful, but also so they know that they are doing the best work of their life. Because of their lower confidence level and the lack of information on the new job, they may mistakenly assume that it is not a better job simply because unlike their current job, it is not tailored to their needs and interests. The same fears that make them reluctant to apply for a job also reappear during the interview process. And that decreased level of confidence not only hurts their interview performance but it sometimes also convinces them that it’s better to drop out of the recruiting process before they are formally rejected.

Possible Solution — Dream job criteria — because these great DSW are so unique, recruiting leaders should not treat them the same as every other candidate. If recruiting leaders take the time to gather data and identify what their job acceptance criteria is, they will quickly find that it’s not work/life balance or just the money. My research reveals that the use of a simple survey of DSW reveal that they care about what I call “best-work-of-your-life features.” Some of these key features include a great manager, remote work, decisions, and recognition.

Barrier — A fear that a male-oriented culture may proactively undermine them –– STEM women frequently fear that when they are given a new job, their work is likely to be undermined in a team or company where the men dominate. Many STEM women perceive that they will have to work at a 120 percent level just to be recognized on par with their male counterpart. I have been reticent to speak up because I know that my input may not be considered fully because I am a female. And as a result of these fears, some women will be underprepared for interviews, underperform during them, while others will drop out of the recruiting process or even reject the same job offer that men would quickly accept.

Possible Solution –– Provide DSW with reassurances — as outsiders, DSW can now only guess if the new company will treat women and diverse individuals as equals. One recruiting solution is to thoroughly involve DSW employees in all aspects of the recruiting process, so that they can periodically reassure applicants that they are about to enter a level playing field. You can reassure both prospects and applicants by surveying your own DSW employees and then reporting on your own website and during interviews that the DSW at your firm do not in fact frequently encounter the negative treatment that many women fear.

Final Thoughts

Many may find it presumptuous that I, as a relative newcomer to the professional world, would suggest that the DSW recruiting approaches used by successful corporate giants as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yahoo are 180 degrees off track. But before you rush to judgment, consider the fact that, because I am not tied down and 100 percent “bought in” to the long-established diversity recruiting approach, I may be uniquely able to see the forest despite the trees.

I’m also an insider because I am an Asian woman with a science and recruiting background but at the same time also an outsider with a set of fresh eyes that enables me to envision new approaches and to say “why not?” Rather than relying only on my own perspective, I have taken the time to conduct some initial research, which has helped me to identify some of the real barriers restricting DSW movement between jobs and companies.

My research has also identified some data based innovative and bold recruiting solutions, which at least initially, seem to have a reasonable chance of producing significant results.

Although my DSW solutions may not be foolproof, the time to gather the courage to try something completely new in this area of recruiting has already passed. In science we know that when you reach an inflection point in any field, radical new approaches are required. I hope at the very least that we can all agree on one thing, and that is that we have now reached an inflection point in the area of tech diversity recruiting. If you don’t like my solutions, I welcome any new ones.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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