I’ve been asked “How can I hire more women at my startup?” a number of times and while I’ve always had concrete thoughts, I’ve generally wavered on the topic. Most people understand why it’s important to have more women in the workplace (and more diversity in general beyond gender). Yet, most don’t grasp that the fewer women you have early on, the harder it is to recruit them later. If you wait until you have a 20-person team to think about it, it’s already too late. With that, here are some thoughts on how to recruit more women at your startup:
1) Don’t look for ninjas.
Language such as “rockstar”, “ninja” or even “hacker” will result in fewer female applicants. In your recruiting materials, choose words women use to describe themselves. Don’t ask someone to send you “an example hack”, but instead “an example of quality software”. Don’t say “We only hire the top 1% of candidates”. I know many talented women who don’t have the confidence in their abilities to include themselves in that group, despite being very talented and deserving of it.
2) Make your workplace one that women will enjoy being in.
Don’t be surprised when a woman visits your dirty hacker house and ends up turning down your job offer. This is not because she can’t cut it in at a small-stage startup, but because working in that environment can be indicative of so much more: 1) not caring about the details, 2) a lack of certainty about the future, 3) working with people who can barely take care of themselves.
3) Care about culture beyond free beer and chips.
I’ve been to numerous startup recruiting pages that talk about a company’s gigantic kegerator before other important aspects of culture. If you think a woman is going to join your company for free whiskey shots, you can stop reading here. Talk about values before freebies: transparency, communication, autonomy, how people interact outside of work, how you decide what you work on and growth within the company.
4) Have women interview women.
It can be quite daunting for a woman to do six back-to-back interviews all with men. She doesn’t see anyone quite like her and it can be hard to identify with the company or see how she would fit in. I know several companies that require at least one woman to interview a prospective female candidate and I think it’s a good policy to have in place. If your startup is able, have every candidate, regardless of gender, interviewed by a woman on your team — it will help guard against bad hires.
5) Hire well.
I’ve heard more than a few bad stories about women that interview at a startup full of men and end up running into your token startup douchebag. You know, the one that says his time is more valuable than others on the team. The one that asks your female engineering candidate if she’d be happier in more of a PM role because she isn’t really a hacker. “He’s just a little aspergersy”, you say. Just one of these guys can make it difficult to hire or retain women at your company.
6) Be conscious of gender differences.
I’ve found subtle differences in how men and women write and speak about their work. Men tend to write about the results of their accomplishments and women tend to speak about the process. A man talking about his work might say, “Initiated a new policy that resulted in $XXMM YoY cost savings” whereas a woman might say, “Researched, wrote and prepared new policy to bring more efficiency to supply chain”. Be conscious of how men and women may speak about their work and don’t pass up a resume just because the language used is less results-oriented.
7) Go find them.
So, you’re doing all of the above, but you still don’t have any women applying to work at your startup? Well go out and find them. As someone who was recruited or referred to each of their last four jobs, I know that most of the candidates you want aren’t out there looking. Take the situation into your own hands and search Github, LinkedIn, Facebook or whatever other networks you frequent. One day, in about two hours, I put together a list of about 50 prospective female candidates. If you can’t find potential female candidates, you’re just being lazy.