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Building a Gender-Balanced Engineering Team

Building a Team
Company Culture
Diversity

12 January, 2021

Roy Pereira, CEO at Zoom.ai Inc., speaks on his experience building a gender-balanced team in Canada and the efforts he made to adjust sourcing and hiring to meet his goal.

Problem

Building a gender-balanced engineering team, unfortunately, still implies challenging prejudices that have defined gender roles in the workplace for centuries. While some workplaces are doing better than others, Canada’s situation is somewhat unique but not uniform across the whole country. If you are hiring in Toronto -- where I am located -- you will be able, with little effort, to put an ethnically diverse team together. But gender diversity remains harder to accomplish.
 

Actions taken

To build a gender-balanced engineering team, we had to reconsider our entire recruiting and hiring process. To find some success, we had to go backward, rely heavily on feedback from women candidates/hires, learn from the experiences of other industry leaders and apply their best practices.
 

Sourcing

We were not happy with the inflow of female candidates for our engineering roles. If we could increase that number, we would be removing the first serious obstacle for having a more gender-balanced team. Our goal was that 50 percent of all candidates coming in should identify as women.
 

I talked to numerous women engineers and tech leaders in Toronto and beyond, asking them for their advice on how to fix this. It seemed that we were looking for women candidates in the wrong places -- mostly LinkedIn or Github -- and our sourcing should have been more targeted to include women engineers meetups and their personal networks.
 

Interviews

We did a post-mortem on interviews and changed them mostly based on feedback we received from women who applied but decided that they didn’t want to join our team after all. They often felt uncomfortable during the interview, cornered in a small room with five male engineers showing off their knowledge like a “pissing contest”. Then, we asked our female HR manager to observe the interviews and provide recommendations on making the process more comfortable for women. Having women in an interview process is almost a must as it strongly signals to candidates that women are a crucial part of our team.
 

Employee Support

We also looked at what processes and benefits we had for all of our employees and how that helped our female employees. Health benefits and coverage, parental leave, workplace environment guidelines, and management communication styles were all impacted as we transitioned from an all-male company to a gender-balanced company. Basically, everyone who works for us needs to feel safe and empowered to do their best.
 

Lessons learned

  • Attracting and retaining a gender-balanced engineering team takes more than just wanting to have 50% of the candidates be women.

  • You need to radically analyse your talent acquisition strategies, hiring process, and employment benefits with an emphasis on thinking outside of the traditional male-oriented engineering hiring mentality. You don’t know what you don’t know.

  • Go and ask people who have successfully staffed their engineering teams successfully with a balanced approach.

  • And remember, just like any other engineering problem, keep trying to fix issues at each step of the process.


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