6 Ways To Scare Off Technical Women From Your Company

Look around. See a lot of beards? Then take a look at the unintended messages you're sending in your hiring process.

Are you trying to create more diverse software teams by hiring more women? Here are six things NOT to do during the recruiting and interviewing process.

Open Source

Don't do this: Did you know that only about 10% of open source developers are women? The landscape can be harsh—a lack of role models, competing personal and family priorities, a combative hacker ethic, "flame wars," and the difficulty females face when receiving adequate recognition for contributions. Many women choose not to participate. By requiring candidates to have a strong track record of open source contributions, you limit your recruiting pipeline.

Do this instead: Unless open source experience is a strict requirement for the position, don’t mention it in your job description.

Job Description

Don't do this: Use masculine wording in your job description. You’d be surprised how many companies make this mistake. Here are some real examples, taken from "Tech Companies That Only Hire Men," a blog that compiles such job descriptions:

  • "If you are an IT guy looking to get in on a promising start-up, then this is the start-up for you..."
  • "The Streaming Server team seeks a Senior Software Craftsman to join us in our bold efforts to…"
  • "If you are the kind of person who builds a search engine over a weekend or manages his music collection on a Hadoop cluster we want to hear from you..."
  • "A lead tech person that is looking to put some developers under his belt.
  • We need 5 guys for a project..."
  • "Looking for a sharp young up and coming guy who can be his right hand man..."

Do this instead: Don’t make it hard for a woman to know she’s welcome to apply. Edit your job descriptions to be gender neutral.

Company Photos

Don't do this: Show only the bro’s. What do the photos on your website or Twitter feed say about your company? I’ve seen "Careers" pages for tech companies that show only men at team-building events. Or those with a token woman in a photo, but she doesn’t look like she’s having a good time.

Do this instead: Show the images on your site to women and ask if they can imagine themselves thriving at your company. Based on their feedback, decide what changes to make.


Don't do this: Rely only on employee referrals. Employees will often refer people like themselves who have a similar background and are the same gender. Don’t get me wrong—referrals are a proven way to find great candidates. However, to reduce the homogeneity that comes with referrals, be sure to utilize and value additional approaches to filling your pipeline.

Do this instead: Advertise your open positions in a variety of ways, including websites for women in the tech industry and your company’s social media channels. Recruit at the Grace Hopper Celebration and other conferences geared to women in technology. Sponsor meetups for women in tech groups and tell them about your open positions.


Don't do this: Create male-only interview teams. During an interview, candidates want to see people like themselves to help them imagine being successful in that environment. Don’t make it hard for female candidates to see themselves thriving at your company.

Do this instead: Make sure every female candidate meets at least one female employee, ideally in a similar job function.

Sacrifice Quality

Don't do this: Lower the bar for female candidates. I once interviewed for a software engineering job on the same day that my husband interviewed with the same team for the same kind of role. When we compared notes afterwards, I was shocked at how hard his interview was. Mine was superficial and skirted any tough technical questions. We both got job offers, but I declined. I didn’t want to join a team that didn’t think I had the same technical chops as a man.

Do this instead: Design your interviews to be just as tough for women as for men.

While there are fewer women in tech than men, the candidates are out there. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot and make it harder to recruit them than it has to be.


I wrote this article based on my firsthand experience combined with research published by the Anita Borg Institute and the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). I’m grateful for the work these organizations do to improve gender diversity.

Karen Catlin develops powerful women leaders in the tech industry with leadership coaching and advising companies on how to attract and retain female talent. She has an extensive background in Silicon Valley. Formerly, Karen was a vice president at Adobe Systems, and most recently, the CEO of Athentica, an early-stage startup. Follow her on Twitter @kecatlin.

[Image: Flickr user Loren Kerns]

Add New Comment


  • Steve Kravitz

    If you're going to prescribe looking on "websites for women in the tech industry" then supply half a dozen URLs as examples. Otherwise, the reader assumes they don't exist and you're making stuff up. Like I do.

  • Don't do this: have your recruiting events in crowded, dark, noisy bars.

    Do this: have your recruiting events in spacious, well-lit, acoustically comfortable places where physically smaller people with softer voices (oftentimes we're women) don't have to shove and shout to be noticed.

  • Andi Shaw

    I actually find this stupid and borderline offensive.

    I'm a woman, not a delicate flower. If I want a job, I will do what I have to to take it, whether you show photos of bearded men working at your company or I talk to all men in the interview process or not.

    And I have. My entire life I've worked in male-dominated industries, and done what I have to to dominate my corner of the market, beating out tons of other men for my position.

    Women who are good at their jobs and confident in their skills won't be intimidated by a higher guy-to-girl ratio in an office. If so, they have no place in the business world.

    And the whole "masculine language" stuff is crap, too. If I'm f___ing awesome at IT, and there's an "IT guy" position available, you better believe I'm going to do what I have to to be that company's "IT guy".

    If I'm not confident in my skills, I shouldn't get the job in the first place. It's not whether you've catered your company image to women or not.

  • Ms Shaw, you may not be a delicate flower but you just described a special snowflake -- one who wants to be as rough and tough as the guys, and if other women aren't like that, well, then they don't deserve the jobs!

    Not everyone is willing to put up with the sexism inherent to the technical world, and many of us women are fed up and tired of it.

    I applaud efforts to get the technical world out of the boy's club mentality. I'm tired of dealing with groups and companies that are completely clueless that women aren't men and then scratch their heads, unable to figure out why they can't attract women applicants.

    After 30+ years in computing it is nice to see recognition that not all women are "one of the guys" - nor should they be.

  • Andi Shaw

    I've never felt that there is a "boy's club" mentality. Maybe I'm fortunate.

    I'm extremely feminine but I don't feel the need to impose any gender on my job. If the man sitting next to me in my office wants to rock a beard, more power to him. It's not my right to tell him he can't. Nor should the men in my office be any less manly as long as they allow me to be feminine if I choose.

    It's not a sexist industry as much as it just currently has more men.

    Business is business. Right now it's male dominated, as a fact. Business doesn't have a gender. Bring your womanhood to the table as they've brought their manliness. Don't try to change business to be feminine. If you'd like open source experience, you say that. If it calls for someone to be aggressive, say that. There are aggressive woman with open source experience and it's insulting to assume otherwise.

  • I don't think the author is advocating making the tech industry more feminine, but more gender-neutral. I'm a fairly "one of the guys" type woman, but I don't want to be the token woman on a team. I don't want an easier interview because of my gender and I'd be insulted if I discovered I was given one.

  • Jen Quinlan

    I love the header image for this article. I legitimately laughed out loud.