In a now very famous research, investigators found that code written by women was more likely to be approved by their peers than that written by men. The researchers had the hypothesis that it was going to be the other way around – imagine their surprise! Further research explained why that happened – the code was approved, sure, but only if the people approving it didn’t know women wrote it.
This is nothing more than an institutionalized report on something women in IT bitterly learn from experience in the workplace: that a lot of members of the software development community don’t see women as valuable as men. And that’s in the face of evidence telling another story!
The biases are there and they are naturalized. People, in general, see software development as a boys club. Maybe because it’s always been that way. Yet, it doesn’t have to be. Many of the things we perceive as natural aren’t so. Once you start looking closer, you begin to see the cracks on those long-held beliefs.
For instance, software development isn’t naturally male-centric. And as such, we can change it (albeit with a lot of effort for everyone involved). Now, some might ask why we’d want to force this change and not let it happen organically. In fact, there are people that infamously spoke against gender diversity.
Beyond common sense telling us that fighting gender diversity is plain wrong, there are several arguments we could use to support the need for it in software development. Here is why development teams should embrace gender diversity.
Why Gender Diversity Matters
Just as other forms of diversities, gender diversity matters because it brings something different and fresh to development teams. That difference might come in the form of ideas, viewpoints, or insights a company might not get at all if they employ all men. These differences can provide several benefits, including:
Women bring new perspectives
Women see things differently than men based on their upbringing, roles, society expectations, experiences, and other factors. That leads to other kinds of ideas any team would benefit from. How so? By introducing new ways of seeing things into a team, you’re planting a seed that will develop a new dynamic inside the group.
Such seed will grow into a healthy challenge, as women will provide their own points of view that will spark more creative and innovative thought patterns. Women bring their own perspectives which can shake up any development team – in a good way.
Women can help in understanding customers in a better way
A development team that only takes men’s opinions into account will surely end up with software that will neglect women in some way. By having female collaborators, a company can make sure that all the projects are informed from a woman’s perspective.
This can lead to a better understanding of the target audience. Women can raise a red flag about negative biases or ill-advised approaches that could seep into the software and end up alienating the women among the customer base.
Gender diversity attracts and retains talent
Finding the best engineers can be a complicated task. However, companies that foster an inclusive culture have a better shot at it. That’s because diversity shows that you respect and value different opinions. It’s also because a diverse team enriches all members both in the professional and personal levels.
Besides, a company that employs and mentors women will surely inspire other talented women to consider it as a place to look for a job, especially young women.
Women can fill the gaps in talent shortage
Directly linked with the item above, considering women for different positions in a development team can help with filling up the gaps more easily. In the context of a talent shortage that doesn’t show signs of slowing down, overcoming the prejudice around female software developers can get a company better talent quicker.
Employing women just makes sense in a scenario where companies are fighting over the same candidates. Businesses that hire women obviously have a competitive advantage over those who are naturally inclined to hiring men.
Women are as capable as men
This feels so obvious that it’s strange to write it but, given the biases against women in software development, it bears repeating. Gender doesn’t define skills or abilities, individual experience does. So hiring software engineers based on gender is evidently wrong, because doing so is voluntarily embracing a limitation that has no reason to be.
Companies should hire staff based on hard and soft skills, period. Gender, ethnicity, religion, and other traits shouldn’t matter, because companies should be looking for the right candidate without making those distinctions. After all (and even if it sounds preachy) it’s the right thing to do.
How to Build More Gender Diverse Teams
It’s hard not to feel seduced by all the benefits of gender-diverse software development teams. However, building them is a little tricky. That’s because doing so isn’t just about adding women to the group. It needs a more strategic process.
The best way to guarantee equal opportunities for our candidates is to hire people based exclusively on their skills, knowledge, and expertise, not their gender. With more than 240.000 job applicants every year, our interviewing and evaluation process guarantees we only work with the most qualified talent that each client and project needs.
For instance, we encourage our collaborators to refer us candidates and we put a strong emphasis on diversity. We reward referrals that lead to a successful hire of women collaborators. We also arrange campaigns to raise funds for organizations like Girls in Tech or Code.org, which are trying to bridge the gaps and make software development accessible for anyone.
From our own experience, there are some suggestions anyone can use to form gender diverse teams, including:
- The need for an initial plan. A company that wants to build more gender diverse teams needs to have a strategy in place before doing so. It has to define achievable goals, identify the potential challenges, and understand the possibilities of bringing more women on board. That initial plan can make or break the effort, so it should consider all of the items below.
- Recruiting improvements. All candidates pick up the potential signs of gender diversity in a company from the start. That’s why businesses need to rethink the wording of their job postings, increase the visibility of their women-related workplace policies, redesign the interviews to be less biased, use more diverse recruiting channels, and trust its employees to refer talented women that can be a good fit.
- Adjustments to the company culture. For a business that has always been more male-centric, it’s important to make changes to the company culture. Women that get into a company like that might feel awkward at first, so it’s important to welcome them, encourage them to share their opinions, celebrate their differences, and make them feel valued, comfortable, and secure.
- Preparing for conflict. Heterogeneous groups will have some problems at one point or the other. Different people working together might clash. Understanding that reality and having a plan prepared is a must to overcome issues and keep the harmony for the team to keep going strong. That’s especially true for certain moments in development when deadlines are tight and pressure is high.
The Moment for Diversity is Now
There’s been a lot of talk about diversity in the media lately, especially regarding software development. That’s a good sign. Increasing the problem’s visibility lets us focus on it and tackle it full-on. And though we still have a long way to go ahead of us, there are signs of improvement.
The tides are changing and everyone needs to play a role. Even when the change isn’t as fast as we’d like it to be, it’s important for us to keep moving forward discussing diversity and implementing strategies to ensure it. The moment is ripe for gender diversity to finally be in full swing. The software development field needs to rise up to the promise of leading innovation it’s known for and lead the way in one of our biggest modern challenges.