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How to hire women

April 18, 2016

engineering_still_needs_more_women-heroIt’s super hard to find skilled people willing to work for robotics companies in Silicon Valley. Even though robotics is awesome and going to change the world. Because big companies with big paychecks are stealing all the talent. So, you seriously can’t afford to overlook anyone. Yet, judging from the gender ratio at robotics companies, most are overlooking one huge potential talent pool.

You might think that your job ad and hiring process is gender neutral and ‘may the best person win’. But years of studies have shown that it simply doesn’t work that way. With equal qualifications, women are still less likely to apply for the job and when they do, less likely to pass the subtle cultural fit requirements.

For the first time in history, women are now earning 50% of all degrees (in the US). But the bad news for robotics is that the Comp Sci and Engineering disciplines are still only attracting <20% of women. Seriously. It was actually better in the 1980s and we need to look at this in another post.

But the best universities have been proactive and are growing the numbers of women graduating in CompSci and Engineering, so you should be seeing a higher proportion of women job applicants. What does the gender ratio of resumes sent to your company look like?

I’m hearing a lot of robotics companies say that they’re having trouble getting women to apply. Well it isn’t rocket surgery but it does take some effort. Here are the best tactics.


Is your workplace female friendly? What is the current ratio of women? Can you have women on your interviewing committee? Can you demonstrate why your company has a good culture for women. Is every image on your product/website/team male?

Even if you are starting from scratch, you can still sound female friendly. Ensure your hiring team is on board with this. Have you all considered how frequently unconscious bias happens and simple checks to balance it? (See some of the resources listed below.)

As Jessica Nordell wrote on Medium, “It’s why women are hired and promoted based on proof, while men are hired and promoted based on potential.”

Check your HR process. Is the ratio of women applying to equal to the ratio of women interviewing? Is the ratio of women interviewing equal to the ratio of women being employed? Sudden differences suggest a problem with your processes.

Check your tech interview style. Are you being needlessly combative or challenging? Invite people to show their work without time limits or trick questions. Make it friendly not competitive – unless you are interviewing for people to work in a hyper competitive workplace.

Check your job language. It’s easy to default to needlessly masculine language ie. using adjectives like ‘killer’ ‘rockstar’ ‘aggressive’. Textio is a service that analyzes the text and gives you suggestions for success. They started by evaluating crowdfund campaigns.

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 1.50.17 PM

Invite women to apply. Explicitly invite applications from women and members of unrepresented groups.

Get word out to women. Increase the number of applications from women by submitting to communities, groups, boards for women.

Build a pipeline. Have regular women’s events, advisor days, office hours, breakfasts or network events. Mine the local colleges and universities. (Although the universities are getting tired of having the best and brightest hired away from research.)

Publicize success. Although it also speaks for itself. Some companies like Etsy, Facebook and Microsoft have significantly increased the number of women in their engineering teams.

ProTip. Mine the biosciences. There’s a lot of talent in adjacent fields.


Resources: (including lists of women engineer/coding groups/boards/communities)

Unconscious Bias
Suggestions and Lists
Language Feedback
Facebook’s Suite of Diversity Resources
Etsy Case Study
More Tips
Building a Pipeline

RoboJob Fair

We’re hosting a robotics job fair on May 11 in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley Robotics
guest author
Silicon Valley Robotics the industry association supporting innovation and commercialization of robotics technologies.
Andra Keay
Core Team Member & Robotics Industry Futurist
Andra Keay is the Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics, founder of Women in Robotics and is a mentor, investor and advisor to startups, accelerators and think tanks, with a strong interest in commercializing socially positive robotics and AI.

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