How to Win with Women in STEM

Diversity is a hot-button topic in Silicon Valley, and for good reason. Despite efforts to increase the number of women and minorities in their workforces, most tech firms have made limited progress in this important arena.

Given that only 18 percent of undergraduate computer science majors are female, talented female computer scientists have their pick of job options.

More than 250k female STEM students and 60k female computer science students use Piazza.


Here's how to recruit the best.

Sell the technology first.


It’s an old and tired stereotype to assume that the first thing female engineers want to talk about is work-life balance. Female engineers are engineers first and foremost, and what they love is solving the biggest challenges. If your company is solving really hard problems, showcase them as prominently as possible  —  just as you would for top male engineers.

Include technical female employees throughout the recruiting process.

Many company recruiters remember to bring female technical employees to career fairs or on-campus recruiting events, but then forget to keep involving them throughout the process. If female candidates see nothing but men once they arrive at your office (HR personnel excluded), it’s going to be hard for them to see themselves working and succeeding at your company. Involve technical women in every stage of the recruiting process, from the initial contacts through the selling process. Companies make significant yield improvements among female candidates just by making this one change.

Arrange on-site visits that include more than just interviews and demos.

Top students (men and women alike) like to meet one-on-one with engineers —  male and female, entry-level and more experienced — to understand what kinds of problems they’re solving in their jobs and how their skills and careers are progressing. The interview process should include casual, low-stress interactions with your technical team so it’s easier for students to visualize life one or two years out of school. Bonus points for meetings with alumni from a shared alma mater.

Expose candidates to a variety of roles.

Most college-level computer science students are not exposed by their professors or career services offices to the full variety of technical roles available. Many CS students understand that they can be hired as coders, but don’t know about other options available. Many female students are surprised by the sheer breadth of opportunities available, such as Project or Product Management. Candidates really appreciate it when companies take the time to educate them on options beyond coding. 

A little cheerleading never hurt anyone.

Many women — even brilliant and capable women, from celebrated Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to the technical entrepreneur Clara Shih  — have admitted to facing a confidence gap. Women often share that they are weary of firms that gloss over the very real challenges engineers — and especially women engineers  —  face. They appreciate hearing honest stories from employees who admit that they weren’t experts when they first started their jobs and openly discuss early failures. Many students think they need to be experts when they walk in the door and are relieved to find out that employers have no such expectations of new grads. Students like to hear that employers give new grads the additional training, tools and support they need to succeed.

For many, getting women into technical fields is a cause.

It’s amazing how often female students reveal feelings of isolation as one of few women in very large computer science classes filled with male hackers who have been coding since adolescence. Many of these students convey to us a deep sense of responsibility to help further the cause of women in tech. In fact, Piazza was created by Pooja Sankar, a female engineer who felt isolated as one of only three women in her undergraduate computer science program (she used this experience as inspiration to create a free educational platform that facilitates collaboration among technical students).

Facebook, Pinterest and Box have a mentorship program for women in technology, and employers who encourage employee participation in similarly focused organizations such as Girl Develop It, Girls Who Code, and Black Girls Code will find both increased satisfaction among their existing employees as well as increased yield rates among women engineers to whom they extend offers.

Be explicit about your differentiators, from culture to size.

This is true for any college-level hire  —  female or male. College students with limited work experience don’t necessarily intuitively understand why corporate culture matters or how widely it varies. Be sure not just to sell your corporate culture but also to explain why the candidate should care. If you work at a small to mid-size firm, be sure to emphasize the benefits that smaller firms can offer new grads, such as a broader range of work experience, more ownership over large technical challenges, and the opportunity to work side-by-side with senior leadership and even the occasional founder.

Get creative.

Most companies can’t compete dollar-for-dollar with the biggest organizations that are going to spend big bucks recruiting top collegiate technical talent. Spend what you can by participating in targeted on-campus recruiting, career fairs, hackathons, tech talks, and so forth, but also get creative about how to stand out. Consider offering complimentary trips to the Grace Hopper Conference, organizing Tech Tours for promising students, or partnering with companies such as Piazza to help you identify top technical talent in a cost-effective way.

Everyone —  from employers, to colleagues, to consumers  —  benefit from a more diverse workforce. Only on Piazza Careers can you find and connect with over 250k talented women in STEM. 

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