Hiring Female Tech Talent in NYC: An Open Source Experiment



Like a number of growing startups in New York City, the Chartbeat engineering roster is impressive – and getting larger by the day. Since our second round of funding in April 2012, Chartbeat has more than doubled in size, hiring 39 new employees, including 16 engineers. Hiring developers in general is no easy task, as FastCompany explained in Why Your Startup Can’t Find Developers. So we’re incredibly proud of our growth, but there is one huge, glaring gap: we don’t have a single female engineer – and we never have in our four years of existence. And that simply must, no questions asked, change.

As Head of Talent at Chartbeat, this responsibility rests with me, and I will tell you that since I joined about a year ago, we’ve tried everything, from traditional job postings to leveraging our seemingly cool company brand at every opportunity, but we’ve continued to fail at hiring female technical talent.

The bad and good news is: we are not alone in this problem.

Hiring female engineers isn’t a novel issue. The New York City Economic Development Corp says that only 9.8% of the female workforce is employed in a tech-related industry in the city, even though 39% of women with a bachelor’s degree majored in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. So why aren’t they joining us? There’s no simple or one answer, so I won’t even try to break it all down. It’s pretty obvious that the stories hitting the front page of ValleyWag every day about the latest Pax Dickinson or the latest rage-inducing brogrammer culture example aren’t helping to solve the problem.. But the division starts long before the workplace. According to a 2010 study conducted by Women in Computer Science (WiCS) at Stanford, only 15% of all computer science undergrads were female. A gap in education this severe no doubt directly influences the genetic makeup of the tech scene.

But we know all this stuff. We’ve heard about it ad nauseam. So why are we bringing it up? To be honest, we need your help.

While “changing the ratio” is discussed constantly by smart folks like Rachel Sklar who are leading the charge, both on and off social media, on conference panels, in blog posts, and in the tech press because it’s such a far-reaching issue (much farther than just the male-to-female ratio). And the tactical challenge of hiring female talent isn’t addressed all that often.

Like many problems in the tech industry, the issue of available female engineers might best be addressed through open sourcing, so that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing this publicly and transparently to address this issue head-on in a personal way, rather than as a theoretical discussion. I’m sharing what we know right now, what we need to learn, and how we plan to get the knowledge we need in order to create actionable plans going forward, so you can tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can do a better job.

Why are we putting such emphasis on women?

I’m tempted to channel Amy Poehler and answer this question with “really?? really??” But, I’ll give you something a little more quantitative and objective: In late 2012, a Yale study proved that significant biases existed when comparing men and women applying for a lab manager role on the basis of competence, hireability, salary, and mentoring by student gender condition. These biases against women are often subconscious,. I also spoke with several women who had left engineering, to find out why. It turned out that most left because of less-than-positive dev cultures. Having a culture where women are lesser than — either consciously or subconsciously — is completely unacceptable. This is 2013. We fought that battle a long time ago. Or so we thought.

Our own VP of Engineering, Nathan Potter, said it best: “Having a well-rounded group of peers is important for any work team, but especially when you’re building new products for new audiences. You want your team to reflect the varied ideas and values of your customers and the problems they face, and you want to create an environment where all ideas are heard and considered carefully. Which is to say that having women on your engineering team isn’t as much about gender as it is about creating an environment that generates the best ideas which get reflected in the products you build.”

So that’s why we’re putting an emphasis on women. Because it means a company with a proven culture of acceptance, where everyone feels supported and empowered to be strong, contributing members of the team and the company — but it also means a company that has the diversity of thought necessary to build better products. A diverse team is just better for business.

How exactly are we trying to solve this problem? (Here’s the part where you tell us we’re doing it all wrong and give us your ideas of what will work)

1. We’re starting at the beginning.

We’re partnering with organizations that focus on introducing the world of coding at a young age. In particular, we partner with the Young Women’s Leadership School to promote confidence, leadership and success in young women in any industry, and Girls Who Code, a nationally-known organization founded two years ago to close the gender gap in the tech community. With high schoolers returning this fall, we’re planning to be part of GWC’s after-school “Clubs” program, volunteering our team members as speakers, and opening our doors to these young women, even if it’s simply to show them what it’s like to work for a growing tech company. But there are so many other needs these girls have, and so many more ways to foster the technical talent they innately possess.

2. We’re investing in educational opportunities for female talent within our own company.

Our first step has been to bring on a female data science intern to work with us on few projects this fall. While we always plan to participate in coed programs (such as NYC Turing Fellows and NYC Tech Talent Draft), we’re working with her (and all women on our team who want to beef up their technical skills) on specific programs that give young women developers the opportunity to expand their coding skills and become more competitive, regardless of where they choose to pursue a career in the long run. But there are more classes that we can be investing in, and still more opportunities to grow our female talent.

3. We’re partnering with communities who are way ahead of us in tackling these issues.

The female dev community in New York is a growing one (hooray!), so for us — both from a recruiting standpoint and a learning standpoint — it makes total sense to partner with these groups. We work with NYPyLadies and recently hosted a workshop focused on helping women discover their tech expertise and prepare speaking proposals for PyCon 2014. We’re learning from their experiences, their opinions, and their feedback to helping us get to gender engineering parity on our own team. But there are more groups we can be working with, and more time we can be putting in.

4. We’re being brutally honest with ourselves and with you.

Our goal is not to hire one woman, pat ourselves on the back, check the box and move on. That thinking is contrary to everything that we want to achieve and, frankly, is total bullshit. We also know that there’s no silver bullet here. The ton of the stuff we’ve listed above and the new things we’re trying aren’t going to make too much of a difference — but it’s all worth doing for the short and long term, and you’ve got to start somewhere. You guys have done this before, faced these challenges in your own hiring and team building, so tell us what we’re doing wrong — and more importantly, tell us what we could be doing right.

The point is that, while we’re focused on tactical successes and learnings, what we learn through this experience isn’t just for us. What we learn with your help will give other folks in the industry some concrete tips to get better at creating environments and processes that develop, accelerate, and empower women in tech.

Image credit: CC by Intel Photos

About the author: Cat Hernandez

Cat firmly believes that startup success is largely grounded in a company’s ability to hire, retain, and engage the absolute best talent in the marketplace. As Primary Venture Partner’s Talent Partner, and a people evangelist by trade, she works closely with leadership teams across the portfolio to ensure alignment of business strategies with organizational strategies, and she leads recruiting efforts for key hires. Before joining Primary, Cat spent three years at Chartbeat, a NYC startup focused on measuring and monetizing attention on the web. She led organizational growth over three years of hyper-growth, while also helping to create and foster a positive, inclusive culture. Prior to Chartbeat, Cat served in talent acquisition roles at Maxymiser, Infusion, Robert Half International, and Victoria’s Secret. Cat earned a Bachelor’s in Finance from the University of Minnesota and holds an MBA from the College of Saint Rose.

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