Why shouldn't she get a shot?
November 11, 2010 5:58 PM   Subscribe

How can I articulate and justify my desire to hire female engineers? Is it even legal to act on such a preference?

I'm employee #1 (of two) at a small startup. We're getting close to launch. Assuming we don't go bust, we'll be hiring more technical staff in the not-too-distant future. Specifically, we'll probably be hiring a sysadmin and/or a DBA. Down the road, testing staff and more hackers.

I think young women get a raw deal in software, having to work their way up in ways young men rarely have to. They're discriminated against on a constant basis, and it pisses me off. I'd like to do some small part to change that. Specifically, I'd like to hire a female college graduate for at least one of these positions.

But, what arguments can I use to convince the other guys at my company that there's a reason to prefer women to men in the next round of hiring? When I mentioned it casually, I got a sort of, "Ha ha, you're just tired of the sausage fest" response. I don't currently have any argument beyond "women are treated unfairly across the industry, so let's change that here at least". How can I more forcefully defend my position?

And, is it even legitimate or legal to adopt such a policy? Am I off into discriminatory territory if I deliberately give women preferential status? I'm not looking to hire an unqualified woman. But, given two equally strong candidates, I'd like to prefer the woman.
posted by Netzapper to Work & Money (59 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
"Am I off into discriminatory territory if I deliberately give women preferential status?"

posted by stubby phillips at 6:03 PM on November 11, 2010 [10 favorites]

Well, if you are not so much looking at simply hiring a woman but rather "given two equally strong candidates, I'd like to prefer the woman" just ensure that some women are interviewed and if two candidates are about equally strong, argue that you'd like to hire the woman. If they are about equal, it will mostly come down to intangibles, and you can state and argue for your preference.

I think it would start getting problematic and borderline creepy if you only looked at resumes from young women or something though.
posted by pseudonick at 6:09 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah you can't show preference in hiring on the basis of sex.

What you can do, on the other hand, is do your goddamnedest to make the hiring process as free from sexual discrimination as possible. Interviews over IM, for instance, maybe?
posted by ChasFile at 6:13 PM on November 11, 2010

Best answer: I know this is well intentioned, but I'm a female engineer and I cringe at this stuff. I would much rather be turned down from a job that's not a good fit than be offered one just because of my gender. It's insulting and it implies that female engineers can't get themselves hired.

There is plenty of discrimination out there, but it's no good for anyone to fix it with more discrimination.

Hire the best person for your position. If you really want to help, mentor students from the SWE or computer science equivalent at your local university.
posted by Alison at 6:13 PM on November 11, 2010 [35 favorites]

You could make working for your company more attractive to women by offering generous maternity leave, flexible work schedules, and on-site childcare, and emphasizing these benefits in all your job postings. Then you will be more likely to hire a woman simply because you'll get more female applicants.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:16 PM on November 11, 2010 [37 favorites]

Best answer: There's research that shows that groups that contain women do a better job at problem-solving than those consisting solely of men. That alone should convince your co-workers to take diversity seriously. The "best" person for a role isn't necessarily the one who is most qualified individually, but rather the one that best improves the organization as a whole.
posted by 0xFCAF at 6:16 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

There really isn't a better response that can be offered than Allson's. (well put!)

Hiring based on gender is wrong, no matter what your intent is.
posted by HuronBob at 6:17 PM on November 11, 2010

if you're in the US, i'm pretty sure this is in direct violation of title VII of the civil rights act.

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer -
(1) to fail or refuse to hire [...] because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
posted by nadawi at 6:18 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it's important and fine/legal to consider your overall workplace diversity as an important goal in making hiring decisions. Being "tired of the sausage fest" -- wanting a mixed work force -- is *smart* from an organizational viewpoint. Diversity is good for business and good for the well-being of the workers (individually and collectively).

Maybe frame it as "diversity is good for us" -- for our customers, for our current workers, for our future applicants, for our reputation? And not so much as an I-want-to-help-people-who-have-experienced-discrimination (though I agree with that, too, personally).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:21 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Is gender discrimination in hiring illegal? Yes

Is your specific situation illegal? Yes
posted by notme at 6:21 PM on November 11, 2010

(Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees -- some state laws cover smaller employers.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:23 PM on November 11, 2010 [7 favorites]

You can't convince people about theoretical arguments, so don't try (in particular, arguments of the form "two things, exactly equal except one is an X" are never going to convince anyone because the premise can be nit-picked endlessly). Instead, focus on three practical (and legal) areas:

- Recruitment: If your interviewing experience is anything like mine, the normal channels are going to give you at best 10% female candidates. Make an effort to change that: if you want to hire college graduates, go to the campus CS job fairs and local (your tech) user groups and make a particular effort to talk to women. Find your local women-in-technology group and see if they have job stuff. Maybe give a talk there and plug your company at the end.
- Encouragement: If you find a female candidate you like and get them to come in for an interview, make sure the interviewers are not going to be sexist dicks. Pick people who are not going to turn the candidate off your company.
- Evaluation: The other half of the previous is to pick interviewers who are going to give all the candidates a fair evaluation. Different candidates have different communication styles; don't pair, say, a quiet candidate with a pushy interviewer who is going to run roughshod over them and make them feel shut down.

If you follow these three steps, you will probably increase the number of female hires (and if you can do that, it'll probably snowball, since female interviewers are generally good for all three of the things I mentioned). There are no guarantees -- what are you going to do if nobody female applies, qualified or otherwise -- but it's a good shot.
posted by inkyz at 6:24 PM on November 11, 2010 [6 favorites]

You can't discriminate but you can do many other things to attract great women candidates and make them feel welcome.
  • post your job openings in places where women are more likely to see the ads.
  • attend job fairs at women-only colleges and colleges that have strong support programs for women engineers.
  • emphasize your anti-descrimination policies and your commitment to equal opportunity in hiring.
  • let local professors know that you think it's shame that women engineers get such a bum deal, and that you want to have a company that is friendly to engineers who are women. Ask them to encourage their strongest female engineers to apply for jobs with you.
  • institute employment policies that you think will be attractive to women and to women-friendly men.
  • sponsor a mentoring program for high-school girls who are interested in science and engineering.
All of this will not only get you great talent, it will set a public example for other companies to follow.
posted by alms at 6:25 PM on November 11, 2010 [7 favorites]

Yeah, you can't discriminate in hiring, but you can make efforts to reach out to potential female applicants end ensure you get many good female candidates. Contact SWE chapters at local universities, etc.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:25 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's a specific example. You could sponsor something like this:
A new award in support of young women in computing.

In 2018, there will be an estimated 1.4 million computer specialist jobs available in the US – now that's a lot of jobs! But in 2008, only 18% of computer science grads were women! Do you want more women (yourself included) to be ready and willing to fill some of these jobs? Come challenge yourself (or someone you know) and apply for the first Massachusetts Aspirations in Computing Affiliate Award (MACAA)! ITA Software is partnering with the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) along with other local technology companies and universities to honor young high school women for their computing-related achievements and interests.
posted by alms at 6:28 PM on November 11, 2010

The EEOC explicitly lists "job advertisements" and "recruitment" as ways in which you may not discriminate on the basis of a protected class, so don't see how all these ideas about how to more strongly recruit women would be any more legal than preferring the woman candidate to the male candidate in an "equally qualified" situation.
posted by 0xFCAF at 6:31 PM on November 11, 2010

But, what arguments can I use to convince the other guys at my company that there's a reason to prefer women to men in the next round of hiring?

I can't speak to the legality (and would advise against taking any Internet comments on legality seriously) but are there more guys than just you and the other employee? How many employees overall? How many are men? You might argue that these numbers show the company is discriminating against women.

But in any event, you can make a point to reach out to women's professional groups when advertising your next opening and having office policies to prevent harassment, both of which you should do anyway.
posted by Marty Marx at 6:31 PM on November 11, 2010

Response by poster: Okay, so, I'm not actually sure that it's illegal for me to discriminate based on gender. PA law appears not to include it. And the federal law doesn't apply to us (we have only two employees). But, we'll take it as read that hiring discrimination is a bad idea--even if only for the reasons that Alison raises above.

But, if I'm hearing you correctly, I can work to, well, "stack the deck" by intentionally seeking out female candidates?

Which brings me back to the real question: help me sell that to a couple dudes who care about womens issues about as much as I care about highschool lacrosse.
posted by Netzapper at 6:33 PM on November 11, 2010

Best answer: I think what you're looking for is affirmative action - and ensuring equal opportunities to all candidates is a great thing! After all, if there aren't currently any women/minorities/etc, then why not? It does suggest that systematic discrimination is going on at some level, even if it's not overt, and there is plenty that you could do in the hiring and recruitment process to encourage more women to apply, as stated above.

I'd work at crafting an actual affirmative action policy for your organization. It's seems really common at this point anyway, most job ads that I've seen state that "women and minorities are encouraged to apply."
posted by susanvance at 6:34 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

@OxFCAF: those restrictions on advertisements mean that you can't discriminate in an ad or in an interview, i.e. by saying "no Jews need apply" (which, not too long ago, was par for the course, so to speak.) It has nothing to do with advertising in venues that might be especially likely to attract a particular class of applicant, as long as you don't advertise exclusively in such a venue.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:40 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with Alison here - as much as I hated the baffled "You're a girl? And you want to be a programmer?" questioning when interviewing for software jobs, I hate the idea of being given a job just because I'm a girl even more.

But, yes, stacking the deck by intentionally seeking female candidates would be fine.
posted by Xany at 6:41 PM on November 11, 2010

Centuries ago in his youth, Milton Friedman favored hiring women at his company. His reasoning was that if market wages for women were unfairly low, he could pay them just slightly more and that way get better workers for cheaper; furthermore, by doing so he would help to narrow the irrational pay disparity.

Now, this is exactly the kind of argument you'd expect from a market idolater like Friedman, and I really don't endorse it myself, but it's an argument.
posted by kprincehouse at 6:42 PM on November 11, 2010

I think chasfile is really onto something with this: What you can do, on the other hand, is do your goddamnedest to make the hiring process as free from sexual discrimination as possible. Interviews over IM, for instance, maybe?

That completely sidesteps the whole "reverse" discrimination conundrum, the problem of maybe making some women feel patronized, etc.

So I think maybe you don't have to go the way of trying to convince your colleagues of why it's important to hire more women. You actually may have more success in convincing them there's a chance your hiring process, or the hiring processes in tech jobs in general, may be unintentionally biased.

I think there are a lot of creative things you could come up with do to, to fix that. In my law school, we take our exams anonymously. Many orchestras have their members audition behind a screen. That may be a little too "blind" for you, but there are tons of options here.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:46 PM on November 11, 2010

I regularly work with engineers, and have made several hiring decisions regarding engineers in the past. I won't debate what's been pointed out above. But I will say that were it down to two equally-qualified [GPA, admissions, work experience, interview, etc.] candidates--one woman, one man-- I have, and I will continue, until it seems no longer necessary, to take into consideration the probability that the female candidate attained her credentials despite pervasive societal and peer challenges with which the male candidate was unencumbered.
posted by applemeat at 6:56 PM on November 11, 2010 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I always thought the economic argument came from Alan Greenspan:
I always valued men and women equally, and I found that because others did not, good women economists were cheaper than men. Hiring women does two things: It gives us better quality work for less money, and it raises the market value of women.
I would also add that, in my limited experience, environments full of male programmers can develop an particular kind of obnoxious masculine culture—which repels not just to women, but also lots of men. By hiring a substantial portion of women, you may be creating a more pleasant workplace; that will help you hire more good programmers of both genders.

I have no idea whether this is illegal, or whether anyone would dare to sue you if it were.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 7:01 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

an particular kind
not just to women
posted by Chicken Boolean at 7:04 PM on November 11, 2010

Best answer: You could make working for your company more attractive to women by offering generous maternity leave, flexible work schedules, and on-site childcare, and emphasizing these benefits in all your job postings.

THIS makes me fucking cringe. To presume that women inevitably will be--or want to be--mothers is to me possibly the most insidiously condescending example of the garden variety sexism that continues to devalue female candidates from positions of actual, executive power.
posted by applemeat at 7:11 PM on November 11, 2010 [8 favorites]

Best answer: THIS makes me fucking cringe. To presume that women inevitably will be--or want to be--mothers is to me possibly the most insidiously condescending example of the garden variety sexism that continues to devalue female candidates from positions of actual, executive power.

So call it family leave and don't assume that only female engineers will value flex-time and on-site childcare.

Non-toxic workplaces will attract qualified and mature candidates of any gender.
posted by muddgirl at 7:22 PM on November 11, 2010 [23 favorites]

I think the thing is not to present it as "we need more women, so let's advertise at this women's college" (because your co-workers don't care about having more women) but to present it as "we need a larger pool of strong applicants, so let's advertise at this women's college."
posted by phoenixy at 7:26 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Netzapper, IANAL, but it looks pretty unambiguous to me from the below that employers are barred from discriminating on sex in PA. Source. You might also be interested in some of the language about advertising in subsection b, too - it specifies that you can't try to circumvent the law by recruiting from particular training schools, either. I would be pretty careful about going through women's colleges.

Act of 1955, P.L. 744, No. 222, AS AMENDED JUNE 25, 1997 BY ACT 34 OF 1997, 43 P.S. §§ 951-963
SECTION 5. (a) For any employer because of the ... sex, ... of any individual or independent contractor refuse to hire or employ or contract with, or to bar or to discharge from employment such individual or independent contractor, or to otherwise discriminate against such individual or independent contractor with respect to compensation, hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment or contract, if the individual or independent contractor is the best able and most competent to perform the services required....Notwithstanding any provision of this clause, it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for a religious corporation or association to hire or employ on the basis of sex in those certain instances where sex is a bona fide occupational qualification because of the religious beliefs, practices, or observances of the corporation, or association.
posted by gingerest at 7:33 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have an extremely talented coworker who is a woman. I have the best boss I've ever had, currently, and he's an African-American. All three of us work together in the software industry.

In absolutely no uncertain terms, I can tell you this: both of them deserve their jobs just as much as I deserve mine, because we're very good at what we do. However, the odds of either of them being overlooked for a job opportunity are higher, because of discriminatory practices we know are fairly common in the industry.

Focus on doing what you can to ensure that the people you interview are as numerous and talented as possible, and on keeping people from being left off the short list because of things that have nothing to do with their potential talent*. If you're going to do anything in the hiring practice, do that. Then follow Allison's advise otherwise.

*I had a long, ethnic last name, and getting callbacks on my resumes was a shot in the dark. I changed it to a short non-ethnic name, and suddenly all my calls started coming back. From the same resume I'd been using. Trust me, prejudice is much more likely to push certain candidates out of the pool before there's ever a phone or face-to-face meeting, when such filtering can be done without actually thinking of the rejected person as a person. Fight it there, because it's a more insidious problem.
posted by davejay at 7:37 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Your easiest route here is to start a diversity-in-recruitment effort that doesn't just focus on women. But honestly, you have two employees. Individual personalities are a much bigger deal at this stage than anything else, when it comes to hiring and firing and what kind of environment you have. Emphasize to your hiring committee types that you want to make sure you're Doing The Right Thing (TM) in terms of avoiding discrimination, giving all candidates a fair shake, recruiting in places you wouldn't automatically put at the top of the list, etc., and chances are you will end up with a female employee or three sooner than you will if you just rely on interviewing by IM or promising people flex time.

Also: you can point out the various advantages you get in, e.g., government contracting when working with female/minority-owned subcontractors. You probably won't just be hiring employees, I imagine. Lots of the girls I knew temping in various jobs got those jobs because they were hired by a woman-owned temp agency that focused recruiting on underserved female populations, and the temp agency got lots of contracts all over town because everyone else wanted the tax and bidding benefits associated with working with them. Every contractor who bids on a job with my current employer has the chance to gain bidding points by working with MBE/FBE subcontractors, too.

Lastly: the companies that had the highest profile amongst the female engineering students when I was one of them were the ones that helped host SWE and Alpha Omega Epsilon events. One company in particular made a real effort - they had three or four of their engineers take a bunch of us honors students to a Japanese steakhouse and Lauren Bacall talk, for instance. Everyone came away from that really glad to be engineering majors, and hoping to work for that company. I'd like to work there today, and I switched majors twelve years ago.
posted by SMPA at 7:37 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it is illegal to prefer female candidates, it must be one of those laws that it is laughably easy to lawyer out of. Which is to say, I've never worked at a place that lowered their hiring standards to hire women, but I have worked at places that have found headcount where there was none for good female candidates. (If any women are reading this, programming, it's a damn good gig if you've got the mind for it). And by the by, if it is illegal to prefer female candidates it is illegal to prefer male ones but there are many many places that do the latter, implicitly or explicitly.

Look, you are a small company. It is hard to find any female candidates, let alone good, qualified female candidates, and if you wonder why you can't find any it is probably because big companies like mine are snapping them up as fast as we can find them. But, here are my general rules for encouraging hiring of non-standard candidates (which can included a wide range of people that it might actually be great to bring in to the industry):

Screen for potential. So, the candidate in front of you does not know the answer to your pet pedantic language question. Give them the opportunity to show critical thinking skills outside of a prescribed set of constructs. If they are unfamiliar with the fundamentals of an area, explain the concepts to them and see where they can take those concepts.

Don't give undue weight to "this person just feels like someone I want to hang out with". The biggest disadvantage underrepresented groups can face in hiring is that they fail the "grab a beer" test. Remember, this person is not going to mostly be grabbing beers with you, they are mostly going to be fixing bugs/adding features/designing systems. This is a big one, and I would bet it will end up being the biggest hurdle for your colleagues to overcome.

Ask you candidates to solve real problems, but be flexible about how they solve them. This goes with my first point, but it is more subtle. If you are not a good interviewer it is just as likely (perhaps more) that you will be bowled over by a good talker that doesn't know how to do shit as you will miss someone that didn't speak your language perfectly. So be willing to say, hey, write code to do X. It can be Java-esque (I won't kill you for forgetting a public modifier), or whatever, so long as the basic algorithm is correct and you have some intuition for finding corner cases.

How do you convince your colleagues? That I can't tell you. Perhaps it's as simple as "This woman and this guy are equally talented, but if we hire her, we gain easier access to a more diverse talent pool than we might otherwise have". If you decide to make the case that you can pay women less, that's a shitbag reason (not that you are proposing this, but come on, if you are paying someone less than market rate and saying that hiring them helps with "raising [their undervalued group's] market value" you are an equivocating douche).
posted by ch1x0r at 7:38 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Back in the 1990's, I worked in several small startups as the only female software engineer, and I always felt that my presence served to tone down the macho boys-world of the other young, male software geeks. Without me there, I had the impression that the office would have devolved into a feral wilderness.

I'm pretty easy-going and low-key, and it's not like I was walking around demanding political correctness. I don't know if I can really explain it, but it was as if just by being there, competent yet fairly quiet, I had a calming effect on my very bright, very high-strung, and (sometimes) very socially inept peers.

Was that a function of my gender or my personality? I don't know. Do all female engineers have this same effect? I don't know. But it's possibly an argument you could use to gain support for your affirmative action effects.

I agree with the previous posts in that I would want to be hired on my skills and accomplishments rather than my gender, but as others posters have also pointed out, you can proactively recruit women to ensure you have a good range of interview candidates.

Thank you for thinking hard about this. I was lucky to be hired by managers who exhibited a similar vibe. The coolest thing was going to an interview and treated like a person, rather than some weird anomaly.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 7:38 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Which brings me back to the real question: help me sell that to a couple dudes who care about womens issues about as much as I care about highschool lacrosse.

You're not going to be able to sell them on it. Give it up. You just need to do it yourself. Make sure your company has good policies; make sure you don't have a sexist hiring process; make sure you do outreach and advertising that encourages women applicants.
posted by alms at 7:38 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know this is well intentioned, but I'm a female engineer and I cringe at this stuff. I would much rather be turned down from a job that's not a good fit than be offered one just because of my gender.

That's a reasonable way to feel, but I think it's a bit naive. People make subconscious assumptions about you based on your gender all the time. The fact that some people want to counteract that is not just a benefit to you personally, but good for all of us. It means people will get more used to women in those positions, making girls more comfortable going into those fields (at which point of course the wages/ reputations of those fields drops, but... that's another story)

The Equal Opportunity Employment Act specifies that women and minorities cannot be discriminated against, but allows for affirmative action. Usually people say something like "is an Equal Opportunity Employer" in the ad, perhaps specifying "encourages diversity in the workplace" or something.

It's worth keeping in mind when you apply for something: it is unlikely that there is only one candidate who fits perfectly and everyone else falls short. Often, many different applicants are real possibilities. So what tips the balance? In some cases, it's "I just liked that guy" - but then perhaps they will choose someone more familiar, already like themselves. Affirmative action forces people to choose someone because they're not like the rest of the group.
posted by mdn at 7:41 PM on November 11, 2010 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I can't answer the legal question, but as soon as you're large enough to have an HR function in the company you should ask an expert to be sure you are acting legally.

As a practical matter, it is crucial to hire women as early as possible at a startup. Every woman engineer I've talked to has agreed it can be difficult to be the first woman at a company, particularly the first woman engineer. You want to make it apparent as early as possible that women are equally valued at the company. It's in the company's best interest, both to be ethical and also because you want to be able to hire all the strong women candidates that other companies aren't able to attract.

Speaking specifically from my experience at Google, I was very impressed when I interviewed there in the early years and two of my six interviewers were female. Smart women in strong leadership roles. It sent the signal to me (a guy), an applicant, that women were respected in the company. Later I learned that Google tried hard to be sure women interviewed every candidate, both to send that signal and also to pick up on whether the candidate would be compatible with the female workers as well as the male.
posted by Nelson at 8:23 PM on November 11, 2010 [8 favorites]

AlisonM has it covered, but this question bugged me, so I'm coming back to add my opinion.
(FWIW, I'm working on a PhD in a department that's <2>
For all y'all talking about how Affirmative Action is a good thing - it may have good effects on society as a whole, and for future generations, but it's a shitty thing to do to an individual today. Even though I am almost certain that both my UG and grad institutions don't practice AA, I still wind up on the receiving end of accusations that I'm not as good as the guys and that I'm only where I am because I'm a girl. Of course, I can dismiss these guys as insecure and needing to make excuses for themselves, but I'd rather be at a second-tier school than have those accusations be true.

I'm still in school, so my principles have yet to meet with economic reality, but if I even got a whiff that you wanted to hire me because I'm female, rather than because you think I'd do an awesome job on your project, I'd instantly lose interest in your company. The other posters have it covered pretty well - rather than hiring preferentially, do your best to create a non-sexist atmosphere at your company.

Finally - thank you for caring about this. As "one of the guys", I think you're in a far better position than I am to call attention to casual sexist remarks and help to change the culture of your field.
posted by Metasyntactic at 8:51 PM on November 11, 2010

This is a situation where you should talk to a lawyer. Nobody here can give you the answer you deserve as to the legal issue. (It's probably more correct to say that nobody here who can give you the answer you deserve will give it in this forum with the limited information you've provided.) Get a local lawyer who focuses on small business issues. They'll be able to tell you specifically what will and won't fly in your jurisdiction, and how to minimize your exposure to litigation as you forge ahead.

You're going to want one anyway - corporate formation, transactional work, um, business leases. . . These are all things where it makes sense to get on board with somebody before you get in over your head. I promise you can afford it. Memail me if you need help finding some names.
posted by averyoldworld at 9:08 PM on November 11, 2010

help me sell [hiring women] to a couple dudes who [don't] care about womens issues

If women are undervalued by a sexist labor market, then you can hire equal talent at reduced wage (or greater talent at the same wage) -- full stop.

Two answers above alluded to this, but did so in strangely-inflected terms that make it sound like it's some kind of politically-controversial belief: a belief that only right-leaners would ever buy into, and that Brad DeLong would be able to demolish with some brilliantly concise blog post.

But it's not. To any economist, market-loving or suspicious-of-markets, it's tautology.
posted by foursentences at 9:16 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

help me sell that to a couple dudes who care about womens issues about as much as I care about highschool lacrosse.

You're running a start-up. As with all start-ups, there's high chance it'll fail, and take with it years of its founders' lives and lots of its founders' money.

Presumably, they would prefer a more qualified woman would be to a less qualified man for the purely selfish reason that hiring her would increase the chance of the start-up succeeding.

But if you're asking two of the founders to prefer a woman candidate even if that means foregoing a more qualified male, and thus increasing the risk of your start-up failing, well, that's going to be a hard case to make. Not going to fly, forget it.

So the only area of overlap is when you have two equally qualified candidates, one male one female. And that's not going to happen, either; all three of you won't all agree any pair of candidates is fungible. In that case, you can say, "diversity is good, I prefer the woman", and your co-founders can say, "I prefer the one who shares my love of tennis" or "that one has a more honest face" or whatever, which will come down to their (subconscious) subjective impression of the two "equal" candidates. (Or maybe they pick the guy to offset what they see as your bias.)

Unless your start-up is named "Start Up the Promotion of Women in Engineering", your fiduciary duty to your co-founders is to hire the people who give you the best value for the costs. Where I putting my time, money, youth, into a venture with you, I'd expect no less. After you make your fortune, you can establish a scholarship or a foundation to promote whatever you want; right now, you need to figure out what your priorities are.
posted by orthogonality at 9:18 PM on November 11, 2010

So call it family leave and don't assume that only female engineers will value flex-time and on-site childcare.

+1 If you really want to break down gender barriers, you need to extend these benefits to dads too (so that moms can work).
posted by schmod at 9:49 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would argue that having some balance and diversity would make it more likely that someone in your group would click with potential funders and clients. I'm not saying "women are better at socializing" but that if you have three people who are Type M, and the would-be donor gets along best with Type N, well, you are out of luck. But if you have two Ms and then hired an N, you'd be better off. At my old company, if we were deciding whom to send to a meeting and all else was equal enough that we could easily send a male-female team, we would. Not that gender determines your personality type or anything. We'd intentionally diversify the group we sent out however we could: age, background, tech/non-tech...
posted by salvia at 10:55 PM on November 11, 2010

Best answer: Nthing that you should just go ahead & post job ads in especially woman-friendly spaces without trying to persuade your colleagues. Ask a female technologist you know to post about your company to Systers. You're in PA -- I understand UPenn has a pretty active Women In Technology group and I bet their alumni are open to recruiting.

Good luck with the startup!
posted by brainwane at 11:16 PM on November 11, 2010

THIS makes me fucking cringe. To presume that women inevitably will be--or want to be--mothers is to me possibly the most insidiously condescending example of the garden variety sexism that continues to devalue female candidates from positions of actual, executive power.

Is there anything factually wrong in the comment this is a response to? Anyway, this has nothing to do with presuming anything. It's about accommodating the very real needs of the over 80 percent of (American) women who choose to have children, and whose presence in the workplace somehow continues to be treated as some kind of temporary aberration. The model that the working world follows today was not handed down to us from god; it has to change to reflect real world conditions and to support, protect and allow for things that society simply needs, that is, for women to work and for children to exist. We retain too much of a system designed for the men of a time that is gone, whose freedom to reproduce without consequence to their careers absolutely depended on the limitations placed on women in virtually all areas of their lives. How can "actual, executive power" really be incompatible with creating a space for something that the vast majority of people do, and that society needs them to do? I just find it much more damaging to women's potential to insist we close our eyes to the fact that they (we) are the ones who are suffering under the arrangement we now have.

OP, I think your goal is admirable. Don't do anything bold that will get you in trouble, just do what you can to attract the candidates you want by, as others have said, creating an environment where they are welcome and can thrive. When they come to you, let them in. Your company is small enough that you should be able to push this through quietly, by yourself, without any tricky attempts to get the other people on board with your ideals. That's something you probably need to avoid to get this done. Good luck to you and your brand new company!
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:22 AM on November 12, 2010 [11 favorites]

What type of product(s) does your company create? The best way to convince people of the value of hiring a diverse workforce is to convince them (and believe yourself) of the actual business value of having differing perspectives in the company. I'll give you some entirely made up examples:
1) A company of all men is creating a mobile phone app that depends on buzzing the phone lightly in your pocket every time you pass a certain location. The guys don't realize until it's too late that most women carry their phone in their purse and wouldn't even realize the phone is buzzing.
2) A company, let's call it TinySquishy Corporation, designs a game controller for a new kick ass game console. They test it mostly with U.S. men (its employees) and when it releases, people with smaller hands hate the controller. They have to spend $$$$ to develop a smaller controller for the Japanese market, kids, and consumers with smaller hands.
3) A software project team is made up of 3 highly optimistic individuals. They miss all their project deadlines, infuriating their investors and burning themselves out working 24/7. They are running out of time and money. With their last dollars they hire someone who points out all their aggressive assumptions, straightens out their schedule, and brings them to a pragmatic approach. Their work life vastly improves and they ship when promised.

Also, here are some research results from the NCWIT:
In a study of more than 100 teams at 21 companies, teams with equal numbers of women and men were more likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge, and fulfill tasks than teams of any other composition.

A recent NCWIT study shows that mixed-sex teams produce IT patents that are cited 26–42 percent more often than the norm.

Additional studies indicate that, under the right conditions, teams comprising diverse members consistently outperform teams comprising “highest-ability” members.

Diversity isn't just about being nice, it's about making products that people want to use. If you're writing software for people who think and act just like you, it may not be as important to hire a diverse workforce. If your project team members already have complementary temperaments and get great things done on time without burning out, maybe you'll be OK too. But that usually doesn't happen at small software companies. The founding members hire people just like themselves and often that is not enough to stay viable longer term.

Also, I apologize for veering off-question, but if you are this heartfelt about helping out women in technology, consider volunteering to mentor girls and women who are looking into and are in computer programming and other technology fields. As you are finding out and as most hiring managers will say: sure I'd love to hire a woman but there just aren't any out there. We need to maintain and grow that pool of applicants and that can start with your help. Good luck and thank you for asking this question.
posted by girlhacker at 12:54 AM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

Data point: since 2003, the NFL has required teams to interview at least one minority candidate for open head coaching positions. No restrictions on hiring, but they have to interview one. While it's debatable whether this is a good or effective policy, presumably it's at least legal. (Further data point: the NFL has two teams in Pennsylvania.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:03 AM on November 12, 2010

"Hiring women does two things: It gives us better quality work for less money, and it raises the market value of women."

I am not at all interested in working for any company that finds excuses to pay me less than the industry standard. I have turned down many, many companies at the negotiation stage when they've come at me with unexpectedly low pay offers. If they discriminate against me at the beginning, it's not going to get any better down the line.

I would encourage looking at stuff like transparent pay scales, parental leave, and subsidized childcare as concrete evidence of your diversity-friendly environment. (I don't agree that parental leave and subsidized childcare are discriminatory, because of the little-known fact that statistically, at least as many men as women have children.)

As for the day-to-day stuff - I'd think carefully about what a woman would actually experience if she started working for you. Not to make any presumptions about what your cow-orkers are like, OP, but if she's going to have to sit there listening to guys yelling out explicitly misogynist discourse all day long... as I had to, whenever I've worked at any place that was plastered with "we are officially a diversity-loving equal-opportunity employer" signs... Next time you're in the office or at lunch with your coworkers, have a listen to what they talk about, and ask how you'd feel about the stuff they were saying if you were exactly the same person, but a woman.

It's a shame that stuff like pay discrimination and hostile work environments are encouraged in our culture whereas the idea of preferentially hiring an equally qualified female is considered cringeworthy, but there you go.
posted by tel3path at 3:42 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

But, given two equally strong candidates, I'd like to prefer the woman.

Then do.
posted by General Tonic at 6:37 AM on November 12, 2010

Law aside, and though it's touchy to go into differences between men and women...

With many years in software development, mechanical engineering, manufacturing and now architecture/civil engineering, I've almost never run across a below average woman. They often completely kick the asses of the men around them.

Post a job listing for a mechanical engineer and you'll see 100 men apply, but only 10 women. Maybe 40% of the men will be above average engineers, but 90% of the women will be. Why?

It's not because of differences between the sexes. It's purely cultural. In my experience, men very often go into engineering because it's the default choice. It's certainly what was expected of me and almost all my friends. It's what smart boys are pressured to do and it leaves the field full of guys who would be happier elsewhere. Women in highly technical fields are almost always there because it's their calling. If you work in the field, you're completely blind if you can't see this.

Flip side is true for men in traditionally female-dominated industries, I'm sure. The male nurses and social workers I've met are all *really* invested in their work.
posted by pjaust at 6:46 AM on November 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

(Building on Ashley801...) If you are worried about latent discrimination during the hiring process, one step than can help with parity is 'blind' the interviews. Have code challenges and other steps that reward skill and merit directly. Interviews are notoriously hard to do right, can have poor predictive value, and are subject to all sorts of biases, so reduce their impact :) Our challenge site was partly designed for that purpose.

We are sometimes limited in our choices by who applies. I have made it a personal goal to look wide and far for interesting candidates with diverse backgrounds (diverse on lots of axes: orientation, race, gender, educational background, region), but it's not always easy to find good candidates! If people are looking for new gigs, we are looking for good devs from any background! (Telecommute, smart people, complicated problem space, very good work/life balance).

As others have said, if you are really concerned about this stuff, you might have to 'build your own'. Mentor, teach classes, talk about your work.
posted by gregglind at 1:32 PM on November 12, 2010

Just wanted to say one last thing:

I noticed that once of the answers you marked at best contained the quote from Alan Greenspan: I always valued men and women equally, and I found that because others did not, good women economists were cheaper than men. Hiring women does two things: It gives us better quality work for less money, and it raises the market value of women.

I don't know if that part of the answer was why you marked the answer at best, but I just wanted to say: I know you're looking for argument to present to your co-workers that might sway them, and that argument may do that.

But I think 3 men having a conversation about how it's smart to hire women because they can be paid less, and then deciding to consider hiring more women based partly on that, is going to really perpetuate and worsen a culture in your company that already sounds not the most woman-friendly (judging from how you said your coworkers care exceedingly little about women's issues).

The whole reason you and your co-workers don't see eye-to-eye on this problem is because of their attitudes and mindsets (of non-caring about discrimination). Making this type of argument to them (about how the effects of discrimination can be used to the advantage of your company for profit) will, in my opinion, only enforce and validate those attitudes of non-caring, not seeing this as a big deal.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:51 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

(And I think it goes without saying that if you DID end up hiring a woman who you paid less than a comparable man, that would be terrible.)
posted by Ashley801 at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Frankly, I think you'll have a hard time finding women employees at the price startups want to pay. For example, health insurance: do you offer it? FMLA? Do you pay market competitive salaries? I.e., your applicant has an offer from Google or Rackspace in hand for double your initial offer; can you make a counteroffer? Or do you go to the next best candidate?

More importantly, the pool of women is just so damn small. Carnegie Mellon's CS program can brag about how awesome they are at getting balanced admissions, but here at KSU I'm told that we've adopted the same policy and still have a 10:1 ratio of men:women. The battle here isn't necessarily discrimination in the workplace as much as self-selecting themselves out of the career.

This is a personal opinion of mine, but if you look at what motivates the CS undergraduates, a lot of it is video games, which has been male dominated and marketed in the past. Regional community colleges have responded by introducing video game courses that are basically programming degrees, and the last roster I saw was 100 percent male. When I was an undergrad, there was certainly a lot of people who wanted to break into programming. I kind of did, but fortunately I'd had early exposure to professionals via IRC and the takeaway was long hours and crap pay. I think most people end up in not-gaming careers for the better pay, but it's a useful delusion to think your career won't be a boring series of acronyms and regulatory compliance.

I think your best bet is to figure out what kind of software women want to use and write. As a guy who likes video games and Linux, I'm guessing you can find a better person than me to tell you what that is. Sponsor a couple SWE events and maybe do a survey?
posted by pwnguin at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2010

pwnguin: "When I was an undergrad, there was certainly a lot of people who wanted to break into programming. "

Err, specifically game programming.
posted by pwnguin at 1:56 PM on November 12, 2010

One fairly high-profile example of an affirmative action program that has been successful is the NFL's Rooney Rule. The rule states that no NFL football team may hire a general manager or head coach without interviewing a candidate of a minority race for the position.

Mike Tomlin, hired by the rule's original proponent Dan Rooney, went on to win the Super Bowl.

So if you want to talk to a bunch of meatheads about affirmative action, this example is a reasonable place to start.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 4:59 PM on November 12, 2010

Response by poster: I actually had the argument today. I asked that we make a concerted effort to advertise, at least, on the various "women in tech" type venues in the area.

After making it clear that I was serious, that I wasn't looking to meet hot sysadmins, and that I didn't mean that we should hire less qualified candidates... they said, "No, fair enough. You post the ad where you think it should go." We had a good hour-long discussion about my concerns about diversity in the industry.

Although the issues about startup compensation mentioned above are spot on. We offer *no* benefits whatsoever beyond the least toxic work environment I've met... although we do pay competitively.
posted by Netzapper at 5:10 PM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

Oh, hey, just wanted to add this: I just spent two days in a remote office of our company, teaching some engineers (35 or so) how to do some specific things, and the male/female split was roughly 50/50. The times, they may be changing more rapidly than we realize.
posted by davejay at 9:19 PM on November 12, 2010

(Argh, I lose. Chicken Boolean is right, it's Greenspan I was thinking of and not Milton Friedman. Blast!)
posted by kprincehouse at 7:05 PM on November 19, 2010

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