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March 14, 2013

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"In other words, hiring women engineers is hard. Especially if you hire them like men."

Um. so - hire them differently but don't lower standards? Treat them the same only not the same?

The times I've interviewed female programmers, I was not aware that I was supposed to do anything different. I'd think that an engineering organization, at least, would be focused on engineering ability, not gender.

It seems like a common problem in typically male oriented jobs that they develop rites of passage designed for men, but have little to do with the job (such as physical requirements to become a firefighter, but not to remain a firefighter). Unless a job entails oral debate, for example, quick response interviews probably provide little. (Which is not to say women are innately bad at this, just using the example in the article).

I once interviewed a woman who only looked at her hands, could barely be heard, and the job entailed interaction with lots of people. She said something to the effect "I get nervous during interviews." I called her prior employer as a reference as part of due diligence (with no intention to hire), and he said "I don't know what your job is, but I would hire that woman for any job, up to and including the President of the United States."

I did, and she was stellar (and is in the same organization but 3 levels up now 10 years later).

Something similar has occured while working with men from different cultures, where they may not make eye contact. While the dominant culture makes this seem shifty, for some cultures it might simply be done to not "challenge." And eye contact is probably not required for most jobs, but in an interview it is likely to be a showstopper.

So, I am in agreement with the CTO that diversity may require identify rites of passage that are not related to job performance and getting rid of them.

I'd think that an engineering organization, at least, would be focused on engineering ability, not gender.

I'd think that, too. There has to be some middle ground where you're being neither insular nor obsessively hewing to diversity for its own sake. Unfortunately my company tends to lean heavily in the latter direction.

But by and large, who winds up staying tend to be capable people, which is really all I care about.

FWIW, the eight-person engineering group I work in includes three women.

Just a data point.

I'd think that an engineering organization, at least, would be focused on engineering ability, not gender.

A lot of engineering interviews I've seen had little to do with engineering ability. Interviewing is a skill, and at most tech companies, its development is ignored, so most people are bad at it.

Also, every tech company I've worked at had "cultural fit" as part of its hiring criteria (i.e., after you interviewed a candidate, you'd have to talk about how well they'd fit the group's culture at the review meeting), so the notion that all engineering organizations are only focused on engineering ability seems totally detached from reality.

And eye contact is probably not required for most jobs, but in an interview it is likely to be a showstopper.

I've noticed this too. I've tried to move my interview style to a more collaborative mode; less "prove to me that you're awesome" and more "here's a cool problem, let's work on it together, you'll take the lead and I'll make suggestions and help you out when you get stuck" (I make sure they always get stuck because I want to see how they react). I did that not for gender reasons but because I noticed that once I started interviewing people who weren't cocky 22 year old guys, my interviewees were nervous and interviewing is already stressful enough.

I'd think that an engineering organization, at least, would be focused on engineering ability, not gender.

Sure, but how much are you going to learn about their engineering ability in a one day interview? In my experience, you learn a lot more about somebody's ability from their CV than you'll get from an interview. The interview is most helpful to give both sides a chance to see things that don't show up on paper, and any attempt to use it to test their ability is wasting time that might better be spent meeting and talking to people.

I think what that CTO is saying is: "Our interview process is screwed up. It gives lots of weight to things that don't matter for the job, and ignores things that do matter. But we are only looking to fix it in the case of women."

One has to wonder why he isn't looking to fix the process for everybody. Not only would it allow him to get more qualified women employees, it would seem like a great way to increase the quality of his new hires generally. Why wouldn't he do that???

But I suppose it's just another of those cases of someone in charge saying "I had to suffer thru this kind of stupidity back in the day. So everybody else who comes after ought to have to suffer, too." That's pretty much why we have hazing in any organization, everywhere from college fraternities to sports teams to our service academies. They all come up with rationalizations, but it really just comes down to "I had to suffer, so everybody else ought to also."

turb, that's a great interview approach. And one I've used myself.

Actually, my favorite tactic is to start with a couple of normal problems. And, if those go well, toss out whatever problem is tormenting me currently. If the interview subject can at least suggest a couple of approaches that I have missed, even if they don't solve the problem either, they are definitely someone I want. (And what they use for plumbing is a total irrelevance.)

Sure, but how much are you going to learn about their engineering ability in a one day interview?

You'd be surprised. There's a reason a lot of people use FizzBuzz to prescreen candidates; I've seen senior engineering candidates with great resumes completely fail when asked to perform addition or know the existence of data structures beyond arrays.

What's on paper needn't be true; a lot of companies won't confirm anything about a candidate but dates of employment and job title.

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