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Interviewers can Select Talent Inclusively

I (in/rollins) am a Senior Computer Scientist at Adobe doing software architecture and hands-on coding. Everything stated in this article is my own opinion and does not necessarily reflect those of my employer, Adobe.

Much of this material is derived from the excellent one-hour video https://managingbias.fb.com. Part of the challenge is that bias is often unconscious. Awareness allows us to manage the biases that we can recognize.

With that in mind, let’s talk about how to mitigate potential bias in the selecting-talent process.

Women’s Competence-Likeability Tradeoff

Research shows that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. For the 2003 Heidi/Howard Study, Columbia University Professor Frank Flynn presented half his class with the case study with Heidi’s name on it and gave half the class the same case study with her name changed to “Howard”.

The students rated Howard and Heidi, equally competent, but they liked Howard, but not Heidi. Specifically, students felt Heidi was significantly less likable and worthy of being hired than Howard and perceived her as more selfish than Howard.

A common Unconscious Bias revealed

Women are expected to be nurturing and caretaking, while men are expected to be assertive and action-oriented. Having to produce results and be liked makes it harder for women to get hired and promoted, negotiate on their own behalf, and exhibit leadership.

One director had pretty good gender-diversity among his software engineers. He once said that his (male) architects are very opinionated and he likes engineers that just do their job. Indeed, unlike male engineers, women engineers were never invited into hallway technical discussions nor to dinners for internal out-of-town guests. There are no women architects in his org. Diversity without inclusion is a tragedy.

I suggest that interviewers remain careful about commenting on candidate’s style and avoid having an opinion on how likeable she is. Women candidates should always challenge comments on style.

Beating the Competence-Likeability Tradeoff

Technical Women Often Minimize Their Accomplishments

At LinkedIn’s WomenInTech gathering in January, one woman software engineer said something at the group level that I will never forget.

With a new technology, my husband writes 20 lines of code with it and says he’s an expert. I am a perfectionist and self-critical; I need to know the technology thoroughly before claiming expertise.

I have fallen into this trap myself. In women’s support groups, so many identify with being perfectionist and self-critical. We have trouble with something as simple as accepting a compliment on our cute shoes. “Oh, I just got these at Marshall’s”. Saying this, I deny confirmation of the speaker’s good will.

I suggest that interviewers interpret women’s presentation of their accomplishments differently than we interpret men’s. This is not to give women an advantage, but to make sure that our perceptions are on target. The bar remains high, but some women’s comments should be amplified to become accurate. She’s probably better than she lets on. Let’s not accidently skip a good candidate. One can tell when a candidate has gotten past the Impostor Syndrome, has confidence, and needs no amplification.

Performance Bias

The technical competence of female software engineers is often doubted or questioned, especially women individual-contributing software engineers. Here is a small sample of my experiences just in the last three years previously shared on CodeLikeAGirl:

  • A female friend told me “I never saw such a strong resume for a female engineer. I thought you were lying on your resume until I got to know you better.”
  • A friend introduced me to a company’s Director of Recruiting in person without a resume. Just looking at me, he says “The Solutions Architect position is fairly technical, perhaps you’d like a phone support position”.
  • Co-worker gave me a “lesson” on NoSQL basics as if I were in kindergarten, mansplaining to someone with 8 years NoSQL experience.

I suggest that interviewers assume “Innocent until Proven Guilty” as the US Court system works. Let’s assume technical competence until the candidate shows us otherwise.

Remain Transparent about Titles/Levels

Candidates often have an understanding of market-rate salaries and compensation packages. Levels remain a mystery. Many hiring managers have found that women candidates rarely negotiate well on their behalf. If a hiring manager says “You are not quite ready for the Technical Director level for which you applied. We are happy to offer you Principal Software Engineer with an evaluation in one year for the architect role.”, but neglects to mention that there is a Senior Principal Software Engineer level is deceptive.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I suggest interviewers remain transparent about levels. State the level above and the level below the offered level. Women should always ask for this explanation during an interview or, if it doesn’t fit in during the interview, clarify upon offer.

Learn More

True humility is having a teachable mind and a coachable spirit. Watch https://managingbias.fb.com and read this Medium publication, CodeLikeAGirl. Attend any learning opportunities your employer may offer such as “Selecting Talent” and “Managing Unconscious Bias”. We are all imperfect humans with biases. Similar to what they say in some support groups, “Hi. I’m Geena and I am biased”. Face them and challenge them.

In the late 1950s, Lois Haibt was the only female member of the FORTRAN compiler team. She later said, “They took anyone who seemed to have an aptitude for problem-solving skills — bridge players, chess players, even women”.