Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Tips for GHC sponsors to find top talent!

Photo Courtesy: Anita Borg Institute

I steered the ship as the Director of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC)from 2011- early 2015. The community has generously called these the #goldenyears given the exponential growth in attendance, quality, and the transformation of GHC into a serious tech conference.

As I integrated back into the corporate and now, the startup world, the first reaction I receive from people when they learn of what I did, is inevitably a commentary on the number of attendees. And that is quickly followed by a “But how do we find talent in this ocean?”.

I hope this post will offer organizations some concrete tips on how to take advantage of the biggest platform for women technologists in the world.

GET FAMILIAR WITH THE ATTENDEE DEMOGRAPHICS

The Anita Borg Institute annually publishes an impact report after every GHC. This is readily accessible on their website’s archive section. Rough math suggests that around 3,600 attendees were students last year (out of a total of ~11,000) and 217 organizations were on the show floor looking for talent. A typical student demographic would be an undergrad working toward a Computer Science & Engineering degree.

Make sure that the internships/jobs you are looking to recruit for optimize for the best case. If you are looking to hire a PhD in Math then you better make sure that the likelihood of the ~14 people at the conference who match this criteria come by your booth. Have a plan!

BOOTH LOCATION

If you are an organization that enjoys a strong brand reputation, you pretty much sit back and talent comes to you. But if you are an organization that does not have this luxury then booth location and context is key.

This year several organizations got to pick their booth location and going forward probably everyone will get to do so. What amazes me is that several chose to optimize location based on proximity to interview booths so they don’t have to walk too much vs. where the talent pool behaviorally congregates. Wear a Fitbit and pick a strategic location.

Alternatively, if you were assigned your space, research your neighbors. What is their strength? Are they hiring for similar roles in the same geography? What could you say to someone waiting in line to meet your neighbor to get them to listen to you? Are you/they making on the spot offers?

There were ~40 universities also represented at the career fair booths. A great time to initiate and build relationships with them as well.

DO YOU HAVE AN UNBIASED PROCESS TO VET RESUMES?

An open mind and an unbiased plan to vet talent at the booth is critical. It does not help anyone if you have criteria that, say, restricts you to look for candidates only from certain colleges. Do the math! Do you have a vetting process at the booth that is fair and inclusive?

Photo Courtesy: Anita Borg Institute

I spoke to this young woman (let’s call her Sarah) a few years back who shared a powerful anecdote about how she got her internship at GHC. Sarah happened to go by an organization’s booth that she knew nothing about and was not even on her list to consider. After an initial conversation, the person from the organization (let’s call her Maya) proceeded to ask her coding questions. One of these questions stumped Sarah. Maya instead of throwing Sarah’s resume in the “Do not hire” pile, did something very different. She grabbed a few pieces of paper lying around and proceeded to teach Sarah the concept. Maya ended the interview by reassuring Sarah that she did not expect her to know everything and that she herself, even though experienced, is still learning new concepts everyday. She was looking for someone who is eager to learn and more importantly how they learnt. Sarah was so surprised. She landed the internship and now happily works there.

SHOULD WE TALK TECH OR ABOUT OUR CULTURE?

Very simply put, you need to do both. Anyone, regardless of if they are a student or not, wants to work on solving a cool technical problem in an environment that brings out the best in them.

Culture Conversations: Think about it, students cannot self fund their way to GHC so it is more likely that they are there on a scholarship. If they are sent by their university then chances are that their university Women In Tech group sponsored their attendance.

Students are extremely aware of the current D&I landscape for tech women. They are diligent in their research and will check Glassdoor reviews, Fairygodboss reviews, look for the ABI Top Company Badge at your booth, etc. They are looking for organizations that are able to show them that D&I matters, not by simply giving them a brochure with stats. But by having your WIT (Women In Tech) leaders talk to them about specific programs and policies that are in place at your organization. Convince them that they can belong and grow their careers in a supportive environment. They care about how they can continue to play an active role in your organization’s WIT community and with corporate social responsibility (CSR). So tell them!

Using tech to tell your tech story: At a university career fair there are 100's of attendees and about 30 orgs so it’s easier to have intimate, long conversations. However, at GHC when you have 1000’s of attendees, it requires you to think differently. Not everyone who comes to your booth will be a candidate that you will hire or interview. But everyone coming to your booth will leave with an impression of who you are. Make a great tech impression and make it about them!

If you are introducing your company to a group of attendees, a nice VR App for instance that walks them through your campus, gets them to meet your CEO virtually, show them what you do etc. is way cooler than giving a rehearsed spiel. Have an interactive, immersive way to engage mass attendees and simultaneously tell them about you. I found that the most successful organizations were the ones who knew how to engage attendees who stood in line waiting to talk to your tech experts. They think through the entire experience.

Photo Courtesy: Anita Borg Institute

DON’T WAIT FOR TALENT TO COME TO YOU, GO TO THEM

Everything suggested thus far is all about the inbound experience meaning what to do when talent comes to you at the career fair booth. But here are some outbound strategies:

Attend the Poster session: You have around 200 students who have been selected to present some of the best work that is happening at our universities today. They are standing there pretty much giving you their job/internship talk. Send your hiring managers/tech experts to meet them and listen. The best conversation I overheard was when an employee told a student presenting her poster about how her research work was a great fit with the product he was working on. Bingo — connection made!!

Volunteer at GHC: GHC is nothing without our community and our volunteers. There are always opportunities for mid-senior level attendees to give back by volunteering to be a tech mentor at Open Source Day or at the always packed Speed Mentoring sessions. This gives you a way to spend some 1–1 time with attendees. Check the GHC website for when these volunteer opportunities open up.

Tech Clusters: The concept of clusters was introduced to bring intimacy and like minded people together even though the gathering is a large one. The clusters are great places to network and connect with talented individuals.

Meetups/events to bring people together: There are so many individual organization hosted parties that the same students are invited to/crash that it becomes overwhelming for them to choose. Your attendance might suffer or be intermittent as they party hop. It would be great to bring attendees and organizations together via gatherings like Girl Geek Dinner, Open Source Enthusiasts Meetup, Moms in Tech, Solve this Sudoku puzzle in 3 mins, Pokemon Go Enthusiasts gathering etc. OK the last few were made up and my personal favorites:-) But bring your Meetup and some collaborative fun to GHC!

PARTING THOUGHTS

I leave you with some final thoughts and reflections. GHC was created by 2 amazing technical women, yes, women — Anita Borg & Telle Whitney. Today the GHC stage is most sought after by leaders, male and female. This is no coincidence.

This is because of the hours and hours of hard work put in by the Anita Borg Institute staff. They have nothing to gain personally to bring to you, every year, a global convening of the best minds. They do this out of pure passion and commitment to you and the mission. Their joy is when they hear life changing stories that made a difference to you or your organization. This is their fuel!

To put things in perspective, the ~30 of them put their life on hold to bring to the ~15,000 of you a great experience from the min you land at the airport till you get back home safely.

So next time you meet or speak to them, give them a pat on their back and thank them for spending their time thinking about you. I know because I was one of them.

Hope you have a successful and fantastic GHC 2016!

Seema Gururaj is the Founder & CEO of Square Circle Inc., a company focused on transforming tech conversations to include diverse voices. Square Circle launched their product at GHC 2016, Houston, Texas.

She is a respected thought leader and change agent in the area of gender diversity and inclusion. Her accomplishments have been highlighted and thoughts have been sought after by media outlets such as Diversity Careers Magazine, Huffington Post, Computing Research Association, Minnesota High Tech Association, Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Youth + Tech + Health (YTH) conference, and Women in Tech groups at Accenture, Salesforce.com, Yahoo!, Box Inc. and Intuitive Surgical.

You can follow her on Twitter @seema_gururaj.