WISE women in computer science

Corporate Feminism Part 2: How to Help

Jeddah Marriott no women sign
Credit: Wikimedia

I sent my initial Corporate Feminism and Thankless Emotional Labour post to someone for feedback, and they suggested I add some action items to help. I think some of them are in our bingo card, but it’s worth breaking out.

Really it comes down to: 1) ask for less. 2) give back more. 3) recognise and appreciate.

Ask for Less

  • Prioritise more impactful requests, and explain why the initiative is impactful in the ask: E.g. “can someone give a presentation at [school]” becomes “We would love to send someone to give a presentation at [school], they currently have [% female students] up from [change] and have [some recent achievement that highlights why they are worth supporting].”
  • Do the research on what is required: e.g. “can someone give a presentation in [location] on [date]” becomes “can someone give a presentation of [time] minutes to an audience of  [audience description], suitable topics would be [list of high level topics]. The event is based in [location], travelling from [office location] will get you there in [timeframe, suggested transport].”
  • Provide admin or events support: it seems some organisations think it is “scrappy” for engineers to do this. In my opinion, this is typically not “scrappy”, but inefficient. If it is at all cost effective, it is only because your engineers are working extra hours they would not otherwise on this, and very few engineers make good event planners (myself included). This was one of the things I really appreciated at IBM, and at a recent event at Facebook I noticed the engineers running it had a ton of help, which was great.

Give Back More

  • Beyond the pipeline: provide events and support for the women who are there, rather than just asking them to take on the extra job of pipeline work. Cisco and Facebook have annual internal conferences for the women who work there. Extra training, mentorship and sponsorship programs are also good. The data’s pretty clear – stuff happens. But I think it’s easier to handle that in a company that shows they are committed to retention rather than one where they seem determined to pretend the pipeline is the main, even the only, problem.
  • Coaching and training: the #1 reason I have heard from women who don’t want to speak at events is fear. I have never seen any offer to help with this beyond “we have a slide deck someone else prepped that you can just use” (I always imagine that would lead to a terrible talk). This means that the burden falls disproportionately on the women who are not too terrified to speak, but some investment in training might go a long way to addressing this. E.g. “if you are not comfortable speaking, haven’t spoken before, or haven’t spoken in a while, we can arrange coaching with [expert] who will help you prepare.” – added bonus for the volunteer and their manager, these skills will almost certainly help elsewhere, too.
  • Book travel and take care of expense reports: not everyone will want this, but the offer will build goodwill, it is also really helpful for engineers with managers who are not supportive.

Recognition and Appreciation

  • Say thank you: I can’t believe I need to include this here. A timely “thanks for your participation in this event, here is some positive feedback we received, which I will share with your manager” goes a long way.
  • If hiring, recognise like hiring: If there are stats on things like: interviews conducted, resumes submitted, etc, include “external events” or “talks” as well and recognise in line with other hiring metrics.
  • If leadership, recognise like leadership: When considering promotion, or project allocation, if considering someone who planned and led an event or a program, consider that leadership not niceness.

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