Career management WISE women in computer science

A Story

Credit: Flickr / Takashi Hososhima
Credit: Flickr / Takashi Hososhima

When I worked at The Conglomerate, I used to interview mostly women. Not slightly more. We’re talking a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio.

Why? Well The Conglomerate was (probably still is) a Pipeline Organization. They believed that the problem with diversity was that they just needed to Hire More Women. And so they would want to show these women that other women worked there, and voila: put a woman on every interview slate. This could be a challenge if, for example, there were very few women in an office, and might get even harder if, say, a number of them were harassed to the point where they took stress leave.

So I did a lot of interviews. I could have said “no” sometimes, done a few less. But firstly saying no would have me characterised as “unhelpful”, or maybe “not a team player” (and I think the Team I was supposed to be on here was Team Female). Secondly, interviewing is stressful, and scary, and if me showing up and doing one sometimes made it a better experience for other women – because they saw someone else like them – it was something I would have a hard time living with myself not doing.

This was the kind of thing that I characterise as “Thankless Emotional Labour” – if you don’t do it, you’re judged. But if you do… well the only “reward” you might get is more of it.

Some standout experiences:

  • It’s Friday and I am frantically trying to get everything I need to do for the week, done. But I’m pressured and obligated into dropping everything and doing an interview in the middle of the afternoon, because otherwise the candidate will not encounter another woman that day.
  • I am the last interviewer on the slate. I arrive and the candidate has not been prepared for what to expect, at all. She’s had a terrible experience, is exhausted and has given up, I try and make her feel better and leave feeling wrung out myself, worrying about how traumatized she was by the experience.

I generally believed that the odds were stacked against women in that system, but I had no power over anything other than the 45 minutes I spent with them and how I wrote my feedback after. So I worked at building a rapport with people, and tried to apply everything I knew about bias to writing up my feedback.

This was a lot of work, but it was work I did because it was The Right Thing To Do. And something that was shocking to me once I left The Conglomerate – it was work that other people, other companies, appreciated.

A lot has changed since then, and now I’m a hiring manager. I have control and influence over way more than the 45 minutes to an hour I spend with people. Two big things:

Edited Jan 23, 2017 to fix GitHub link to point to the new repo.

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