Countering the Negative Narratives on Female-only Tech Recruitment Efforts.
A while back, a very colorful argument arose on Twitter NG on the topic of the gender disparity of women in tech especially in Nigeria. While I disagreed with the notion that women were actively or passively discouraged from displaying and pursing an interest in the tech field, especially in our times, I however alluded to the fact that there are certain entry level hurdles that some might have to face at the beginning of their careers.
More recently, a certain bank posted a hiring drive directed at women for the International Women’s Day month. They announced that the drive came to an end some days back, and their social media handler in a bid to make a “joke” asked why men had applied. It seemed to have rubbed a certain group of people the wrong way. Frankly, I would not have blamed them for reacting because of the newly released unemployment statistics report.
In a country with about 33% unemployment rate, that ‘joke’ was highly unnecessary and incendiary and it is easy to see why people were riled up by that comment. What I did not appreciate afterwards was the responses from certain quarters after they had given some sort of ‘context’ to their tweet. Those responses implied that women were now being hired solely for having a vagina. It is a very insulting assumption to make and I will get into it later on but the reason for this build-up is to arrive at the reason why I am writing this article.
First, it is to explain why it might be a little dishonest to say there is an active effort going on to discourage female pursuit of tech interests. Second, it is to identify some of the hurdles women might have to jump through at the beginning of their careers.
Third, I will like to address this highly insulting notion that women are solely being hired because of their vagina — a thought that has spread as a result of a crass, thoughtless tweet by a very unprofessional social media handler. Some have argued that certain ‘valid sensible questions’ were asked and as disingenuous as some of them are given the caliber and group of people asking them, I will try to answer those questions. I’ll also try as much as possible to allow my thoughts flow coherently. So follow me as I address these discussions one by one.
First, is there some active disenfranchisement of women trying to pursue tech interests? Not to my knowledge. There are even more female-oriented tech training programs in Nigeria driven at cultivating interest in the field than there were when I started. She Code Africa is one. They run a variety of training, mentorship and resource drive programs aimed at cultivating interests in the female demographic starting from girls aged 10–18 to undergrads and graduates who want to be part of the industry. This article provides a list of some of the other programs similar to what She Code Africa is doing.
Although, we have established the fact that there is no targeted disenfranchisement, especially not in these recent years, there are certain hiccups they might have to experience. Rather than list them out, I’ll speak from personal experience and tell my personal stories. I believe my audience is capable enough to make inferences and draw appropriate conclusions as to what these hiccups might be.
During my service year, I applied to this ICT solutions firm that had an tech internship program and I was accepted to participate in their ‘intensive training program’ before the internship started. At the time, they were building a money lending platform that worked based on a person’s ‘social reputation’ using social media. At the office, the first thing that caught my attention was the scarcity of female developers working on that particular project. The women there were mostly with the sales, marketing and HR teams.
Then, one day, while I was still undergoing the training, one of the guys (full-time employees) started talking about how they had left the office the previous days by 10–11pm. He also went on to talk about how they often slept over in the office to catch up with work. Then it hit me. It explained the absence of people who looked like me there.
Frankly, it put a damper on my interest in the job especially as a newbie. I stayed about 3 hours away from the office and I understood the effort it took for me to get there everyday for the training. Not only was I going to have to survive 6 hours to and from work, but I also had to consider the possibility of having to spend late nights and sleeping over to avoid going home at such ungodly hour as a woman if I resumed the job. On days when I might even go home ‘earlier’, I might still have to get some work done before the next day. We all know how you can never really ‘shut down’ your system as a developer.
I eventually got some other place to work at even though it was not directly related to my field but it was convenient and it allowed me the freedom to develop myself further. Mobility especially at night was a primary hiccup in my case as you can see and I’d like to think that for several female beginners like myself, it could have been a snag too.
Another experience that comes to mind is this particularly interesting semi-slave driver ‘internship’ I participated in during the same service year. Now that I think about it, this one will tie more into the last point I will address but I’ll tell it anyway. Don’t get me wrong, it was a relatively insightful, enlightening and educating experience that served its purpose at the time for me and tons of other people who got something worthwhile out of it but each time I reflect on it, I realize how somewhat exploitative it was.
Anyway, it was super competitive which I honestly didn’t mind but it got a stage where it required something that I struggled with at the time — the ability to put oneself out there. I spent a ton of time second-guessing myself, not applying or doing stuff or showing initiative because I felt I didn’t match the criteria 100% and eventually, I threw in the towel and stopped trying.
I realize that this might be showing some vulnerability that might work against me later on but the whole idea of this is to show that the inability to put ones best foot forward without second guessing oneself might be another hurdle to deal with as a beginner in this field.
Now that we’ve addressed the first two, it is time to address the elephant in the room: the assumption that tech recruitment driven directly at women is not merit-based and is primarily based on the fact that they own a vagina. I saw some pretty low-quality rebuttals that alarmed me because the thought process was very revolting.
At the top of my list of the most ridiculous takes I saw was the comparison of female-driven tech recruitment to the nepotistic appointments of northerners for positions they’re highly unqualified in governmental organizations. How do you in your right senses compare a merit-based recruitment drive where the candidates would go through the entire recruitment process to prove their skills to the hand-picking of people based on their tribal affiliations for jobs without any assessment?
Another asinine viewpoint I saw was that the bank did merit-based recruitment at the beginning and the gender disparity in the work place was a result of only men being ‘qualified’ for the jobs. It sounds like a smart comeback, an ‘aha’, but under close scrutiny, it crumbles and exposes the extreme lack of critical reasoning ability of the person sharing that thought.
One, it assumes that everyone who was not picked for the roles advertised at the beginning stages were unqualified which we all know is an incorrect assumption. The most qualified person in the pack may not even have been selected for various reasons ranging from interview jitters to just having a bad day. Are the people who hold the that thought admitting that they were all unqualified for all the roles they applied for and didn’t get hired for?
Second, it assumes that as much women as men applied to those roles at the beginning. There is still a wide gap between the women actively involved in tech and the men in the field. In my class in university it was a ratio of 3 ladies to 14 guys. So for each recruitment drive that might have happened at the earlier stages, there might not have been any women who applied and there are several reasons for that.
The first reason has to do with that gap I mentioned earlier.. Secondly, women are known to “screen themselves out of the conversation” when it comes to applying to jobs. It is for that reason they end up “applying to 20% fewer jobs than men” according to the a report released by LinkedIn on gender recruitment insights. A common claim that is made when describing this phenomenon is “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.”
While the authenticity of that claim is under question because it has been revealed that there was no publicly available research used to arrive at it and it was based on an internal report at HP, the report by LinkedIn shows that women are more selective and hesitant when applying to jobs thus backing this claim up.
It states that women are 16% less likely to apply to a job after viewing it and recommends avoiding long lists of endless requirements and stringent seniority demands. It encourages focusing on providing a more realistic idea of the job by describing performance objectives of the role and expected duties and accomplishments. Basically, men are more likely to ‘wing it’ and apply to jobs that they might not be completely qualified for but women would rather not waste the recruiter’s time and not take that risk for fear of failing if they put themselves out there according to this HBR article. They are also more likely to not apply because they are strictly following the guidelines in the job description.
Why did I take this ‘detour’ talking about these behavioural data and information? To show that women are less likely to put themselves out there if they do not completely meet the requirements on a job posting. That is why it not very smart to think that women were not picked at first for those jobs. How can they be selected if they don’t apply in the first place because they’re screening out themselves?
A recruitment drive driven directly at women tries to resolve this by attempting to provide a sort of camaraderie — a sense of fellowship. The applicants however have to go through the same process as they would if they applied in a general recruitment situation. Therefore implying that it is not merit-based is sexist and only goes further to harm the perception of women in the workplace especially tech women.
There is also that issue of mobility I mentioned earlier which could be part of why women are often missing in the earlier recruitment efforts especially given the nature of working at startups.
In conclusion, some of us — women in tech — have to work twice as hard to prove ourselves even while being sometimes relatively better than our male peers and we don’t have to deal with this sort of additional baggage. Therefore, the next time you are about to spout or share such damaging narratives, think of the long term effect it has on the morale of women who broke into the industry through such efforts and are actually out there doing the work. 🙂