Why More Women Make for a Kick-A$$ Development Team

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Research is proving that the reason companies should be hiring more women for development roles isn’t because it’s “politically correct” to do so: it’s because it makes good business sense.By Kristin Smith (CEO, Code Fellows)

There has been a lot of discussion recently in the media swirling around the immense and growing gender gap in technology. And with good reason, too. The data is staggering:

  • According to the Labor Department, only 20 percent of software developers are female
  • Google revealed that only 30 percent of its workforce is female, a figure that drops to 17 percent in its “tech” divisions, like software and engineering
  • Less than one percent of high school girls express interest in majoring in computer science, the fastest-growing industry in the U.S. with an estimated 4.2 million jobs by 2020
  • Even though 57 percent of Bachelor’s degrees are earned by women, only 12 percent of Computer Science degrees are earned by women

Statistics like these should set off alarm bells for HR directors and CTOs – but not because of Equal Rights, and not because the pursuit of gender equity is a core tenant outlined in the company handbook.

There are other more compelling reasons why companies should be concerned with how many women are on their development teams. Here are just three:

1. Company Culture is Kept in Check

Gender-balanced work environments keep a company’s culture on its best behavior and therefore keeps out of trouble.

Allow me to reflect on a true story to make my point.

Not long ago a talented and capable Code Fellows’ graduate eagerly interviewed at a Seattle-based company. The company was known to be innovative, passionate, fast moving, quirky and decidedly anti-corporate. The team was trying to build an environment where different was good – but they took it too far.

During her interview, they asked about her passion for coding in a way that was sexual and crass. Honestly, I can’t even say it out loud. I did it once, and I felt my face burning, even though I was telling a friend. It was that bad.

The result went beyond the woman’s decision to not work at that company. For a while, she was put off getting involved in technology and software altogether, and decided that the whole software/tech culture was a misogynistic nightmare.

Luckily for that company, she didn’t think to sue for sexual harassment or to start a vocal online public campaign against it that could have damaged its reputation, costing it customers and future talented candidates.

The thing is, the men who interviewed her didn’t realize that they were being inappropriate. They weren’t trying to make her uncomfortable. They were treating her like she was “part of the team,” interacting with her as they probably do with everyone else whom they work with.

When there are no women on the team, there is no one to notice or confront sexist behavior. Day by day, a company’s culture can inch away from acceptable and move closer towards isolating – and eventually, abusive.

But even with a couple of women on the team, it’s still possible for those in authority to never receive the sort of feedback that keeps a company’s culture healthy. This is often because it’s uncomfortable or frowned upon for minorities to contend for themselves. Instead of approaching managers or HR personnel, many women “grin and bear” the sexism at work or eventually leave without reporting misconducts. Equally, others get fed up and sue.

2. Your Business is More Likely to Reflect Your Audience

It’s quite likely that women make up a large part of your customer base.

No matter what your product or service is, the numbers suggest that your customers are largely women.

Not only do we make up 51 percent of the US population (53 percent of the world population), but we use the Internet 17 percent more than men. Depending on which report you believe, somewhere around 85 percent of consumer product purchases are made by women, for themselves or for their families.

To truly understand your customer and make the best micro-decisions on their behalf every day, having engineers building your products, designers designing your products, leaders building and running your services, is invaluable. Small tweaks to language, a service or a product can make a big difference, and most of the time they won’t be overt changes that will come out in customer research.

3. Success Rates Increase

More women make teams more successful.

Even when an all-male or mostly male company isn’t worried about its culture (or if it honestly believes its product/service will be just fine without more women working on it), it can still benefit from having women on its development teams. Studies routinely show that the more women on a team, the better that team performs.

Research through the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT, for example, revealed the higher the proportion of women on a team, the more collective intelligence it exhibits and, thus, the more that team achieves its goals. While the cause isn’t being female, the leading indicator for success, social perception, stems from a trait that is most often well-developed in women.

Social perception allows humans to better understand those around them – what they’re thinking, how they’re motivated. And since companies can’t measure the social perception scores of the people on their teams (it takes several MIT researchers to do this today), the next best thing that they can do is hire people who are most likely to have well-developed social perceptiveness – in other words, more women.

Photo Credit: Fortune Live Media via Flickr.

What other benefits to women in development bring to the table?


About the guest blogger: Kristin Smith is the CEO of Code Fellows, a Seattle-based digital trade school and technical recruiting agency. She is a former Vice President of Supply Chain at Zulily and a long-time executive at Amazon. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering; a Master’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from MIT, and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.