Want to recruit more women?

Critically think about your recruiting messages

Christine Chapman
Jul 9, 2017 · 7 min read

I’m not looking for a new job, but like most people on LinkedIn I receive dozens of messages from recruiters and hiring managers a week. Most people ignore them, which is a valid strategy, but I try to reply with a “Thanks, but I’m not currently looking, maybe we could keep in touch for the future?” message and let it go.

Recently though, I’ve started prodding for more details about their diversity efforts and come across several flags in the process. Recruiters are not the enemy and I understand they are doing their job and trying to tell me about their company. Most of these cases reflect more about the company itself than their recruiting strategy as a whole, but messages candidates receive early on in the process influence whether they will consider applying and can result in them informing.

1. Treating LinkedIn like a dating site

This should be obvious, but it’s pretty common. I hear from lots of women who receive messages like this, many are much worse and perhaps even threatening.

Hi Christine, I saw that you’re available for grabbing coffee. Lol

[Omitted story about how the last time we hung out he made me uncomfortable]

If you weren’t grossly offended, wondering whether you may ever be interested enough to have coffee with me — either next time you’re in [hometown] or I’m in [hometown].

To be fair this particular person was not seeking to recruit me for his company, but it’s nevertheless a trend that keeps people off the platform.

2. Treating Gender Diversity issues as a fad

Christine, happy Monday!

We don’t know each other, but I’m an engineer like you, not a recruiter / HR person. And this message is written manually, not some automated spam :)

I work on a couple of fascinating (imho) projects here in the [Well-known Tech company] office, not far from your current location. I won’t waste your time with a long email, but they’re challenging, breaking new ground, and odds are you / your friends will use them [on this website].

Want to grab coffee at some point, say hi, and I can share more info then?

Even if not, I’m happy to put you in touch with the engineer in charge of our women@ effort here in the [nearby] office, if that’s still relevant.

This person correctly identified that I prefer personal messages to spam and that I’m an engineer who is interested in Women@, but I am not the type of engineer who thinks of recruiters or HR as bad. There is a trend in tech to overvalue engineers as the most critical part of the company. Ever built a project that was great but no one used it? Or over-indexed on features no one wanted? Or didn’t have enough people to complete the project? Product, UX, Marketing, and Recruiting really matter and all contribute to the launch.

I also do not want to work somewhere that undervalues HR. If there’s 1 thing we can learn from Uber (hopefully there are several things) good HR reps really matter.

To be fair, I’d love to be put in touch with their Women@ group but the phrasing at the end is so awkward. Why would that not still be relevant? Is diversity just a fad that I may have gotten over?

3. Undervaluing women from non-traditional backgrounds

When I go to meetups, I connect with a lot of women currently looking for work, who don’t necessarily have access to this many LinkedIn job requests. I’ve tried to pay it forward by forwarding their resume on to these people with a recommendation, but that usually result in people revealing that they are only interested in me for my degree (when my work experience is much more relevant).

My sense is they are looking for top tier CS programs. I have an MIT grad speaking with them now. We are working with some other companies that might be a better fit.

In this case, it obviously wasn’t the recruiter’s fault, but I don’t want to work somewhere that only hires MIT (and other top-tier) grads. Good software engineers can come from a variety of backgrounds. MIT has less than 20% tech grads that are women, so if you only looking there, your company probably has very few women.

I thought tech was a meritocracy where the best engineering skills prevailed. Why do we continue to devalue people (particularly women) who did not major in computer science or go to a top-tier university?

4. Failing to release diversity stats

Diversity stats are really the very beginning of a journey to critically analyze and tackle the rampant diversity issues at your company, so I deeply distrust companies that do not have publicly facing diversity stats at this point. The main reason you would not release them is that you are significantly below the really low bar set for you by every other tech company.

An LA-based company startup known for not having diversity numbers, reached out to me, so I called it out.

Hi, As a user of your product, I am interested in hearing more about [company], however I am pretty tied to [city] and have not heard of you establishing an office here.

Another thing I am serious about (as you may have seen on my profile) is diversity. Has [company] released diversity numbers? Frankly I could not work at a company where I am likely to be one of the only woman on my team.


Their response:

Hi Christine, Thanks for the quick response!

I’m also glad to hear that diversity is important to you, because it’s important to us too. We’re actually having an event focused on women in engineering here in New York next month. Please feel free to reach out if you or any of your awesome engineer friends are ever curious about [company] in the future.

Now, overall this is a pretty good response, but they did completely sidestep my question about diversity stats [warning sign] and equate having a women in tech event next month with caring about diversity. Yes, this did exceed my low expectations for them, but remember, diversity is more than just white women in tech and one upcoming event in one of your offices does not mean you’re actively working on improving your office.

5. Lack of Women in Engineering groups

A big warning sign before joining a company is not having a group dedicated to the topic. It indicates that leadership doesn’t prioritize diversity enough to ensure that one has been created and there are so few women at the company that it has not even happened organically. And you can bet that if there’s no Women@ group, there’s certainly no group for people of color, LGBTQ individuals, or people with disabilities. I understand that these things take time and planning, but if you’re a company with several offices, and catered lunch, but you haven’t fit affinity groups into your planning, that is a huge warning sign.

Recently someone reached out to me from a company like this and I responded sharing this concern. Here’s their response:

Thanks for writing back! I completely understand, and hope things go well in review season.

Regarding diversity — and particularly gender diversity — I hear you. And I would agree that it’s one of the weaknesses of our current engineering team — which I’m making it a priority to address. My goal is to be a good ally, and I’m actively working with HR and recruiting to come up with a plan.

I’m not going to tell you it isn’t going to be an uphill climb, but there’s definitely a will to action. And I’m hopeful that the next time we talk, I’ll have news of progress to share.

While no affinity groups would still make me wary of working there, I appreciated the earnest response. If you don’t have anything great to report, honesty coupled with a plan to improve is best.

What can your company do?

Before recruiters can actively sell candidates on why your company is an inclusive place where they can thrive in their technical work without being bombarded with microaggressions, harassment, and unfair treatment, your company needs to be actively working to creating that inclusive environment. Create affinity groups, ensure high-level leaders actively support them, and empower them to make an impact by changing the company culture.

Release diversity stats and work to improve them with the urgency you would have about addressing poor quarterly financial results. Yes, your stats are probably terrible, but an earnest message about how you regret that things got this bad, combined with an action plan to improve things and reevaluate progress quarterly will make a difference. Follow through on it.

Start recruiting directly through local and global cross-company affinity groups. Tech Ladies and People of Color in Tech have good job boards that will broaden your reach. Ladies Storm Hackathons is a great place to advertise internships and new grad positions. Get involved with local chapters of Girl Develop It, Women Who Code, She Geeks Out, and Lesbians Who Tech. Host events, contribute to these communities, and advertise your jobs along the way.

Keep improving your recruiting. Keep improving your internal culture. Keep at it. As the last message said, it’s an uphill climb.

Christine Chapman

Written by

Software Engineer // Programs Director for @UpliftTogether (Opinions expressed are my own.)

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