Engineering Leaders are Failing Themselves

Kathy Keating
Dec 4, 2019 · 4 min read

We know diverse teams are more successful overall — study after study shows us this. Companies with diverse teams will move faster, and more effectively toward success and those who do not will miss out.

Under-represented groups vote with their feet — they go to companies where they feel valued, accepted and encouraged to grow. At some point companies who don’t fix their inclusion problem are no longer going to be able to compete against those who do.

Build a strong senior leadership brand

We know, through numerous examples, that the best way to fix your pipeline problem is to hire a qualified candidate from an under-represented group into your senior engineering leadership level.

For example, companies with a woman in a senior engineering leadership position will, very quickly, attract more women into that company’s pipeline. While the dialogue is often about gender diversity, the same solutions work for all under-represented groups.

Build a strong bench of qualified diverse senior leadership who are known within their community and you will begin to fix your pipeline problem across the board.

Give candidates someone in their leadership path that they can relate to, who they can trust to advocate for their perspectives. Build a strong bench of qualified diverse senior leadership who are known within their respective communities and you will fix your pipeline problem across the board.

Hire for skills that drive success

After a company establishes diverse senior leadership, then they need to focus on how they recruit and evaluate candidates. Too many companies are focusing on the demonstration of static skills as their primary way to evaluate candidates. We also need to include more vetting of a candidate’s longer term potential.

Potential, self-initiation, desire for growth, and tenacity are also vital skills to building a strong, successful team.

Just because someone can code a bubble sort from memory doesn’t mean that they have great critical thinking skills, willingness to take risks when needed, collaborative enough to work through hard problems to find the best solutions, and the tenacity to stay engaged when times get hard. Potential, self-initiation, desire for growth, and tenacity are also vital skills to building a strong, successful team.

It’s OK to be uncomfortable at first

I get it, as a woman in senior engineering leadership, I’m almost always the only woman at local CTO gatherings.

It’s uncomfortable, we don’t know how to talk with each other, we wonder what we have in common with each other. How do you think I feel around your conversations? (all that sports talk, ugh!)

What we have in common is that we all love applying software to problems that need solving. That aligns us, the rest of the awkward dialog just takes a little practice getting used to.

If you don’t want to grow as a leader, you’ll eventually become irrelevant. However if you DO want to grow as a leader you need to step into those conversations that make you just a little uncomfortable. You need to cultivate an open mind; you need to realize that it’s highly likely you’re the problem (and only you could fix that blindspot).

A few years ago we invited several male engineering leaders to the kickoff event for a local women in engineering conference. Five male leaders and 200+ women. It was fantastic. All of those men were highly uncomfortable the entire time. I have so much love for them that they stayed there, and stayed engaged in conversations where they felt highly out of place.

Today they all have highly diverse and highly successful engineering teams — that are at very successful companies. Thanks, guys, for stepping into your fear!

Are you missing out?

I recently talked with a recruiter who told me that 43% of their hires into their Engineering organization in 2019 have been women (it is a 15K+ employee company). Another company told me one of their divisions had 41% women — and they have 70%+ year over year growth! If these companies is achieving these hiring rates, then that means that a very large percentage of the rest of you companies are missing out on attracting all of these qualified hires.

It’s not complex — there’s a clear reason that some technology companies are well on their way to achieving parity with under-represented groups and why others have not.

At what point will the resistant companies, and leadership, experience enough pain that they will be forced to adapt? Which of them are going to wait until it’s too late?

Kathy Keating

Written by

Embrace problems worth solving. Cultivate leadership. Inspire others. Live healthy and wise | CTO | Mentor | #GiveFirst #Leadership

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