“Diversity slows us down!” –“We are only hiring the best!”

Birgit Pohl
13 min readJan 16, 2022


“We don’t have a problem with gender diversity!”, “There are not many women out there, who would apply!”

Excuses! Excuses! Excuses!

I have asked 111 companies about how their company culture within the last 1.5 years and some of them I asked about their diversity and inclusion. I have gotten very insightful information about how much they know about themselves, what they want to do, and what they are actually doing.

Similarities: Literally, every company wants to grow

Every company was in a growth or hyper-growth state. They want to conquer new markets, want to scale their business or they want to implement hundred new features to their existing business. Having that in common, we can compare critical questions such as:

  • Does gender diversity hire truly slow down the growth of a company?
  • Are there truly that few women who apply, which is why companies don’t have a choice?
  • What does it mean, when a company says, they only hire the best?

“What is diversity for you?”

The majority of companies truly had diversity. But this is due to the fact that a country, such as Germany, doesn’t seem to support so much young STEM education, the industry actually desires. This is why many candidates have to be hired from the outside. But countries, such as Germany, do come with their own cultural and ethnic diversity as well. We shall not forget that. Therefore most of the time, the working language is English.

But this is how a company sells its diversity: The ethnical diversity comes from a different need: The need of people to do a certain job and interestingly, it is not unusual anymore to have an ethnical and cultural diversity. In most companies, Germans are the minority.

Alongside this also comes religious diversity. Companies have to think about a prayer room so that employees feel safe and comfortable doing their daily prayers.

Why is that not enough? — A clash in cultural believes and backgrounds

In some cultures, women and LGTBQ+ are systematically excluded from working life, self-determination and need to deal with a view of themselves that make them second-class citizens in society. This culture is learned from early childhood on and it is very difficult to teach an alternative culture, especially when a lot of people in a group or organization agree to the current status quo. It makes them feel right.
Let’s imagine you bring in a woman into this environment: How big is the chance, that this woman becomes a leader for this group and how big is the chance, this woman leaves the company quickly? To answer this question, let’s take a look at the following:

The double-bind dilemma, a common gender-bias

The double-bind dilemma explains a situation that women can not be perceived as both competent and likable. When women take charge, they are likely to be perceived as competent. But in this case, they are not perceived as likable. Whereas when they take care, they are perceived as likable, but not perceived as competent. It is extremely difficult to balance this out and I myself wonder, if there is any balance at all that can be navigated and managed or if this needs a totally different approach.

The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t” is just one of many reports, that discusses this topic and increases awareness.

So which company is truly breaking this dilemma and making women and LGTBQ+ normality in everyday work life as well as leadership? You see, it takes a little more than just cultural diversity to be truly diverse.

What is diversity for the companies?

Interestingly, many companies have named cultural (they meant ethnicity, nationality, and race) diversity as the only diversity. Or have named 50% gender split across the whole company. But the crux is, there is so much more.

The data needs to be segmented and companies need to know, that diversity is different from department to department. My personal experience also says that roles are important to look at, too.

Repeatedly, companies ask technical women to become a product owner, because they think they might be better suited for that role. This reminds me, that we ask girls too often, not to pursue any mathematical and other STEM topics, because it is not suitable for them. We systemically ask women and girls not to be part of tech and then ask ourselves where are all the female developers. Not to forget, that women are likely to quit tech and product management altogether to become Baristas or woodworkers — The working environment seems to be more suitable.

Why is it so important to have women in tech? Because, as soon as you have a 10x-developer telling you, that a system is “too complex” for you to understand, you have a cultural problem. Not a problem of understanding. Because the person just simply refuses access to that knowledge, which often is not difficult to understand. It often just turns out, it was difficult to explain for that person. This also happens with female product owners who do and do not have a technical background. What can help is, that you have some backup in conversations like this, which leads to professional progression and not personal favoritism.

Many companies couldn’t name other types of diversity other than the cultural one

This is a lack of self-awareness for the company and shows, that plenty of work is still to be done. The question is, do they want to take on the work?

Here is a little bit of inspiration:

  • My favorite: Gender diversity
  • People of color: A very visible stereotype can be built based on that and studies show that Black women are affected more often by different kinds of biases
  • Religion as said above. A no-brainer.
  • Disability: This is important to make your workplace more accessible. Way too often I have seen heavy doors that keep out the fire, but people in wheelchairs too.
  • And to distinguish: Neuro-diversity
  • Diversity of age: Each generation has different needs based on their backgrounds
  • Financial backgrounds: One example is the lack of representation in the leadership of East Germany or the lack of people attending university
  • Diversity in talents

Based on that, it was very important to see how the company's numbers are doing.

Some companies haven’t improved processes to be data-driven

Data-driven hiring and data-driven diversity and inclusion give the right information and self-awareness of the current status quo. Some companies actually undergo analyzes by external companies to get a diversity rating, including some action items.

Simply asking the question: How is your gender ratio and how it is in the tech department, gives a really good insight and increases the awareness for the company itself, that gathering data is yet to be done.

Going data-driven truly gives insights into what action items to take.

For example: Is StackOverflow truly the best source to post a job description for hiring diverse? How is the visibility of the job description on that platform compared to LinkedIn?

With what kind of action items can I improve gender diversity in the hiring pipeline?

How can I improve the interview experience targeting people of diversity?

What is the current status quo? Where do I need to focus on gender diversity? Where do I have too much imbalance?

The majority wants to have more women on board

That’s great to hear because it shows a certain openness from the company. And it is important for them because 3 out of 4 candidates have an interest in diversity and inclusion and evaluate companies based on that.

However, I ask questions like this several times during the same interview process, because I have noticed that internal talent acquisition managers are aware of their numbers or personal estimations, but the individual departments are not. Additionally, I have noticed, that the individual departments don’t seem to be interested in gender diversity.

Observing the reactions along the interview process: Companies, who are interested in the candidate and their interest in gender diversity do open up and make sure they are speaking with as many people as possible. This creates a great experience for the candidate because it builds trust.

A small amount thinks they don’t have a gender diversity problem

Interestingly, 100% of those companies had a very imbalanced ratio of gender diversity in the companies and had shown an increased turnover over the years. They are known for their problems in good recruitment agencies.

The denial is big and it is an indicator, that these companies have a systemic problem dealing with everyday problems. The same counts for the companies who have stated, they “only hire the best” — Whatever that means.

“Hiring diverse slows us down!” and “We only hire the best!”

Are often linked to the statement companies have made, that they don’t have a gender problem. But they are much closer linked to each other, assuming that “We only hire the best!” means “We hire the best of whatever candidate comes into the pipeline.” It is closely linked to the inability or will to look, what else the company could do, to improve the numbers in the recruitment pipelines. Companies stating this didn’t even check their languages in their job description, which is one of the easiest things to do and is connected with low cost and time. Unfortunately, this also counts for departments, where companies do have a great overall rating. Companies that would have other talent acquisition managers come up with a proper employer branding, who have their own child daycare, encourage parents to go for parental leave and be a role model about it, have specific departments which have shown the same signs of imbalance and therefore show incredibly low rating for diversity. Those numbers never reach C-level if C-level is only interested in the overall results but not in their segmentation.

Let’s tackle the “Hiring diverse slow us down!” Statement

The difference between all growing companies that have made that statement and those who have taken some actions to hire diverse is, that they either have made that statement or have taken actions to hire diverse. Their growth, however, was not slowed down. None of the companies have failed to hire any technical candidates at all, or had the need to remove a project from their to-do list. Even companies, who have strange rules saying: “If a role is not filled within three months, the role is perhaps not needed” haven’t been in trouble filling the roles at all.

The secret: Companies that do have diversity in their everyday actions hire and source differently. This is due to the fact, that women and LGTBQ+ apply differently. Recruitment companies have been formed around the fact, that the processes for men vs other genders are totally different.

Companies most often expect to write a job description, with plenty of points. They want to have the best candidate, which is why adding more requirements to the role is seemingly beneficial. But it also leads to disappointment, which some companies have experienced as well: They did not fill the role and this is gender-unrelated.

  • Women apply when they fit 100% to the requirements
  • Men when they fit 60%
  • Women apply to fewer amount of companies
  • Men spread their CVs to as many companies as they can send them to

The result of it is a matter of thinking, how you perceive this: You will receive fewer applications from women. This is because they are self-selective. But when you have a woman in the pipeline, the likelihood is stronger, that the woman actually fits the position. Since men spread their CV, the likelihood is lower, they fit the position. The likelihood is higher, that you hire men for potential and women for competencies.

You can read this in more detail here.

The company’s Reputation

Don’t underestimate that one. People talk. And the talk is then done when recruitment agencies want to know, how the interview went. Sometimes a candidate gets to know something from a friend, sometimes an employee is talking. Sometimes you just need to read on the internet.

A company should take that seriously. This is feedback. And the question is again, how do you deal with that feedback? Do you deny it and try to remove the voices and the feedback on the internet, or do you truly tackle the problems?

If such feedback arises, it is time to act. Because people of all genders do love a comfortable working environment and they do like to stay longer, but as known, people leave their bosses. Do you want loyalty? You have to earn it! Also, recruitment agencies choose their customers. They watch out for high turnover within companies, because they rely on the fact, that candidates can and will stay for a longer period within a company. This is how they define their success.

So, what companies do, who hire diverse?

  • Their secret is, that they simply add diversity to their usual pipelines
  • They hire agencies, that are specialized in hiring diverse and do have built the community
  • They make events, such as WomenHack, a regular event, instead of a one-time event.
  • They built a relationship with women and LGTBQ+ in tech
  • They build a culture within their company to welcome the diversity
  • They make sure they place role models in leadership positions and support the role models against any gender bias they might face
  • They have formed a working group for diversity and inclusion and have a person dedicated to D&I
  • They collect numbers for their diversity reports and make them public
  • They participate in diversity indexes and collect report and action items out of them

“There are too few women in the market”

Let’s also tackle that questions for a moment in itself.
It is true, we do not have an equal amount of women in tech. And it is true, that there is a higher chance for a woman to go for medical education than tech, to pursue a high-status profession. But the ratio is still balanced. Let’s check these statistics:

Information Technology | female: 10,346 (11.23%) | male: 81,820 (88.77%)

Legal professions | female: 33,129 (52.4%) | male: 30,100 (47.6%)

Medical practitioners |female: 161,688 (54.28%) | male: 136,182 (45.72%)

Nursery nurses and assistants | female: 212,035 (97.76%) | male: 4,867 (2.24%)

Legal secretaries | female: 37,516 (96.39%) | male: 1,406 (3.61%)

CareerSmart profession breakdown by gender

This report reveals what has been said before: The “I believe product owning fits better to you.”, where we systematically ask women, not to check out tech and we ask them to do assistant work and nursing work, which is a stereotypical cliche. Read more about this topic here.

During the last round of interviews this year, I have heard a story that I already know from a candidate that I interviewed last year. A CTO’s daughter has been told, she is not good enough for tech. That is why she went for legal professions. I myself already described the story from a Korean woman, who has heard the same statement, and therefore she went for law, instead of tech. For me, law is a very difficult subject and I am impressed, that humans can be made to think like that, that law is easier than tech. It was the Korean woman’s dream to become a software developer. After she graduated in law she realized, that she indeed can do tech and went to a boot camp. After that, she applied for internships and now is slowly gaining the professional experience of a senior software developer. There is indeed nothing difficult. The CTO has realized himself, that we ask women not to go into tech. It is our own fault, but it is not impossible to change.

The fasted and most sustainable way is to encourage women to go for an engineering profession. Let them go through a boot camp. Let them do a further study program. What they will learn is enough. People will learn further on the job. I believe it is less problematic to have a set of female junior developers and a set of senior developers than having only male developers in the company. Because you would do this for a purpose. The purpose is to sustainably balance your gender ratio within the tech department and to help the tech market become a better environment.

Several programs and initiatives at schools and universities have shown great results to convince girls that they have the power to study in STEM and therefore the number of women in STEM is slowly rising. In Germany, you can even find study programs made only for women. The numbers show, that a quarter of women starts computer science, but it seems they don’t stay there for long — We have only 18% of them staying in Tech in Germany. This is also, due to the fact, that the environment is not welcoming enough for them.

A side-note: In Germany, it is possible to learn computer science as vocational education. This is done within companies as well. This can actually help the whole environment, but not many people consider this.

Why is diversity beneficial? — Diversity is a business case

Many companies, regardless of whether they want more gender diversity or not, lack a definition for a business case. Some of them were surprised that this even exists. Therefore here is a little bit of inspiration:
Whenever there is a product you produce for literally everyone: Such as eCommerce, social media, a tool for insurances, finances, health, you want to have gender diversity in your company.

I too had a case, to tell a huge corporate client in health tech, to change the requirement for a form that only included “female” and “male”. Not considering at all the fact, that we also have diverse biological genders, which is more than the two mentioned above. What shall these people choose? These cases can backfire quite harshly, especially when a product just wants to conquer a market. Having people in the company, who know about gender diversity can prevent bad reputation from happening and can improve creating value for the user and customers.

“Diversity is not nice to have, it is a business case!”

– Michaela Jaap, Head of Diversity at Hays

“If you want to compete in the market, if you want to target specific target groups, or if you want to grow and discover new business areas”, describes Michaela Jaap in this Spotify episode of FKI — Diversity Insight by Barbara Lutz, when explaining, that diversity is not nice to have, it is a business case.

Also, the McKinsey report about “Delivering through Diversity” on page 15 suggests, that gender diversity leads to an increased financial performance, both profitable and value creation. “Delivering through Diversity both tackles the business case and provides a perspective on how to take action on I&D to impact growth and business performance.” It is therefore a very insightful read if you are searching for inspiration for making a business case for diversity and inclusion.

Did I inspire you to do more for diversity? Gender diversity has proven to have a high ROI in several topics. Such as well-being, psychological safety, loyalty, adding user value, higher (financial) performance, better communication, etc etc.
I hope, this post did inspire you because if not, it might be, that you did slow down already. ;-)



Birgit Pohl

Your leadership coach and knowledge curator | https://birgitpohl.com | @devbirgit 📸 Instagram, 🐦 Twitter, 🎥 Tiktok