Athena Software Blog
Humanizing software recruiting at Athena Software
Posted by Simon de Boer on Mar. 21, 2016

A few days ago, while giving an office tour to a job candidate, they commented on how surprising it was that there were four women and one man having a discussion in our Research and Development office.

One of our staff responded with "Oh, 50 per cent of our team is women." I wondered if this was actually true, how that compared to the industry at large, and then pulled together this data:

Athena employs more female developers than the industry average

Let me start by saying we have no particular policy around trying to attract women to our team.

There are no outreach events, no targeted marketing towards women. We post positions on Indeed and Waterloo Tech Jobs.

So the question I asked myself was how have we achieved this uncommon situation?

My first investigation is whether this is perhaps a localized phenomenon to the Waterloo Region – maybe we just have a higher proportion of women in technology here?

Apparently this is not the case.

According to The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Waterloo Region is ranked an appalling 25th out of 25 Canadian cities for places for women to work.

There are numerous initiatives in the region in order to close the worse-than-average gender gap, though it appears the Athena ratio is not a reflection of local norms.

After consideration, I believe this is due to our culture as reflected in our recruiting process.

As with every other company, we are looking to fill our roles with the best candidates.

What's different is our goal of a stable, long-term team that is productive every single day.

This requires communication and task flexibility, and is in contrast to looking for candidates with the "highest competence" or who have the most "merit."

A typical industry process is to evaluate R&D candidates by resume keyword search and matching algorithms, followed by performance filtering based on marks or through a programming assignment.

The next step is to have the candidate visit the office for another technical evaluation session, usually with variations on standard problems.

After this, top performers are often bid on by different hiring managers, based on their statistics.

At this point, someone will actually talk to the candidate about the potential role and team.

All except the last step are subject to the bias of the current STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) environment - the same environment that has led to undergraduate STEM enrollment being only 17 per cent women.

This 17 per cent then provides a maximum achievable percentage even in a "fair" recruiting process, thus explaining the 12 per cent of the industry overall.

So, how does Athena Software have over double this percentage on our R&D team?

To be successful in our recruiting process, a candidate must be able to communicate.

We filter first entirely by reading the cover letter. Does it connect them, Athena, and the role together?

Then we see if the resume contains direct or transferrable skills and represents appropriate maturity for the role they're applying for.

If so, the candidate is brought in for a first interview, where half the time is spent discussing their interaction with team members, managers, and subordinates.

The other half is our representative informing them about Athena Software, the team they would be joining, and as many details about the role as possible.

Evaluation here is based on their understanding and capability to express how they fit into their previous team, and their desire to join our team.

Communication skills are key for prospective research and development staff at Athena Software

The next stage is a multi-part interview, first with people from a team other than the one they'll be joining, and then with people from the prospective team itself.

The final part is a working session with some team members where the candidate's practical capability is really probed in as collegial manner as possible.

The question put to all participants is whether or not this is a person they want to work with.

Sometimes there are additional interviews, especially for more senior roles, but it is with the same single goal of determining whether or not this is someone our team wants to work with.

Their competence is a factor, but we know that no matter what one's background is, there is a mandatory learning phase for all new employees.

Transferrable skills, attitude, and the support of the team are what determine the success of any new hire.

It seems to be the case that focusing on communication, supportive team work, and the long term ends up going a long way to closing the gender gap, without any intention to do so.

I'm fully in support of any work to 'Change the Ratio'. I think that high-functioning teams are diverse and balanced ones – in every way.

It seems to me, though, that outreach or 'affirmative actions' to pull women into the current system may be misguided, and that if we can look to connect as humans to solve complex problems then we'll naturally end up with a 'human-looking' team.

By the way, we're hiring! Check the Athena Software careers page for the latest info.

Or, if you work for a human services organization that you feel might benefit from Penelope, contact us for a free demo today!

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