I watched Black Panther this weekend, and outside of being gob-smacked by a brilliant script, soundtrack, sets, cinematography, I fell in love with Princess Shuri. Yes, the time is right for a 16-year old R&D Scientist with a message I want to send to every engineering department in the world. Especially with International Women’s Day this week.
This, in a nutshell, is why we need gender diversity in technology, especially security. We’re all used to characters like James Bond’s Q churning out new toys, new explosive pens, new car guns. But who goes back and fixes things that aren’t broken?
Now, I don’t want to be dragged into a #NotAllEngineers discussion, but in the 18 years I’ve been in security technology, I’ve seen a definite trend toward innovation being directed into the idea of “What is disruptive technology?” and “What’s the next Big Thing?” when there’s so very much work to do with improving and fixing what already exists. This is why we need diversity in engineering – to have teams say “Sure, that’s a nice interface. But we can make it better. We can make it talk to other things. We can make three things that didn’t used to interact have an integrated control system, and make it easier, and make it user-proof.”
Additionally, women in non-engineering but still technical roles, including product management, technical support, and even product marketing, have a lot to add to the big picture of What’s Next and What is Needed in the security industry. This is diversity of another kind; if only one group is doing the engineering, while others with great ideas feel they must sit on the sidelines and watch, how can improvement and new innovation really come to be? We need a regular influx of different thinkers from different backgrounds (and genders), who can build on existing ideas, as well as create new possibilities we never dreamed about.
According to the Society of Human Resources Management, employee referrals accounted for over 30 percent of all hires in 2016. Employees usually recommend people who are similar to them in race and gender, so it requires strategic efforts to recruit those who don’t already have identities that match up with those of current employees. We are not talking about excluding great candidates, but making sure every group has an equal shot; especially women.
Specifically, it’s important to do the following:
1. Evaluate Current Talent and Seek Out Diverse Candidates
Often when gender diversity is lacking at the leadership level, many women in STEM are overlooked. In addition, even if the diversity of thought is one of the goals of the company, hiring efforts can’t come at the expense of hiring those who belong to under-represented groups who add substantial value – and who deserve to work in technology, just as much as anyone else.
A practical tip: Have your HR department remove names when first circulating resumes.
2. Look Beyond “Culture Fit”
In technology companies, “culture fit” has a tendency to perpetuate the status quo, and in many cases, perpetuate the gender status quo. Beer pong competitions and happy hours might appeal to some, but certainly not everyone. Instead, look for people who can add to the culture by introducing people with different backgrounds and interests. This comes from hiring diverse candidates. Sometimes your idea of a Cultural Fit means Hire More of the Same – and it takes all kinds of cultures to make a planet and organization.
A practical tip: Ditch the “first date” assumptions about potential employees, and just be as up front as possible. Try to break down to the basic needs, which in security tend to be Communication, written and verbal, and process evaluation. Technology can be taught – communication can’t, really.
3. Train Technology Teams How to Interview Candidates Objectively
There is widespread consensus that hiring is important for scaling success, but many tech companies spend very little time and effort in actually training employees to make objective hiring decisions. This matters greatly, because like it or not, we all have unconscious biases about the world around us. We won’t necessarily rid ourselves of those biases, but with training and experience, we can minimize the impact of that bias in hiring new talent.
Shout out to #WomenInTech on #IWD2018. And keep being you, Shuri, and all the other rebellious R&D leads who are doing the right thing even when it argues with authority. It’s the clever “troublemakers” in security and development that are motivated to make things better, not just make things new, who will move us forward as an industry.