As part of StackAdapt’s industry wide #HackDiversity project, Heather Payne, CEO and Founder of HackerYou & Ladies Learning Code was kind enough to share her views on diversity in tech, specifically how we can get more women into the tech space and keep them there. Part of our mini-documentary, coming soon!
A quick intro
HP: My name is Heather Payne, I am the CEO and founder of HackerYou, and previously I was the founder of Ladies Learning Code.
There are definitely ways to create environments that are comfortable for beginners, and that’s really what Ladies Learning Code specializes in, and that’s what HackerYou also specializes in — creating an environment where everybody is going to feel welcome. I think that’s one of the things that makes Hacker You so attractive to women, but to any beginner… You’re never going to feel stupid. No question is a bad question, everyone in the room is going to be in the same boat, it’s going to be learning that feels good to you.
The Pipeline Problem
HP: The fact that tech is male dominated has been an issue for a long time, and it’s a very complex problem, there are a lot of factors. People often cite the pipeline problem as being one of the major issues. There are not enough girls studying math and science in high-school, there are not enough girls and women studying computer science in university, and so there are not enough women entering the workforce.
And I think all of that is true. We all need to do more to encourage our daughters, our nieces, to really pursue math and be interested in math, and be interested in computers… Not just playing on them and consuming technology but also creating technology.
“We all need to do more to encourage our daughters, our nieces, to be interested in computers… Not just playing on them and consuming technology but also creating technology.”
It’s Time for Females to Take the Lead
HP: One thing that I would love to see change in the coming years in Toronto is: it’s quite hard to think of female owned agencies and female owned startups. Of course, there are examples around Toronto of female run startups and female run agencies but not enough. I would like to see more.
“It’s quite hard to think of female owned agencies and female owned startups… I would like to see more.”
I think one of the contributions that Hacker You is making is that it is run by a woman. It just means that this place is a little bit different than everybody else. I’d love to see more of that diversity in terms of ownership of these types of companies in Toronto.
Keeping Women in the Tech Industry
HP: Now, what I’m turning my attention to is: how do we get all our female graduates to stay in the industry? How do I make sure that a year or two down the line they don’t leave and do something else or become project managers or take on other non-technical roles? How can I keep them technical if they want to be?
I have two or three main ideas and some initiatives that I’m working on:
One thing that I’m really passionate about is equitable pregnancy and parental leave policies. I believe that companies in Toronto should be posting equitable pregnancy and parental leave policy on their careers page.
Don’t make people ask in an interview what their mat leave options look like. Let’s put it out there for them so they know. I think the stat is that 85% of women end up having a child. So it’s very real that if you have a woman in her 20s or 30s who’s working at your company, there’s a good chance that during her time at your company she is going to take some time off to have a baby.
“85% of women end up having a child. So it’s very real that if you have a woman in her 20s or 30s who’s working at your company, there’s a good chance that during her time at your company she is going to take some time off to have a baby.”
And also, husbands and men do the same thing. So making it really clear to people what your parental benefits are is very important and can make companies much more friendly to people with families.
Hiring for Diversity
HP: Some of the best practices I’ve heard of in this area are, first of all, making sure that you’re only listing skills that are truly needed in your job descriptions. It’s been proven that a male is more likely to apply to a job where he has 30% or maybe 50% of the skills asked for whereas a woman is more comfortable if she has 80% or 100% of the skills.
“A male is more likely to apply to a job where he has 30%-50% of the skills asked for whereas a woman is more comfortable if she has 80%-100% of the skills.”
So if you include a long list of skills that you are looking for, suddenly the pool of applicants that you’re going to get is going to skew male.
Also, getting rid of terms like “ninja” and “rock star”… they may not be welcoming to everybody. Not everyone identifies as a ninja or a rock star but they can still do the job. They might even be a ninja or a rock star but they don’t recognize themselves in that way. And so, putting that on your job description can be a little bit exclusive.
“Get rid of terms like “ninja” and “rock star”… they may not be welcoming to everybody.”
And finally, emphasize things about your culture beyond your ping-pong table and your beer keg. It’s great that startups have all these amazing perks and benefits, but when you’re listing those on your job description, try and focus on the ones that would be appealing to a wide range of people.
“Emphasize things about your culture beyond your ping-pong table and your beer keg.”
So, you can obviously mention your beer keg and your ping pong table, but maybe also mention your flexible schedule and the fact that every Friday that it’s a long weekend you get that Friday off to spend with your family, or you get every PA day off, for example. What are things that could make your job description appealing to a wide range of candidates?
How Does Toronto Stack Up?
I feel positive about how Toronto is doing. The way that for example, Ladies Learning Code has been so welcomed in Toronto and across Canada has been very amazing and inspiring to me.
People are saying yes, this is something that we care about. This is something that, as companies, we’re willing to sponsor and support and give space to — that is very inspiring to me. I think we’re on our way in Canada. And I’m just excited to use whatever platform I’ve built so far to continue advocating for more diversity, more equitable treatment of women and every underrepresented group.