A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Job Fair

LadyHacks 2014 by Corinne Warnshuis, Flickr

At TribeHR, we do much of our recruiting through our own job board and LinkedIn. Most of the positions we’re currently hiring for are technical roles. Like many software development companies, we struggle to find the best candidates in a competitive environment.  And, while we strive to attract (and hire from), a diverse candidate pool, we also struggle to achieve even a semblance of gender balance among our software engineers. Fortunately, our development team has always included women, but we’ve found it challenging to bridge the distance between having a few women on the team and true gender balance.

We recently decided to participate in the Waterloo Tech Jobs recruitment event since it was local to our development office and specifically targeted technical candidates. As a rule, job fairs are not high on our list of recruiting activities because the time commitment required (typically two people for a full day), makes them costly in terms of both dollars and downtime. When we do choose to participate in these events, rather than sending recruiters, we prefer to send employees who can speak to the experience of working with TribeHR. Since one of our hiring objectives is gender balance, we typically send two developers to represent us: one male and one female.  That’s what we did for the Waterloo Tech Jobs event.

Imagine our surprise when 1/3 of the resumes we pre-screened for the engineering openings came from qualified female candidates! That’s one out of every three resumes, after our initial telephone screening. To put this in context, we’re accustomed to netting only 5% female representation among those resumes submitted through our job board and LinkedIn and retained after the initial screening.

We are thrilled to have a strong pool of candidates with much greater female representation than usual. Of course, now we’re trying to figure out why it happened and whether it can be duplicated.

Back at the office, we conduct a job fair huddle to debrief and soon end up deep in discussion of possible reasons for the atypical female applicant skew.

  • Perhaps it was just a fluke, an anomaly, never to be repeated.
  • Maybe the event organizers specifically targeted women in their promotional activities.
  • The presence of a female engineer at our booth might have encouraged more female candidates to submit their resumes.
  • Female applicants may prefer a face-to-face encounter before submitting a resume.
  • Men in technical fields might prefer online job application and resume submission options.
  • Conversely, women in technical fields might dislike applying for jobs or submitting resumes online.
  • Or maybe the messaging on our job board, website and LinkedIn company page simply doesn’t resonate with female candidates.

Being an analytical bunch, we then started bouncing around how we might answer our questions and test a few hypotheses. Some of the experimental scenarios proposed crossed the line into the absurd, but we’ll keep mulling it over since this is definitely something worth digging into. As we strive to cultivate a culture of diversity in a technical work environment, achieving gender balance is one of our most challenging tasks. The results from attending this one job fair varied so significantly from our usual channels that we can’t let them go unexplored.  We’ll keep you posted on what we discover.


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