How companies can promote gender diversity

How small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) can promote gender diversity

“I  think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been.” —Sir William Gerald Goulding   “When I joined Microsoft...

“I  think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been.” Sir William Gerald Goulding


“When I joined Microsoft in 1987, I was the only woman in my hiring class. Nearly 30 years later, the landscape for women in computer science hasn’t improved—in fact, it’s gotten worse.” This was a recent post on Melinda Gates’s Facebook page.

A few days later, a second lawsuit was filed against Yahoo for discrimination against men!  

These two polar opposite updates got me curious and I wanted to find out where women stand in the tech. industry today. I wanted to know how far have we come towards bridging the gaping gender diversity gap.

All the studies, research, and statistics conclude with the similar results. The result is the fact that the state of women in the tech. industry is not what we would expect it to be. After all these years, the results are just not good enough. Overall women only contribute to 25% of the workforce in tech. as was the case in 2014. This only makes you wonder, how is this still a thing?

According to a 2015 study by & Mckinsey,

we are 100 years away from achieving gender equality

This post explores the problems at various stages of the pipeline and what small and medium-sized companies can do to achieve gender diversity.

Gender diversity – Why is it important?

There is no doubt that a gender gap exists in the tech. Industry. Every day talented programmers are overlooked, just because they are women. Besides the perspective of moral responsibility, every time you overlook a talented candidate based on gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, you are also doing a disservice to your company.

Gender diversity can have a direct impact on your company’s growth. It has been observed that companies ranking high on the gender diversity index are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians

What is the underlying problem?

Even companies that focus on recruiting more women, struggle to find female candidates. The ratio of male to female candidates for a programmer’s role is 20:1. For every 20 applications that a company receives, there is only one female candidate.

Though it is true to some extent, the unavailability of female candidates is not the sole reason for this issue. The lack of gender diversity is a pipeline problem. It can be broadly classified into four stages and at every stage, there is a leakage, which adds up to form inequality of monstrous proportions.

  • Educating women
  • Recruiting women
  • Paying & promoting of women
  • Retaining women

Here is a snapshot of the problem across various stages of the pipeline.

Gender Diversity- Pipeline problem-Infographic

How can SMEs make a difference?

Small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) account for 45% of total employment in the US. 4 out 5 new positions are created by SMEs. Even a small difference made in this sector has the potential to move the gender diversity needle in a positive direction. The underlying logic is that every organization by doing its part to improve gender diversity will cumulatively make a huge difference.

There are many companies who have taken great initiatives. There are many more companies who would like to do promote gender diversity, yet struggling to start somewhere. This is for the latter with the intent to do something.

What can SMEs do?

  1. Educating women

This is the first stage in the pipeline. Here, a major breakdown takes place between women aspiring to pursue an education in tech. and those women who actually do. According to Deloitte Global, women only account for 18% in Computer Science majors across all US universities.  

There are some extraordinary non-profit companies that are working hard to change this scenario. “Girls who code” founded by Reshma Saujani, “Black girls code” founded by Kimberly Bryant and Khan Academy founded by Salman Khan are a few honorable mentions.

However, if you are a for-profit company especially micro, small, or medium scale enterprise, this is not the stage of the pipeline where you can make a direct and a major impact.

Of course, you can always do your part by donating funds, volunteering, or offering something else that would be of value. The following 3 stages of the pipeline—recruitment, pay, and promotion, and retainment are the areas where SMEs can make a bigger impact.

2. Recruiting women

Want to recruit more women? These 3 steps should come in handy.

a) Blind-résumé  reviews

This is also known as ‘blind hiring’.

Make your résumé reviews and hiring blind by eliminating name and gender from the applicant’s profile. If you are skeptical, let us look at the scientific proof.

  • A study conducted on the top 5 Symphony Orchestras of the US, where researchers concealed the identity of each musician during an audition, increased the chances of female musicians being hired by 50%.
  • A famous study conducted at MIT found that résumés with white names received 50% more callbacks for interviews than African-American sounding names. Although this study was conducted to measure racial discrimination, it holds true for gender discrimination as well.
  • A study by Deloitte Global found that both men and women are twice more likely to hire male candidates.

Before the résumés are sent to the recruiter, ensure that any personal information with a potential to create a bias are removed by a person who does not participate in the hiring process. Some companies even remove age, educational institution and previous companies off the resumes. It is up to you to decide how far you want to take it. You can also automate this process using software that removes all the personal information of the applicant. TalentSonar and GapJumpers are two such companies who provide software that help you conduct blind hiring.

b) Mandatory gender bias training

Blind hiring can help you until you shortlist applicants, but most often direct face-to-face interviews are unavoidable.

As humans, we all have our own perception and preconceived notions based on our experiences in our life. We all have unconscious bias. This problem needs to be addressed for fair interviews to take place.

The first step towards solving any problem is identifying the problem. Gender bias training will help your employees understand the unconscious bias they have and help them eliminate it.

Make gender bias training mandatory for all your employees.

c) Women-only hackathons

Being a tech. the company has its advantages. A recent trend that is proving to be effective for hiring women is exclusive women-only hackathons. A women-only hackathon brings woman programmers together at an event where they compete to create prototypes, APIs, and solve problems.

This is the perfect platform to identify and source the best women programmers. Amazon, WalmartLabs, and Intuit are a few companies who use this method to hire women.

Finally for any position that you are hiring for strive to have a male and a female candidate as finalists before you make an offer. This can act as an interim examination of the effectiveness of the process.


  1. Paying and promoting women

For every $1 men make, women make $0.79.

Everyone will agree that negotiation is a necessary business skill. However, according to the study by Mckinsey &, when women negotiate it is widely viewed as bossy, aggressive, and intimidating.

a) Audit your pay and promotion practices

The first step to do is know your current position. Audit your company’s pay and promotion practices.

Wage gap between men and women: Gender diversity

Pay – Audit, not just the salary, also the benefits, stock options, insurance, etc.  and the complete compensation  Until you pay close attention to this metric, you will not know if there is an imbalance.

Promotion – Audit the number of male and female employees promoted in the previous years. Check if it is proportional to the number of male to female employees in the company or if it is biased.

b) Create a salary range structure

Create a salary range structure,  for all levels starting from entry level to C-suite. Make it as detailed as possible and ensure it is equal to everyone irrespective of the gender. And if you have a transparent and a fair salary range structure in place, you need not refrain your employees from the discussing their salaries.

c) Implement fair policy & ensure accountability

Although implementing a fair pay and promotion policy is essential, it is not sufficient. The key is to create accountability. The responsibilities, tasks, and targets have to be assigned to people and they have to be made accountable. For example, an HR-Head can be accountable for the overall gender diversity index, the Talent acquisition manager will be accountable for recruiting more women and HR-Manager will be accountable for retaining women. Preferably accomplishing these tasks should be part of the key performance indices.

4. Retaining women employees

According to the study by, men are 45% more likely to be retained than women. The major causes are:

  • Unfavorable work policies
  • Sexism
  • Expectation to not have children

So how do you retain women employees? Solve those problems.

a) Create favorable policies and inclusive work environments

  • Implement a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy
  • An inclusive environment cannot be created only by stringent policies and strict rules. It has to be embedded in the culture. It has to start at the top and trickle down to all levels. Embed it in your company culture that encourages women to share their views, opinions, and suggestions.
  • When you create policies, keep the women employees in mind. Working late hours and on the weekends may not be suitable for all women.
  • Include women in the decision-making process at all levels. For example, involving women in the interview panel provides assurance to potential women employees that it is possible to grow in this organization. This also helps eliminate people who cannot handle women in power or leadership roles.

b) Implement a good maternity policy

Motherhood is an important phase in a woman’s life. Therefore, your company should have a sound maternity policy, if you want to retain women employees.

Comprehensive Maternity Policy: Promote Gender Diversity

The US is one of the 4 countries that does not guarantee a paid maternity leave.

Large companies like Netflix, Apple, Adobe, Twitter, and Google, etc. are offering anywhere between 12 to 20 weeks of paid holidays. While Facebook goes a step further and offers $4000 as “baby cash” and encourages people to take the holidays. Although it is feasible for tech. giants, as a small or medium-sized company you should offer at least 12 weeks of paid leave. Offering your employees an optional maternity or short-term disability insurance policy as a part of the benefit will be a safe bet for cash-strapped companies. If you are a micro enterprise with less than 15 employees, it is best to follow the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).

Feeling overwhelmed? Here is a comprehensive step-by-step checklist for you to get started.

Checklist to promote gender diversity in SMEs

Though it might seem difficult. With a strong intent, conscious decision and solid effort, it is definitely possible.

Hey! Why not go ahead and make gender diversity one of business goals of 2017?


**In case you are interested in conducting and managing a “women-only” hackathon, you could check out HackerEarth Sprint.

Hackerearth has helped more than 100 companies globally with hackathons.


Interested in conducting an exclusive hackathon for women?


Also published on Medium.

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