Understanding the Ratio: How to detect female-friendly work culturesBy Katie Thomas, Hackbright engineering fellow – Fall 2013
Countless articles have been written about “Women in Tech”. Yet, when I think back to the month I spent interviewing before deciding to join Thumbtack, I don’t remember being at all concerned about vetting any of those companies for female-friendliness.
Luckily, I ended up in a great environment, but I know other women who haven’t been so fortunate. That got me thinking about some questions that perhaps I should have asked upfront to ensure that I was making the right culture fit.
Questions About Work
Ask This: “How often do people ask questions? How do people ask questions?”
The right answer to this question should be “all the time.” Women, as compared to men, tend to suffer more from imposter syndrome. We believe that our success is a result of luck, timing, or deception rather than our own intelligence or competence. This can make it difficult for us to ask for help, for fear of being discovered to be an imposter. It is easier to ask for help when a supportive and humble culture is already established, where engineers are constantly asking for and receiving help from each other.
Ask This: “What practices do you have in place to ensure high quality code and continued learning?”
Processes for reviewing code and a culture of continued learning can be additional indicators of humility.
Specifically, look for engineering teams that:
– Pair program: It doesn’t have to be required or happen all the time, but teams whose engineers pair with each other even a couple of times a week are likely to be teams who value collaboration. Because engineering can sometimes be an isolating profession for women, this type of collaborative environment can be great for female engineers.
– Participate in code review: A great follow-up question here is “Why are code reviews valuable to you?” Bonus points go to the company whose engineer responds that not only do code reviews help ensure high quality code in the codebase, but they also create more opportunities for engineers to learn from each other and learn about different parts of the codebase.
– Take online classes together, read, provide an education stipend: A culture where engineers are continually learning can help women rid themselves of imposter syndrome by reminding us that everyone is still learning and no one knows everything.
Additionally, pay attention to the tone with which your interviewer speaks about these topics. If a company encourages pair programming, but your interviewer doesn’t recognize the benefits, this is a red flag.
Questions About People
Ask This: “Are there any women on the team? If so, what positions do they hold?”
If the answer is no, it isn’t necessarily a red flag. Many teams want to hire more women, but there aren’t enough of us out there. In this case, you could follow up with “Is it important to you to have a diverse team? Why or why not?”
If the answer is yes, however, you have a great opportunity to speak with someone directly about what it’s like to be a female engineer at that company. Ask for their contact information so you can reach out to them if you don’t meet them during your interview. By the way, if you’re interviewing here at Thumbtack, I’d love to meet you!
Ask This: “Are any engineers involved in programs aimed at supporting women in the industry? (e.g. PyLadies, Women Who Code, Hackbright, etc.)”
I found out about Thumbtack because three of the nine engineers on the team (at the time I was hired) had volunteered at Hackbright, an organization that provides engineering fellowships for women. This indicated to me that Thumbtack cares about hiring more women in engineering roles.
Questions About Culture
Ask This: “What kinds of things do team members do together besides work? How central is drinking to social events?”
A female friend of mine recently asked this question at a company where she interviewed for a software engineering position. The response? It was something like this: “We do a lot of things outside of work together. I actually went surfing with one of my coworkers this morning. But if you wanted to find someone to, I don’t know, go shopping with you, I’m sure you could.”
Because, you know, all women love shopping. Such gender-based assumptions would cause me to worry about future assumptions that might be made. Not all answers will give such a clear signal, but any answer should still give you a good feel for the personalities of the people you would be working with.
This question can also suss out how central drinking is to social events. I’m not saying that women don’t like drinking, but team bonding that is centered around drinking can be an indicator of a “brogrammer” culture. Here we brew beer and take mixology classes together, but even when we do those things the focus is not on consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Rather, we do these things to learn something new, appreciate the drinks, and get to know each other better.
Besides being an indicator for culture, excessive drinking can lead to uncomfortable situations for women as inhibitions are lowered and teammates say or do things they might not have otherwise.
I feel very grateful to have found a workplace that has such a fantastic culture and lacks many of the issues female developers face. Many thanks to the engineers on our team that have worked so hard to build this culture. I hope this post will help women who are currently looking for a job in software engineering, or who might be looking in the future.
If you are currently looking, you might also want to check out the interview prep events hosted by Women Who Code, as well as posts like “Self Care Strategies for the Software Engineer Job Search” on the Hackbright Academy blog.
Feel free to share some of the resources you use in the comments!
This post was originally posted at Thumbtack’s blog and republished with permission from author.