If you’re a recent female graduate in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field, I have good news: now is one of the best times for you to get hired.
Yes, women are outnumbered by men in STEM fields. But you’re stepping into a workpool where opportunities and smart conversations about women in technology are happening, more than ever. I’ve seen forward-thinking companies, like Etsy and Slack, that recognize the value of a diverse workforce and that are trying ever harder to correct this imbalance. Meetups and organizations across the spectrum like Girl Develop It, Women Who Code and Women in Tech have sprung into being to help and grow women in technical spaces.
As an engineer turned business analyst with more than a decade of experience, I’ve worked with too many engineering teams to count with only one or at most two women in technical positions. It wasn’t like that at dev firm PromptWorks, where I now work. When I started the interview process at PromptWorks just over a year ago, I remember being pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t the only one of few women in the office. Today, I’m happy to see a decent mix of genders in the office with around 20 percent female representation on our team of 18.
Why? I believe that teams with diversity in gender and ethnicity — as well as diversity in technical excellence — are the ones that collaborate and work together more effectively. They find success more often than homogeneous teams, and they are the most creative when it comes to problem-solving. These are the teams you want to work with. These are the teams that excel.
But you still have to land that job. You still have to sit across a table from someone who might have subtle or overt biases and convince them that you are a good investment. Here are four ways to do that.
1. Expect to use those interpersonal and communication skills
Even though you’re going into a field that will require technical expertise, no one works in a vacuum anymore. You might end up pair programming on a daily basis with another developer or work as part of a project team, but you will always be working with another person who has their own opinions and ways of expressing themselves. And as a potential female hire breaking into an all-male team or a mostly-male company, you’ll have to work harder to prove yourself.
What I've found is that no one will just give you respect.
One way to showcase how you can collaborate and succeed with a team is to impress your interviewers with your communication skills. Be excellent — not just good — at explaining who you are and why someone should hire you. Then continue to be the team player who can not only talk the technical talk but also communicate at all levels to all audiences. Team players who have technical skills and can communicate well are always the ones who stick out in my mind as the most excellent people I’ve worked with.
2. Be confident and demand respect
Sadly, it’s practically expected that you will run into someone who looks at you and only sees a female in the office or a required equal opportunity hire, and they will let that opinion inform what they think about your worth and your skills. They might even ask you to get them a cup of coffee. Don’t let that deter you in any way from getting the respect you deserve.
What I’ve found, even after years of being in my career, is that no one will just give you respect. Especially as a new graduate or a new hire proving yourself to a team, you’ll have to earn it. On some occasions, you will even need to demand respect. Learn how to be upfront, direct, but not unkind. Don’t let others interrupt you. Start practicing saying things that you might find difficult like, “I disagree and here’s why,” “That’s what I just said” or “Hey, I wasn’t finished speaking.”
3. Demonstrate grit
I’ve read study after study and interview after interview where people in a position to make decisions (teachers, hiring managers, etc.) say that this single quality above anything else predicts success. Employers know that you’re young. They know that you need to build up your experience. Employers will know you lack domain knowledge and other skills that one builds up over time and combined with your gender, this might even lead peers you work with to discount your opinions and ideas and expect that you’ll just stay quiet.
One of the best ways to counteract these kinds of subtexts is to show a hiring manager is that you have grit, right out of the gate in the interview.
Have an example, or three, ready where you can tell your interviewer about that time it took you a long time to figure something out. Paint them a picture, question after question, showing them that you don’t give up easily and you are a thinker and doer. If you can demonstrate that you’re someone who has the smarts, persistence and adaptability to figure things out, you’re demonstrating that you’re going to be a senior engineer some day who can really stick with and solve tough problems. That’s the type of person every manager wants to hire.
4. Ask for what you’re worth
If you’re not already familiar with this statistic, it bears repeating now: according to the Census Bureau, female employees in the United States earn 79 cents to every dollar that their male coworkers earn (though this figure is more nuanced than it seems). The gender wage gap is slowly improving, but it’s still real and it definitely affects you.
Do your research up front before you head into an interview. Know what someone in your city for the position you want is worth with the same years of experience. Then practice, practice, practice negotiating!
Don’t be shy about highlighting that you want to be a female hire for the company you want to work for. There will still be a gap of female engineers, scientists, designers, in STEM fields for years to come, and you should use this to your advantage when you present your qualifications. (Editor’s note: Local tech leaders have echoed this point, saying that women, people of color and other under-represented groups in tech should capitalize on their difference.)
For now and until the pay and gender imbalances I’ve talked about above are corrected, the bar for you, female STEM grads, is simply higher. I hope that the tips above are helpful to you as you’re starting out in your technical space. Congratulations, good luck and get to it!