The most destructive argument against women in technology


You feel awash in frustration. You don’t know what to say back. You search for a good rebuttal, but find none. You, my friend, have just been hit with the most common and pervasive argument against gender equality in technology. This is an argument that comes up on a weekly basis when I do lectures and trainings, and it’s one that I’ve heard countless times.  

The argument  goes something like this: if we hire more women, the quality of our hires will decrease.

This argument is often combined with the argument that “there just simply aren’t enough women in technology” - so why should we even try to recruit more women?

Let’s deconstruct this argument. First of all, this argument seems to include some kind of assumption that trying to hire more women means that you’ll create a quota. A quota is a system where you save a certain amount of spots for a certain gender. Say, for instance, that you have 10 positions open for an internship. An example of a quota would be saying that 5 of 10 spots will be saved for women, and 5 for men.

The first thing to be aware of, though, is that quotas are illegal in both Sweden and the US. In the US, for instance, Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act specifically forbids both quotas and basing a hiring decision on a person’s race or gender. In Sweden, you are, however, allowed to engage in “positiv särbehandling,” or positive actions, meaning that when you have a situation with two equally qualified candidates, you can then select the candidate with the underrepresented gender. In both places, you are allowed to have specific goals for your diversity work, but you are never, under any circumstance, allowed to hire someone who is not qualified on the basis of their gender or race.

That’s the first part of your comeback. The second part should be this: in stating that you believe that recruiting more women would decrease the quality of the hires, you’re revealing gender bias. What you’re saying is that potential women candidates are not as qualified as the candidates who are men. Is this true? Of course not. You know that under no circumstance are you allowed to hire an under qualified person based on their gender. That means that the only people who you’re even looking at are all equally qualified.

That’s not to say that you won’t have to put in the work to attract the right, qualified candidates. As the CEO of Netlight said, “what happens in technology is that if you’re not specifically looking for women, then you won’t find any, because most tech sourcing networks are gender-biased.” Look harder for qualified people. It might take you longer to find talented women, and you might have to broaden your channels.

As I wrote about last week, gender bias is all-pervasive. We all have it. I forgive you for having it, because I have it too. What I can’t forgive you for, though, is using it to defend your lack of progress on gender equality. There’s no excuse. Start somewhere. Use more channels for recruiting. Write better ads. Promote gender-equal internships. Get inspired by other other tech companies who’ve successfully recruited way more women. Set goals. Try different strategies. If something works, great! If it doesn’t, throw it away and start again. Measure your results. Also, take a look at your culture. Have a lot of women quit recently? Are you getting women into the recruiting process early on but then they’re not accepting the job? Try to figure out what might be going on, dig and uncover the problem. You might find that somewhere in the hiring process, someone - and it only takes one comment by one person - might have said something unacceptable, that leads to no woman wanting to work there. Figure out if that’s happening, sooner rather than later, and fix it.

Refuse to accept failure - decide that this is a priority and stubbornly put in the work to get results. But don’t accept this false and destructive argument from colleagues, peers, supervisors or industry leaders as a reason for not putting in the work.