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Jonah Midanik is the founder and CEO at Limelight Platforms, the marketing automation software company. Frederique Roy-Boulet is the former human resources manager at Limelight.

Only 20 per cent of tech engineers are women – a bleak statistic for startup CEOs trying to increase representation in their teams. How do you achieve parity when the makeup of your candidate pool is dominated by men?

At Limelight, seven of our thirteen technical staff are women in development and quality assurance (QA) engineering roles. We found that bridging the tech gender gap is possible, even in an industry where you’re competing for talent against organizations with deeper pockets.

What it takes is a bit of introspection, and a closer look at both the internal biases inherent to both the hiring process and the day-to-day life of your employees.

Here’s what we learned:

Know that diversity begets diversity

When you’re building a culture, the first few hires will naturally bring in a network of people like them. Our QA Lead, for example, has built a strong team of women, many of whom she recruited from Waterloo. These women had the pick of any internship or entry level job they wanted, but they picked us because they connected with her.

Inevitably, people want to work for people like them. When you’re interviewing with someone who you identify with culturally, you don’t have to worry if you’re going to be accepted by a member of that community. We realized early on that if you just have a group of similar people, the entry points are much fewer, and as a result, your talent networks are limited and not as diverse.

Conduct aptitude tests blind

Many companies test technical abilities on the spot. They’ll give you a problem, and ask you to fire off lines of code on a whiteboard.

The first issue with that approach is it’s as much about your communication and presentation skills as it is about your core coding skills – far more inherent to biases. In the real world, that’s not how you code.

Second, if you’re looking to ensure gender balance, consider that you’re asking a woman, often of colour, to stand up in an unfamiliar work setting and deliver a presentation to a bunch of men. We used to do it that way, and realized that a lot of female candidates weren’t getting to the next round.

So, we switched it up. Now, we conduct aptitude tests online, where candidates are able to code where they’re comfortable in their own environment. What we’ve found is now women are often outperforming the men – and since we look at the results blind, our biases evaporated.

Will they look at developer sites such as Stack Overflow? Will they google how to figure it out? Of course they will. But guess what, when they’re assigned that in real life, there’s a high probability they’ll do the same thing.

It’s not that the quality of female candidates is better or worse, it’s that the presentation layer is different, and our old process tested for the wrong things.

Uphold flex hours and work-from-home policies

Our flex hours and work-from-home policy recognizes that everyone has individual needs. Diversity means not everyone’s lives have to conform around the 9-to-5 workday. And this isn’t even a female or male issue; it means that if someone’s child is sick, they can stay home and it’s not a big deal.

All technical hires pick their own jobs, not the other way around; and all female technical hires definitely pick their own jobs. Having flex hours, work-from-home days and unlimited sick (including mental health) days increases the diversity in our pool of candidates, because people are more willing to go to a company where they can authentically be themselves.

Invest in community outreach

We’re lucky enough to be in one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Every opportunity we can, we’re supporting different facets of our local community.

Last year, for example, our director of marketing urged us to sponsor Venture Out, a conference for LGBTQA+ people in tech. We didn’t hesitate because we know it’s a community he’s passionate about. Just by virtue of having someone there, we’re increasing our chances of diversity.

It’s easy to say a philosophy of equality and respect has driven the culture we’ve created. But we think it’s the action behind the words that matters more – a careful assessment of our hiring and retention practices. We’ve identified the key moments of pain for female engineers, and with their help, systematically removed them.

Having a diverse split of women and men benefits more than just the culture at Limelight. It promotes success by boosting everyone’s voice in the workplace. With this mix, we’ve found female and minority groups are more likely to express their ideas about the product, and making life at Limelight better. Ultimately, as a company we’re more productive, because no one is afraid to ask for help or speak their mind.

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