Did You Know: Soft Skills, Hiring and Cultural Fit, Pitching Startups on Campus, Women @ Etsy

Hiring and Cultural Fit

Did you know that, according to a recent study in the American Sociological Review, more than half of all employers interviewed ranked cultural fit as the most important criterion during job interviews? Cultural fit -- the perception that a candidate shares similar hobbies, background, or other characteristics with those already working at the organization -- has become a buzzword lately, particularly among startups where a new employee can represent 10% of the company’s workforce. Having the required technical skills is important, of course, but so is being able to “fit in” within a small company environment.

However, many are pointing out that cultural fit can be a euphemism for institutionalized discrimination, too. In a widely circulating blog post, programmer Shanley Kane calls out the euphemism as reflective of deeper, systemic problems endemic to technical cultures:

“We make sure to hire people who are a cultural fit”

[What you’re really saying …] “We have implemented a loosely coordinated social policy to ensure homogeneity in our workforce. We are able to reject qualified, diverse candidates on the grounds that they ‘aren’t a culture fit’ while not having to examine what that means - and it might mean that we’re all white, mostly male, mostly college-educated, mostly young/unmarried, mostly binge drinkers, mostly from a similar work background.”


Pitching Startups on Campus

Did you know that Harvard recently held a startup career fair? Co-sponsored by the Harvard Innovation Lab, the Office of Career Services, Harvard Business School, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the event drew more than 1,000 students and alumni (up 65% from the year prior) and over 100 companies advertising jobs and internships. Organizers -- who called the collaborative event a “great, full-team, Harvard effort” -- noted that Harvard students are entrepreneurial by nature and tech-savvy, but also possess strong “soft” skills like leadership, ambition, and vision.

“Lots of students are interested in working for startup companies because they have a lively, fun, energetic environment, and they’re on the cutting edge of something new,” said Deb Carroll, associate director for employer relations and operations for the FAS Office of Career Services. “We wanted to present a wide range of opportunities for as many different career paths as possible, from marketing to research to computer science.”

Do you market your students to local startups, and vice versa? We can help: “Top 5 Reasons You Should Work at a Startup” gives you a way to introduce this career path to your students, and shows students the perks and expectations of working at early-stage-companies.



Honing Those Soft Skills

Did you know that, according to The Wall Street Journal, employers are assigning greater value to soft skills? Although these so-called skills -- characteristics like vision, leadership, collaboration, and the ability to influence people -- have always been important in moving up the career ladder, more employers are citing their importance during the hiring process as well. In the wake of the financial crisis, for example, employers increasingly are seeking business school graduates with both analytical skills and a “moral compass.”


Soft skills are rarely taught in a classroom and it’s an oft-cited gender stereotype, especially in male-dominated fields like technology, that women are “naturals” in these skills. Though certainly some women do advance in part thanks to their excellent soft skills, these characteristics also can have potentially detrimental effects -- when, for example, women are encouraged to take on “empathy roles” over more technical ones, or when women are unconsciously assigned people-related duties for which they’re not duly compensated.

What do you think? Does your workplace value -- or quantify -- soft skills in its technical employees? For tips on how to use your hard AND your soft skills to excel at work, check out Top 10 Ways to Thrive in Your Technical Career.


How Etsy Grew Its Female Engineers by 400%

You may have heard about Etsy’s partnership last year with Hacker School, in which the company (along with other startups) offered scholarships for women to attend Hacker School’s three-month, software development boot camp. But did you know the outcome of that little experiment? In a talk at First Round Capital’s Annual CTO Summit, Etsy’s CTO explains how the company went from an engineering team that was 4% women to one that’s about 18%. The  short talk (it’s worth watching) is an engineer’s explanation: the business case for women’s participation, data on what worked and what didn’t, and recommended actions tied to results. Some of those recommendations: 


  • Issue a serious, committed invitation to women.

  • Don’t lower your standards; change them.

  • Re-think your technical interviews; you might be hiring for the wrong things.

  • Make diversity a core value.

  • Consider changing where people sit in your office.


For those of you who missed last month’s NCWIT’s TechTalk on gender and startup culture at Andreessen Horowitz, you can check out the slides on Slideshare.


CS Education Had a Good Day in America

Did you know about this headline from TechCrunch last week, “Computer Science Education Had a Good Day in America”? For some of us working at the intersection of computing education, the business of technology, and culture, it was a thrill to see a nationally recognized web magazine acknowledge some significant advances and their potential impact. 

What precipitated this headline? Well, in the span of 48 hours, the House of Representatives voted to establish the Congressional Academic Competition, a new, nationwide “apps competition” focused on science, technology, engineering and math; NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that 20 of the city’s middle and high schools will pilot a “comprehensive computer science and software engineering curriculum” that will reach 3,500 kids by 2016; and code.org launched a new promotional video that enlists several prominent technologists and celebrities to make the case for why kids should learn to code the way they learn reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The headline summarizes a diverse collision of events related to computing education but also, interestingly, unites three areas where reform MUST take place if we’re to see true improvements: policy, curriculum, and social awareness.


Single Employees Want Balance, Too

Did you know that single employees want to have work-life balance, too? A study from Michigan State University found that an increasing number of workers without spouses or children wish they had more flexibility to accommodate their lives outside of work. The study surveyed more than 5,000 university alumni and found that a large portion of employees today are single and live alone. Further, the study noted that childlessness among employees has been increasing in the United States, particularly among female managers.

The study’s authors ask whether leaving work early to train for a triathlon, for example, is any less justifiable than leaving work early to care for a child.  “As organizations strive to implement more inclusive HR policies, they might consider offering benefits such as flexible work arrangements to a wider audience than just parents,” says Jessica Keeney, study co-author and doctoral graduate in psychology. “Simply relabeling programs from ‘work-family’ to ‘work-life’ is not enough; it may also require a shift in organizational culture.”

One of the approaches supported by research to help employees successfully navigate work-life conflict (and increase their effective work hours) is telecommuting. You may have noticed this word in the news recently after Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer put an end to telecommuting for the company’s employees. A subsequent statement from Yahoo! clarified that “this is about what’s right for Yahoo, right now,” and many speculate that the ban will be temporary.

Still others point out that for any workplace flexibility initiative to be successful, you have to have accountability and good management. The great thing about accountability and good management is that they benefit ALL employees, not just those who ask for or require flexible policies. Learn more about creating high-quality supervisory relationships for your employees with NCWIT’s Supervising-in-a-Box Series.