A Small Survey at GHC: What Companies are Doing to Enable the Success of Women in Their Workforce

I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) for the first time in 2014. I came on behalf of my employer, Rackspace, as part of a large team hoping to recruit talented women from our booth at the Exhibition Hall. As a software development team lead, and leader of the San Francisco office’s summer internship program, I’ve been to many university career fairs. None prepared me for the incredible size of GHC’s Exhibition Hall, which was packed for the full 3 days it was open. According to conference organizers, GHC doubled in size this year with over 8,000 attendees -- 7,500 of them identifying as women.

While walking around GHC’s Exhibition Hall, I saw thousands of technical women seeking and offering technical jobs. I wondered where these thousands of women would choose to work, and what paths their careers would take. I wanted to provide a convenient resource for GHC attendees to see what various companies were doing to enable their success.

I started asking people to write down what their companies were doing to enable women to be successful in their workforce. Rackspace is a member of the NCWIT Workforce Alliance, which gave me a fantastic opportunity to speak with and learn from other Workforce Alliance members. I approached 17 companies and received information from 14. I started with representatives at a Workforce Alliance reception, and then continued at the Exhibition Hall the following morning. I walked around with a few poster-board-sized pieces of paper, a couple pens and a couple hours to see how much information I could get.

People were extremely excited to share what their companies were doing to enable women to be successful in their workforce. Many people spent 10+ minutes writing down all of their programs. Even when people weren’t able to provide information because of PR concerns, they expressed having exciting things that they wanted to say.

The companies I approached do not constitute a statistically random sample, nor a complete or intentional set. Some companies were not members of the NCWIT Workforce Alliance. I told everyone I approached that I was an individual seeking information to display at the NCWIT booth. The information I obtained may not represent everything a company is doing. Instead, it represents the things that employees who came to GHC, often with the intention of recruiting women, remembered and believed would be most meaningful to share with potential candidates.

I don’t have permission to publicly share which companies said what, but every response I received was interesting and a few really stood out. Two companies spoke to me about programs they run for adult women, enabling them to switch careers. Two more told me that they require unconscious bias training for all their employees. Another two told me that they analyze their internal pipeline and demographic data.

Moving forward I’d like to learn more about what metrics companies are measuring. I’d also like to learn more about how companies are creating pockets of gender-balanced teams. Research shows that gender-balanced teams are more productive, on schedule and under budget than any other gender combination, and people describe the environment as more respectful, inclusive, and satisfying.

My next step is to propose an NCWIT Summit workshop and to create a single resource on how different companies enable women to be successful in their workforce. It would be fantastic to bring an easy-to-read wall poster to the NCWIT booth at Grace Hopper next year.

The scientist in me would like to better understand both the effectiveness of various diversity programs, and the appeal of these programs when recruiting women.