When It Comes to
The problem isn’t just the pipeline.
Firms struggle to attract women because their
recruiters still think it’s a boys’ club.
BY CHANA R. SCHOENBERGER
and is coming to an info session for your
company and do things like this. It’s just
Both large and small companies showed
the same patterns of lauding geeky, fraternity-
house culture, although big firms’ sessions
were less egregious. The researchers also
noticed some improvement when company
sessions included videos, which were more
likely to be vetted for questionable content.
The overall effects of these patterns were
noticeable: Female students tended to ask
fewer questions than their male counterparts,
and some left the sessions early.
There are ways for companies to fight this
problem, the researchers say. Among their
● Add female engineers to the recruiting
team and have them present core
technical content during the event, not
just pass out T-shirts.
● Feature the company’s technical work
in a way that emphasizes its real-world
impact, rather than describing the
engineering staff as a group of people
who sit in a darkened room all day. While
some consider this the definition of
hard- working tech- world glory, female
students are less likely to feel this way.
● Present the technical work in an
approachable way, showing that there
are multiple pathways into a technical
career. “Women often come to tech later
than men and don’t al ways have the high
school work, but this does not affect
their success in the field,” Wynn says.
These tactics pay off. At presentations
where companies incorporated these ideas,
female attendees asked twice as many
questions and showed greater engagement,
the researchers found.
The paper urges executives to consider
whether their recruiting information sessions
are having the intended effect or its opposite.
“We’re looking at a place where companies
can actually have an impact,” Wynn says. Δ
In the sessions, the researchers found,
presenters often peppered their remarks with
references to geek culture favorites like Star
Trek and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the
Galaxy, focused on only the highly technical
aspects of the job, or referred to high school
coding experience. These topics often
excluded women, who on average join the
field after high school and can feel excluded
from the images depicted in geek culture.
Also, men overwhelmingly led the sessions,
and when companies sent female employees,
their roles most often consisted of discussing
company culture or setting up food.
“Through gender-imbalanced presenter
roles, geek culture references, overt use of
gender stereotypes, and other gendered
speech and actions, representatives may
puncture the pipeline, lessening the interest
of women at the point of recruitment into
technology careers,” the researchers write.
There were other red flags. At some of
the recruiting sessions, the researchers were
surprised to hear presenters referencing
subjects like pornography and prostitution in
their remarks, often when joking. Unprepared
presenters, particularly men, were more
likely to make inappropriate jokes.
“A lot of the worst content came when
the presenter was speaking off-the-cuff
comments, trying to be relatable to students
and funny,” Correll says. “You wouldn’t
want to take a very talented woman who’s
getting her degree in computer science
Shelley Correll is a professor of
organizational behavior (by courtesy)
at Stanford GSB and Barbara D.
Finberg Director of Stanford’s Clayman
Institute for Gender Research.
Illustration by Shreya Gupta
Much of the debate about the paucity
of women in technology focuses on the
pipeline problem: how to get young
schoolgirls interested in science and
math. But what happens when girls do
elect to study S TEM fields? Why aren’t
many women with technical qualifications
moving into S TEM-related careers?
New research suggests that how
technology companies recruit candidates
during on-campus information sessions
might play a role in dissuading women
from the jobs.
Researchers Shelley Correll, a professor
by courtesy at Stanford GSB and head of
Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender
Research, and Alison Wynn, a postdoctoral
researcher at the institute, focused their
attention on these job information sessions
to see how recruiters engage prospective
employees on a West Coast college campus.
The researchers sent a team of observers to
84 sessions where 66 companies recruited
for technical roles, mainly as entry-level engineers.
While these sessions, common to all
elite universities, welcome both men
and women, the researchers found that
companies missed opportunities to draw
women in and often actually pushed them
away instead. The result is that women
who hold or are about to graduate with
computer science, engineering, or other
quantitative degrees can be deterred from