January 24, 2014

She looks like a good engineer

A while back I was hiring for a junior spot on my team at a largish company. I had been at it for over two months. There had been lots of recruiters, tons of resumes, many phone screens, a lot of failed code challenges and a few in person interviews. By the time they reached the end of my funnel I had 3 basic types of candidates in the following ratio.

  • 45% OK
  • 45% Good
  • 10% Great

I find graphs help get the point across.

I found a candidate, a young woman, who fell squarely in the "great" category. I had only found 2 other great candidates so far and wasn't able to bring them on board for various reasons so I was really excited. She flew through multiple rounds of interviews, got along with the team, and had wonderful things said about her from her references.

However, once it got out that I was hiring a woman I only got one question repeatedly from my coworkers. "How does she look?" Over and over I got this question. "Is she cute?" The technology department was 98% men, and most of them were really nice supportive people who I highly respected. These were people who you'd be lucky to work with in any company. Yet they were really rude about this. What about the workspace culture made this ok? And what was I getting her into?

I feel like a lot of the following should go without saying, but if that was true I wouldn't have a story. I needed one thing from the people that work for me, the ability to do their job. Concentrating on how my team looks instead of how they work undermines their ability to do their job. When you prevent my people from doing their job I get upset.

I'll go a step further and say it's hostile. Having people constantly hitting on you puts you in a defensive position. A workplace need to be a safe place for people to learn and grow as they work. There are places you can go if you're looking for that kind of interaction after hours. We have a choice to go to bars to meet people and have relationships but we choose to go to work for different reasons.

I decided I had to nip it in the bud. "She looks like a good engineer." That's all I would say, and she did look like a good engineer. I'd talk about her credentials, background and experience. That's what mattered. That's what people needed to pay attention to when she was working with them. I got people to back off a little, and agree it isn't fair to start with asking about her looks. But nobody liked my answer.

The offer fell through for other reasons and eventually I hired the 4th great candidate by sidestepping the entire processes. I wish I could say I changed things but I doubt I had much of an effect.


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