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5 Proven Tactics for Women Programmers to Hack Gender Bias and Get Coding Jobs

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One Woman’s Success Story about How to Crack the Code of the Male Tech World, Apply for Coding Jobs & Get Hired as a Web or Software Developer.

Reading time: 12 minutes

There is an unfortunate reality facing non-male tech job seekers: often invisible but impervious barriers exist between highly qualified people that identify as women and many organizations offering the very jobs they want. These barriers sometimes take the form of written biases, e.g. requirements in a job description. Perhaps more often the biases are informal – the product of homogeneous hiring teams and a company’s cultural norms. Examples that come to mind are outdated “interview etiquette” expectations and employer detachment from the realities most working people face once they become a new member of the team.

In some cases, these bias-based barriers are egregious and easily discernible: research shows that gender identification in the tech industry, for example, is almost 75% male. Even as the female, transgender, and non-binary workforce in tech is growing, it remains vastly disproportionate to the number of men and is inherently given to furthering gender bias within a typical tech company.

This gender bias creates workplace cultures with a clear “in” and “out” group. A Pew Research Center report found that 50% of women said they had experienced gender discrimination at work, while only 19% of men said the same. These numbers were even higher for women with a postgraduate degree at 62%, working in computer jobs (74%) or in male-dominated workplaces (78%). And, when asked whether their gender made it harder to succeed at work, 20% of women said Yes.

The workplace biases and the barriers to female programmers looking for coding jobs don’t stop there. In the technology industry, requirements for specific types of education aren’t aligned with the more practical need for skills and hands-on experience. Thankfully, the decades-old  preference to hire only candidates who have a college degree is quickly becoming growth-prohibitive as the demand for tech talent exceeds the supply. As college tuition costs steadily rise, many companies have had to reckon with a perception shift toward how applicants are acquiring the knowledge and training they need through accelerated coding bootcamps and skills-based certificate programs

 

Meet Shani: A Female Programmer’s Job Search and Success Story

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Engineer and writer Shani Foshee, who recently published an article on how coding tests limit diversity in the workplace, has experienced these barriers, and the biases that inform them, firsthand. We asked Shani to talk about her background, what kind of challenges she experienced starting her career as an engineer and what takeaways she could share to help other female programmers get a job. Our big question for her was: 

 

How can female programmers overcome bias-based barriers and help effect change in the hiring process to get considered, interviewed, and hired?

Shani is both a college graduate, having earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Interactive Media Design from the New England Institute of Art, and a certificate holder from several accelerated  courses, or “bootcamps”, including coding at Framingham State University and web development at St. Joseph’s.

On employers’ perceptions of a computer science degree vs. coding bootcamp certificate

In Shani’s view, “Companies see people from bootcamps and think, ‘well you don’t have a degree, therefore you don’t know what they’re doing’. They count them out vs someone who has a computer science degree.” Specifically, employers want “high degrees,” she said, “the Harvards and the Yales, those are the people they look for first.” In Shani’s experience, “My college is not a ‘big name’ college, so it’s not a college that they would be impressed by.” She revealed that explaining to recruiters “Yes, I learned how to program javascript in 12 weeks” is difficult and that “what they see is ‘this person took 4 years but you learned it in 12 weeks’ but they don’t realize all that goes into those 12 weeks.”

She also pointed out that, beyond certificate programs, many workers are self-educating in other ways. “Nowadays when it comes to programming, there are so many YouTube videos you can look at and learn from. Having a degree doesn’t prove how good you are at designing a website.”

On company culture and the prevalence of mostly male software development teams

Meanwhile, above all else, in Shani’s view, They’re looking for people that match their culture. A lot of employers in tech are looking for men, mostly white men.” For Shani, it’s no more complicated than “they’re looking for another man because it’s weird to have a woman in the group.[In a lot of cases,] I would be the only woman and the only woman of color.”

For example, Shani told the story of her participation in a small career support group. As the only female member, the gaps between her and the other members were clear. “As we were going through the career support group, we had the same amount of jobs and education on our resumes. This one guy, who joined after me, got a job. Others were getting hired too, and those people were the men in the group.” Moreover, Shani cited an article she read while in school about a man whose name “sounded both foreign and female, and he was consistently passed over even though he was arguably over-qualified.” That is, until “the guy changed one letter in his name to sound more American, and suddenly he was getting interviews – lots of them!”

 

Proven Tactics Female Programmers Can Use to Get Coding Jobs

Based on our discussion with Shani, combined with key takeaways from our online job search prep course, we’ve distilled the following 5 ways women in coding can improve the odds of being considered, interviewed, and hired.

#1 – Bootcampers: Use the Job Requirements on Your Resume to Pass Automated Screening

Take it from Shani: as much as forward-thinking students and schools “get” the value of coding, analytics, and other tech bootcamps, it can still be a hard sell. But, to get the opportunity to make your pitch in an interview, you and your resume often have to first make it through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to get considered. An ATS, however, only understands the rules input by HR and IT so, since you don’t know what they are, your best bet is to incorporate the exact language for any of the matching skills, experience, or abilities listed under “Requirements” or “Qualifications” you possess.

Meanwhile, if you are a recent coding bootcamp graduate without a degree – or have an unrelated degree but earned a web/software development certificate – and an employer lists ‘computer science degree’ as a requirement, don’t just skip the opportunity or cross your fingers before clicking Submit, try this instead:

  • Lead with Education – put the name of your school and program as well as the specific coding credentials you earned just under your header and summary/objective/overview section – before Job/Professional Experience
  • Address your lack of a BS in CS head on – Just below the above, include a brief description of the institution or course, e.g. “[Name of School (or Program)] provides* an accelerated, experiential, and practical alternative to the bachelor’s degree in computer science for acquiring the required programming skills to become a software engineer or web/app developer.”

* Note: if using Name of Program rather than School, use “is” instead of “provides”

In doing so, you are not only presenting yourself as forthcoming, confident and worthy of consideration, you are also including the words “bachelor’s degree in computer science” as well as the 2 most common coding job titles – “software engineer” and “web/app developer” – at the very top of your resume. These terms are used very often in ATS screening filters and should greatly improve the odds of your resume making the cut.

  • List the specific skills and knowledge sets you’ve acquired – specific programming languages and scripting environments as well as software platforms, tools, and methodologies

 

#2 – Use LinkedIn Company Search to Connect with Current Employees

LinkedIn is one of the most important tools job seekers to use at any level of their career. It’s not only a useful job board and networking platform but also a transparent treasure trove of information about companies, how they present themselves and their culture,  and the people who staff them.

Take a moment to look at the company to which you’re applying. Just like a personal profile on any social media platform, you can tell alot about the “personality” of the company by what they choose to highlight on their LinkedIn company page. What is important to them? What major events have happened recently? Asking yourself these questions can certainly  help inform how you edit your resume, write a great cover letter, and prepare for interviews. Arguably more importantly, it can also let you know whether a workplace might be a good fit for you to ensure that applying there is worth your time and energy.

If a company is worth it, but you notice they seem to be only hiring one kind of person, ask yourself: do I fit that profile? If not, take some time browsing the “People” tab and see if anyone seems similar to you and . Here’s how:

  1. Look up the company using the search bar in the upper left-hand corner, then choose the correct company profile.
  1. Once you’re looking at the company’s profile, click the tab labeled “People”.
  1. You are now able to scroll through the company’s members under “People You May Know” or search for individuals by title, keyword, or school.
  1. Find a staff member (or a few) with whom you identify and reach out over LinkedIn’s InMail Messaging (requires a Premium membership – see InMail FAQs); questions you might ask are:
  • What led you to apply to this position? What attracted you to this company?
  • What set you apart from other candidates? What on your resume or what about you do you think helped you get hired?
  • I see that we have similar backgrounds and profiles, what advice would you give me when applying to your company?
#3 – Thinking About Coding Bootcamp? Use Job Placement Rates as a Key Criteria in Choosing a School or Program.

In Shani’s case and in her own words, “it helped them [potential employers] take a chance on someone, most of my interviews came from MentorWorks or Stack Education.” MentorWorks Education Capital, an education and career access company, connects its funded students directly to its employer partners – helping job seekers clean up their resume, sharpen their interview skills, and then presents them as candidates to hiring managers with whom they have established relationships..  Both MentorWorks and Stack Education are examples of organizations that will advocate for job seekers they partner with, which can be a huge leg-up if you’re new to an industry. 

Stack Education, for example, partners with universities to offer low-cost certificate programs in full stack web development, data analytics and clinical trial management. Stack Education’s programs are intended to teach individuals without experience the skills they need to be market-ready upon completion. Here are some job and income stats for MentorWorks-financed Stack bootcamp graduates that speak for themselves and illustrate the importance of choosing programs wisely: 

  • Were employed with an average salary increase of 159% higher than their pre-school average income
  • Experienced an average postgraduate salary of $62,000

MentorWorks recently published an article detailing the benefits of certificate programs like Stack Education with further examples, check that out here.

 

#4 – Be Yourself, Be Human and Apply for Coding Jobs at Organizations that Feel Genuine and Human

In Shani’s view, the organizations that “got hiring right” were those that felt the most human and relaxed. Shani cites an interview process where recruiters made her feel “like we were best friends. I could relate to them and felt like I was able to jump into conversation.” According to Shani, “interviewers who are more concerned with your experience are better!”

As you interview, take note of which companies make you feel like they want to spend time interviewing you, want somebody like you on their team, and convey that their employees are both appreciated and valued. Companies which show you interest at the human level are already committed to removing barriers and biases.

 

#5 – Persistence Pays and Every Job Application is 1 Step Closer to Getting Hired

One of the single most important pieces of advice Shani shared with us is to keep going – no matter how many of your applications have been ghosted or rejected, no matter what: 

“When you get discouraged – don’t give up. Just let yourself recharge, relax, and go at it again. Don’t always take no’s as something you’re doing wrong, if you’re denied at a company, it’s not where you’re meant to be. Find out who in your circle can motivate you when you can’t motivate yourself. When your time comes, it will be the right opportunity for you and it’ll be worth the wait.”