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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hiring women? Let's talk about keeping the ones you have.

People sometimes ask me questions like this:

How do we get more women to work at our company?

I hear that one a fair amount. I was even roped into an online panel of sorts to throw in my two cents. Here's one I don't hear too often:

How do we keep the women we already have at our company?

It's strange. There's always this focus on hiring for various kinds of diversity but hardly any on retention. This is incredibly stupid. Here's why.

Hiring is a costly exercise for any company. You have to have people who are not contributing to the bottom line and instead are dealing with reviewing prospects, and interviewing them, and then making sure they can legally work for you, and all of this. There's a lot of "meta" stuff which goes on.

Even then, assuming you bring someone on, it's still a costly thing. You have to bring the new person up to speed. That means they are not too useful at first, and anyone tasked with hiring them is also going to be somewhat less effective as they burn cycles on training the newbie.

But hey, don't take my word for it. Fred Brooks tells of these tales and much more. In the past few years, I made a point to bring up "The Mythical Man-Month" in semi-casual conversation at the office. Hardly anyone knew about it.

That these same people went on to make the mistakes exposed in that book does not surprise me very much.

So then, enough beating around the bush. How do you hire women, or how do you keep women at your company once hired?

First, there are no silver bullets (again, I steal from TMMM). All I can provide are generalities based on things I've encountered or heard about.

I'll skip the stuff about making sure you don't have a bunch of frat boys who act like dicks around women. You should know that already.

Instead, I'll start with just one item today.

What's your parking situation like? Do your employees have to work until after dark? Here in Silly Valley, the sun will set at 4:52 PM today. I imagine that means nearly everyone will exit the office well after sunset.

Is the parking area well-lit? Is it access-controlled? How about the area in between? Is it also well-lit and limited access?

Let's try a little thought experiment for the average valley techie guy out there. Can you pick up something which weighs 100 pounds? I bet you probably can, maybe with a little effort. Your average IKEA coffee table box weighs around that much.

Now think about what it would mean to actually weigh 95 pounds yourself. Someone so inclined could literally pick you up and do horrible things with you at another venue. I don't think many of the guys in the valley have any idea what that kind of life is like, but it's a reality for many women every day of their lives.

So, in that sense, what are you doing to make sure your employees don't feel any of that creepiness because of the job they took with your company? Do you have someone who actively watches out for this kind of stuff in and around your facilities? What if that person quits? Is it enshrined in your security guidelines so that it will be maintained even if that particular person isn't around to enforce it?

I worked at a place which had a huge unfenced compound which was right across the street from a bunch of sketchy apartments. People would take shortcuts through our massive parking lot to get from grocery and liquor stores on one side to their apartments on the other.

This opened the door to many crimes of opportunity. There was "car clout" (theft of stuff inside a car), general vandalism, and even full-on car theft! A friend of mine had his car straight-up boosted out of the lot while away from the office at a team-building exercise.

I used to work second shift, so I would show up around 2 or 3 with the lot almost completely full. I'd wind up parking on the fringes, right next to the street. Then, a few hours later, after first shift left, I had to go back out and move my car close to the doors so it wouldn't get damaged or stolen. This happened every single night.

How did the company respond to this? Did they build a fence? No. Did they hire enough security guards to act as a human fence? No.

Nope. But they did spend money on "improving" the exterior.

They put up a huge sign. I guess that way the crooks would know who they were ripping off while they were doing it.

The sign as seen in 2008

This pic was taken a couple of years after I left. Notice, though: no gates, and no fences. Still.