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The magic wand test: What women in digital want from recruitment

Written by Kate Glazebrook, CEO, Applied

There’s a lot of talk these days about women and tech. And that’s because the stats are undeniably headline-grabbing. For example, it’s estimated that the tech industry in the US is missing at least a million women, and only 27% of digital roles in the UK are held by women.

But the recent DWP-led ‘Women in Digital’ conference, held as part of Digital Leaders week, was different. Yes, there was a strong focus on the data and the need for change – rehearsing why diversity pays dividends is worthwhile, even for a choir-like audience. But practical action is even more important.

That’s why I was thrilled to represent Applied, and join DWP’s Yetunde Oladipo and Next Tech Girls’ Steve Brown in leading breakout sessions on what role recruitment can play in ensuring women not only get into, but thrive, in digital roles.

Applied is a tech platform that uses behavioural science to remove bias from hiring. We drag research findings from the world of academia and build technology that delivers on the insights. We also run lots of our own experiments to test what works and how we can make sure we’re always supporting organisations to do best-practice hiring. Hiring that’s not only fairer but also smarter: finding the right person for the job, every time.

But data doesn’t tell you everything, which is why hearing directly from women in the sector about what they think holds their female peers back, was so enlightening.

The magic wand approach

We asked the groups to tell us what they’d do if given a ‘magic wand’ to improve recruitment practices for women. We got some great ideas! For example; getting organisations to deliver on truly flexible working, or improving their job descriptions (there were more than a few women bemoaning the spread of ‘bro-grammar’ words like ‘ninja’ and ‘rock star’).

Even more interesting were the things people said when we told them to put all of those ideas aside and go bigger. We’re all naturally wired to think practically, so even when we’re given ‘magic wands’, we still constrain ourselves. That’s when another set of ideas emerged…

Like getting JK Rowling to do for coding what the Harry Potter series did for magic: inspiring young girls through narrative.

A number of groups remarked that people often get turned off digital roles through thinking it’s all about solitary coding. So groups then brainstormed ways of demystifying the variety of digital roles. Suggestions included opening up teams for people to come and spend a day or two living and breathing the role before they even apply.

Magic wands are great for gathering ideas and aspirations. But we were pleased to hear the reality wasn’t so far off in some departments. Some colleagues in the Civil Service have already started informally offering prospective applicants an opportunity to come and spend time with their product teams, and the overnight success of books like ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’ are a sign that people understand the power of getting girls to think big from a young age.

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