What Business Could Learn from Etsy about Hiring Women

4 years ago

Esty sells handmade items from individual artisans, right? Well, yes it does. But it also hires people to work in the engineering department. After making a commitment to increase the number of women within the ranks of the organization, Etsy managed to put together a program that increased the number of female engineers they employ by 500%.

Box of Brains by John Norton via Flickr

Etsy CTO Kellan Elliott-McCrea told the story of how Etsy achieved these results at a First Round Capital Summit. You can view the full 20 minute talk by Elliott-McCrea there or on YouTube.

Diverse teams perform better on hard problems according to research. Because more women than men are graduating from college these days, hiring women increases your chances of finding good new hires. Etsy's customer base is mostly women, but it's engineering staff was not. They wanted to change that.

What Did Etsy Do?

The first thing Etsy figured out they needed to do was to find ways to make women believe that switching jobs to work at Etsy would be a good move. If a woman has already found a job where she feels equal, she may be slow to switch to a new job where the attitude towards women is an unknown. How did Etsy prove it would be a female friendly workplace when its past record didn't show that?

They stopped using an interview technique that tested people on technical expertise right on the spot. Instead they emphasized a culture of building things together.

More importantly, Etsy instituted a "hacker school" concept. They created an Etsy hacker school, complete with grants that would fund 10 women to come to New York for the summer. They wanted the hacker school to be 50% women. At that time, both Liz Henry and myself joined in publicizing this idea. Other women helped spread the word as well. Over 600 women applied for the school. Twenty-three of those women attended – actually over 50% of the class. After the first year's hacker school, Etsy increased the number of female engineers they employed from 4% to 18%. They've renewed the hacker school grant program for next year because of this success.

After attempts to hire upper level female engineers proved difficult, Etsy decided to hire women at a junior engineer level. Often these were women just getting started. They were just getting started, yes, but Etsy had seen some of them at work all summer in hacker school and knew they were capable.

Susana Polo, commenting in a post a The Mary Sue, said,

At the end of the summer, they had a bumper crop of female engineers who they’d been working with for months, which not only gave them sources of first hand testimony on the level of acceptance in their workplace for female engineers nervous about swapping workplaces, it also created a pool of women whose lack of industry experience could be weighed against months of actual knowledge of their ability to fit into the Etsy team.

An unexpected benefit came to Etsy from their changing attitude toward women in engineering positions. They began to be contacted by high level people in other companies who wanted to come and be part of what was happening at Etsy.

Etsy found a way to prove to women that they were serious about hiring female engineers, and it worked. Actions speak louder than words when building diversity is a goal.

Virginia DeBolt, BlogHer Section Editor for Tech
Virginia blogs at Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

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