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Recruiting women

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Here are some tips to help if you would like to recruit women to your organization, project, company, etc.

Think about why you want to recruit women Edit

Some of the reasons projects might want to recruit more women include:

  • A sense of social justice or that it is the right thing to do
  • Want graphic designers, documenters, or people with "people skills", and think women will provide that
  • Believe that having more women in a group will make the men behave better
  • Think that a diversity of interests and experience will make for a better or more interesting event/product/whatever
  • Think it would be nice to have some eye candy around the place, or maybe get a date

It is probably a good idea to spend some time thinking about what your reasons are. Make a list, and talk it over with some people. Consider whether your reasons are rooted in Essentialism, Pigeonholing, or Tokenism, or whether perhaps they are just plain creepy. Talk this through with others on your team/project/whatever, and be clear about what your motivations are.

If, on reflection, you feel that your motivations are sound (non-exploitative, not based in underlying sexism, etc) then you would probably do well to communicate those motivations to women you speak to. Otherwise, they'll be left wondering what your motivations are, and might worry that they're the less pleasant kind.

Make sure your project is appealing Edit

Before you even start to reach out to women you might want to recruit, make sure your house is in order.

  • Does your project have a good website that explains what you do and why it's awesome?
  • Do you show that your existing community is diverse and welcoming?
  • If someone's interested in joining, is it clear how they'd do that?
  • Do you have policies and practices that support women and other minorities in your organisation, such as a Code of conduct, Harassment policy, commitment to Accessibility, flexibility around forms of participation and time spent, Childcare, etc?

Know what you are looking for Edit

Quite often people say "I want to recruit more women" but don't mention any qualifications beyond that. What are we meant to do with that? Should we forward your email to every woman we know, regardless of skills and interests? Obviously not! You probably have something more specific in mind, so be clear about what it is.

  • What, where, when, and via what medium? Eg.
    • "seeking women to give presentations about online video at a conference in New York in June"
    • "seeking women to join the planning mailing list for an event in late 2010"
  • Specify any skills or qualifications you have in mind, eg:
    • People who know X programming language
    • Someone in X or Y academic fields (but not an undergrad)
    • Excellent writers who have had stuff published professionally

Make sure you communicate this profile to people when you talk to them about recruiting; the more specific you are (within reason), the more easily people can know whether to pass your message on to women they know.

Work your networks Edit

Once you've done all the above, it's time to reach out to people you know. You can do this by email, twitter, face to face, or whatever.

What to say Edit

Make sure to communicate about all the above points:

  • What your project is and why it's awesome
  • Why you're looking for more women
  • What skills/qualifications/etc you're looking for

Next, make sure you tell your contacts what you want them to do. Give them a "call to action". Eg.

  • "Could you please forward this email to any women you know who fit our description"
  • "Would you mind blogging about this"
  • "Could you introduce me to Ms. Y who I see you're connected to on LinkedIn"

Repeat this, customising your message appropriately, each time you contact someone about helping you find more women.

Make it personal Edit

Don't just blast out a form letter to everyone you know who happens to be female (or worse yet, to mailing lists catering to women in your field). Personalise your message, demonstrate that you know what this person does and why specifically they might be able to help you, and be prepared to follow up with reminders, offer to answer questions, or offer advice/mentoring/support to women who might be interested.

Be careful, though, to keep your communication style professional, non-creepy, and watch for signs that someone's just not interested. Obviously sending a decline is one such sign, but another is silence after a couple of attempts at contact. If you want to follow-up once or twice, a suitable follow-up message might be:

"Hi Kate, Just checking to see whether you got my email last week about X. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks, Nick."

But I don't know any women to contact! Edit

If you don't know any women in the field, you need to be priming your networks so you have some people to contact in future. Ways to do this include:

  • Read books, articles, and blogs by women in the field
  • Follow women in the field on Twitter etc.
  • Join a woman-in-whatever group (if you are male, make sure that the group is also open to Allies)
  • Attend events that feature Women speakers, go to their sessions, and take the opportunity to meet and talk to them about their field of expertise
  • Attend events that have a high proportion of women attendees, or focus on women's issues
  • Attend lectures or events at local universities that feature female academics in the field
  • Always carry business cards (or some equivalent)
  • Follow up after the event where appropriate (and non-creepy)

Claire Light's post Editorial work is hard, asshole! is about exactly this sort of networking, in the context of Science Fiction publishing. The advice in it is easily transferred to other fields, though.

Not only women know women Edit

Some geek women can get quite burnt out by constantly being asked to recommend or recruit other women all the time. So remember that you can send out your "we're trying to recruit more women" messages to non-women, too. Examples of people who may have useful contacts include:

  • Event organisers (people on conference papers committees might be particularly useful)
  • Community leaders
  • Educators (academics, trainers, etc)

Obligatory legal note Edit

Most countries have laws that make it illegal to advertise jobs as only being open to people of a certain gender. Similarly, it may be illegal to limit volunteer opportunities, attendance at an event, or similar things. You should look into the law in your locality and make sure you're not breaking it.

Most of the above tips are about increasing the overall proportion of women in a project/organisation/etc, not about accepting *only* women as participants.

See also Edit

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