I was very excited when Fog Creek announced that it was offering fellowships to female graduates of the Flatiron School. However, now that I've personally talked to some of the fellows and had more time to reflect on it, I'm more puzzled than anything.
The idea behind offering this fellowship to junior female developers, is that it will help them get a job with Fog Creek's competitors, and then a few years down the road Fog Creek can hire them back after they have some experience, and thus finally add a few female engineers to their team. This is a classic Rube Goldberg scheme, and needs to be called out for what it is. The notion that giving a dozen female junior developers office space and interview tips for 2 months will somehow magically manifest itself into a solution to Fog Creek's gender imbalance issue years from now is simply ridiculous.
The only way Fog Creek will go from an all male engineering team to one with women on it is to hire women. They selected 12 amazing women for their fellowship program who are smart, driven, and capable of becoming great developers. The backgrounds, accomplishments, and intelligence of some of the women I spoke to really blew me away. The obvious thing that Fog Creek could have done is simply hire some (or all!) of them. It would have been easy, and logical, and completely possible, and would have immediately made their team more gender balanced. However, for some reason Fog Creek doesn't seem to get this.
When Fast Company asked Fog Creek's recruiter why they don't just hire female developers, she cited the lack of female candidates in the pipeline, Fog Creek's notorious interview process, the lack of female mentors, and limited resources.
I'm going to go ahead and say that each of these reasons is malarky.
1. No Females In The Pipeline
Fog Creek's recruiter laments that only 1% of their applicants are women. While this may be the case, that's not because only 1% of programmers are women. In fact, 20% of CS graduates are women and over half of the last Flatiron school class was women. I personally know a lot of female developers with a few years of experience who would jump at the opportunity to work at a company as innovative as Fog Creek. The point is, the 'pipeline' of talented women is there, but it's Fog Creek that has failed to figure out how to tap into this. The reason that the Flatiron School got so many women into their class isn't because they lowered their standards - it's because they spent an enormous amount of effort conducting outreach and marketing towards women. Fog Creek could do the same and instantly see at least an order of magnitude more female applicants.
2. Insanely Selective Hiring Process
Fog Creek's recruiter also laments that a very qualified female developer who knew about Fog Creek self-selected out of applying because she assumed it was too hard and she wouldn't get the job. I personally feel the same way, and immediately write off applying to Fog Creek since I assume I'll never be 'good enough' for them. In order for people to do something, they need to believe they have at least a chance they will succeed. It seems to me all Fog Creek does is boast about how selective they are, and how little of a chance mere mortals have of working there. I actually don't think this is a problem directly related to Fog Creek's gender imbalance issue. Smart people underestimate their abilities, which is known as the Dunning Kruger effect. This is probably preventing qualified candidates - male and female - from even considering Fog Creek. Therefore, while Fog Creek needs to work on it's perception as being 'too good' of a place for normal people to work at, they also need to stop using it as an excuse for why they don't have any female developers.
3. Lack of Female Mentors
It turns out that a lot of women don't want to work on an all male team. Qualified candidates have turned down jobs at Fog Creek, specifically citing the lack of female colleagues and mentors on their engineering team. This is kind of a chicken and egg problem, and I feel like a broken record, but the only way to change this is to hire a few women! If Fog Creek can't find women with a few years of experience (which it seems they are insisting is the case), then they will have to hire junior female developers and mentor them. This may necessitate a change in their culture where they just hire smart people and let them operate independently to one where more mentoring and collaboration takes place (at least for a year or two as they mentor their junior developers into senior developers). Fog Creek needs to decide if balancing the gender makeup of its engineering team is worth this effort, or if they simply refuse to change and accept the status quo of an all male team.
4. Lack of Resources
Of all the excuses that Fog Creek's recruiter had for why they don't hire women - the most troubling one is the lack of resources argument. In announcing their spinoff company Trello's $10.3 million Series A, Fog Creek founder Joel Spolsky said that the company was already profitable and didn't even need the money. Just last month another spinoff company Stack Exchange raised $40 million and is hiring at an "insane…pace". Fog Creek is making money, and Joel Spolsky can raise seemingly unlimited amounts of money from VC's most likely at very favorable terms. Fog Creek does not have limited resources, quite the opposite actually. They can without a doubt afford to hire (and mentor junior) female developers. Fog Creek needs to be asked why, given their abundant resources, and their desire to see more females in engineering roles, they have not used their resources to directly hire women on their team.
The bottom line is that I'm not buying this overly complicated scheme of Fog Creek's that their well intentioned fellowship program will solve their team's gender imbalance issue a few years from now. They need to stop the schemes, make some smart adjustments, and just hire a bunch of (probably junior) female developers. Fog Creek is a great company, with a great team, and I sincerely believe they want to hire women, and solve the larger issues of gender in technology. Now, they just have to do it.