Words are powerful. They can stir a nation, inspire action and engage minds. They can take us to faraway lands, times of old or a future yet to pass. Yet they can also be insidious. They nag at our subconscious. Creep into our minds and play on our insecurities. An offhanded comment can leave a lasting mark. Words are powerful, in good and bad ways.
Our words determine who applies for our jobs, and therefore who joins our teams. Small, subtle wording choices can make a huge difference in the applications received.
We know tech has a diversity problem. In open source this issue is even more prevalent. Where tech has a conservative 20-25% female representation, open source has at best half of this. In a recent GitHub survey of 5,500 developers, only 3% identified as female. Open source suits a certain lifestyle. Young, single people with plenty of free time have a competitive advantage in open source. Building a reputation in an open source community is much harder if you don’t have the freedom and privilege to work for free after hours.
Female developers face discrimination within open source, from lower PR acceptance rates through to harassment which can drive them from communities. As the number of open source contributions by a person increase, the gender diversity decreases.
When it comes to hiring product developers at SilverStripe, we think not only of how they’ll add value to our teams, but also how they’ll contribute to the wider open source community. By nature of our our open source products, our product developers also become community advocates and participate in discussions with the wider global community on Slack and Github daily. The earlier GitHub survey mentioned, found 65% of respondents contributed to open source as part of their paid jobs.
Who we hire into paid open source roles or support to make contributions during work hours helps shapes the SilverStripe wider community.
This responsibility isn’t taken lightly, we’re always looking for how we can do better, but we don’t always hit the mark. We pride ourselves on continuous improvement over perfection at SilverStripe, but realising you’ve made a mistake and perpetuated gender stereotypes is personally uncomfortable to say the least.
I learned an important lesson on the power of words writing developer job ads. Last year, I wrote an ad seeking a sorcerer. It was a good job ad. My most creative in fact. We were looking for a product developer in our amazing Open So(u)cerers team. This person was going to help shape SilverStripe 4 and take it to stable release. It was an awesome opportunity. Playing on the team’s excellent pun name, I crafted a call to action for wizards and magicians who wanted to cast a spell over open source code.
The ad was applauded and shared. And then someone pointed out the obvious truth. I’d written an ad for men. Me, the feminist, diversity advocate had fallen into that simple trap of unconscious bias (that header image is the Women in Tech Summer of Tech panel I spoke at last week). I’d thought about the existing team, and written an ad that attracted the same types of people. It was classic pattern matching. Without meaning to, I’d created an exclusive job ad.
I was kicking myself. But I was also determined not to make the same mistake twice. Building diverse teams starts with job ads. The language in job ads predicts the gender of hires. Good intentions aren’t enough, it takes constant attention to make a difference and create more welcoming workplaces.
Now when I write job ads I use Textio to review wording choices and run the drafts past team members to help point out any blind spots I have.
Simple tips for more inclusive job ads
Avoid a ‘laundry list’ of requirements - women are deterred by ads that they don’t feel they meet 100% of listed skills, men are not
Use Textio or similar tools to check for gendered language - studies show the mere presence of "masculine words" in job listings made women less interested in applying – even if they thought they were qualified for the position.
Have the job ad reviewed by a diverse audience
Include cultural values and family benefits that support inclusivity
Include “salary negotiable” in job ads - it can reduce gender pay gaps by 45% according to Project Include
Inclusive workplaces start with small steps, consciously taken. Gender is just one gradient of diversity and we’re working to make SilverStripe the company and community inclusive for all types of people.
We’re still on this journey, for anyone who wants to share ideas for how we can make the SilverStripe community and our workplaces more diverse and inclusive, I’d love to hear from you.
SilverStripe is currently hiring a product developer in Creative Commoners, our public sector features and modules team. If you want to join our team and be financially supported to work in open source, please check it out.