Meet the next generation of top female tech talent
For four days in September, downtown Houston was inundated with the largest gathering of female tech talent in the world at the Grace Hopper Celebration. The annual conference hosts over 20,000 people each year, who arrive in bus-fulls from local colleges and plane-fulls from upstate New York. Leaving from LaGuardia, my plane was full of representatives from the largest banks and tech firms, as well as eager technology undergraduates excited to meet their peers and hear from the women they deeply respect within the industry.
To say the feeling in the George R. Brown Convention Center was one of excitement is an understatement. Attending the Grace Hopper Celebration provides students the opportunity to learn directly from women they hold in high regard within their preferred industry and, most importantly for some, to start conversations with companies. Representatives ranged from the “big players” such as Google, Apple and Salesforce to unlikely players in the field like Home Depot. These companies were hosted within the main convention hall, where they competed for the attention of top talent. The hall was filled with huge installations, iPads capturing data at each station, recruiters dressed in company colors and loud music coming from various sound systems. Students were enticed with free posters, tote bags and the swag du jour: metal straws.
But, it wasn’t just the excitement of free swag that created this electric atmosphere. There was an underlying message that made the new generation of employees feel excited and empowered. Even I felt it, from attending special speaker sessions to panel discussions to talking to some of the students.
The students visiting this convention are part of a wider movement. They represent the top female talent that every company is searching for. This new generation of talent expects the best and they’ll leave if they can’t find it at your company. Emily Chang, the author of Brotopia and host of Bloomberg Technology, put it best: “employees have louder voices and more power than ever before.”
Take Nasika for example. As a senior at the Georgia Institute of Technology, she’s already completed four internships and has five mentors from these companies. She’s in constant contact with her large network and she’s shooting for a 4.0 GPA with Dean’s List honors by graduation. I asked her what she looks for in a company. She’s already got a “strong LinkedIn profile,” so when she speaks with a recruiter she wants to know more about company culture.
“A lot of different companies align on my thinking about teamwork and communication and the projects they are working on – but my mind isn’t decided yet,” Nasika explained. “I want to hear from the women working on the teams and how they are supported in their roles. It’s so easy for to say I’ll be supported in an interview but I want to see it in practice.”
Nasika is interested at the top companies in the room, Google and Spotify in particular (she likes music a lot), but she also spoke with several banks and a company called Hired. “They had a female engineer from the company at their booth and the engineer told me she felt really supported there, from day one to year four of her career and that made me really consider them.”
Nasika’s position is like most students in the room, undecided but armed with a lot of information. Companies are no longer recruiting from a pool of talent that isn’t well versed on the working landscape. Around 60% of candidates participate in internships during their college career, so they have a solid understanding of company culture and what to expect. Talent like this also understands that they are in demand and this message was reinforced by each speaker at the convention. A phrase I heard often was, “We can vote with our feet in respect to who gets our talent.” These young women are in the driver’s seat, so companies must echo their values, the learning structure and the culture they desire.
As Emily Chang noted, “Good intentions aren’t enough. Placing women on interview panels one year and not doing anything the next to improve the hiring gap won’t work.” Candidates want real proof of what’s being done, and this can only be demonstrated through sharing stories from existing employees and communicating the employer brand. As Kim Wilkens, founder of Tech-Girls & the Computer Science Initiative noted, “ role models…they want to visit companies, find mentors, connect with women who were in their position.” There is an appetite among candidates to understand how companies are creating a culture of support and equality, especially in an industry where women are twice as likely to leave their field in comparison to men due to lack of opportunity.
So, while large installations, fun giveaways and clever games may initially attract talent, it’s the consistent conversation and the substance behind it that convinces a candidate to apply. What I noticed most about the booths that had the largest lines wasn’t the fun tech they were showcasing (though there was a lot of that!) – it was the conversations happening. Students were knowledgeable, they were armed with information and they wanted further resources and the chance to speak with people at the company.
As I spoke with students throughout the three-day event, one point was made clear: this generation of talent is constantly interacting with prospective employers, whether consciously or unconsciously.
“I get a lot of emails,” said Kelly, an undergrad from Stanford University. “It’s sometimes annoying, but when they have stories or interviews with women who have done well or came from the same background I did, it’s really interesting. I also follow companies on Instagram, it’s easy and lets me pick and choose what I want to see. Mostly, I want a company to be honest with me – you can tell when a website has been written by HR.”
So, what did a four-day event with the top female tech talent in the US teach me? Most importantly, that the next generation is ready to go – and they aren’t afraid of asking questions.