We’re familiar with data about the glass ceiling and women leaving the workplace in the general economy and expect tech, somehow, to be more evolved; sadly, it’s not.

Women are just 29.4 percent of the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce with all the usual factors coming into play whittling down numbers: dissatisfaction with career development, salary concerns, life-work balance and more, meaning just one in six women plan on staying in their current role longer than a year.

With diversity linked to innovation and corporate performance, it’s little wonder employers are striving to make their workplace more appealing through initiatives and actions increasingly known as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs.

That data, however, suggests programs are failing to change the workplace in a way that makes many women want to stick around. The question when looking for a new job in STEM therefore has to be: how can you ensure an employer is everything they claim to be?

Here are the five benchmarks I used to evaluate companies during the application process.  I find these can be used to determine what firms are really like and help decide whether they operate a workplace and culture that’s fair, rewarding – and makes you want to stay.

Examine the evidence: Actions speak louder than words so look for evidence your potential employer has a track record on retaining and advancing women. Examine the corporate site, LinkedIn and speaker lists at conferences for proof women hold a broad range of business and technology positions across the company. Look for evidence of representation in senior leadership. Search for length of tenure, too – low staff turnover suggests structured career progression with the resources to support employees. This support could include flexible working or return-to-work programs for those who take on roles as parents or carers.

Reality check the DEI: Some companies employ diversity officers to run the entire program. Others simply tack on the role to existing employees’ responsibilities leaving the program to stall if they move on and are not replaced – clear evidence of a DEI program lacking the required strategic commitment and resources from management. You should therefore look for employers who have operationalised diversity through a structured and self-sustaining program. This can mean elements such as mentoring schemes and employee resource groups that provide a place to discuss topics in a safe environment. As an example, my company runs a women’s group and engineering manager groups where we check in once a month. Initiatives should be structured and funded so they continue without interruption when individuals move on.

Read the language: The wording used in job ads is a good indicator of a company’s practical commitment to fairness and equality. Research here shows gender bias in recruitment with stereotypical language helping to perpetuate traditional gender roles and inequality in the workplace.

The study defined words it considered socially, culturally or historically weighted towards male and female genders. It found job ads in male-dominated fields used words associated with male stereotypes, such as leader, competitive and dominant. While women are ambitious and competitive, the research suggests many are reluctant to apply for posts that contain these words or claim to seek these traits in an individual. A recent survey of nearly 80,000 job ads by Totaljobs discovered an average of six male- or female-biased encoded words per advert. Helpfully, there are a number of sites online that you can use to identify and decode gender-specific language in job ads.

Analyse the culture: It’s important to ensure a company’s culture aligns with your values so use the job interview as an opportunity to quiz the interviewer about topics important to you. If long-term career development is critical, ask about the career-development matrix. If you are concerned about the freedom and degree of autonomy you might have, ask about reporting lines and put some examples to them. Ask them, too, to describe their personal experiences of the company’s culture: if they cannot articulate its values or provide examples of how the values are put into practice, chances are they – and others – are unlikely to live by them.

Assess the hiring experience: The way you are treated will provide an important insight into how the company treats its people, so assess your experience. Was the process organised or chaotic? Was it a productive exchange or did you feel intimidated? The hiring process should be conducted by interviewers trained to draw out the best in a candidate and – crucially – to avoid leading questions that can feed unconscious bias, perpetuating past hiring patterns and reinforcing outdated workplace culture and practices.

STEM has become a highly competitive recruitment ground with organisations competing intensely for the kind of talent that will help them turn technology to their advantage. That’s putting job seekers in an extremely powerful position in several ways when it comes to shopping for employers – just make sure one of them is their ability to deliver on diversity.


By ilemi Arindell, Manager, Customer Success at Cockroach Labs