Engineering the Future of Women in Tech

These Los Angeles companies are leading the way by lifting up women engineers and amplifying their voices throughout their organizations.

Written by Isaac Feldberg
Published on Jul. 13, 2022
 Engineering the Future of Women in Tech
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Despite making up nearly half of the total U.S. workforce, women are still underrepresented across science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) occupations. 

According to the U.S. Census, which tracked the overall proportion of women in such roles between 1970 and 2019, certain fields have seen more significant gains for women than others; for example, women made up 19 percent of workers in the social sciences back in 1970 and now constitute 64 percent of those occupations. The data’s less heartening for women in engineering roles, the proportion of which increased from 3 percent in 1970 to 15 percent in 2019.

As such, engineering leaders at these six Los Angeles tech companies are all in alignment about the importance of moving toward gender equality. They also agree that identifying the barriers faced by women in engineering is an essential first step in doing so.

At Coco, an operationalized robotic delivery company based in the LA area, leaders concentrate on working to overcome the lack of representation that has historically discouraged women in engineering from advancing in the field or applying for open positions. Step one: making Coco’s women engineers exceptionally visible, both within the company and to prospective hires.

“We proactively spotlight Coco’s women to help all candidates feel a sense of belonging and ownership at our company.” said Krupa Patel, product owner. “Additionally, we ensure women are included on all of our interview panels to protect against potential bias. We also focus on highlighting the women of Coco in our external communications and when speaking with candidates.”

Below, Patel and five other leaders at fast-growing LA tech companies discuss the challenges faced by women in engineering and how their workplaces are working to overcome them. 

 

Anastassia Etropolski
Senior Software Engineer • Foursquare

 

Across location data platform Foursquare, a “strong network of employee resource groups” such as Foursquare Technical Women (FTW) ensures that everyone feels supported at work, according to Anastassia Etropolski, senior software engineer. “We strive to make this a welcoming place for all types of people,” she said, also highlighting “generous” parental and fertility benefits as ways her company cares for its employees.

 

How Foursquare is recruiting more women into engineering roles:

Our recruiting efforts are constantly changing, and we’re always striving to improve. The burden often falls on women to increase gender diversity, either by asking them to be on more interview panels, reach out to their networks or simply be the ones constantly pushing for change within their company. I think that one of the keys to successful recruiting is to spread the workload and get buy-in from people across your organization and company, especially at executive levels. 

That’s the tactic that we’re using for our current push in engineering, while working with the recruiting team to figure out how we can both hold them accountable and give them the resources they need to be successful in their goals. The other important piece is to make sure that the approaches we are using are ones that will resonate with women. It’s really important to make sure the ways you advertise roles and the company don’t unintentionally alienate certain demographics, and that they highlight benefits that are important to people of marginalized genders.

 

Why Foursquare is an attractive place to work for women in engineering:

Foursquare is honestly a wonderful place for female engineers at all levels. Those just starting out or in the middle of their careers are given the space to learn and grow. Managers are encouraging and earnestly want to help you find the right fit within the organization; there is a culture of mutual respect across the organization, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or background. It’s also just a very fun, relaxed place to work. Don’t get me wrong: we take our work seriously and take pride in solving the challenges presented to us. But no one bats an eye if you need to take time off during the day or week to take care of something personal. Your work hours can be flexible, to suit your schedule. 

We have fostered an environment that encourages mentorship, cooperation and open discussion.”

 

How Foursquare supports women in its engineering positions:

We have fostered an environment that encourages mentorship, cooperation and open discussion. If we see that women in particular are struggling disproportionately, are unsure of how to progress in their careers or are being negatively impacted by our workplace, we will take action. Our employee resource group Foursquare Technical Women (FTW) champions various initiatives. The ERG also regularly checks in with members to have honest discussions around their experiences. From there, my co-lead and I will anonymously escalate any issues that arise out of those discussions to engineering leadership. 

 

 

Christina Ramstein
Talent Director • Spartan

 

Spartan, which enables autonomous vehicle safety through radar technology, keeps diversity in mind throughout its talent outreach and hiring processes. But the company’s culture of mutual respect and collaboration works to make engineers of all stripes feel welcome from the moment they first come to work. “I think ours is a refreshing environment for female engineers, primarily because there isn’t an ‘us vs. them’ feel at Spartan,” said Christina Ramstein, talent director.

 

How Spartan is recruiting more women into engineering roles:

Our talent is organically diverse, but we still struggle to balance our culture from a gender perspective. Some of that has to do with the talent available itself. Unfortunately, there are still fewer individuals who identify as female represented in STEM-focused majors and subsequently careers, which makes it more narrow and competitive to recruit them. 

However, we’ve made a conscious effort to involve our female engineers in every aspect of our talent outreach process: highlighting their accomplishments in our marketing videos and outreach; encouraging their active involvement in organizations that encourage females to explore STEM and engineering, such as Society for Women Engineers; and offering internal incentives for referrals or recommendations of others. 

When sourcing for passive talent, we also make an effort to seek out a well-rounded pool of prospects, including female representation wherever possible across all categories, from entry-level to leadership. Lastly, our hiring teams are conscientious by nature and consistently embrace equality and inclusivity, thereby encouraging women to not only feel represented but heard.

 

Why Spartan is an attractive place to work for women in engineering:

Too many engineering cultures tend to overtly highlight their female contributors simply because of their gender identity, yet covertly it’s a different story; they don’t support them equally, and there is a definite line drawn organizationally as to how they’re included. At Spartan, there is no differentiation when it comes to how female engineers are treated or what our expectations are for their performance. They are simply engineers first and foremost, who are valued and seen as integral parts of the whole. They are peers, team members, mentors and mentees; they are leaders, contributors, and advocates. We encourage them to voice opinions, challenge the status quo, and participate in every discussion. Authenticity is key.

Of course, there’s more to Spartan than just work! We provide great benefits, including unlimited PTO, gym membership stipends and flexible work options. Our environment is both driven and supportive; performance isn’t measured by your time on the clock, but rather what you do with that time.

We’ve made a conscious effort to involve our female engineers in every aspect of our talent outreach process.”

 

How Spartan supports women in its engineering positions:

It can be a bit of a “culture shock” to find yourself with equal representation, particularly if your previous work environment was less than encouraging. By continuously supporting women and providing ways to help them find their voice here at Spartan, we’ve helped alleviate those predetermined and unfortunately all-too-common concerns, breaking down their own misconceptions about their worth and value.

We also maintain an effort to be fully transparent and aware. That means that, if there are problems, we encourage open and candid dialogue. We ensure there is conscientious listening involved as well. Our efforts matter, whether we’re providing a “safe zone” to air concerns, evaluating and discussing possible inequalities or challenges, or encouraging “open doors” while respecting privacy and freedom of individualism without fear of repercussions. We will not and do not tolerate sexism or any other form of discrimination or selective treatment, and we are very vocal about the need to maintain a supportive, inclusive culture.

 

 

Kate Bierbaum
Director, Engineering • Lever

 

In order to support women in its workplace, HR tech company Lever maintains specified employee resource groups, benefits offerings and promotion processes all geared toward equity, inclusion and opportunity. 

 

How Lever is recruiting more women into engineering roles:

Lever strives for inclusivity across the entire hiring process. From the start, our job descriptions have realistic requirements and discuss the impact you can expect to make over time. For the interview process, the technical interview was designed to be collaborative in nature and assess candidates solving problems similarly to how they would on the job. For example, two components of our interviews are a code review and pair programming session. During the code review, we look at how the author communicated and their skills in mentorship, highlighting a growth mindset in addition to technical skills around code correctness. The pair programming session looks for signals on technical leadership and communication, as well as for the ability to solve a given task at hand. These components make for an approachable, more real-world interview. Lever also facilitates internal transfers to open roles and actively seeks a diverse candidate pipeline of curious and capable engineers from non-traditional backgrounds.

Internally, the engineering team is an extremely collaborative and kind group.’’

 

Why Lever is an attractive place to work for women in engineering:

Lever, as a product, is an exciting opportunity to work on. You get to help shape the future of hiring, have a wide impact across the tech industry and bring focused attention to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into the hiring process. Internally, the engineering team is an extremely collaborative and kind group. We value questions and growth and make sure everybody has a voice. A small example of this is how we run retrospectives. Feedback is collected in a document before discussing, so all can participate, with an emphasis on what we have learned as a team thus far and what puzzles we still need to solve. We also don’t shy away from difficult conversations. At the moment, we’re figuring out planning practices and changes we can make to ensure a sustainable pace for our teams and improve life as an engineer at Lever.

 

How Lever supports women in its engineering positions:

We have an ERG dedicated specifically to women, providing a safe space for them to come together and discuss work, the news, world happenings and beyond. Our benefits offerings are also unique and were completely overhauled during the pandemic. After an employee listening tour, our HR team put together a new benefits and perks package that included Carrot, a family planning app; extended maternity level and costs for babysitting, dog walking and other such activities to make the work your life demands a little bit easier. On the career front, Lever does twice-yearly promotion and review cycles. We also provide leveling guides with specific criteria on what is needed to progress and how every next level is differentiated from the previous one. We support career development through a clear promotion process, while aligning engineers to projects to stretch their skills. 

 

 

Ha Lam
Staff Backend Engineer • ChowNow

 

ChowNow, a sustainability-focused ordering platform for local restaurants, considers inclusivity a high priority across every department. As such, its engineering department has thrived at recruiting diverse tech professionals. “An increasing number of women hold positions in our engineering department,” said Ha Lam, staff backend engineer. “From individual contributors to our vice president of engineering, it’s very encouraging to see representation throughout the team.”

 

How ChowNow is recruiting more women into engineering roles:

One of the most consistent and prolific efforts I have witnessed is how our recruiting team, engineering managers and interviewing panels work together to iterate on inclusivity in our interviewing process. The recruiting team makes certain that women are represented in the interview loops and talent pipeline. They work hard to not only reach out to different candidates but also sponsor and participate in onsite recruiting events like Women Impact Tech and PyCon.

In addition, the interview committee often revisits and strategically selects practical types of problems for core competency assessments. We want to ensure that our candidates solve coding challenges that resemble day-to-day work at ChowNow rather than randomly selected algorithms that do not represent the typical problems one has to solve on the job. Hiring managers are very involved in the process and work closely with the recruiting team to define and refine evaluation criteria from time to time. This helps guide the interview panels toward identifying potential rather than evaluating how quickly a candidate can complete the problem.

Engineering leadership supports a flexible schedule that works for engineers and their productivity.’’

 

Why ChowNow is an attractive place to work for women in engineering:

With respect for others and transparency being core components of our culture, team members feel empowered in a space where they can voice ideas. Engineering leadership supports a flexible schedule that works for engineers and their productivity. This allows a night-owl parent like myself to split my working hours, so I can stay engaged with my team during the daytime and work on heavy-focus development tasks at night after my toddler goes to bed. Such flexibility propels me to continue doing what I love and growing while balancing all that with my family commitments. ChowNow is also host to a range of exciting affinity groups and Slacks where members of our diverse communities can connect based on interests and build community.

 

How ChowNow supports women in its engineering positions:

During the onboarding processes, the hiring manager will pair new hires with an onboarding buddy who will act as the go-to person to help them ramp up and navigate the new environment.

Secondly, engineers regularly have one-on-one meetings with leadership, allowing them to voice their thoughts, feedback and concerns in a safe space. Depending on the dynamic, mentorship, advice and support can also be exchanged.

Additionally, employees are encouraged to use their learning stipends on books, online classes, certifications and technical conferences for professional development. And lastly, senior engineers are encouraged to provide mentorship wherever and whenever possible.

 

 

Krupa Patel
Product Owner

 

Coco is committed to building a diverse culture through inclusive hiring and recruiting efforts. Fostering an inclusive environment at every level — from leadership to individual contributors — is an on-going process that Product Owner Krupa Patel sees as part of the company’s forward-thinking vision. 

 

How Coco is recruiting more women into engineering roles:

One of our strongest tactics for recruiting women in engineering is through word-of-mouth referrals. We take pride in hiring individuals who embody our company values and trust them to champion our culture to their diverse networks. Our recruiting team has also invested in establishing a robust internal referral framework, including clear communication on open roles and referral bonuses, to complement our word-of-mouth efforts. 

 

Why Coco is an attractive place to work for women in engineering:

We are committed to providing equal opportunities and live those values daily by ensuring that all ideas are heard, regardless of gender. Employees are given multiple platforms to present their opinions, including one-on-ones with their manager, Q&As with leadership during town halls, and feedback channels on our internal communications platform. All ideas are treated equally, respectfully, and judged solely on merit. This open culture also manifests in other ways, such as our intentional focus on promoting inclusive word choices, team bonding activities to help employees feel socially comfortable, and an accommodating work environment. 

We are committed to providing equal opportunities and ensure that all ideas are heard, regardless of gender.’’

 

How Coco supports women in its engineering positions:

Coco supports women in engineering through several organizational benefits and policies. Our Women of Coco group organizes social activities while also providing a safe, open environment for support and communication. Managers also work with their reports to provide accommodations for childcare, such as flexible schedules or remote work, as well as parental leave. Additionally, Coco’s people team prohibits unlawful harassment, discrimination and retaliation with zero-tolerance policies to ensure an equitable, safe working environment.

 

 

Lee Hilton
Head Of Engineering • ComplYant

 

At ComplYant, the technology startup behind a digital tax assistant tool for small business owners and entrepreneurs, women in engineering can expect to be welcomed with open arms from their first interactions with recruiters onward. That’s part of the company’s holistic approach to empowering underrepresented demographics in tech, according to Head of Engineering Lee Hilton. “Starting with our leadership, everyone is expected to contribute towards an open and safe culture,” he said.

 

How ComplYant is recruiting more women into engineering roles:

We start by being specific with our recruiters, telling them, “Bring us at least 50 percent non-male-identifying candidates.” Our recruiters also work hard to help candidates feel prepared ahead of interviews. Lastly, we recognize how valuable interviews are for us to demonstrate our core beliefs and culture. We have found the most effective approach to be these first personal contact points.

 

Why ComplYant is an attractive place to work for women in engineering:

We make regular work of identifying and removing barriers that may limit anyone’s participation. There is no room for bullying in our workforce, and that includes toxic engineering tropes like shaming a coworker for lack of specific knowledge. No “brilliant jerks” allowed.

It starts with clear expectations for respect and inclusive behavior.’’

 

How ComplYant supports women in its engineering positions:

It starts with clear expectations for respect and inclusive behavior required by our employee handbook, reinforced with our harassment training program and modeled by leadership. The goal is for a new employee to become confident in their new workplace by actually living our stated principles. Leadership has to put in the work, and there is no replacement for that.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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