Overcoming Stereotypes: Attractive Women Can’t Code

Jason Pankow Conferences, Hiring Bias, HR, Influence, Interviewing, Jason Pankow, Leadership, Personal Brand, Recruiting, Uncategorized

This week, Microsoft is hosting Codess on campus in Redmond.  Codess is a networking event for women engineers—a place where they can get together and learn, mentor, and meet new people like themselves in a world that is dominated by men.

The brain trust behind this event is my colleague, Alexa Glick (@alexa_glick for your own enrichment purposes).  She coordinated the first Codess event in Europe before packing it up and sending it oversees to the Land of the Free, as well as many other countries across the globe.  This is the first time I have gotten to attend (as a staff member, for the record).

Much of my career, I have been pretty passionate about adding diversity to the world of technology, primarily in the form of women.  I often do this from the backseat as, when it comes to diversity, most people don’t want to hear from a white male.  But, my opinions and efforts have typically been welcome at the table.

Today, at the conference, I got to hear one of my favorite leaders speak.  Julie Larson-Green was the head of my client group for about a year when I worked on the Xbox team.  Since then, both of us have moved to other orgs.  But, even in that short amount of time, I grew to respect her as a leader who has accomplished many great things in her long career and was continuing to accomplish much more… especially given the state of her new team after the old leader had left.

As I listened to her speak this time, she said something that I had heard before from someone else.  It struck me again, like it struck me the first time I heard it.

Julie talked about early in her career.  She mentioned (I am paraphrasing here) how she would often go into interviews (she was a programmer at the time), answer the questions well, code well, and generally feel good about how things went.  However, something was always off.

I mentioned I had heard this before.  The first time was at a Women in Gaming event at the Game Developers Conference.  The keynote speaker was a woman named Jade Raymond.  Jade is the Director of Ubisoft’s Toronto studio.  At the time, she was the Executive Producer for Assassin’s Creed II, still one of my favorite games of all time.

Jade’s message was similar.  She went into an interview, felt good about the interview, never get the job.  It left both women with the question: Why not?

Jade, like Julie, is a rather attractive woman.  On the other side of the interview table were men.  Software developer men.  Men that went to school primarily with other men that looked a lot like them and had a lot of the same interests as them.  Men who are used to interacting with people who looked/sounded/acted a lot like they did themselves.

The kicker of the story is the next part.  You see, both women did the same thing after these experiences.  They “dressed down.”  Jade put on her glasses instead of her contacts and put her long hair into a bun.  Julie chose not to wear a skirt and heels, opting instead for pants and flats.

Lo and behold… each of them were hired for their respective jobs.

So, what gives? Someone suggested to me that it was intimidation!  The men were intimidated by attractive women.  Another suggested that these men aren’t used to having attractive women around, so it would make things weird.  What if they stare too much?  What if they make an inappropriate comment?

At the same Codess event, another presenter, Naomi Wolf, had a message that women should be unapologetic about who they are.  Be bold! Don’t change!

Well… what is it, guys?  Do we want women to be who they are in the workplace or do we want them to be what our image of them expects them to be?

Just an observation. Wonder if we’ll do anything about it.