I am frequently asked "What is it like to be a Female Chief Technology Officer?," and I try to ignore the question. However, after recently receiving my fourth gender-specific award (this time, Female Entrepreneur of the Year), I posed a question on Quora if anyone had ever hired or not hired anyone because of his or her gender. I only received vehement no's in response--however I'm positive this isn't the true picture.
Early in my career, I was the recipient of reverse discrimination--I was hired specifically because I was a woman. As there was a requirement for both internally maintaining and demonstrating product to the public, they had a preference--unwritten in the job description--for "someone customers found pleasant to look at". While there were plenty of men I know who would have loved that job, I snagged it because I was the person best fit for the position.
Only 50 years ago, on prime-time television, millions of viewers tuned in once a week to see Nichelle Nichols, an African American woman, as fourth-in-command on the popular series, Star Trek. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself counted himself a fan of the show, personally urging her to remain on the show when she wanted to return to acting on Broadway.
Recently, Nichols received the Comic-Con Inkpot Lifetime Achievement award--in no small part due to all the many people she inspired (myself included) to follow their dreams of breaking down barriers. When I asked her what it was like to be a black female actor in the 60s, she replied, "I am an actor--I don't think about anything else." Her later work as a NASA recruiter helped to bring more diversity to the program than ever before, culminating in our earliest female astronauts like Sally Ride, Judith Resnick and Kathryn D. Sullivan.
It's hard to believe that 50 years after Star Trek, we still haven't reached equilibrium in our workplaces. Questions of gender bias and harassment are still hot topics in business.
For large corporations, they give training on how to eliminate bias in hiring practices--but what steps can you take as an entrepreneur?
While some people consider this radical or controversial, I am a huge proponent of using "blind" applications for the first pass. Many applicant tracking systems (ATS) are set up to filter for specific skills, experience and other job requirements that you are looking for, which is good, but you need to take another step and remove any personally identifiable information from the application as well. This includes picture, name, volunteered gender and race information, hobbies, interests, location and the school a person attended.
All of these things can lead to unintended bias - for example, you may be more inclined to hire someone who attended your University over someone from a rival school.
After you have filtered through your submissions, but before your initial interview, I recommend doing both skill and personality assessments. StrengthsFinder, HackerRank, and Fingerprint4Success are among those I regularly use to evaluate candidates to determine both competency and behavioral style.
By utilizing empirical data to compare one candidate to another, it further removes bias.
At the third stage, candidates that have been selected through the first two come to have a conversational interview with the people they will be interacting with.
While it's impossible to eliminate all biases--we are human--if you've done the job well up to here, you have the highest probability of hiring the best candidate at this point.
As NASA and Ms. Nichols found in the early 80's, your candidate pool is only as good as your advertising efforts. Their hard work in recruiting led to a higher number of diverse candidates, however it was still a small percentage overall.
As far as, "What is it like to be a female CTO?" the answer is--"I'm a CTO - I don't think about anything else."