New crowdsourced recruitment tool aims to get more women into tech

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Heidi Harman is the founder of international tech women’s network, Geek Girl Meetup. Her new projects use data and peer recommendations to tackle the industry’s diversity problem.

Heidi Harman has a succinct way of describing the tech industry’s issues with diversity. “It’s Steve, hiring Steve, hiring Steve,” she says. (It is. A recent analysis from the Center for Investigative Reporting found that, despite concerted efforts to address the issue, white men are still massively overrepresented in Silicon Valley jobs.) Now the former UX designer and researcher – who launched her first startup, RunAlong, in 2009 – is working to dismantle that hall of mirrors with her latest venture, a recruitment tool called Included Works. And she’s doing it with one of tech world’s most beloved principles: crowdsourcing.

“It allows anyone to recommend the right person for a job, with full transparency,” she explains. “Let’s say Fatima is a great developer and you recommend her to a company, vouching for her work ethic and skill. The company hires her, they pay us and we share that money with you.”

So Fatima gets a new job and the company gets an employee from outside of what Harman refers to as “the pool of usual suspects”. Companies can advertise their roles on the site for free, and only pay a fee of 20% of the candidate’s first-year salary once they are hired. Each recommendation is scored by the hiring manager on an Amazon-style rating system, allowing other companies to check out the trustworthiness of recommenders.

The site has been beta-testing since April and the results so far have been overwhelmingly positive, Harman says. “The hiring managers are really happy that we have experts recommending experts, because a developer can actually vouch for another developer with much greater accuracy than most recruiters,” she explains.

And the developers are similarly pleased to be cutting out the traditional middlemen. Throughout her tech career, Harman continues, she has often been chased down by recruiters who don’t understand the skills required for a role, ending up “wasting their time and my time”. Instead, she says, Included Works recognises the effort that goes into making a good recommendation, and rewards successful ones with a finder’s fee of €2,000 (£1,750).

Harman was first struck with the idea after being repeatedly called on to give recommendations for female developers, eventually to an unsustainable level. So, she says, she decided to create a tool that would “open it up to my network”. That network, however, happens to be a huge one, because Harman is also the co-founder of Geek Girl Meetup.

The now-global movement began in Sweden in 2008, when Harman and a friend found themselves frustrated at the lack female participation in tech conferences. The pair decided to create an “unconference”, where women of all ages could network, share knowledge and ideas, and hear talks from female tech role models. The idea snowballed: there are now monthly Geek Girl Meetups in 27 cities and 17 countries around the world. Each one looks different, tailored to the local population. For some that means late-night networking, while for others, such as London, it’s breakfast meetings. Another fundamental element, she explains, is drawing on the skills of the local community.

“We say: ‘Tell me what you guys are amazing at and we’ll grow the intellectual knowledge here,’” Harman says. “We don’t have to fly in somebody from somewhere else. We take the local talent that’s there and elevate them and network them.”

The huge growth has been entirely organic, she continues, thanks to a model that is “completely designed for self-organisation”. New chapters are added when people approach and say that they would like to set one up. That means there are now Geek Girl Meetups in places that Harman hasn’t even visited. “They have them in Singapore and Honduras now and I’ve never been. I want to go!” she laughs.

But she’s also busy heading up her next project to improve diversity in recruitment: Progress Data. It’s a tool for companies to analyse the profile of their staff and see where they may be “overly-Steved”. It’s not just about gender, Harman explains, but age and cultural background too.

“It’s like Google Analytics for diversity,” she explains. “They put in all their existing data, we send out surveys for areas they are missing and every time a new person is hired, we add that to the data set. It means the hiring manager can get a one-click report on what the diversity is actually like at the company.”

Companies are then offered research-based suggestions on improving in these areas, as compiled by the team’s expert researcher. The product doesn’t launch until January, but Harman is enthusiastic about its potential.

Her hope for it, and for all of her work, she explains, is that she will be able to use her position and privilege to “push things forward”. And she’s cheered by the enormous success of the Geek Girl Meetups as evidence of the enthusiasm that’s out there for a fairer tech landscape.

“It’s such a shame that it’s needed,” she says, “but it’s a wonderful thing.”