Google I/O is Google's annual developer conference, and it's a big deal. Six thousand attendees are here in San Francisco now, in addition to the 600 or 700 members of the press. And yet, the line to get into the ladies' room is non-existent.
Larry Page, Google co-founder, today took the stage in a keynote address and at the end opened the floor to questions, not a common move for an event of this size or a man of his prestige. One of the questions was about how to attract more women into the technology field.
Page said Google goes to great lengths to hire women, and from what I know, that's by and large true. But it isn't enough. It isn't enough to just interview them. I believe you have to invite them.
If you want to tell women that they are not only welcomed but needed, invite them. Invite them personally to interview for a job, or to apprentice, or to sit on a board of directors. Invite them to speak at a conference or team lunch to share what they know on a topic. Invite them to act as consultants. Invite them to volunteer in an area that's related to your tech company or other STEM organization (STEM is science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
But the key is to tell them personally, "We want you."
When you invite a women, literally, into the conversation, the message you're sending is also, "We already value you and what you know. You don't have anything to prove." And for many people (not just women), feeling accepted makes a world of difference. It encourages risks, the good kind of risks that result in innovation and forward-thinking. It encourages the sharing of ideas.
Some of the big achievements I've had in both my personal and work lives in the past five years or so came about because someone simply told me that I knew what I was doing, and would I do more of it. And my answer was usually a very straightforward, "Sure." The moment someone else tells me he or she believes in me or believes that I am an "expert" in something, I feel confident that I am. And if I'm not, I speak up about it, but that's rare. For the most part, people have asked me about things in which I am more than competent.
Teacher especially need to do this. If you teach a STEM subject, invite bright female students to take your next class. If you don't teach STEM and you see bright students, invite them to take a STEM class taught by a STEM teacher that you think is good. It's that simple. Just tell them, "I think you'd be good at this," and watch what happens.
When I say "invite women," I don't mean "put out an open call that you want women to apply" either. I mean find the women you want, and just tell them you want them for the job, or board member position, or what have you. Especially in technology, there's no excuse. We have social media. Tech-savvy women have websites and LinkedIn accounts and blogs. We put ourselves out there so that you will find us and solicit our opinions, advice, expertise, and ideas.
So the next time someone asks what more can be done to get women into a field, respond, "Well did you ask any women?"