Category Archives: Women

5 Agile ways to engage women

Wet boots_Mumintrollet

Flickr Commons, Mumintrollet – Wet Boots

We know that women make up only 28% of the digital/tech workforce, with even fewer in pure technical roles. Here’s five ways an Agile culture can help you attract women to your organisation and support them.

1. Meet and greet to find good fit

Invite a potential candidate to meet her team. Sure, it’s a bit like a first date, but that means people smile a lot, act nicely and try to make a good impression. Research tells us that women value community. If you say your workplace is friendly, then giving a woman a glimpse of that friendliness and community may encourage her to join your organisation. Meet and greet to find good fit is inspired by Agile principle #5 – giving people the environment and support they need.

2. Team self-selection to give her choice

Sandy Mamoli’s awesome book Creating Great Teams: How Self-Selection Lets People Excel, explains that we’re happiest and most productive if we can choose what we work on, and who we work with. Choosing a team where you’ll feel valued and able to contribute, taps into the co-operative collaborative style of working that many women seek. Team self-selection to give her choice is inspired by Agile principle #11 – that the best designs emerge from self-organising teams.

3. Buddy up to find support

It’s baffling to start a new gig and learn the ropes. A buddy who’ll support you beyond your first day, by introducing you to others, helping you understand the organisation and translating the job description from aspirational to real, can be incredibly helpful. It’s been demonstrated that women sometimes don’t put themselves forward, due to fear that they don’t have all the requisite skills. A buddy is someone dependable, who is thoughtful and supportive when you need it most. Buddy up to find support is inspired by the Agile manifesto that values individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

4. Mentor her to help her grow

My blog post Words that keep women from applying for jobs lists the top 20 inclusive words that attract women to job ads. It’s unsurprising that curiouscreative and thoughtful are on that list. A mentor is someone who shares knowledge and wisdom to support your career growth and aspirations. A great mentor connects you with others who can grow your thinking, your dreams and potentially your salary! If you want to support a woman in your workplace, extend the generosity of mentorship. Mentor to help her grow is inspired by Agile principle #6 which values face-to-face conversation.

5. The right pace, so she can hit her stride

When my kids were little, a 9:00am arrival in the office, felt like midday! This was because of the 5:00am start required to read the same picture book three times, and ready kids for childcare and school. Those days are behind me now, but the memory of busy beyond belief persists. Agile principle #8 describes promoting a sustainable working pace. If we support women achieve this at work, they’ll be better able to manage the chaos that is life, and they’ll stick around.

Words that keep women from applying for jobs

Words that keep women from applying for jobs_image v3We know that while women make up 43% of the Australian workforce, they only make up 28% of the digital/tech workforce, with even fewer in pure technical roles.

How we recruit women to these roles, is one problematic area. We can hypothesise on the biases that prevent women from making it through the process – how we advertise, how we shortlist and how we interview. I’d like to stretch your thinking on just one thin slice – the words we use in job ads and position descriptions.

We’ve known for some time that women’s style of communication is more communal, using more emotional and social words than men’s style of speech. In 2011, research established that specific words are a major turnoff to female job seekers because masculine-themed words signal to women that they may not fit in at a particular workplace.

Two software companies – Unitive and Textio have built a business model around text checkers that screen for words likely to prevent a candidate from applying for a role. Both of these paid services have a core list of words and phrases lifted from rigorous research and real time trawling of job listings.

Here are 20 words likely to keep women from applying for jobs:

Active     Ambitious     Analytical     Assertive

Autonomous     Best of the best     Boastful     Challenging

Competitive    Competitive salary     Confident     Decisive

Determined    Dominate    Foosball    Independent

Ninja    Objective    Strong    Takes risks

Let’s take a deeper look at what research says about a few of these. When companies use the word “ninja”, they intend to communicate that they are seeking an aggressive and expert candidate. To most of us though, a “ninja” is a dude.

I wanted to believe that this word appears infrequently in job ads in Australia, but a quick search on Seek suggested otherwise, with many companies deeply committed to Agile, still using this term.

It’s not that women job seekers don’t believe in themselves, but what we know is that phrases like “best of the best” unconsciously signal a company is seeking white males.

Another phrase, “competitive salary” is problematic because women, who are less likely to negotiate, may think they have to haggle over their pay.

Inclusive words look like more like this:

Adaptable     Collaborate     Committed     Connected

Cooperative     Creative     Curious     Dependable

Excellent     Flexible schedule     Imaginative

Interpersonal     Intuitive     Loyal     Resilient    Responsible

Self-aware     Supportive    Thoughtful    Trust

Laura Mather, the founder of Unitive, explains that none of these problematic terms will turn away a female jobseeker on their own, but sprinkled throughout the job ad, they will have that effect. She advises that it’s ok to use masculine-skewed terms, but it’s important to balance them with words from the other side of the spectrum.

Here’s a quick before and after on a company description in a job ad:


We are a dominant software firm that boasts many leading clients. We are determined to stand apart from the competition.


We are a community of developers who have nurtured effective relationships with many loyal clients. We are committed to understanding the software development sector intimately.

And this is what the candidate description looks like:


Strong communication and influencing skills. Ability to perform individually in a competitive environment. Superior ability to satisfy customers and manage company’s association with them.


Proficient oral and written communications skills. Collaborates well in a team environment. Sensitive to clients’ needs and can develop warm client relationships.

Since we know that the language we use in job ads can keep women from applying for jobs, how does language more broadly influence the success or otherwise of women applying for jobs?

I’ll leave you with four ways we can increase our awareness of this:

  1. Think about the word picture you paint of your workplace. Is it all foosball and beer, or community and flexibility?
  2. Ensure your description of an ideal candidate is not gendered.
  3. Think closely about how you phrase interview questions
  4. Don’t let the gendered language women use in their job applications or in interviews, affect your perception of their capability


Thanks to the thought leaders whose articles I referenced:

3 Key ways to attract more female candidates

6 Ways to tweak your job descriptions to attract better candidates –

10 Actionable ways to increase diversity in tech Paper

Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality

Here are the words that may keep women from applying for jobs

Hire more women in tech

How to hire more women at your startup

How to make job descriptions female-friendly

Vic ICT for Women, BoldMoves White Paper