Resources

Podcast

Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code, on How to Design for Equity

Spotify
Apple Podcasts
Sticher
iHeartRadio
iHeartRadio

 

Today’s episode of the show is a little different than usual. Rather than inviting a guest on for a live interview and conversation with Jason and Ligia, our hosts replay the audio from a session with Alaina Percival at the Eightfold’s 2022 Talent Summit, Cultivate. Alaina is Co-Founder and CEO of Women Who Code, a non-profit organization with the goal of providing a site where women can come together to get upskilled.

To kick off the interview, Alaina highlights what Women Who Code is all about. It is the largest and most active community for diverse technical women in the world, serving close to 300,000 members in 134 countries. The organization is deeply committed to access, technical learning, upskilling, and career development all for free or scholarship accessible. The concept became important to Alaina personally because when she decided to learn to code to become more involved in the tech space, she realized that women were deeply underrepresented at senior and executive levels.

Women Who Code works with companies to elevate their profile in their community while including them in the community dynamic too. They put in the hard work to help women worldwide stay invested in their careers, develop a sense of belonging, overcome imposter syndrome and build pure technical skills. Attracting top talent today requires a company to prove that they are an exciting organization that cares about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. On average, women who study a technical role tend to leave technical careers roughly 10 years after they have begun. Addressing this, Alaina urges organizations to be transparent in helping women understand their path within the organization and have clarity about how to achieve new milestones. Women Who Code is working to address the barriers and breakpoints people in the industry worldwide face at the systemic level. As the interview wraps up, Alaina offers advice for women entering the tech field about overcoming imposter syndrome.

Learn more about Alaina Percival and Women Who Code.

Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code, on How to Design for Equity

Ligia:

Welcome to the new talent code, a podcast with practical insights, dedicated to empowering change agents in HR to push the envelope in their talent functions. We’re your hosts. I’m Ligia Zamora.

Jason:

And I’m Jason Serato. We’re bringing you the best thought leaders in the talent space to share stories about how they are designing the workforce of the future. Transforming processes, rethinking old constructs and leveraging cutting edge technology to solve. Today’s pressing talent issues. It’s what we call the new talent code.

Ligia:

So if you’re looking for practical, actionable advice to get your workforce future ready, you’ve come to the right place. Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the new talent code. I’m Leia. I’m here with my co-host Jason. Hey Jason. Hey,

Jason:

Ligia, it’s great to be back on the heels of our cultivate event and also back for another podcast.

Ligia:

All right. So are you

Jason:

Rested? You know, it’s one of these things where it was great to be back in person with people, but you definitely have to train the muscles to put back on real shoes and pack your bags and get out there to an event for the full day agenda. So glad to have the weekend to rest up, but a lot of great things to talk about, very exciting sessions and tremendous takeaways. I know we’re gonna talk about one of them today.

Ligia:

Our listeners who don’t know we had our second annual talent summit in Napa, California. That’s what Jason and I are referring to. We had something like over 45 speakers, I think over two days. So a lot of great sessions, great content, everything from talent, acquisition, employee, career development, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and certainly some sessions on AI technology. I’m gonna say it, Jason, nothing beats, face to face. It

Jason:

Was great to be there in person. I know we are still working in the world that we live in. So we did have a hybrid format. There were a lot of people that met with us there in person, and there were also people that were able to watch live and real time through our hybrid platform. I know that the session we’re gonna talk about today is one where I wasn’t on stage with you, but I was able

Ligia:

To, yeah, it was me

Jason:

<Laugh> I was able to attend virtually during the session, you know, on our hybrid platform and watched long in real time. I think it was a great session.

Ligia:

Yeah. Yeah. And for those of you who are interested, those sessions are still posted and will be available online. So yeah, let’s move on to today’s topic. It’s gonna be a little different. We’re actually not interviewing somebody live. We are going to replay the audio of the session I actually interviewed. And now I’m one of her biggest fans, Elena Percival, she’s the co-founder and CEO of a nonprofit organization called women who code her personal story, which I, I duly respect because she actually did something about a problem that she had is all about providing a site where women can come together to get upskilled.

Jason:

You know, in my past, I’ve been involved with a couple diversity related kind of stem initiatives out there in the market. And I think one of the things that is really helpful, especially in this effort is building also the sense of community and connecting women across industries and across companies into kind of this cohort where they can learn together and also share resources together. So I know there’s tremendous value in that as well, but also through the services that Alina’s organization provides a tremendous value to organizations.

 

Reskilling and Upskilling 

Ligia:

Yeah. I mean, there’s something to be said when knowing that you’re not alone in this world, that there’s others like you, but also such a tremendous resource, one place to go so that I can actually further my career. One of the other things I really like, as you mentioned, there are some other organizations focusing on upskilling women in the technical world. I find a lot of them are really focused on encouraging girls or young women to enter technical careers, given the visibility into the possible. What I like about this organization, though, it’s really focused on women who potentially already have careers and are either looking to pivot into technical careers or looking to further their current. I’m gonna call it technical. Prowes not just women looking to enter, but also women returning to the workforce or women who are already in technical careers and continuing to keep themselves relevant. Right? In terms of technical skills,

Jason:

Just as recently as last month, the bureau of labor statistics shared that there’s twice as many job openings as there are people looking for work. So this isn’t a problem. You can necessarily recruit your way out of cuz if you do, you’re continually gonna be iterating talent and have a hole in the bucket because you’ll be taking someone else’s talent and they’ll be taking yours. So the whole point of this is that in order to really get out of this, you have to address reskilling and upskilling and adjacencies and potentially redeploying talent to the areas that align with where the business is headed or align with their career growth. So never more timely than ever. Just real quick. I’ll share with you a quick story from my past, you know, working in talent acquisition, we used to be very eager and keen to hire mechanical engineers.

Jason:

And it was on the job description. You had to have a mechanical engineering degree. Yeah. And one of, one of the things that brought this home to me early on in my career was we were looking for the degree on the resume and if they had it, we would talk to people. And if they didn’t, we would say, thank you. But maybe there’s something else that we may be able to talk to at, at a later point box. Yeah. That’s kind of the way things worked, especially when you’re doing this manually on the fly. And one of the things that we didn’t realize at the time that we ended up learning later was there was another degree in the university that was a biomechanical engineering mm-hmm <affirmative> mm-hmm <affirmative> so it wasn’t mechanical engineering, it was biomechanical engineering. But unfortunately because it wasn’t mechanical engineering, some hiring managers tended to potentially push those people to the left or to the right.

Jason:

One thing we didn’t realize was that the curriculum for those two majors was different by two courses. So the biomechanical engineering had a biology course and maybe another science or a different type of chemistry course than mechanical did. But the other difference was that the biomechanical engineering student body had about 70% more females. So if you think about it asking about learnability and capability, someone with a biomechanical degree could very well learn how to apply themselves towards a mechanical focused job based off of everything they had learned and filling in the gaps for what they may not have learned because there’s learnability and capability. That’s very transferable.

Ligia:

It’s amazing, right? One small change can open up a whole new pool of talent,

Jason:

Pool of talent, new audience. And again, if you start to remove, as you mentioned, some of those check the box mm-hmm <affirmative> exercises, you start to open up the possibility not only for your organization, but also for talent.

 

What are adjacent skills and why are they important?

Ligia:

Yeah. Well, talk to us a little bit about adjacencies or Adja skills. What do you mean by that?

Jason:

So adjacencies is kind of built on looking at the components of work, broken down into skills, and then how does someone actually develop those skills to build them into their repertoire? And if you think about it, as someone is getting trained or developed to learn a certain skill, there’s some element of that training that may correspond to other skills. So I may already be 80, 90, 90 5% on the way to developing some other skill as I’m learning what I’m currently studying. So part of this is what are those adjacencies, where the training is close enough. That would be very easy for someone to pivot and start to learn those other adjacent areas. But then also based off of that, what are they potentially capable of in terms of career paths and trajectories? Once you start to kind of expand the margins into not only what is this person doing and or what are they interested in, but what are they capable of? And maybe if I know what I’m capable of, that may also expand my interests. Cuz if I don’t necessarily know I’m capable of this, then I may never actually be interested in it unless I start to be aided by taking a skills based approach and maybe having some of those career paths potentially laid out in front of me. Yeah.

Ligia:

Yeah. There is definitely an aspect of desirability too, right? Because the, the reality is I might have potential skills. I don’t know to be an astronaut, but do I really want to be an astronaut? So there is an aspect of motivation or there’s an aspect of learnability right.

Jason:

Well, not just that it’s really alignment. So if you’re thinking about training, there’s some training that you can take that is job generated training. There’s also training you can take that is extracurricular, that you just want to take to better yourself or improve yourself, or because it’s something that, as you mentioned, you are quote unquote, interested in what the world is seeking now is aligning these things to potentially find things you may be interested in or capable of that. Also map to the things the organization needs. So that way you’re not just becoming educated or trained for training’s sake, it’s also helping you in your career while also helping the organization adjust to the challenges at hand.

Ligia:

Yeah. I love it. I love it. I think the other part that really resonated with me that Elena speaks to is the fact that it is, it’s also the other part, right? So you encourage people, you up skilling, you train them so that they can actually get the job. Then what do you do about retaining them? It’s shocking to me to find out that most women who pursue technical careers only stay in it for about 10 years. And then they either pivot out or leave. There’s a whole aspect of redesigning your policies, your processes, and your culture to really be inclusive.

Jason:

One of the things that she shares in the session and everyone will get a chance to hear shortly is once you have visibility to this and some of the challenges you’re having, you really need to design for the break points in your diversity pipeline. And when you start to figure out specific audiences, not every audience may have the same break point. So you need to understand, is it that something that, where it’s mid-career is it that something where it’s access to education? Is it something where for this audience, it may be returning to the workforce after taking some time off to start a family, or maybe you pivoted out of stem to try something new, but your heart really loves stem. And how do you get back in cuz the world of technology changes and advances so fast? So I think that’s one of the key takeaways that I took from listening to the session is around not only knowing your audience and the importance of that, but also understanding where the process breaks down for them to understand how to solve it for your organization.

Ligia:

Love it. Well, listen, let’s not give away all the secrets. Let’s let the audience actually listen to the session and then let’s touch base once it end. All right guys, here you go.

 

Women Who Code with Alaina Percival 

Ligia:

This is exciting because I think I actually fit the profile <laugh> of the individual that you’re going after. So let’s kick this off, give you some bragging rights, tell everyone in our audience, what is women who code all about? Tell us a little bit about what got you motivated, what triggered you to, to

Alaina:

Start. So I get to do women who code every day, women who code is the largest and most active community for diverse technical women in the world. And when I say that we are serving close to 300,000 members in 134 countries with an average of five free technical events every single day throughout the year. So we are deeply dedicated to access and providing programming for technical learning, upskilling and career development, all for free or scholarship accessible to our community. And this became something that was just really important to me because while I was always interested personally, in women’s empowerment, I moved out to the bay area a few years into my career and I’d had a really strong, more traditional career path to that point. And I hit a little bit of a wall and I had to actually learn to code why I didn’t have to.

Alaina:

That was a decision that I made to learn to code to really understand the tech space and, and get more deeply involved in it, understand the capabilities. And what I realized was a couple of things. First I loved spending time with smart women who were talking about and building technology. And second that women were deeply underrepresented at the senior and executive levels. And that was a gap that nobody was talking about. And as women who code was getting started, this amazing conversation about teach girls to code, teach women to code was happening in the media. There were organizations that were working towards it, but we were this community of brilliant women already in the industry who were ambitious. And one of the things that we were coming up against every single day in our careers was this bias against having to prove your skill level, this view of being actually more junior than you in fact were. And that’s when it really hit me. This fun thing that we’re doing is actually critical. It’s a critical voice and it is actually the fastest and easiest way to create greater equality in the workplace for women and girls is to invest and the talent in the industry today.

 

Creating equality by upskilling and reskilling women

Ligia:

Yeah. So, you know, it’s no surprise to anyone that about 33% of on demand jobs, according to the national labor exchange are technical in nature. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> engineers, software architects, et cetera. How do companies actually partner with you? Tell us a little bit more about that.

Alaina:

Yeah. So we work with companies to elevate their profile to our community. But the important thing is that you’re actually becoming of the community and investing in the community. We’re doing hard work. We’re supporting women all over the world to stay engaged in their career, develop a sense of belonging, overcome imposter syndrome and build like pure technical skills. And you can’t come to this audience and say, join my team, join my team. Now I’m the best company to work for. You actually have to let them know why you’re an exciting company to work for. And you have to show them that you are, you do care about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging because technologists have their pick of companies that they can go work for right now. And those top skilled technologists are being hit up in that way. Come work for me, come work for me right now by 30 companies per week. Probably per week. Yeah. Yeah. And so what’s really important is for our community is to hear and see your commitment and learn about the programs that you’re doing inside of your organization and meet some of the talented technical women inside of your organization that love their job. And that could be who they’re going to work with and that’s the problem that they’re going to work to solve. And that is how you end up getting people interested in actually coming to work

Ligia:

For you. So, so I’m gonna give you bragging rights brag a little bit. How many women have you actually placed in technical roles?

Alaina:

So we aren’t a, a recruiting organization, but we have over 150,000 software engineers, technologists and our organization. And so these people are all working in the tech industry today. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> about a third of our community are in tech adjacent or learning positions where they’re moving into more technical roles right now. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> mm-hmm <affirmative>

Ligia:

Now let’s flip the coin a little bit. You already mentioned this, but I think we all know we included it’s funny because I’m still in Silicon valley, but women who do enter study computer science or some technical role tend to leave technical careers roughly around 10 years after they’ve started mm-hmm <affirmative> so what kind of policies or initiatives have you seen sort of best in class companies put in place in order to encourage women to continue to pursue technical careers? Right? Cause you’re not gonna solve the problem just by recruiting and, and placing people if they’re gonna leave your organization anyway.

Alaina:

Yeah. So when companies come to me and they’re like, I need to hire, but they’re not thinking about retaining they’re, they’re teaming their, their talent that’s in the industry, how to, or in their company and how to see them elevate inside of their organization. My heart gets a little bit sad. The most important thing you can be doing right now is investing in the teams and the talent that you have inside of your company. And some of the things that you really need to be doing is helping women to understand what their path is inside of your organization and what they need to be doing, transparency, what they need to be doing to achieve that next position. And what you tend to see women do is wait until they have all of the skills, or I often see actually doing the job before they actually go for that promotion.

Alaina:

And so helping them to actually know, Hey, this is what you need to achieve. And then you’ll be able to go for this promotion. These are the skills that you should be building inside of that role. And here are the one, two or three paths that you can take inside of our organization after that. And oh, by the way, this skill and this skill and this skill, and here’s some paths to get those skills are what you should be talking about because you don’t want to just retain them for the next year and a half. You want to help them envision a path inside of your organization and not just envision it, but actually have clarity around how to get there.

Ligia:

Mm-Hmm <affirmative> you heard Ashu talk this morning and also Mike, be about how upskilling is a continuous journey. I know your members are quite active. Is this something then that you see that they continue then to come back as part of the events, as part of some of the upskilling, I’m gonna call them services that you offer, that they continue to stay in this path. Is it an active membership? Is that what you’re seeing? Yeah,

Alaina:

Absolutely. Software engineers know that you have to continue developing your skills. You’re not going to just learn one programming language, one framework. <Laugh> it’s going to become obsolete, or you’re going to be interested in working in something else, probably in the next two to five years. And so you need to constantly be an estate of learning. And for women it’s so difficult to decide, to take the time to invest in yourself. And so women at women who could were, were deeply dedicated to access. And when we were in person, we said, we wanna provide free food at our events, because we don’t want you to decide between dinner and taking the time to invest in yourself, learning this programming language. We don’t wanna put a dollar sign in front of this event because we don’t want you to say, oh, I’m gonna put it off to make the decision, to see if I really wanna pay the $50 to attend this event and then become disengaged from it.

Alaina:

We want you to be taking that time in and investing in yourself. And I recall early on when I was starting, this is a woman who ran a consulting agency and had a lot of engineers working for her, said to me, women come to me and they say, do you mind if I take these resources, whether it’s time or money and learn the skill. And you’re always under a deadline, her instinct was always to say no. And men would come to her and say, you know, I spent all Wednesday, this is my new skill <laugh>. And it was like, oh great. Now I can put you on this other project. And so you need to make sure that people have the avenue and the clarity that they, they should be investing in themselves, that they can be taking the time to be doing that and have the support and resources to do. So.

Ligia:

Do you see any differences globally in terms of women in tech, in Europe and Asia and Latin America versus the United States?

Alaina:

Yeah. There’s of course differences in similarities across different worlds. Okay. <laugh> when we talk about women stepping out of their technical roles around that 10 year, mark, it’s different in different countries. So in India that might look like eight years in China. If you haven’t hit a leadership role by the age of 32, you’re unlikely to do so. And what we want to do is find ways to actually address at an industry at a systemic level, the barriers that people are are facing and the break points that people are facing. And it’s much easier for each of you to be designing for inclusion inside of your organizations than for us to change every single woman and individual around the world, to be able to overcome the barriers that our society puts in front of them.

 

How to begin equalizing the recruitment and Hiring processes

Ligia:

I believe in practical advice and shameless plug for the podcast. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> where do you see companies getting stuck? Where are the pitfalls? How do they get started? I mean, I, I doubt there’s any company out there isn’t looking to hire women, especially into technical roles. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> but if you were to give three pieces of advice to companies, what would they be

Alaina:

For hiring first? Make sure you’re examining each break point in the pipeline for designing for inclusion. So if you realize that you’re getting 95% male applicants maybe should be also shameless plug posting on woman, the codes, job board, if once you’re going through the hiring process, no women are making it past the whiteboarding session where you’ve got this American and maybe gender specific questions that are being asked, or I’ve heard over and over how uncomfortable it is for a woman in this day. And age’s been a lot of innovation around this, but to be standing to a panel in front of a panel of men, writing with your back face to them and going through this process. And when you think back to the previous conversation, you have a lot of opportunity for anonymizing. You have a lot of opportunity for evaluating what questions are asked.

Alaina:

I remember having a debate with a CTO of a company who said his go-to question was asking about this game. And I had this woman who was next to me and she was from Indian. She was a brilliant software engineer. I was like, I’ve never played that game before. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. And so in this interview, this individual was expecting someone not only to go through the stress of talking through the problem, but also having to understand trust what the problem yeah was. And so they were not designing for equity in the most simple ways. And then again, when you’re going through the, the hiring process and the offer process, I recall a woman from woman who code, who said they had a man and a woman in the kind of final offer phase. And both of them asked for more money. And when the woman asked for more money, the team was like, you know, she’s missing this and she’s missing that.

Alaina:

And the woman who code member, who’s telling me the story was sitting there thinking like neither of them are perfect, that both have skills that they need to develop. But the response to the man who’d asked for more was like, oh yeah, yeah, we need to give him more. If we wanna get him to join the company. Oh, you know, is she she’s missing this from her resume? Should we go back and give it to her? Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. And so I think that’s, again, going back to the last talk where she said, have an ally in the room who can say you’re using a gendered perspective here in this negotiation process. And that’s an opportunity for creating greater inclusion because you know what, when you end up hiring both of them, and six months later, she finds out she’s making less money. She literally knows she is less valued at the company. It costs $190,000 to replace that skilled engineer at your company. And that doesn’t include the opportunity costs of her actually building technology while at your organization, you can solve for some of these things just early on in the hiring process.

 

Advice for women in the workforce

Ligia:

Now let’s flip it because I also wanna give practical advice to women in the audience, both here and online, we hear repeatedly that women typically will not claim a skill or they will not claim experience that they haven’t truly mastered. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> whereas typically men on the other hand, and we could learn from this tend to be a little bit more bold about what they’re going to claim that they know. And then there’s the other aspect that you could play out in terms of the ongoing struggle with imposter syndrome. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> so what advice do you have for women who are either going into tech careers returning from motherhood to tech careers or pivoting into tech careers later in their life around this topic?

Alaina:

Yeah. I’m so glad you asked this question because I’ve been thinking about imposter syndrome a lot. Me too. <Laugh> and I still experience it for sure. Me too. But what I encourage women to do is actually reframe what you’re thinking as your growth opportunity, unless you want to be feeling pretty stagnant, you should always be feeling some level of imposter syndrome because that is what you still have to learn in the role, because I promise you, nobody gives out promotions and opportunities and, and roles. They see that potential in you. And they know that you have the ability to grow in that role. And if you don’t feel imposter syndrome, it means maybe it’s actually time to be asking for that promotion or be moving into a new role at the company.

Ligia:

Yeah. I call that the anxiety of stretching you outside of your comfort zone. Yeah. And so if you’re not feeling it, you’re actually not developing mm-hmm <affirmative> any last words of advice.

Alaina:

The industry is only going to be even better. Once we have more diverse voices, not only building the technologies that we use that are shaping our world, but are helping to lead and make decisions around what is going to be built next.

Ligia:

So lastly, do partner with women who code and other organizations out there, as you can see on the screen, hire advocate and support more women in technical careers.

Jason:

That was a great replay of yet another session that we had at our cultivate conference, there are more than 20 that will be shared in our recording resource library for people to refer back to. But I thought Elena did a great job and that’s why we wanted to bring it to our audience here on the new talent code.

Ligia:

Yeah. So for the women in the audience who are looking to enter reenter or just up skill and further their technical careers definitely reach out to women who code just a lot of valuable resources for you and a lot of amazing women to get to know. And for those business leaders, hiring managers and recruiters out there, don’t forget to hire advocate and support women in technical careers. Thanks so much and see you soon. Thanks for listening to the new talent code. This is a podcast produced by eightfold AI. If you’d like to learn more about us, please visit us at eightfold.ai and you can find us on all your favorite social media sites. We’d love to connect and continue the conversation.

Related Resources

    Transform your Employee Experience into a Talent Advantage

    Join our webinar with Mercer to learn how you can turn your employee experience into your talent advantage.

    Register Now

    How Skills AI Can Help You Plan for a Tough Economic and Talent Climate

    Find out how skills AI intelligence can give you an edge, especially in today's tight talent market and tough economic times.

    View Podcast

    HR Technology Trends for the New Year

    Look around the corner at the technological tools, ideas, and developments that will impact HR leaders next year.

    View Webinar