“Women’s goals used to be to get into management, to get onto the boards of Fortune 500 companies, to become CEO… There is a new goal. The aim now is more radical and more abituous: it is to change the game entirely” — Margaret Heffernan

I enjoyed reading “Women Don’t Ask” by Linda Babcock and Sarah Laschever after reading about it on misbehaving.net. It was refreshing to read results of research on gender differences along with some practical suggestion on how to affect change. The gender divide can be so stark at times, that it can feel like there is little we can do to affect change.

“Is is essential to remember, however, that the restraints placed on women are ‘socially constructed.’ They aren’t physical principles like the law of gravity…which can’t be altered. They are products of our culture… They can be loosened and changed completely if we want them to change.”

Sometimes the simple actions of presence and voice are radical enough. Sometimes we can do more when we play a decision making or decision influencing role.

I used to frequently interview engineering candidates. I noticed a few gender differences. First, resumes from women were almost invariably more impressive than resumes from men. I do not believe that women typically write better resumes or that women are inherently better engineers. I do believe that it is just not worthwhile to pursue a career in engineering as a woman if you are not very good at it. I imagine its not worth the hassle.

The other big difference I saw was in the interview process itself. When asking a man about what he can do, he will typically answer with respect to what he thinks he could do given the opportunity; whereas, a woman will speak with respect to what she has already proven she can do. Both are reasonably and honest responses, but you can imagine how much more effective the former response would be. After I noticed this, I learned to ask not only how the candidate would approach a particular problem but to provide specific examples of how he or she would apply past experience. In this way, I was able to compare candidates effectively without being biased by different communication styles.

What do you think?