When people talk to me about the challenges of hiring women engineers, I often tell them that a good start is to make sure that they interview at least one woman when they hire for a new position. I believe that homogeneous hiring is more a symptom of a recruiting problem, than bias in hiring (although I’m sure that happens too).

Certainly, if a company interviews only men for a specific position, then there is no possibility that they will hire a woman for that spot. I spoke about this in an NPR interview and was delighted to read a tweet that led me to learn about the Rooney Rule (via @randomsumu).

The Rooney Rule requires National Football League teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. During the league’s early years in the 1920s, Fritz Pollard coached several NFL teams. But after that there were no minority coaches until 1979!

The rule ensures that minority coaches, especially African Americans, are considered for high-level coaching positions. The rule is named for Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chairman of the league’s diversity committee, and indirectly the Rooney family in general, due to the Steelers’ long history of giving African Americans opportunities to serve in team leadership roles. In 2006, the percentage of African American coaches was 22%, up from 6% prior to the Rooney Rule. (via Wikipedia)

In 2010, there were 913,100 software developers. If 20% are women, that means there are over 180,000 women in the country who might fill your next position. Ok, maybe you are in a niche market, but there are thousands or tens of thousands of qualified candidates who happen to be women. Find one of them to interview.

And while you are at it, think about your hiring criteria — what is really important for success? are you filtering for that? Go find at least one person to interview who is qualified, but is also different from you. You might actually find a better candidate than those who you are currently talking to.

What do you think?