A not-for-profit group advocating there be more women working in information technology has just published a report that says recruiters for high-tech jobs should make sure there is at least one woman candidate for every job opening in IT.

"Require that every open technical position has a viable female candidate," states the report, "Solutions to Recruit Technical Women," published by the California-based Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. While this may strike some as a radical idea fuelled by political correctness, the authors of the latest Anita Borg Institute report say this kind of extra effort by recruiters, who often look to universities for candidates, will raise the chances that the high-tech industry, whose workforce in the US is overwhelmingly male today, will begin to see growing numbers of female technical specialists and managers.

While hard numbers related to the number of women who work in high-tech as technical support or managers in the private and public sectors in the US today are hard to come by, some studies estimate women constitute 15% to 25% of the ranks at most, and about 8% of managers.

Denise Gammal, co-author with Caroline Simard of "Solutions to Recruit Technical Women," says research by Anita Borg Institute shows there are "blind spots" in how recruitment largely takes place today that can be overcome with specific effort to bring about greater diversity in terms of women in IT.

The greater abundance of capable technical women would benefit IT overall by widening the labour pool. According to a survey by staffing firm Robert Half Technology, for instance, 73% of 1,400 CIOs polled said finding skilled IT professionals was very challenging.

If you can't get women from engineering and other technical backgrounds into the recruitment process to begin with, the situation of a largely male IT workforce and management is unlikely to change, points out Gammal. Striving to have at least one viable candidate per job opening is just one of the ideas put forward by the report. Others include:

  • Build a gender-balanced internship programme for technical positions.
  • Use social networks strategically to increase the number of female candidates for technical positions.
  • Revise job descriptions to reduce gender stereotypes.
  • Institute a blind resume screening process to reduce the potential for unconscious bias.
  • Implement dual-career support mechanisms when relocation is involved.
  • Hold executives and managers accountable for reaching diversity goals and targets.
  • Measure and evaluate your efforts to increase the representation of women.

To be sure, women in the US aren't coming out of undergraduate and graduate programmes in computer sciences in huge numbers. As of 2009, only 18% of graduates in computer science were women, according to the report.

"A lot of companies see the same small set of schools," says Gammal about recruiting efforts that she says can and should be widened.

While Anita Borg's recommendations may sound radical to some, the study indicates that many companies do want to broaden their IT workforce to include more women. For instance, the Anita Borg report looks at recruitment efforts by firms that include Intuit, Cisco and IBM.

These companies, along with several others, including HP, Microsoft, CA Technologies,, Facebook and Lockheed Martin, as well as government agencies such as the National Security Agency and National Science Foundation, offer public support to the Anita Borg Institute and its mission of bringing more women into IT.

In one case study in the "Solutions to Recruit Technical Women" report, Cisco is described as having a university programme that "flipped the hiring process on its head. Rather than interviewing and hiring computer and engineering students for specific positions with potentially narrow job descriptions, the programme has funnelled pre-screened, talented technical students to a three-week orientation programme" where candidates mingled with senior executives and business unit leaders to find out about the different parts of the Cisco business and technology.

"The approach provides all candidates, including women, with an opportunity to find the right personal and cultural fit within the organisation," the Anita Borg report states, adding that "the Cisco Choice programme" includes "a diversity strategy" and "consistently measures its success rates in recruiting technical women through the programme and retaining them."

The report also notes, "The training and salary of Choice employees has been assumed by the corporate budget, not individual managers, offering additional incentives for managers to attract Choice candidates." The programme is said to be bringing in 500 interns and full-time hires per year in the years since 2006 to 2011, and Cisco engineering has seen a "10% increase in the representation of technical female college recruits since its inception" while retention rates are also up about 30%.

Anita Borg Institute will be holding its annual "Women of Vision" awards banquet in May at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California, where the group will honor individuals and companies for fostering women's participation in the IT workplace.

The winner for the 2012 Anita Borg Top Company for Technical Women award is American Express. Not only did the company recruit, train and retain women in technology positions, including at the executive level, at 30%, but American Express has "best practices" that include "a highly flexible work schedule; the creation of a vibrant women's community; a strong sponsorship programme and a focus on creating awareness of gender intelligence among the workforce overall."

Paul Dottle, senior vice president and CTO at American Express commented, "This award reflects our culture of inclusiveness and the programmes we have in place to ensure that our people have the flexibility and support to balance their professional and personal lives, and build long and successful careers at American Express."

Anita Borg Institute is also honoring three women selected for technical excellence, specifically Jennifer Chayes, distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research New England for her work uniting theoretical computer science with computational biology; Sarita V. Adve, a professor in the department of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for her contributions to hardware and software memory models; and S. Revi Sterling, director of ICTD graduate programmes at the University of Colorado at Boulder, for having a social impact in the lives of women through development of a new participatory community radio technology that's especially of use in less-developed parts of the world.