Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Female PreSales Engineer

I've long been a big fan of getting more women into the profession of Pre Sales Engineering. Although I feel the industry has made some progress over the past 10 years, it is absolutely not enough. The overall percentage has wavered between 10-15% and I'm not seeing much of an upwards trend.

It's important because companies are missing out on a vast potential talent pool, and (accuse me of being sexist) women just listen better and generally do a better job of asking questions and conducting discovery. I'm not even going to touch the empathy situation or the attention a female SE may receive when presenting to an all-male customer/IT group. Yet I do feel I am entitled to say that as my daughter is a presales engineer (with an Engineering Degree) and I know what she has gone through.

A few recent experiences this year have brought this to bear.

1. Wow!

For the first time ever - I had a class where there were more women than men. First time. Amazing! Thanks Christine and Stephanie!!

2. Industry Variations
Let's say , for math simplification, that my typical workshop has 20 SE's in it.
The numbers I've tracked over the years show that the number of women varies from 0 to 8. Breaking that down further. IT infrastructure/"plumbing" companies have by far the lowest percentage. The more technical/geeky the product is, the lower the percentage and diversity drops and rapidly approaches zero. I've had three classes this year with zero women - and the class represented the entire national or worldwide SE team.
Hardware companies are little better.
General software companies seem to hover around that 10-15% level.
Application type companies (ERP, CRM and HR) trend higher and the ratio can reach 25% or more.
3. Hiring and Recruiting.
Many SE leaders tell me that they cannot even find experienced candidates to hire. So how about a grow-your-own associate program? Or look at your technical support / customer relations team?
4. Global Implications
Much as I bemoan the stats here in the US - it is even worse in most parts of the world. Asia-Pacific-Japan-China has a long way to go. Parts of Europe are better than others. Yet there is hope -  Early this year I ran 2 workshops in India and there were a significant number of young female SE's in the class. With just a little encouragement to speak up and try new things - they stole the show and put their male colleagues to shame.
When I look back at my career, some of the best SE's who ever worked for me (and I like to think that I did make a point of hiring women to diversify and improve my teams) were women. No question about it - and you know who you are. Two of my best ever SE managers were women.
Lets make a difference and take a positive step to improve the profession. Evangelize what we do - and lets recruit the next generation of SE's in a 50/50 mix - it will make us all better.
What do you think?