Tech has a lot to learn from PR about attracting female talent

The tech industry can be a hostile environment for women, especially if you're not lucky enough to be considered 'one of the boys'. Here, Hotwire's Mylan Vu - who has worked in both tech and PR - argues that tech has a lot to learn from the world of public relations.

Firstly, a caveat – I acknowledge the PR industry is far from perfect on getting gender balance and equality where it needs to be. Unfortunately, we are not leading by example in having gender balanced leadership representation or salaries.

The following article is not about how great the PR industry is at gender balance. Because that’s simply not happening.

Something the PR industry is undoubtedly successful at, however, is attracting strong female talent – a challenge the tech industry is facing at all levels and across most departments.

During my time in past in-house marketing and comms roles for tech companies, as well as working with numerous tech companies during my time on agency side, I often found myself as the only woman in a meeting room, on a building floor, or at an industry event.

Most days, it didn’t bother me. But some days, it was discomforting.

I would often ask my colleagues why they thought their company struggled to hire women, because every recruiter or HR professional I have spoken to within my employers’ organisations have always prioritised gender balance. Their responses were depressingly repetitive:

“You’re different, Mylan. You’re one of the boys. Not all women would make it here,” they’d say.

Or even worse, “Women just aren’t interested in this field. It’s a tough job”.


The language is nowhere near as harsh, but is scarily close to the globally infamous Google employee who stated women were less biologically suited to the tech industry.

Separately, I was recently asked whether I’ve experienced any gender discrimination in my career. Thankfully, my answer to this is “no”, when it comes to blatantly visible discrimination.

But when I think about the more “unconscious bias” type of discrimination that’s increasingly entering business and HR-related rhetoric, the aforementioned commentary from ex-colleagues highlights just how embedded bias is into many tech professionals’ perspectives.

As much as I’d love to change the world overnight, I’m conscious removing unconscious bias from the professional world is a steep uphill battle, including among women.

So if you know someone in the tech world who thinks women aren’t interested in tech, would find it too hard or complex, or simply couldn’t “get along with the boys”, please forward on these actions, which the PR industry is – I’m proud to say – successfully walking the walk on when recruiting and hiring women.

Ask yourself, “can they do the job?”

First impressions are important, as long as they’re recognised as being highly influenced by unconscious bias.

Hiring based on whether you got a good vibe from the candidate, or whether they seemed like a “good guy”, are rational ways to think. But we all know we’re naturally going to gain the impression of positive vibes from someone who is more alike to ourselves, and the concept of a “good guy” in itself is discriminatory, as it’s a concept that favours men and has no equivalent for women.

Consequently, let vibes and emotion-related impressions be a secondary point of consideration. Whether they can do the job or not should be the first.

In PR, there are various tangible tasks such as writing content for certain channels, providing measured consultation to clients in a particular industry, or building genuine relationships with specific media, which all have easily measurable skill-sets. In most cases, you either can or can’t do these things.

It may sound simple, but there were numerous times when I worked in or with a technology company that openly stated they didn’t want to hire someone because it “didn’t feel right”.

The reality is, if it’s the first or second woman you’re hiring for your business, it’s never going to feel quite “right”. But someone has to take that first step.

Make team activities for everyone

It may seem fluffy, but the wrong team activities can make an employer an instant no-go for women. We’ve generally come a long way from having gentleman’s clubs as a standard professional outing, but many tech companies are still quite insular in their approach to company-wide events.

In my experience working in and with tech companies, company-wide events involved anything from drinking into the early morning several days a week, to golf outings and kickboxing classes. Personally, I’m fortunate enough to physically be able to attend these events as well as genuinely enjoy them from personal interests. However, these aren’t activities men and women typically do together and particularly for working mums, the logistics are a nightmare.

This is why I’m a massive advocate of team lunches over team dinners, and coffees over drinks. It may not seem like a big difference – and in an ideal world dads are heading home to look after the kids just as often as mums are – but the reality is working mums find it logistically difficult to go out at night, and a team lunch is going to have the same team-building impact at a lower cost to the business. It’s a win-win.

Similarly, instead of asking the team to meet you an hour’s drive from their homes to do paintball or play golf, try local events within company hours such as volunteering for a local charity, bowling, or escape room experiences.

With International Women’s Day this week, I’d like to celebrate the many male and female managers I’ve had the fortune of working with throughout my career. All of whom have always made me feel welcome and appreciated, and supported my ambitions to learn and grow every day.

It would be remiss, however, to not take this opportunity to reiterate what more we could be doing across the tech industry to invite more women to start and grow their careers in tech.

If you’re reading this as the only woman in your team or office in a tech company, please be encouraged that tech employers are genuinely trying to address this challenge, but are commonly getting held back by not knowing where to start. I hope this article empowers you to help them take that first step.

Mylan Vu is country manager at Hotwire Australia.


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