In 2021, I decided I needed a professional change. I had worked in the same organization for three years, during which time it had grown from a relatively small business to a public company. And while I had enjoyed the ride, I knew it was time for something new.

The only problem was my personal situation had changed during those three years. Not only was I a woman but I was also now the mother of a toddler. And as much as I love my work, I'm also pretty fond of my kid. So, I needed an employer that understood that.

Watching my previous company grow had taught me that the bigger a company became, the less power I had within it. I, therefore, set my sights on finding a Small-to-Medium sized business - one where I could have a more meaningful impact.

But as soon as I began engaging with these companies, a pattern became clear: Female engineers are almost non-existent in small companies. I was not naive going into this process; I knew female developers were in the minority. But nothing could have prepared me for the extent of the problem. So, I decided to do something about it. I began to document my experience of searching for a job as a female developer. I took note of every pattern I observed through the process and every factor that influenced my decision.

What follows is the honest story of how I found a company that truly values me as a female developer. I hope it will help companies understand what they need to change to encourage more women to join their tech teams. And I hope sharing my experience will help empower other women in the industry to know their worth and demand more.

Full disclosure: I support diversity initiatives, but I do not think women should be recruited just to fill a quota. This is not about ticking boxes; it’s about taking away obstacles that make it harder (and less desirable) for female developers to work for small companies.

The magical princess of Python Land

The first thing you notice when applying for tech jobs is that an awful lot of companies seem to assume every developer in the world is male. They put out job ads seeking “ninjas”, “warriors” and “wizards”. Yet if I were to introduce myself as the magical princess of Python Land, they’d probably laugh me out of the interview.

Even when they’re speaking directly to a woman, these assumptions prevail. Throughout the process, I received countless emails and DMs on LinkedIn that addressed me in male vernacular. And I couldn’t help wondering how many men these recruiters knew with the name Einav.

So, my policy very quickly became the following: I will not respond to messages that assume I’m male; I will not respect companies that call their developers “warriors”, and I won’t pretend to not notice the gendered assumptions littered throughout so many company’s hiring processes.

You’ve got a friend in me

A lot of businesses today claim to promote diversity and inclusion. But as we all know, that doesn’t necessarily translate into meaningful action. The only way to really understand a company is to talk to people with direct experience of working there. So, throughout my job search, I leveraged my network of friends and former colleagues to get an honest opinion of their employers.

I would recommend this to any woman looking for a new job. Recruiters and HR will tell you what you want to hear, but your friends will tell you the truth. They’ll be honest about what it’s like to work for the company; what kind of support the leadership will offer you; and whether you will realistically be able to fit the work around your other commitments.

In the end, I only took interviews with companies that my friends could vouch for - and that probably helped me avoid a lot of negative experiences and wasted time.

If you can’t see it, you can’t be it

Once the interviews begin, you start to see quite how entrenched the gender dynamics at certain companies are.

I interviewed at plenty of companies where the only female employees I met were in HR. And that wasn’t because they didn’t have any female engineers; they had just chosen not to involve them in the recruitment process. Now, this could be totally innocent. But it could be an important red flag. It could indicate that fewer women are being promoted within the company. Or it could indicate that the company’s culture makes it harder for certain groups to be heard.

I suspect many companies simply don’t realize the effect this has on female applicants. Even a single female interviewer would have made me feel less intimidated and more confident that I would be valued at these companies. So, if you have female engineers, why are they not being involved in the interview process? I don’t mean this as an accusation; it is something I believe every company that wants to encourage greater female participation should sincerely ask itself.

Software Engineer VS Mother

Throughout the interview process, I made a point of highlighting my family and my role as the mother of a 2-year-old boy.

Some people argue that women shouldn’t talk about these things during a job interview. Men certainly don’t have to, so why should we? But I’m not interested in hiding parts of myself just to fit in. I’d rather be the change I want to see - and let everyone else catch up.

The facts are simple: being a mother is a central part of who I am. And any employer that expects me to downplay that isn’t worth my time.

I need two things as a mother: flexible working hours so that I can be there for my son, and to be trusted not to allow my role as a mother to compromise the quality of my work.

Demanding those things might feel risky at first - especially when so many employers subtly discriminate against mothers. But I guarantee that being true to who you are is the only way to find an employer who will truly respect your right to a proper work-life balance.

Visit the offices

Remote interviewing was an important tool during the pandemic. But throughout my process, I made a conscious effort to do things in person whenever I could.

There are so many important factors that you just can’t assess from afar. Remote interviews teach you nothing about the culture, dynamic within different groups, or even the people interviewing you. These are things you can only understand by spending time in a company’s office. And that experience can completely change the decisions you end up making.

There was one company I really liked from the outside. But when I attended their staff meeting, I was dismayed: it was total chaos, with many men talking incredibly aggressively and creating a very unpleasant environment. I knew immediately that I would find myself in constant defence there and decided not to move forward with them.

At another company, I had the opposite experience. I went into the office with serious doubts, but the internal culture totally changed my mind. The dynamic was respectful and fun; I had great conversations about the quality of their code, and the entire team ensured that I would feel at home.

I believe this direct experience is especially important for female engineers. Even just spending an hour in the presence of your prospective co-workers will help you quickly understand where you will be valued and where you will face a constant uphill battle.

Hold out for the perfect fit

Finding a suitable employer is difficult for anyone, let alone a female developer with a toddler to take care of. But if this process has taught me anything, it’s that the right job will always be worth the wait.

In the end, I decided to join Fabric. They are a fast-growing company with an exciting product and an immensely talented team. But more importantly, they made me feel immediately at ease during every phase of the interview process. My interviewer even told me about his own kids!

What struck me most was this: they don’t pretend to have solved their diversity issues. When I was first interviewed by them, less than 10% of their engineers were women. And while that figure is slowly growing, it is by no means where it should be. But by being honest about that fact, they are addressing the problem far more quickly than other companies. And I recognized a genuine desire to introduce more varied talent to their team.

So ultimately, I believe I will be able to help them find more talented people to join the team and truly change the statistics on women engineers.

Written by Einav Baraban, a senior software Engineer at Fabric