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International Women's Day 2021: An Interview with Isabel Ceniza

Posted on March 2021

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​This year's International's Women's Day theme #ChooseToChallenge represents the idea of challenging norms related to gender equality to create change. At Selby Jennings, we choose to challenge and promote gender diversity and inclusion.

Isabel Ceniza, Principal Recruitment Consultant - Software Development at Selby Jennings, shares her thoughts on this year's theme, and how she chooses to challenge in her role.

What does the #ChooseToChallenge message mean to you?

It means to me that as we continue to break through glass ceilings, or breaking the barriers that prevent women from advancing to leadership positions, it's a call to action to women and allies of women to continue the impact of advancing women in the workplace. Specifically within software engineering, women are highly underrepresented and it is important to acknowledge that women have a much higher barrier at being hired for entry-level positions at the start of the career ladder. Although we've seen positive trends of representation of women, women remained disadvantaged in this industry so it's up to allies to give credit when it's due and put an emphasis on gender diversity within their hiring strategies.

What sort of conversations around gender equality do you have with your clients in your role? Has Covid-19 had an impact on gender equality?

The conversation does not come up often with candidates, however, I've noticed gender equality and diversity has become prioritized from hiring managers and firms in terms of what talent they're looking for. Gender equality has become a common point of conversation and more firms have stressed the importance of female technologists to add to their workforce.

What role can recruiters play in challenging norms and creating change?

In our chats with clients, we've established a habit to ALWAYS ask what their gender equality and diversity strategy is and how we can partner together to source the talents they're looking for. If one is not put in place yet, we can consult and educate on the importance of gender diversity in a workplace. Having a conversation explaining why giving women a seat at the table breeds higher quality products, companies, and sectors as having different and unique backgrounds and experiences foster new ideas to make for a strong culture. Also, recruiters can educate clients as to what their competition is doing for prioritizing gender diversity.

What advice would you give to a company trying to create a diverse hiring strategy?

Education on Fairness and Opportunity:
When employees feel like they have an equal opportunity to advance to leadership and believe the system is fair, they are more likely to be happier, stay, and recommend to others. It's also important to understand that not all of women's experiences are universal, especially when it comes to intersectionality of other aspects of identity - such as LGBT, disabilities, veterans, and women of color.

Stakeholder accountability:
It's important to have leadership accountability and manager support in a diverse hiring strategy. Typically, we've seen that a top down approach of commitment to gender diversity proves successful. If managers see that senior leadership prioritize gender diversity by setting goals, the pack usually follow suit.

Be Clear on Goals:
By setting diversity targets, companies can require diverse slates for hiring and promotions by putting a clear and consistent evaluation criteria for interview processes. Setting goals for hiring women into entry level and first-level management roles puts an emphasis on giving women the opportunity to gain the applicable experience and industry knowledge necessary to advance in leadership roles. Also, putting an emphasis on future potential rather than prior work experience helps level the playing field and gives women the opportunity to pursue roles that had otherwise been male dominated.

Challenging Unconscious Bias:
Allowing unbiased hiring practices and promotions training for interviewers and those stepping into management help stop disrespectful behavior, favoritism, or microaggressions against women. Recognizing when there is gender bias helps employees know when it's time to stand up and speak out to support their colleagues.

Focus on Communities:
Putting strategies in place to target underrepresented groups where talent acquisition can source candidates from adds more diversity to the slate. Also, creating communities internally for women employees to foster connections with each other help build the foundation for women to support one another as they face gender biased challenges in the workplace and celebrate each others' accomplishments in their career pursuits.

Address COVID-19 Challenges:
Addressing the fact that women have been leaving the workforce or downshifting their roles to help with the work-life balance. Companies need to address and support mothers, senior-level women, and all employees facing burnout get through this crisis or else they face the risk of losing future women leadership. Adjusting flexible work policies or downtime would help attract and retain women talent.

As a female leader, what advice would you give to other aspiring leaders in overcoming potential gender biases and achieving career success?

I would advise other aspiring leaders to keep lifting others while you climb to shatter those glass ceilings. As you rise to leadership positions, make sure to spend time to help elevate the women around you. This can be done by using your respected position to give credit where credit is due, make your team and others feel valued and respected for differences, and speak up when you witness gender biases/discrimination. Communicating your struggles and challenges you overcame will help pave the way for future leaders too.

About Isabel Ceniza

Isabel is a Principal Consultant at Selby Jennings. She partners with financial institutions such as Proprietary Trading firms, Hedge Funds, Investment Banks, FinTech Startups, Crypto Exchanges, Solutions providers and other tech-driven businesses to attract and retain senior level technology talent on their behalf nationwide. She specializes in the placement of software developers, quant developers and data engineers.

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