Femgineering at Babbel: Of the Women, For the Women and By the Women

Supporting and enhancing the role and reach of women in tech at Babbel.
Members of the Femgineering CoP

Change that only comes from the top can ultimately only deliver so much. What happens when women in tech drive the process, advocating for themselves? What results does that yield? Babbel is a window into that approach.

Case in point: The Femgineering Community of Practice (CoP) at Babbel. Its mission, as a women-centric community, is to support and enhance the role and reach of women in tech at Babbel. In 2017, a few women in the Engineering department thought about putting their heads together to deal with situations they encountered and wanted to do something constructive about it. Little did they imagine that this first set of meetings would evolve into its present day form. Thus the Femgineering CoP was born.

One of the first tangible results from these meetings was the initial impetus for the Team Agreement (seen below). It offers guiding principles for the Engineering department on how we work and interact with each other, affecting a considerably broader audience than just the founding members.

Engineering team agreement
Team Agreement

Key areas of focus

Over time, the Femgineering CoP evolved into its current incarnation, with the aim of engaging in open dialogue, sharing ideas and innovations and providing a supportive community for women in tech at Babbel.

Meeting once a month over healthy lunches, we have members from across the entire Engineering department with almost every team represented in the group, including sixteen different nationalities. In the mix are Directors, Engineering Managers (EM), Team Coordinators and members from the development and testing domains.

After identifying potential opportunities for improvement, as a group, we decided to focus our efforts on the following key areas:

  • Skill-sharing and Collaboration
  • Visibility, Awareness and Support
  • Hiring and Promoting female engineers

How do we know what it is that we would like to accomplish and if we are progessing in the right direction? Each pillar has concrete goals that we strive towards and regularly take stock of within the CoP. A core team focuses on each of these goals.

The Femgineering initiatives, a few of which we dive into, also directly contribute towards one of Babbel’s Engineering Strategy missions, being a ‘Great Place To Work’.

In synergy we trust

Babbel is a learning company inside and out. This is reflected in the Femgineering forum as well. Learning from each other by sharing skills, knowledge and experiences is a way we demonstrate our commitment to each other’s growth. Toward that end, a part of our regular meet-ups is focused on knowledge-sharing. Topics that have garnered interest so far range from mastering the art of ‘learning how to learn’ – a critical skill in the ever-changing landscape of the tech industry, to an introduction to natural language processing, machine learning and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

With a view to enhancing presentation skills, the Visibility, Awareness and Support pillar of the CoP recently organized a two-part Effective Storytelling workshop for the Femgineering group. In addition to receiving one-on-one feedback on how to deliver more engaging presentations, we also learned about the importance of narrative hooks and connecting emotionally with our audience. Being able to access dedicated training on such topics is one more way Femgineering is attempting to redress gender dynamics in the workplace. Other initiatives under this pillar aim to raise the visibility of female engineers outside of the company, be it through public speaking engagements, contributing to our tech blog or representing Babbel at conferences such as Tech Open Air, the AWS Summit or the European Women in Tech Conference.

Femgineering members representing Babbel at the AWS Summit in Berlin
Femgineering members representing Babbel at the AWS Summit in Berlin

Sowing the seeds for a more diverse workplace

In the last quarter, members of the hiring pillar have also been working closely with representatives from the Human Resources department (recently renamed to People & Operations) to formalize a number of initiatives designed to reduce the likelihood of hidden bias occurring during the recruitment process.

One such change relates to reviewing the type of language used in job descriptions. Although we’ve never been looking for ‘jedi-rockstar-ninja coders’ who ‘work hard and play harder’, as a company whose very raison d’être is to facilitate the acquisition of language skills, we understand that the language one chooses to employ is often unknowingly a reflection of one’s values, attitudes and beliefs.

Research shows that the inclusion of certain, typically masculine-coded words, such as ‘fearless’, ‘hungry’ or ‘competitive’ in job descriptions can significantly reduce the number of female applicants. As a result, in May 2019, we began using a gender bias decoder tool to identify and modify words that are more likely to resonate with male candidates. Our open job descriptions now employ a more gender-neutral tone and emphasize the value we place upon fostering an open, collaborative and inclusive environment. Initial results following this change have been encouraging with 40% of the applicants for one of our Senior Engineer positions being female, representing a marked increase versus the previous month.

Femgineering is also changing the way in which we plan for interviews at Babbel. We strive for interview panels to contain at least one female panelist in a bid to both normalize the presence and expertise of our female engineers and reaffirm the importance we place upon building diverse teams. In parallel, to make sure that our recruitment process doesn’t uphold systemic discrimination, all engineers are invited to attend in-house interview training, where topics such as identifying and mitigating against the types of biases that we may inadvertently hold, are addressed.

Reaping the rewards

As a result of some of these initiatives, we have already seen an upward trend in the number of women in senior engineering positions and engineering leadership roles at Babbel in the past year. Two of our three Engineering Directors are women! This is especially encouraging as having women in leadership positions is key to maintaining momentum and enabling similar changes to percolate from the top of the pyramid as well.

Supporting the Femgineering initiatives, at an organizational level, we also have a series of benefits in place to encourage a healthy work-life balance. For example, many employees regularly work from home, we offer part-time roles to better support those with other commitments alongside partnerships with local co-working spaces offering childcare until our own in-house childcare facility is ready. As employees, we are trusted to manage our time as we see fit and all things considered, it is a win-win situation.

Femgineering is a great example of how well grassroot level changes can work in harmony with organizational support and we’re excited about how it’s evolving. Extending beyond a desire to simply increase the number of female engineers in the workforce, we’re committed to building an environment in which female engineers are not only included but are also supported and encouraged to reach their full potential. If joining us on our journey sounds appealing to you, come talk to us: we’re hiring 🙂.

Are you working on a similar initiative? We’d be very happy to hear from you and exchange learnings.

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