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Google crafts algorithms to get more women in more positions

And keep them coming back, too

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Google has fine-tuned its search algorithms to hone in on many things, from web pages to stock quotes and flight times, but its latest challenge may be its most ambitious yet. It's hoping its vaunted data-crunching prowess can help it bring in more women.

By most accounts, geeks worldwide are falling all over themselves to land jobs at Google. But like so many tech companies, the online ad giant has had trouble recruiting and retaining female employees, particularly for management positions.

To that end, the Chocolate Factory has been compiling data to help it analyze exactly when women leave the company and why – including those who quit during the interview process. And, The New York Times reports, that approach actually seems to be working.

Engineering has historically been male-dominated, but geek culture runs particularly deep at the Chocolate Factory, where job interviews involve marching potential recruits through a battery of logic puzzles and coding challenges that rival most oral dissertation exams.

Google-watchers say that tendency has increased since Larry Page became the company's CEO in 2011. A programmer himself, Page has assembled an inner circle of top product engineers to help steer the company, most of whom have been men.

At the same time, some say women are being pushed out. Most notably, Marissa Mayer, a former leader of many of the Google's most successful products, left the company in July after being passed over for an executive role. Google competitor Yahoo! made her its CEO.

But the Chocolate Factory says not only does it want female staffers, it's actively looking for ways to refine its recruitment and retention processes to make the company more attractive to women. In true Googly form, that means it's been crunching the numbers.

For example, analyzing data gathered from the company's recruitment efforts revealed that women tended to do better during job interviews when they were quizzed by other women. For Google, which assembles panels of rank-and-file staffers to conduct interviews, that problem was easily sorted.

Still other women didn't even make it past the first phone interview. When Google's stats-sifters examined these candidates' interview responses, they found that on average women were less likely to boast about their accomplishments over the phone than men, which led interviewers to assume they hadn't done anything. Interviewers are now asked to pay closer attention and take better notes.

Similarly, other data showed that Google's advancement process, which requires employees to nominate themselves for promotions, also favored men. Google now offers workshops to help women be more assertive in the workplace.

And then there was the obvious: Women who had recently given birth were found to be twice as likely to quit the company as other employees. Google responded by extending its maternity benefits.

All of this data-drilling might seem like an excessively mechanical method of solving a very human problem, but the Chocolate Factory's data-driven approach does appear to be yielding results. According to Laszlo Bock, Google's senior VP of people operations, about one-third of Google's employees are women today, which he claims beats the national average for tech companies of 25 per cent. ®

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