Gender balance in software development – The Polar Cape case

Working as a HR Manager in software development companies for the past 7 years and with educational background in women’s rights, the gender balance issue in IT has been a brain teaser for me. As the International Women’s Day approaches, I was motivated to scratch the surface of the topic a bit deeper.

The problem with the difference in gender representation in the IT sector has been an open issue worldwide for some time now. The IT industry suffers from lack of resources and the fact that nearly a half of the population is reluctant to join, has been a matter of discussion that resulted with numerous inclusion measures and affirmative actions.

It was never clear why women do not choose a career in IT, having in mind that it is a popular career choice and more and more people globally choose to go in this direction. The numbers are even worst in software development. According to some studies, even the professions that have hit a glass ceiling (such as CEO), have more women in them or at least more interested in them, than software development.

For а while the reasoning went in the direction that due to stereotypes, women enrolled much less in tech studies and hence the gap in employment in all tech-related professions. However, recent numbers show some positive changes in the enrollment of women into tech studies (according to a 2014 research in Macedonian universities, the ratio of graduates in 2014 was 64% male versus 36% female). Yet, this did not seem to make changes in the number of employed women in the sector. Women are still less then 27% of the employees in software development and IT services in Macedonia. 1)

Nonetheless, this text is not aimed at determining the cause of the problem, but to give a different example and maybe offer options to overcome the issue. The Polar Cape development center in Macedonia started working in 2012. The small development center adopted the general principles and guidelines, as well as the overall vision of its mother company Polar Cape Consulting Sweden. Since then, we have grown into a strong and stable competitor on the Macedonian IT labor market while maintaining gender balance as shown below.

How we got here?

The driving force of Polar Capes vision is that people are the company. A core part of the strategy is to build a great workplace – and we believe that means a well-balanced and diverse one in terms of gender and background. This has been a focus from the start- a clear aim to establish a gender-balanced company. This can mean actively focusing on identifying female candidates for the recruitment process – nonetheless at the end we always employ on merit.

The core values of the company are quality, flexibility and integrity. But this is a game of reciprocity. We look for these same traits in all our employees and as an employer we give back with greater vigor. We provide a top-quality work environment from surroundings, equipment, to everyday necessities, offer flexibility in working hours, use of vacation days, work from home options, career path choices etc., and we do it with the utmost integrity that entails transparency and honest communication. The company is a stable and reliable partner to all employees and not just an employer.

However, this still does not outline the gender specific requirements that would attract and retain female employees. There are areas that should be explicitly addressed to when trying to increase gender balance.

The Interview Process

You can very easily miss the vicious circle of male experts hiring male experts only, based on similarity, comparison and likeness. This negative trend can be avoided if you are aware of it and put on the gender-blind glasses.

At Polar Cape we have a quite lean recruitment process, and still a quite complex filtering process in the background. We include as many different people, in terms of position, expertise and level, in every recruitment process. We have the Talent Manger doing the HR part of the interview, we involve people with similar technical expertise for the technical part, and the CEO or one of the founders for the final interview which is part behavioral and part career aims. This helps avoiding the loop mentioned above. Everyone included in the recruitment deliver their opinion about the candidates in terms of technical background and most importantly, the general compatibility of the candidate’s personality with the company’s’ values. No recruitment is ever made without unanimous decision of all involved (3-4 votes).

So, eventually we decide to recruit character, regardless of gender, or just technical capability. Because after all, talent gets you to the top, but character keeps you there.


Furthermore, if you do not pay attention, you can easily make women feel unwelcomed in some “special boys club.” The idea is to stimulate gatherings that are not gender inclined, or stereotyping, but rather the opposite, that promote interaction between genders by finding common ground and interests. This is especially easy to do in tech companies, there are just SOOO many “geeky” things, interesting for both sexes.

In Polar Cape we organize after-work activities that encompass all. Social events are frequent, not necessarily mandatory, but fun and engaging for many. Once a month we have a company meeting followed by social events that vary in themes, from board games to theater plays.

We have monthly knowledge sharing sessions. Over drinks and snacks, we have volunteer presenters that share their pet projects with the rest of the staff, or simply subjects worth discussing with peers.

Inclusion of family members and/or significant others of employees, goes a long way in building trust, loyalty and long-term networking relationships. As a family-oriented company, we have family gatherings at least twice a year. The Family Day is an informal BBQ and Beer event in a picnic-like atmosphere that always ends with good stories, told for days.

Personalized Career Plans

The priorities regarding work and career are changing during life, so presuming a continuous career path is not applicable any more. For women in reproductive years, this is of utmost importance and adapting the career models to personal plans is crucial in attracting and retaining female employees.

At Polar Cape we help each employee to identify clear personal goals and we plan compatible actions to help them achieve their end objectives. Our personal development plans are adjusted regularly leaving a lot of space to build career according to your current needs and interests. We want people to grow, and by doing so, to help the company grow.

Work -life Balance

Work-life balance is for sure one of the most important areas to pay attention to when building gender balance.

All people have different lifestyles and life expectations. Motivation does not come to all of us from same sides. Seeking for the driving force in each employee means allowing flexibility for them to align the job assignments in the company with their personal life. And if you are looking to develop employees with high potential, an individual approach to work-life balance must be adopted where measurement is by results and not through working hours.

And speaking openly, if the society is some bit more patriarchal and traditional like in the case of Macedonia, female employees might need more support to balance life outside of work. Polar Cape offers flexibility and support in dealing with many issues. Flexibility in working hours, vacation use, working from home options etc. are some of the basics. We do try and go the extra mile and include some extras, like providing Zumba lessons in the office space for the ones with a more active lifestyle. Furthermore, trainings and English lessons are organized in the office space to save up time, as time is the most important and limited resource in the dynamic of the modern living.

Personal note

Maybe this sounds a bit patronizing, so let me just add- it is not that we do not praise our differences and to be honest we do stick to our kind at times, especially in our all-women chat groups, but it is much more fun when we are all together and there is no one that would say differently.

To state the obvious- achieving gender balance is not done just with a non-discrimination clause, or equal opportunities statement in the work ads or the company declarations. It is something that you incorporate in the very core of your company, and you work very hard to continuously implement in your practices.

Putting aside my position or my education and speaking only as a woman, Polar Cape is the one of best workplaces to be a woman at.

1) Research on gender-sensitive policies and practices for managing of human resources in software development companies and IT services in Macedonia (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, PREDA Plus, Swiss Contact)
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