Babbel’s Femgineers on creating gender diverse engineering teams.

Babbel’s Femgineers on creating gender diverse engineering teams.

Karen Hoyos, Saumya Mehta and Ewa Cabaj give practical advice on starting your workplace diversity journey.

27 July 2020

Femgineers is a women-centric community aimed at supporting and enhancing the role and reach of women in Babbel’s tech teams. Over the 2+ years since its inception, the community has had huge successes in encouraging wider diversity for other minorities among the company’s 750 employees.

Karen Hoyos, Saumya Mehta and Ewa Cabaj are part of the team of Femgineers that has tried and tested many initiatives and activities aimed at creating a diverse and accepting tech team and here they share some of them with us…



Recognise that there is room for improvement

In 2017, women were underrepresented in Babbel’s engineering team. This is an industry-wide trend in tech, seeing that only 13% of engineers are women in the workforce. Babbel pioneers a continuous learning culture, something that is at the core of both its product and internal culture – a mindset that empowered Babbel’s first Femgineers to recognise and act on the issue.

Karen explains that ‘the initial goal was to enhance the role and reach of women in tech at Babbel – beginning with hiring more female engineers. When our female engineer numbers began to rise, we broadened the scope to cultivating a fully diverse engineering team and building a strong support network for them.’


Key Takeaway: If you feel there is an issue, the first step is to acknowledge the elephant in the room and realise you’d like to do something about it.



Gather believers and organise your thoughts

From the Femgineers and many prominent movements throughout history, we can learn that for any major change to take place, it needs to be organised in terms of activities and ideas. You also need people to be part of that movement who are willing to put in the work and advocate on the cause’s behalf.

When a founding team began to form, three key pillars to its success, quantifiable goals and initiative drivers also formed.


Key Takeaway: Define your parameters for success and be deliberate about organising tasks to reach them.



Gain C-Level buy-in

Diversity and inclusion initiatives must be supported from the top-down. At the time the group was being formed, one of Babbel’s three Directors of Engineering (a female) was eagerly invested and communicated the importance of initiative at the C-Level.

Karen explains ‘direct contact with the managers gave us a lot of visibility at the beginning and the momentum we needed to get off the ground. Ongoing, we selected a chairperson to represent us at the C-Level who regularly brings news, successes and requests to management.’

‘Earlier this year we started inviting individual execs to monthly meetings over lunch, which has proven to be incredibly worthwhile in terms of C-Level visibility and buy-in.’


Key Takeaway: Gain buy in from C-Level and remain completely transparent with your goals. Educate them on the importance of diversity on a business level.



Create a safe space

The Femgineers categorise themselves as a Community of Practice or CoP – a safe space for female engineers to discuss issues, give advice, take action and feel supported. The Femgineering group provided a sense of belonging that has lead to happier employees, better productivity and better cross-team collaboration. 

Every person plays an integral and ever-changing role in the Femgineers CoP. Each member will take turn moderating meetings, note taking, driving initiatives and representing the CoP at events. Roles are shared, with everyone having an equal chance to contribute.

Saumya Mehta recently joined Babbel as a Software Engineer and found the Femgineers to be a serious support in integrating and owning her talents as an engineer. ‘Joining the Femgineers made me feel included and supported as a woman on the engineering team, which can typically be quite masculine. The group allows me to meet women from all different teams which means better communication across the company in general’.


Key Takeaway: Create a dedicated time and space to share experiences and bounce ideas off each other. 



Communicate your goals and collaborate with internal teams

One of the initiatives the Femgineers implemented was a 7 principle agreement to be signed by every person that joined the company. The aim is to ensure each new hire is aligned with Babbel’s culture of workplace collaboration.



Maintaining transparency across the engineering department on Femgineering activities and goals was instrumental to its success. Then, stepping outside of the Engineering team to collaborate with Babbel’s Tech Recruitment, PR and Employer Branding teams gave an additional layer of internal support, increased visibility and drove some key hiring and event initiatives.

Ewa Cabaj, Senior Employer Brand Manager at Babbel explains that ‘the Femgineering initiative gained exposure both internally and externally through more than just the agreement. When the Femgineers gained enough support, they also were given a budget to push forward with events like the female-run Coding Workshops, curated content in partnership with the internal PR team, speaking opportunities at the Women in Tech Conference and the production of Femgineering merchandise.


Key Takeaway: Reach and visibility are important in gaining wider support, pushing for a budget and marketing your ideas. Collaborate with internal teams to drive initiatives.


Processes to implement

Karen explains ‘one of our biggest goals was to increase female engineer visibility, especially at events. It was important for us to ensure that female speakers also represented Babbel’s engineering teams at events both internally and externally.’

Some great processes the Femgineers implement to increase visibility and work in way that is inclusive for both genders include:

  • Ensure a woman is present in all interviews.
  • Ask for preferred pronouns, add them to Slack channels or titles.
  • Make your version of the agreement, print it and hang it around your office for high visibility. Ensure all new hires read and agree to it.
  • Document and analyse the data from exit interviews. This helps to understand if/why female engineers are leaving and address any concerns that are uncovered.
  • Empower women to speak at tech events. If there are no events to speak at, host your own.
  • Ensure females have the same amount of front exposure as men. Write more blog posts, lead more meetings and speak up more.



Make gender diversity goals part of the wider team goals

Lack of diversity is a business problem, so you should look to solve it like one. This is why Babbel’s Femgineering goals form part of the wider team goals. Diversity and inclusion was made an indicator of the team’s success for the quarter, which meant that a portion of time each week could be dedicated to Femgineering activities.

At the time, Karen worked on an Engineering team comprised of all men. ‘Incorporating Femgineering goals into our team made everyone more aware of the time needed to organise and action our strategies. It allowed the men on the team to empathise and ask questions. Some offered their time and support towards reaching those goals.’


Key Takeaway: Diversity should not be a side note. Solidify the importance of it by incorporating gender diversity goals into your team’s business goals.



Diversity in tech is not out of reach. Each movement starts with acknowledgment and awareness. We’re seeing companies place a higher value on diversity and inclusion – whether that be from social pressures of desire to simply ‘be better’. One of the biggest reasons though is the fact that diverse teams simply perform better. The Femgineers did it, so can all of us.


Read more about the Femgineers at Babbel here.