There are so many articles written on the lack of gender diversity within the tech community, but I want to focus on what steps we can take to tip the balance. We owe it to the women who have left tech, are struggling in tech and those who may (or may not) be considering to move into tech, to focus on strategies that disrupt the status quo.
There are no simple answers (or even right or wrong answers) and I’m not promising it will be easy, but I can say that it will be worth it.
1. Collect data on diversity
You can't know, what you don't know. Now depending on the size of your company it should be pretty easy to get down on paper the gender composition of your company. What does it tell you? How does it make you feel? Has it been pointed out as a current or future problem? Wherever you are, this is your starting point. What does your start-up look like and how does this compare to the talent demographic of where you are based? Need a starting point? Take a look at Diversity in Tech – Information is beautiful. For all the major tech companies, gathering data was their starting point to moving onto finding the problems and proposing solutions.
2. Consider your funding models
At some stage you are likely to want to seek funding from an angel investor or venture capitalist. Like in all things related to your business it makes sense to do your homework about who you are looking to gain funding from. What are their likes/dislikes? Are they likely to take an interest in your HR and diversity? If you were grilled on your HR and diversity practices would you be able to answer the questions confidently? And most importantly, do you have anything to hide of be ashamed of? If the answer is yes, then clearly you'll need to get those problems fixed. VC’s aren’t investing in diversity. It’s a bad move.
3. Your hiring process
It's an easy (and untrue) cop out to blame the lack of gender diversity in tech squarely on the lack of female talent, so I'm going to turn it around. What are you doing to tap into the amazing female talent already out there? How are you thinking outside the box of 'young, male and white?' Where do you advertise? How do you advertise? What do you have to offer women? (ping pong, pizza Friday and a room to play games will not cut the mustard. As a starting point see Women in Tech: What women want.
Just as you’d spend lots of time researching your consumer market in relation to what they want, why don't you do the same for your employees and future employees? They are just as important (if not more so) than your client base.
When it comes to the hiring process are you asking the right questions to get the right talent or focusing solely on who you like/can bond with. It's well documented that diverse teams/companies financially outperform those that are not. It makes good business sense not to intentionality or unintentionally exclude 50% of the workforce based on outdated ideas about female talent in tech.
4. Standardize your performance reviews
I'm assuming that you are doing regular performance reviews for all your staff! If not, then sooner or later this will be your undoing. Why leaders should offer frequent performance reviews. Too often line managers or small business owners see performance reviews as something to be done once a year, last minute ad as a tick box exercise. But in reality employees need regular feedback on how they are performing and as start-up this is doubly important as a bad hire or someone who can’t do their job but is still allowed to stay in the team (dragging everyone down) will have a negative impact on your business future.
5. Provide better quality mentorship opportunities
This is a must for everyone really, not just women but I thinking should so especially for women. It's tough being a woman in male-dominated sector especially if they're being asked to keep proving their ability, deal with casual and hostile sex discrimination and face a workplace penalty for trying to combine motherhood with a career. The biggest problem with gender diversity in tech is the number of women leaving mid-career due to a combination of the above mentioned problems. Women and why they leave the tech field.
One powerful way to combat this is to provide mentorships and networking opportunities to give women a fighting chance of staying. Most don't want to leave but feel forced out due to lack of empathy and hostility to what they need. How to keep women in STEM and Why women leave tech: ‘It’s the culture not because the math is hard.’
6. Talk to girls and women
Everyone likes role models, even if we won't admit it. We all have people that we look up to and admire. But for role models to even appear, they had to have and the chance to see a that a dream was possible. There are columns and columns dedicated to the low numbers of girls taking up STEM subjects at school, college and university and as a response there are so many great initiatives to reverse this trend.
A tech start-up the role in being role models and seeking out girls and women is to go out into schools and colleges, coding clubs etc. and talk to girls and women about your business. Invite them into your world. Make sure you are on their radar and they are on yours. If you do that, then the excuse of 'lack of female talent' will be a thing of the past.
7. Embrace change
You work in technology so you should be used to this! There are different ways that have been suggested to try and address ‘tech’s gender problem’ including gender bias name blind applications, improved parental leave, flexible working and pay transparency to name a few. I'm sure that there will be more. I'd like to see you at least embrace the reasons behind the need for change and look at the business case for diversity. No-one ever got any-where by standing still and doing the same thing over and over again. That includes you. Beyond the business case for diversity and inclusion in tech.
8. Lead from the top
The only successful changes come when those at the top are engaged. You don't have to do this from the goodness of your heart or because you think it's right. But if you are personally committed to it and make these new changes non-negotiable you will have more success than if you don't. So if you've been told by an investor that they won't invest in you because of the lack of diversity in your start-up that doesn't mean that going out and hiring anyone who isn't white and isn't a man will change things. But if you take the feedback on board, really look at your past mistakes and see how it's led to you were you are now (being refused investment) THAT is the starting point for embracing change (see point 7). And when you are fully committed for the right reasons it makes it easier to get your team on board with the reasons for change and it makes it easier to implement.
9. Don't start the gender pay gap
When you're a start-up you have the power to set your business culture from that start. Yes, it will change as you grow but the fundamentals and foundations are always within your control. The gender pay gap is a real problem, but not just for women, for the wider economy which means you too. The gender pay gap: it affects us all.
You have the chance not to get involved in the stress and litigation that goes with equal pay tribunals by having clear and transparent pay structures from the beginning. Everyone deserves to be compensated fairly for their worth based on their actual skills and responsibility. Save yourself some litigation headache years down the line by implementing pay structures and pay transparency from the top down.
There is no one-stop shop solution to eliminating gender bias and discrimination in tech. But diversity is fast becoming an important currency, so if you are serious about making it in tech, it’s time to start putting your business strategy together on what your start-up will do.
Michelle Gyimah is the Director of Equality Pays, an HR Consultancy dedicated to helping tech employers improve their gender equality policies and practices. Michelle has over 8 years’ experience of working at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
As the millennial employees of today want a better life-work balance, it is up to the tech industry to find innovative ways to attract and retain the best talent that is out there. Michelle is dedicated to helping tech employers figure out what staff benefits and business culture they can offer future and existing employees whilst maintain steady business growth. Michelle holds a Masters in Human Rights from The University of Manchester.
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