Promote Gender Balance at Your Startup From Day One
“We’d really like this new hire to be a woman.” This statement is a commonly heard refrain — usually when a company has reached a certain level of visibility. Suddenly they realize that everyone on their management team is a guy. Ditto their board. And guess what? That just doesn’t fly anymore.
Gender diversity is finally becoming a core issue for CEOs and boards of directors who realize that having women in senior executive roles is no longer optional. There are proven, bottom-line benefits from having women’s viewpoints heard around the table; more types of people in the room mean more perspectives on the problem your company is trying to solve. But change in the tech industry is happening slowly, as anyone who’s been reading the news lately knows.
Right now there is still a dearth of women who’ve achieved senior positions in tech. That means there are simply fewer women available to recruit for open jobs, and the few female executives who have climbed the ladder are bombarded by recruiters — making it even more difficult to hire them.
By the time a company hires a recruiter to “get them a woman,” they’ve typically spent years building their business without taking diversity into account. Without realizing it, they’ve often built a business that’s not particularly welcoming to women. Here are five tactics companies can adopt today if they are serious about achieving a better gender balance in the C-suite, now and longer-term.
1. Make an early and prominent female hire a top priority.
The best way to solve your gender problem is not to develop one in the first place. If your company is just starting out or is still small, now is the time to start focusing on hiring and promoting women. Even having one prominent woman on your executive team can help you recruit more high-level women. Facebook has been very successful at recruiting killer female executives since the company hired Sheryl Sandberg. Bringing in even a couple of highly accomplished women can start a virtuous cycle that helps build a stronger, more diverse company in the long run. Having specific programs in place that focus on grooming promising women for leadership roles is also a good idea; offer executive coaching and make sure you are being inclusive and flexible as far as the leadership traits you really need for specific jobs within the company.
2. Establish strong parental leave policies – and make sure your management team takes advantage of them.
Are all your benefits designed for 25-year-old guys who never go to the doctor and spend all their time working? You could be turning off the kind of young, ambitious women you’re trying to recruit. Strong parental-leave policies send a message of inclusion and reflect a culture of respect for all working parents. Large tech leaders like Netflix, Facebook and Google have been very public recently in pushing the envelope on parental leave; Netflix famously offers unlimited paid parental leave for a year after a family welcomes a new child, while Facebook employees get four months paid. In addition, seeing C-suite men or women actually take their own family leave — and return to their positions still on the fast track for promotions and advancement — demonstrates a tangible commitment to diversity that mere words or written policies can’t match.
3. Create a culture that focuses on results, not face time.
Conduct a pay audit – and take a hard look at your unconscious biases. Working parents (moms and dads!) need flexibility. They need to know they can leave their desks occasionally to attend a soccer game and then log back on later to finish their work. Unfortunately, a double standard pervades too many companies, where men who take an afternoon to attend the school play are celebrated as great dads, and women who do the same are criticized.
If you’re a team leader, you set the tone. Run your organization as much like a meritocracy as possible and don’t measure success and effectiveness purely on an “hours worked” approach — it should be about results.
4. Conduct a pay audit – and take a hard look at your unconscious biases.
There are plenty of consultants and compensation analysts who can help you conduct an audit of your pay policies and make sure you’re not underpaying your female employees. Prominent female executives — just like men! — are savvy about compensation and may well be interested in the company’s overall salary dynamics, in addition to their own compensation packages, which of course must be competitive. We’ve heard stories of women being told during offer negotiations, when they pushed back on compensation, “well, you have a husband who works and does well . . .” This is not acceptable.
Do a company-wide pay audit, rectify any imbalances and then dig deeper. Think about times when you or your team has negotiated with a woman as a potential new hire. Was that conversation any different than similar negotiations you’ve had with men? If so, why?
5. Revamp your personal network.
It’s natural to hire from within your personal network. If your company is all male now, it’s likely to stay that way, unless you make a conscious effort to diversify your personal contacts. Take a few minutes to identify the outstanding female professionals you know at all seniority levels, not just women who are top executives now. They could be tomorrow’s leaders. Develop those relationships, and ask those women to introduce you to other great women working in your field.
If there’s a female executive you think could be a great advisor or board member, ask for an introduction! Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re creating a mutually beneficial relationship, just as you would with any professional contact. But once you cultivate relationships with women in your network, you will naturally get to know more, and those women will introduce you to other killer women.
Tech’s diversity problem can’t be solved overnight. But the effort it takes to achieve a better gender balance does pay off. Consider the numerous studies confirming that companies with more women in leadership roles are more profitable, by almost every measure. Building a diverse, high-performing company takes time and work, but the results speak for themselves