A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here
Being a woman in tech can be a serious drawback in 2015; far more so than in the 1980s and 90s — Tinder even dumped a woman founder on the basis that the company wouldn’t be taken seriously by investors. Sadly, they may have been right.
Leave it to Slack, valued at $2.8 billion, to do things differently.
According to its diversity report released on Wednesday, 45% of all Slack managers are female, with 41% of the entire workforce having a woman as their manager. “This means that 41% of our people report to a woman who helps set their priorities, measure their performance, mentor them in their work, and who make recommendations that will impact their compensation and career growth.” In non-engineering positions, 51% of the workforce turned out to be female. Out of the roughly 250 employees worldwide, 39% are reported to be female.
Slack is considered the fastest growing software company in history and they certainly lead the tech pack In gender diversity.
And while their racial diversity stats are as dismal as the rest of tech they are far more actively working on changing that, too.
Here are the company’s four hiring guidelines,
Examining all decisions regarding hiring/recruiting, promotion, compensation, employee recognition and management structure to ensure that we are not inadvertently advantaging one group over another.
Working with expert advisors and employees to build fair and inclusive processes for employee retention, such as effective management education, company-wide unconscious bias training, ally skills coaching, and compensation review.
Helping to address the pipeline issue with financial contributions to organizations whose mission is to educate and equip underrepresented groups with relevant technical skills (like Hack the Hood and Grace Hopper), as well as supporting a variety of internship programs to broaden access to opportunity (like CODE2040).
Attempting to be conscious and deliberate in our decision-making and the principles and values by which we operate. Changing our industry starts by building a workplace that is welcoming to all so that a generation of role models, examples and mentors is created.
In bygone days the ‘my father can beat up your father’ was a favorite taunt.
These days it’s more often ‘my father earns more than your mother’.
So goes the gender pay gap and has since women entered the workforce.
Much has been written and many hands have been wrung over the disparity of pay between men and women doing the same job.
But the bias isn’t always intentional.
A vast majority of them are fair-minded guys who want women to succeed. They’re absolutely certain that they don’t have a gender problem themselves; it must be some other guys who do. Yet they’re leaders of companies that pay men more than women for the same jobs.
Now an intriguing idea has surfaced playing off the SEC’s new rule forcing companies to publish comparisons of how much chief executive officers take home compared with ordinary employees
The idea is to do the same between males/females within each company.
This would be especially interesting in tech, which admits that diversity may be a great goal, but won’t happen any time soon, even in companies which have made it a priority, such as Apple.
In the event the idea gains any traction you can assume enterprise will fight it as passionately — probably more — as it fought the CEO comparison, which took five years to become reality.
Without the force of law, how likely that the comparison could become a reality?
There are two ways that come to mind.
The first is to have a company step forward and offer the information voluntarily.
The second is that an internal whistleblower will publish the information anonymously on social media.
The second is far more likely, especially in the data-driven world in which today’s companies must operate.
Finally, scientists (two men, for the record) are urging an end to the Great Arctic Office Conspiracy. Their study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, says that most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men. The study concludes that buildings should “reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort” because setting temperatures at slightly warmer levels can help combat global warming.
Just as a too warm office can slow people down and make them sleepy, so can a too cold office.
Bosses can alleviate the problem to some degree.
If your physical space operates by zones rearrange workers based on their temperature needs, as opposed to functional or gender lines.
If there is only one central control raise the temperature or at least try splitting the difference.
Provide snuggies, blankets and space heaters when needed.
Treat it as the problem it is and not as a joke or gender weakness.
While addressing the problem may have little-to-no impact on global warming, it could have a substantial impact on your talent acquisition and retention.
Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that educating people about biases does anything to reduce their influence. Human biases occur outside conscious awareness, and thus people are literally unaware of them as they occur. As an individual, you cannot consciously “watch out for biases,” because there will never be anything to see.
First, some basics; what is bias?
Biases are nonconscious drivers — cognitive quirks — that influence how people see the world. They appear to be universal in most of humanity, perhaps hardwired into the brain as part of our genetic or cultural heritage, and they exert their influence outside conscious awareness.
The great problem is that people can’t recognize bias until after the fact — if at all.
If you are highly self-aware you can train yourself to know areas in which you are biased based on historical perspective, which, hopefully, will send up warning flags when you face a similar situation.
But the best solution involves a team effort, whether at work, home or during other pursuits.
How then can the negative effects of bias be overcome? Collectively. Organizations and teams can become aware of bias in ways that individuals cannot. Team-based practices can be redesigned to help identify biases as they emerge, and counteract them on the fly, thus mitigating their effect.
Bias is real and it’s not going to go away because it violates what we want to believe about ourselves.
I highly recommend this article, not just for you, but to share with the various teams in your life.
“I found Pinterest to be a very different sort of culture than I’m used to. One of the most unique things is that the company really values interdisciplinary work across the different functional areas of the team. The notion of empathy is deeply understood here. At other companies there’s a bit more of a competitive or even ruthless perspective, so it was really refreshing to see the level of cooperation here.”
He goes on to say,
“There’s definitely a stereotype of a successful startup that it’s often this aggressive, type A place and that’s just not necessarily true. You can have geniuses that are nice or geniuses that are really egotistical. But they’re both geniuses. So, we really want to work with the geniuses that are nice to each other and have a common level of respect.”
While the founders are male, the culture they developed is one where women thrive.
“It was a revelation to join the team at Pinterest and feel like I was treated like an engineer first, not as a female engineer. In most other places, I felt like people always treated me as a “female engineer,” like I was a novelty. People even called me a unicorn to my face. It was really nice to come here and not have that gender modifier in front of who I am.” –Tracy Chou, Pinterest engineer
Pinterest’s culture fosters creative collaboration and mutual respect because it is the absolute opposite of the typical frat-boy startup culture so common in the Valley.
Considering all the hand-wringing and diverse efforts to attract women to tech, it turns out that it’s relatively simple.
Lina Nilsson is a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and director of innovation at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, noticed a quaint factoid.
…if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves. That applies not only to computer engineering but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical and chemical engineering.
This held true at dozens of universities, such as D-Lab at MIT, Arizona State University, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University and Santa Clara University.
And it’s important to recognize that the primary, or even secondary, intent was not to attract women, but to solve problems.
None of the programs, clubs and classes were designed with the main goal of appealing to female engineers, and perhaps this is exactly why they are drawing us in. At the core of each of the programs is a focus on engineering that is cutting edge, with an explicit social context and mission.
The problem, of course, is that most existing companies and current startups are focused on money, while “women seem to be drawn to engineering projects that attempt to achieve societal good.”
I love watching Shark Tank, whether the current season on ABC or reruns on CNBC.
My favorite sharks in order are Robert Herjavec, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John.
My almost-least favorite shark is Mark Cuban, but it is Kevin O’Leary who I really can’t stand.
I have no problem with a shark saying no, but to listen to O’Leary tear down not only ideas, but also the entrepreneurs themselves makes me slightly ill. His criticism is rarely constructive and sometimes it is downright destructive — especially to women founders, or so it seems.
If you’re a guy you may not have paid much attention an ad from Always.
It looks at how #like a girl has always been an insult and an effort to change that perception.
“In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand,” said Lauren Greenfield, filmmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl video. “When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”
But the insult goes far beyond the days of puberty.