Gladly sent 24 people, women and men, to the recent Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference. We set up our booth, donned our Girl Power t-shirts, and proudly displayed our gender diversity stats at a well-attended booth under the beautiful rotunda at Westfield Mall. Catalyst is the first conference that Gladly has sponsored, representing precious dollars and time to our start-up. And it was our absolute honor to do so. We saw more than 1000 women in attendance (many sporting our stickers and temporary tattoos of inspiring mantras like ‘Makers Gotta Make!’), with dozens of speakers sharing their stories of “making it.”
And it caused me to reflect on the state of gender in technology on the whole. Millions of dollars have been poured into the effort to equalize gender numbers at big companies. So much effort given. And so little progress made. I read a stat where even if the biggest tech companies, like Facebook, Google and Apple made the decision to hire women for approximately half of their new employees, it would still take up to 15 years to reach gender parity.
So why is an early stage company like Gladly sitting tidily at 45% female employees and 40% females in technical roles? Here is what we have done differently:
- Staff very senior technical managers who are willing to CHAMPION, not just mentor, female and minority employees
- Make business sacrifices to hold open positions for minority candidates
- Be willing to take a leap of faith on non-traditional technical backgrounds, and hire for aptitude and attitude
- Build our house so that it is welcoming to all
Our technical leaders do more than bestow their wisdom and knowledge on those less experienced. They take these folks under their wings, providing unique and challenging opportunities to them, with plenty of support to ensure success. They create a learning environment, where mistakes can be made, learned from and improved upon…all without shame or corrosive blame.
Perhaps the most difficult line to walk as a new company is deciding how far we can afford to go, in time spent, effort expended, and work undone, to leave positions open for the slower search of finding minority candidates? Turns out you can go pretty darn far. You can factor the slower hiring into your capacity planning, and your product timelines, knowing that you are going slow to eventually go even quicker. And you can look forward to the higher quality and deeper levels of innovation that diverse minds bring to projects. But you have to stay disciplined, not give up, and leave those positions open as long as it takes. You will hit a flywheel effect eventually, as more diverse employees beget diverse candidates…which is awesome!
Aptitude and Attitude
The best minority candidates have not necessarily come up the same educational and experiential path as white dudes who code (I know I generalize!). So instead of looking for a CS degree from a top ten Engineering school with internships at Google and Facebook, find a woman who self-trained through Girls Who Code and spent a year in a one-(wo)man engineering shop, just figuring it out. She’ll have grit and an aptitude for learning that is not always present in the traditional CS path. And she’ll learn quickly and become a star in your organization.
The worst statistic in the world to me is the number of female engineers who leave the profession. It’s been estimated that nearly 40% of women who earn engineering degrees either quit or never enter the profession.
Why are women leaving this industry in such crazy numbers? Well, according to psychologist Dr. Nadya Fouad, who surveyed over 5300 women in engineering: “It’s the climate, stupid!”
There’s still an “old-boys club” atmosphere that continues to exist in so many of these engineering organizations. And you don’t have to look far to find example after example of this in nearly all Silicon Valley companies. From the decor (polished concrete, glass, and chrome) to the social events (Happy Hours, Nerf Gun wars, video gaming and so on), women struggle with the feeling of belonging. So it is critical to create a space that is welcoming, and that appeals to a wider variety of people. And all your benefits, perks, and policies should take this into account as well.
Why it Matters
Diversity isn’t just a target or quarterly goal for us at Gladly…we’ve made it an overarching priority. And the payoffs have been tremendous. Our decisions and opinions are informed by a wider range of voices and experiences. We come at problem-solving from many different angles, resulting in better solutions. We offer a diverse, and often familiar face to our customers and prospects, improving rapport and speed of deals. Candidates who come in can see instantly the importance we place on diversity. And lastly, the product itself, built upon people at its center, is vastly improved thanks to the differences represented by our workforce.
At the end of the day, getting to a state where there is real gender parity isn’t magic, but it is hard work. It’s a disciplined approach and it is an absolute joy when it all comes together with terrific results. So in solidarity with all under-represented minorities, both within and outside the industry, here’s to a bright future of continued diversity magic!
Margie Mader-Clark is VP of all things People at Gladly, a customer service platform that’s reinventing customer service with a focus on people at the heart of it, not tickets or cases. Before she joined Gladly, Margie ran the people department at other notable companies, including Lookout, Coupons.com (now Quotient), Hyperion, Vontu, as well as Netscape. Certified in numerous leadership methodologies and practices, and having literally written the book on employment, Margie loves sharing her passion and insight around building a diverse, inclusive workplace with the people at Gladly, and beyond.