“I’ve gone to meetups and networking events that at times felt more like a frat party than a gathering of like-minded techies.”
June Sugiyama, Director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation.
The call for this year’s International Women’s Day is “to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.” We’ve taken up the call! We asked 74 women working in tech what we can do to #pressforprogress.
56.5% of those we asked felt that women are put off starting a career in tech because of the tech culture.
57.2% believe startups need to do more to offset legacy masculine cultures, and 43% believe more companies should publish diversity statements and track KPIs. Interestingly, 76% of developers believe startups should do more to prioritise family-friendly policies (i.e. maternity leave), whereas only 50% of recruiters feel this is an issue.
Intrigued? Take a look at what else the industry had to say.
Although it wasn’t as crucial for respondents as the lack of women studying tech subjects at school and university, there is definitely room for improvement!
“Don't just expect women to fit perfectly into the male-developed culture. I mean this for both universities and workplaces. Listen to the issues and critique they raise seriously.”
The startup culture
Until recently, Silicon Valley in real life had a tendency to mirror Silicon Valley on TV: full of young white men with similar backgrounds and life experiences. There’s nothing like the thought of spending time in a London basement with Roy and Moss from the IT Crowd to put a woman off a career in tech!
But if they did manage to avoid TV, make it through university and into a startup, women often experienced a macho culture with pay inequality, preconceived expectations and even sexual harassment.
In 2014, Kieran Snyder interviewed 716 women who decided to leave the tech industry after an average of just seven years. The vast majority said that their decision ultimately came down to a discriminatory work environment.
In NSF-funded research, Nadya Fouad surveyed 5,300 women who had earned engineering degrees (of all types) over the last 50 years, and 38% of them were no longer working as engineers. Fouad summarised her findings on why they leave with “It’s the climate, stupid!”
Several developers we interviewed had faced discrimination either at work or whilst studying at university.
“There should be more awareness of this subject, more support, and more empathy between the women in the field.”
Women don’t want to be the first
Being one of only a handful of girls to study computer science at school or one of three women in a startup’s tech team of 30 isn’t appealing to most women.
“Being the first is a burden,” wrote Ciara Byrne, a former software developer. “You carry the responsibility of representing not only yourself but the entire experience of working with that semi-mythical creature: the female techie.”
“Some women don't want to be in a minority. It's a bit challenging when you work in a team of 10 men and you're the only woman; it can get a bit frustrating.”
It’s understandably hard to convince women that a startup’s culture isn’t masculine when they’re the first female hire! As a result, the first hires are often the hardest, and once a team is more balanced it becomes exponentially easier to bring women on board.
The tech industry still has a way to go before it is gender equal. But there are simple things startups can do right now to attract, engage and retain more female IT specialists.
We asked the industry: How can startups attract and retain more women?
1. Make female employees “visible”
Just as our respondents felt that women in tech need to be more visible at schools and universities, they also need to be more visible in companies. Women don’t want to be the “first Senior Technical Engineer”, and are much more likely to apply for and accept a role if there are women in the company’s senior leadership team.
“It always make me feel better when I'm not the only girl in the team and see female experts or managers.”
To increase the visibility of female employees, you could:
- Invite women in leadership positions to publish blog posts and articles, set up and publish events, and be physically present in interviews (more on this later!)
- Think about setting up a gender-balanced diversity board and actively publish their initiatives on the company website and social media channels
- Make a conscious effort to ensure marketing materials are gender-balanced (that means photos need to include women, but it also means limiting the number of photos that show teams drinking beer on a terrace!)
- Actively publicise all the great work you’re now doing to nurture the pipeline
2. Minimise the perception of “bro culture”
57% felt that companies need to do more to minimise the masculine culture of startups. Several respondents had faced discrimination or harassment, and both recruiters and developers believe that the perception of startups’ masculine culture puts women off from applying for jobs.
“Easing up on the competitive work environment may help.”
“I think many tech companies have a pizza & beer culture and brag about these goodies.”
“Be sensitive about any sexist comments/jokes/behaviours and make clear that they will not be tolerated. Make sure everybody feels safe regardless of their sex, ethnicity, orientation, etc.”
“Women look for a good culture fit (i.e. “my contributions and opinions are valued here”).”
The tech world is known for its “work hard, play hard” culture. Football tables, games consoles and free post-work beers or in-house bars are understandably more appealing to young, male employees who don’t have to rush home after work to look after children. And encouraging workers to relieve stress by “playing hard” only reinforces a toxic masculine culture.
7 easy steps you could take to minimise “bro” culture:
- Take complaints by female employees seriously. Fix flirty comments rather than explaining them away with phrases such as “that’s just the way it is around here”
- Enforce a fair, indiscriminate and transparent company culture, so it's easy to hold employees accountable
- Use the same adjectives for women and men in performance reviews, and hold them to the same standards when giving bonuses and pay rises
- Make sure social activities don’t only revolve around sports or drinking, and remove the perception that employees need to join in or be left behind
- Work closely with HR departments (and set one up if you don’t have one!) and empower them to speak up on behalf of employees
- Make female employees "visible" (see above!) and promote women into leadership positions
- Write to female employees who’ve left the company and ask them to be honest about what it was like to work in the company, why they left and what they would change. You could ask current female employees the same questions
Startups have the opportunity to create a culture from scratch, and the benefit of being small and agile is that the culture is easier to change.
3. Prioritise and promote benefits that appeal to women
76% of the developers we asked believe startups do not do enough to prioritise and actively promote family-friendly policies i.e. maternity and paternity leave and pay, flexible start/finish times, carer’s leave or childcare vouchers.
“I think that they should offer more support to mothers, with extra maternity leave and facilities.”
“Offer better compensation for families. Offer help with tasks and online tests.”
“There are certain aspects of jobs that the tech industry could focus on if they'd like to appeal to more women. For instance, a woman with children is probably going to value flexibility and the option to work from home.”
Startups need to prioritise “transparency for salaries, maternity leave, health insurance, and other company policies which will encourage women to pursue a career and motherhood.”
Clearly setting out the company’s family-friendly policies and including them on the careers website, in all job descriptions and discussing them openly in interviews are actions that companies can take immediately. And if you don’t have flexible working, the opportunity to work part-time or remotely, or fair maternity and paternity policies, make it a priority in 2018.
4. “Show, don’t tell”
We don’t yet have pay equality in the tech industry, at least partly due to the fact women are less likely to negotiate for higher salaries or push for bonuses.
“Women get paid less because we usually ask for less.”
Although it’s too big a leap for many companies (and there are, of course, arguments for and against!), publishing annual reports highlighting the gender gap and data around pay / bonuses will demonstrate to women that you care about the issue and are prepared to do something about it.
"They know what the salaries are, so if a woman states she wants significantly less money than what male candidates ask for, they should suggest she can ask for more."
If your startup makes a real effort to ensure equal pay, then shout it from the rooftops! Mention it in your diversity statement, publish the results and discuss it in interviews.
And a final message for women in tech, from women in tech:
Next up: Improving the candidate experience and hiring process for women
2. Not 100% sure that fairies don’t exist
3. Looks at every dog in the street as if she’s going to kidnap it
4. Only learned how to open a bottle of wine at 25
5. Could be a pro bumper car driver, but isn’t in it for the money