Evan Charles is the co-founder of Launch Academy.
Our technology and innovation economy isn’t doing a great job of recruiting, hiring or promoting women. And by ‘not doing a great a job,’ I mean it’s failing.
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By most estimates, fewer than 30 percent of all tech and computer jobs are held by women as of 2014. The further up the management and leadership ladder you look, the more it resembles an old boys’ club. That’s an especially troubling reality for an industry, which believes that decisions such as hiring should be analytically driven, and merit-based.
The business world is chock full of studies and data which show that diversity in hiring and management is profitable. Diverse teams are more creative, more energetic and productive.
Not only is diversity better for business, it’s morally correct.
But for various reasons, diversity hasn’t yet fully taken real root in tech companies. Sewing diversity into small technology startups is especially important because small startups become large global players more quickly than ever. And corporate cultures endure.
Companies that start with a real commitment to diversity are likely to stay that way. Companies that grow without those principles, by contrast, are far less likely to be course-corrected – even by savvy management.
And let’s be clear. Since most – and some economists would say all – new jobs in the United States are created by new startups, it’s simply not good enough to have a strongly worded diversity statement, or to simply blog about it.
Startups – and especially those which see themselves as future business and economic leaders – have to model best behavior. They must recruit, pay to train, reach in hiring and promote qualified women.
Because such commitment may cost extra hours and dollars, the venture capital investors who fund tech startups have an obligation too. If early funders insist on diversity in coding teams and boardrooms, entrepreneurs will have to do it. Investors are often too lax on technology wunderkinds because they want to ‘win the deal’ and the results, in diversity at least, are evident.
Once entrepreneurial leaders and early investors insist on gender and other diverse backgrounds, demand for talent will increase supply. More women will take computer science classes and enroll in coding camps when they know businesses want, need and value what they offer. Confidence will follow.
So what can a tech startup do to increase gender equity in their own offices and industry-wide? Here are four suggestions:
1. Establish a scholarship for a promising woman at a coding camp or sponsor a student directly
Amanda Cheung was a designer at Dockyard, an agency that builds mobile and Web applications. The company sponsored her tuition-in-full to attend Launch Academy, the coding school which I co-founded. Following graduation, Amanda was able to transition into a developer role, where she still works.
Tuition at coding camps varies but investing in diversity at the building-block level speaks directly to commitment and will have tangible results – fostering more trained women developers in the talent pool.
2. Set company hiring goals and attach accountability
Making it a company mandate to hire, retain and promote a workforce that is just 5 percent higher than the industry average of 30 percent would be great progress. Linking those goals to leadership and Board reviews – and bonuses, for example – would be even more impressive.
3. If your investors don’t have a diversity policy for their investments, ask them why
Showing investors that diversity and equality are important to your company is a great idea. More diverse companies tend to make more money.
Just as investors can influence the companies they back, the reverse is likewise true.
4. Get involved
Don’t just lament that local colleges’ computer science programs or coding camps aren’t graduating enough women. Go ask these programs what your startup can do to get more women in the classrooms. Then ask for resumes of female graduates – interview them, get their perspective.
If tech-savvy entrepreneurs are smart and resourceful enough to disrupt entire industries, they are smart enough to fix the gender equity problems in their offices. The fact that they haven’t yet may say more about their motivation than their ability.