By Kira Makagon of RingCentral
Look at any board of directors or C-suite list in Silicon Valley and, chances are, you’ll be hard pressed to find women. Often I refer to myself as the veteran “only woman in the room,” which garners some knowing smiles, yet remains far from funny in 2016. Why are women still so underrepresented in tech leadership positions? Beyond the obvious truth that this lack of gender diversity in tech has reached a tipping point, recent research has shown that a predominantly-male work culture is costing the industry the one thing that it values most: innovation.
Companies, regardless of industry, should think about diversity not only because it’s the right thing to do but also because it will directly impact their bottom line. A recent study by Sahil Raina, an assistant finance professor at the University of Alberta, looked at the effect of gender on VC-financed entrepreneurship. What she found was that female VCs are better able to evaluate and advise female-led startups. Take a look at Kirsten Greene, who defied VC’s gender boundaries and has a strong track record with investments in Birchbox, Warby Parker and Bonobos. With women helping women get ahead, why are we not seeking to maximize this positive impact?
The benefit of diversity doesn’t just pertain to the startup community. The world’s biggest e-commerce company, Alibaba, has a female workforce of 47 percent; 33 percent of its managers and 24 percent of its highest level executives are women. In today’s world, said CEO Jack Ma, “we must empower others to be successful in order to be successful ourselves. And women think of others a lot more than they think of themselves.”
Right on, Ma. As a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded several technology companies, I’ve seen the negative impact a lack of diversity has on a company’s ability to innovate. In my opinion, the argument that there are “not enough women in the pipeline” is flawed. It starts at the hiring level.
Earlier this year, RingCentral asked Dr. Lauren Jackman of Medallia to come in and share the best ways to correct for unconscious bias in hiring. In her talk, she focused on hiring and retaining women. First and foremost, Jackman encouraged organizations to have policies that support gender equality, such as flexible hours, work-from-home policies and family leave benefits. Jackman also recommended partnering with groups that help organizations target diversity and teaching employees about unconscious bias to make them more aware of their own behaviors.
Here are some additional strategies I recommend to promote an inclusive culture:
- Education: Hold targeted events that educate employees on gender issues, from the adverse impacts of bias to benefits of greater diversity. This sends your company the message that diversity is a priority.
- Network: Identify talented women at your company and in your network and build a strong relationship with them, whether it’s meeting them for lunch every month or creating a constant email dialogue in which you can exchange helpful business tips and advice. Silicon Valley may be a bit of a “boys club,” but there’s no reason there can’t be a women’s club, too. After all, women are natural community builders. Networking is critical to keeping those connections alive whether for future job searches or for these important conversations about how to advance women in our field.
- Culture: Think about gender-neutral cues in the workplace. As Lauren Jackman pointed out in her talk, things like nature posters versus sci-fi ones matter. There are a lot of ways in which messaging can be a lot more gender-neutral.
If tech companies want to continue to innovate at a rapid pace, it’s time for hiring managers to rethink their tried-and-true approach. While the common excuse is that fewer women apply for tech jobs, hiring managers need to begin asking themselves about the biases they may be unconsciously carrying. You would be hard pressed to find someone today who openly admits they don’t believe in equality, yet there are many more things hiring managers can do to ensure they’re fair and eradicate bias.
There’s a solid business case for putting women at the helm of innovation to inspire new and radical thinking, transform mental stereotypes and unleash the human potential that high tech often overlooks. A recent study by researchers from MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Union College discovered that mixed-gender groups tend to be better at problem solving and exhibit higher levels of collective intelligence. They also are known to be much more efficient in every element than male-dominated groups.
Hiring is only the first step in creating a balanced workplace. Companies should invest in HR resources to ensure that they hire and retain qualified women. Companies must be willing to make hard decisions, and in some case, radical changes. The sooner companies recognize this fact, the sooner we can push the boundaries of innovation once more, together.
Kira Makagon, RingCentral’s Executive Vice President of Innovation, leads global product strategy, product management, engineering, operations, and IT. Over her extensive tech sector career, she has built multiple breakthrough industry solutions and companies, garnering a reputation as a leader in both software development and business management.
The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the authors alone and do not represent those of CBS Small Business Pulse or the CBS Corporation. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are verified solely by the authors.