Building Gender Diverse Organisations

First published on Women 2.0 Building Gender Diverse Organisations by Lora Schellenberg

By now we’ve all heard about the importance of gender equality in the workplace. But believe it or not, many tech companies are still waking up to the idea that there’s a problem, even though in the last 20 years, the number of females working in technology has actually decreased.  Perhaps there’s a misunderstanding because leaders aren’t taking the time to understand the why behind the issue, and how if we have more gender diverse organisations, we’ll create better businesses overall.  It’s for this reason that diversity thought leader Debbie Forster is now leading the Tech Talent Charter, a UK initiative bringing together organizations to drive diversity and address gender imbalance in technology roles.  She claims that taking your organization on the journey of the “why” behind diversity, instead of simply telling your teams it’s going to happen, is more important to gaining the understanding of how every person really can benefit.“Diversity is about more than ticking a box. It just makes business sense.” – Debbie Forster, CEO of Tech Talent Charter

Kirstin Furber, People Director at BBC Worldwide, points out that, “An inclusive workplace culture is where employees can be themselves and do their best work. It’s about creating the right environment – so people can share their ideas, thoughts and perspectives to build the best ideas for competitive success.”  When it comes to recruitment, company culture, innovation and leadership, making gender diversity a priority could rapidly improve organizations.

Use of the term culture ‘fit’
Culture ‘fit’ is a common phrase heard around the tech world, as it’s become a priority for both job seekers and hiring managers. Forster feels strongly that we should stop using this term.  “The rich opportunity is in culture,” she says, “But too often, as soon as we say ‘fit’ – consciously or unconsciously – we are starting to say ‘people like me’.”  This doesn’t create a culture of diversity.

Who are your company perks attracting?
You’ve likely heard the argument that the one who gets the job should be the one who’s most qualified – not based on if they’re male or female.  While this is true, if you aren’t getting any women applying for the jobs you post, perhaps it’s the way you’re going about recruiting. And that starts with the job listing. What if the way you’re advertising a job means females aren’t interested?  Consider what types of perks you’re offering. For instance, if you’re hiring for a senior position and hoping to get women applying, perks like Friday drinks at the pub, free beer in the office, or a corner to play video games aren’t going to interest those with different priorities.  Senior talent is likely looking for health insurance packages, commute subsidising, or flexibility to work at home one day a week. The types of individuals your company attracts will depend on the perks you offer.

Your company communications and structures are your culture
Besides perks, what are the values more inclusive companies have? Regularly talking to employees, getting them to talk about how things are going. What they like, don’t like, how things are done, the internal atmosphere. What are they encountering when going out and working with clients?  Making sure every person, no matter what level, feels part of what makes the company successful. Forster firmly believes that “There are no office minions. Everyone wants to know how they fit into the picture. If help them see that, we’ll get a better picture overall.”

It’s about innovation
“In the competitive world we live and work in, organizations need to innovate to stay ahead,” explains Furber. “Diverse and inclusive organizations are best placed to do this. Diversity is not just limited to gender, it’s a broad definition including, age, ethnicity, academic background, country of origin.”  We’ve all heard this: many startups fail due to the inability to pivot. Believe it or not, that’s where diversity comes into play.  You have to have enough people who can think creatively and innovatively, who can come at ideas from very different points of view. Diverse views make for better decisions, and thus drive a high-performance culture.

It’s called unconscious bias for a reason
Forster believes most individuals are inherently good. It’s not necessarily intentional that men tend to hire other men.  “It’s called unconscious bias for a reason,” she says. “Most people are inherently good, and they’re not being exclusive on purpose. Most of the time, it’s people who haven’t been trained, supported and grown the right way. Haven’t had the opportunity to hear and understand and to start changing behaviors and conversations and ways of working and thinking.”  “This goes much deeper than a tick box quota, it’s about building more inclusive organizations.” Putting in more inclusive policies, practices and ways of working will have a positive impact on the fuller diversity piece. But to be effective, you need to start with one focus first. “If a company is getting it right, they’re as inclusive to introverts and extroverts, as they are women and men, or people of white or non-white backgrounds.

Let’s do a better job of showing the world how creative and people-oriented tech jobs can be – if these are the jobs women are attracted to.
Tech Talent Charter brings together organisations that employ tech talent and are keen to do more than talk about the problems. Become a signatory and make a pledge to work on your approach to future pipeline development, recruitment and retention.