Today is International Women’s Day and I thought I would recognize it by writing about gender diversity, a challenging topic for many in the startup/tech sector.
I believe that diversity of all kinds results in better companies, better performance, better culture and better workplaces. It is challenging for many small tech companies to build diverse teams, particularly in the early stages of their development when they are hiring for very specific skills. But the longer you wait to build a diverse team, the harder it gets. Scott Heiferman, Founder and CEO of our portfolio company Meetup, which has women running both product and engineering, explained to our CEO Summit a couple years ago that once you have a male-heavy team, it becomes very difficult to recruit women to join it. His advice was to build diversity into your hiring from the very start.
In addition to Meetup, I work with a few companies that have done this incredibly well. Etsy reported in their diversity report last year that:
people who identify as women comprise roughly 54% of our staff (compared to 51% in 2014), which makes us an outlier among tech companies in the U.S. and NYC where we are headquartered. Women managers increased by 14%, (to roughly 50% from 44%) and women in leadership roles increased by 35% (to 50% from 37%), which means people who identify as women comprise half of the leadership and management positions at Etsy. As of today, a third of our board of directors are women, and if the directors nominated for election at our annual meeting of stockholders are elected, half of our board of directors will be women. Roughly one-third of our technical roles are held by women or people with gender identities other than male.
Kickstarter reported in their recent PBC report that:
As of December 31, 2016, our team was majority women (53%), as was 61% of our Senior Team and half of our Executive Team.
I am sure there are other USV portfolio companies with similar statistics, but these are ones with which I am intimately familiar.
This kind of gender diversity does not happen unless your company makes it a priority in hiring, retention, and culture. It takes a comprehensive approach and it is not easy, particularly if you have a highly technical team.
Little things matter a lot. Having a separate bathroom for people who identify as women is an example of something that many very small companies don’t do/can’t do. But it sends a pretty loud signal.
Then there are the big things. What is your parental leave policy? What is covered in your healthcare policy? Do you give time off for things that matter to women, like today’s A Day Without Women?
You can take that extra step, go that extra mile, to let the women in your company (and the women you want to join it) know that you support them and you are committed to the fight for gender equality. There are many fights to fight, especially at this time, but women make up half of the global population, half of our workforce, and so women’s rights are an important cause that you can and should get behind.
This is a place where strong leadership in HR makes a difference. The commitment has to start at the top with the founder and CEO, but having a strong leader in HR who is in tune with gender (and all) diversity and can advise on and implement the right policies will make a huge difference.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the lack of gender (and all) diversity in the partner team at USV. We have gender diversity in our firm (we have four women on our investment team who shape our investment strategy), but the five partners at USV are all white middle aged men. As Andy and I mentioned on stage at the Upfront Summit this year, we are well aware of this issue and are actively working to address it.
So we can all use today’s International Women’s Day as an opportunity to commit/recommit ourselves to diversity in our companies and to take and sustain the actions that will lead to diversity. It’s important and, as some leading companies have shown, it is very much possible to do it.