I grew up in a household where the conversation was often driven by intelligent, strong-willed women. So the idea of limiting input in any discussion to one homogeneous group is foreign to me. I’ve come to understand how the benefits of a high-conflict, high-respect debate among people who think and act differently can drive better decision-making and ideation.
How can managers in small companies maximize the benefits of diversity? I had the opportunity to include my thoughts on the subject in the Wall Street Journal this week.
- Know your numbers. As GI Joe so wisely advised in the mid-80’s, “Knowing is half the battle”. Before attacking a problem, you should measure it. Small companies can easily calculate their gender diversity statistics. Our own statistics don’t paint a pretty picture, but at least we know where we stand. I encourage other small companies to do the same exercise.
- Investigate root cause. Once you know your numbers, the next step is to dig into issues that the stats reveal. In our case, a primary driver of gender imbalance on our technical team appears to be a lack of female applicants. Inherent biases are often difficult to spot from within. Perhaps we’re simply not looking in the right places or maybe the way we’re recruiting favors men?
- Honor diverse opinions. As leaders we can create a culture of inclusion where everyone is heard and it’s safe to propose novel ideas. The decision-making authority needs to be distributed and team feedback acknowledged and implemented. Don’t be too quick to assume you’re covered with these principles.
- Provide support through mentorship and sponsorship. Organizational influence and attention is often conferred upon people who are most like senior executives. Women may find it more difficult to recruit mentors and sponsors because the senior leaders, who are statistically likely to be men, pay more attention to folks just like them.
- Control what you can, contribute elsewhere. The four ideas mentioned above are all things we can start doing today. Do them. While much of the challenge may be beyond our immediate sphere of influence, we can all help, even in areas we can’t broadly control. You and your team can help address the computer science gap, for example, by becoming a mentor to aspiring female developers or supporting a program that’s doing innovative work such as Girls Who Code and the Anita Borg Institute.
The gender gap is as real in startups as it is in larger technology companies.
Read the article in its entirety for more detail about what you can start doing today to improve gender diversity in your company.