Company Culture

Why Workplace Diversity Matters

By Shanarae GoodwinJuly 1, 2014

There’s a direct correlation between team diversity and innovation. According to one recent study, leaders who “give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights, and employees in a ‘speak up’ culture are 3.5 times as likely to contribute their full innovative potential.”

In the last week there’s been a lot of discussion about gender balance in the tech industry as analyses of diversity data from Google, Yahoo, Intel, HP, LinkedIn and Facebook have made the rounds.

That got me to thinking: how does our startup stack up?

An analysis by Statista confirms what most of us already suspected – the workforce in tech remains overwhelmingly male. Further, the gender balance is even worse in leadership and technical positions, where women make up 23% and 17% of the positions, respectively.

Considering that 57% of the professional workforce is female, these numbers paint a bleak picture.

My quick analysis of the diversity statistics at Everwise reveals that we’re equally challenged. The number of people working at Everwise is much smaller than the other companies so obviously our percentages aren’t statistically significant, but it’s still interesting to see how we compare.

Women account for 41% of the total Everwise team. This is a little more balanced than the larger tech companies, but it pales in comparison to the national average of 57%.

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When we look at gender balance in our leadership ranks comparing our statistics is a bit more complex. It’s not clear (to us, anyway) how the larger technology companies define leadership positions so we’re either doing better than average or much worse.

If we include our director level (what some refer to as the “marzipan layer” in these sorts of discussions) about 40% of our leaders are female. At the level of VP and above, though, we’re considerably worse than the other, much larger companies in our sector.

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Looking at technical roles, only 13% of our engineers are filled by women, a number that’s pretty consistent with the larger technology companies. This is way below the national average of 26%104

A lot of the work we do is focused on diversity and being inclusive is one of our core values. So how can it be that we’re so far off on gender balance?

I looked upstream in the hiring process for some answers. Our VP Engineering, Justin Byers, reports that only 5% of applications for our open engineering positions are from women.

For business analyst roles, however, 36% of the applicants were female compared with 46% of applicants for a marketing analyst position.

Nearly all of the applicants for our relationship manager positions are submitted by women.

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Why is there such a big disparity in gender balance across the job roles? We came up with two possible reasons.

The first possibility is a bias during hiring. A good friend of ours, Laura Mather, is doing some intriguing work in this area. She’s looking at inherent biases in the hiring process such as the impact of language choice in job descriptions.106

Hopefully some tuning of our hiring processes will help balance out the ranks, especially on technical roles.

The second possibility is a gender imbalance in the candidate pipeline. The trend of women studying certain STEM fields at the undergraduate and graduate levels is alarming.

[Update: Thanks to feedback from Ann Mei Chang, Mercy Corps Chief Innovation Officer, we realize we should be more specific when talking about challenges with diversity in STEM fields and degree programs. A brilliant post by Hadi Partovi, entrepreneur and co-founder of Code.org, underscores the challenges around shortages of computer science engineers and mathematicians (there’s a big gap between job openings and graduates). He points out, though, that there are actually more graduates than job openings in other STEM fields such as architecture and life, physical and social science fields.]

The percentage of female computer science undergrad degree recipients has slipped by half over the past 25 years, from 37% in 1985 to 18% in 2010. This despite the fact that women now make up 57% of all undergraduate degree recipients.

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Unfortunately, statistics like these imply that the cohort of graduates now entering the workforce won’t be improving workplace technical disparity levels anytime soon.

We also have work to do in the gender balance of our leadership ranks but we’re a young company that happens to have been founded by an all-male crew. Hopefully we’ll see more movement in the coming quarters as we grow the team.

It’s inspiring to see so many big tech companies voluntarily sharing their stats on the state of diversity in the workplace. They set an example of transparency that the rest of us can – must – follow.

These data help establish benchmarks by which to measure our progress as individual organizations and an industry as a whole.

Even though we, like many of the organizations we look up to, have lots more work to do in this area, I’m proud that this is an active discussion at Everwise. In an industry that is driven by the need for innovation; shame on us if we all look, think and act the same.

 

Shanarae Goodwin

Shanarae Goodwin

Software Engineer, Marketer, Project Manager

About the Author

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