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Gender diversity? We’re still failing miserably and have to do more

When people think about industries that have successfully championed gender diversity, the tech sector has to hang its head in shame.

Too many business leaders in the sector have convinced themselves the industry just doesn’t have that much diversity, especially in technical roles.

I’m as guilty here as anyone – I gave myself the same excuse every tech founder does but that doesn’t mean it was right.

As someone passionate about starting a business and relying on my (male) co-founder for industry insight, I took a lot for granted – including being told it was too hard to find and hire highly qualified and experienced female developers.

The reality is I didn’t push hard enough to establish a gender diverse company from day one. Undoing it once you’ve built a workplace culture and hiring processes isn’t as simple as Ctrl+Z, as we discovered.

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Seeing what others don’t see

Start-ups are often forgiven for ignoring gender diversity because we’re still in our early stages and battling for available talent before we’ve even developed a viable product. But if founders like me take this approach, we end up perpetuating the problem.

Female students in maths, IT and engineering are out there and while many are snapped up by large tech brands playing a numbers game on their diversity quotas, there is still a pool of candidates in the industry.

The problem for us was that the criteria we set carries a series of biases. As a business, the first step was to up our HR game.

We realised that to genuinely improve diversity, we needed to bring in an expert. Our HR manager was a vital part of establishing the best practices in the business and brought to light many subtle aspects of the hiring process that were potentially alienating female candidates.


Recognising bias

Like many companies, we had practices and incentives to bring on new talent, but we didn’t realise how this caused us to narrow our field of view. For example, we offered a bonus to staff for any new hire referrals – it’s a great tool to encourage employees to build the business and cuts through the costs of recruitment fees.

The problem is if your company is dominated by one type of person, your team is most likely going to suggest more people like them.

At that point, all our engineers had come from universities and held a master’s degree. This was great for a pitch deck as tech investors tend to like knowing a bunch of geniuses are building the product. But it meant we kept shooting ourselves in the foot when it came to creating a diverse workforce.


The culture advantages

Once we hired our first female developers, we recognised there were additional challenges that needed addressing. Prior to this point, our workplace culture was skewed to one type of personality.

Our socials – such as a day paint-balling – appealed to certain characters and many activities were centred around drinking.

That’s not to suggest women don’t enjoy such activities just that it’s important to add variety and to allow all employees to experience new things. Doing this may well improve gender and other forms of diversity and inclusivity of candidates from all types of backgrounds.

As we improved the company culture, we began seeing the impact of a diverse workforce. We have to make hundreds of decisions every day that require all sorts of problem-solving to manage. Adding new, more diverse voices into that mix gives you an entirely new outlook and a change of energy in the business. If we’d have just hired the same people, our approach would have not evolved.

It gives me as the CEO so much more energy too. It’s not just how the company runs with different points of view, but also the way people interact, talk and bond. As someone who has seen the business grow significantly, you can’t put a price on that. 

We're still not doing nearly enough, and our diversity drive remains in its relative infancy. Hiring more senior female hires, working harder on our gender pay gap reporting and eliminating unconscious bias is an ongoing focus of the business.

If anything I'm angry with myself that we hid behind easy excuses and conformed to stereotypes in the tech industry. We're at the very start of this journey and would advise other founders not to make the same mistakes. It's a lot harder to undo what you've got wrong.


Ofri Ben-Porat is co-founder and CEO at Edgify