Swedish Startup Space

How to achieve gender equality at a tech company

Written by on January 22

Editors note: The following is a guest post, contributed by Annie Thorell. Annie is a consultant at Netlight, co-organizer of the Code Pub meetup and founder of Faces of Tech. Netlight have been very active working for gender equality in tech companies. She loves tech, design, and smart things in general.

We needed to find the women out there, and we needed them to increase in numbers.

A little more than a year ago at Netlight (Editor: Netlight is an IT consulting company based in Stockholm, Sweden), we were working hard to find new ways to maintain our extreme growth rate. We wanted to hire more talented people and realized that with the gender ratio in our industry and at our company, we’re only looking at about 50% of the population. That’s not a big enough pool to search in if you’re looking for top talents. We needed to find the women out there, and we needed them to increase in numbers.

We had a vision and some ideas on how to accelerate gender equality at Netlight, and when looking back after a year we can see clear results.

In the fall of 2012 only 11% of all new hires globally were women. We launched our strategic initiative for gender equality, Vostok, in October 2012 and kicked of activities later that year. For the same period in 2013, the number of women amongst new hires was up to 24%.

Here’s what’s been working for us and how you can apply it to your own organization.

Recruiting

A quite obvious place to start is where we decide who we want on board and who we choose to reject. Having gender equality in mind when you review and dig into your recruiting process will come a long way.

Find the networks you don’t have

Talented people recognise talented people, it’s a well known success factor to search the networks of already hired amazing people for new recruits.

Talented people know talented people, it’s a well known success factor to search the networks of already hired amazing people for new recruits. But if these amazing people are mostly men, who their entire career have been working with mostly men, and studied at a technical university with mostly men, they probably have mostly men in their networks. You need to set out to find the networks where you have no contacts yet. Browse LinkedIn, go to meetups and conferences, visit the universities, host meetups and student activities aimed towards women, introduce yourself and ask to be introduced.

Create the networks you can’t find

Do you realize when you start looking for networks that actually they’re very few? Create the one that you feel is missing! At Netlight we asked the few contacts we had what they felt would boost their presence in the community and as a result we created The Code Pub (Editor: a meetup for women in Stockholm aimed at teaching programming). That is now our first and best network to find contacts and talented women, and we recently launched the same meetups at our offices in Oslo and Munich after we found that women there had almost exactly the same wishes.

Sounds hard? Ask for help!

There are so many great networks and initiatives out there ready to give a helping hand to those who need it. Rättviseförmedlingen is a great example, and Faces of Tech which I started myself to make it easier for everyone to work with gender equality. Talk to the ones that are succeeding, ask what they do and why, and discuss what you can use and apply to your own organization.

Talk to the ones that are succeeding, ask what they do and why, and discuss what you can use and apply to your own organization.

Get everybody onboard

As with every change you want to achieve this one is doomed if you can’t get the entire team onboard. Everyone need to know what you want to achieve and why, and back you up.

Talk about it

Make gender equality part of every conversation whether it’s about recruiting, monthly meetings, setup of a new office or the next Christmas party. When we force gender equality to be a part of the conversation where it’s usually not, it won’t take long before it comes naturally. You’ll teach your entire organization to think about this issue and the more you talk about it the easier you make it for people to ask questions without the fear of being the “annoying one”.

Live as you learn

Your words and visions don’t mean anything unless you live as you learn. Who is speaking in meetings? Who is presented on your webpage? Who do you get to meet when you visit for an interview? Make conscious decisions reflecting what you want to showcase and achieve – and of course gender equality is one of those things, right?

You’re nothing without your team

When we launched Vostok we were asked a ton of questions from colleagues, and many of them were quite worried, which is totally ok. It has to take its time, you have to explain what you mean and how this will not have an impact on quality or other important aspects. As an example, we had all employees write down what Vostok meant to them on a piece of paper and take a photo of them holding it, then we used the photos to make a pretty impressive photo-wall in the office. This wall is something that’s mentioned a lot, and there are people who regularly come back to it to get reminded of what we can do together.

It’s no fun unless it’s fun

None wants to work with that dusty old thing lying in the corner that someone told you have to be fixed sometime. Make gender equality a priority – and make it fun! At Netlight we had an awesome party to kick off Vostok, with a lot of happenings on the gender equality theme. We plan on making this a recurring event that will celebrate even greater success in the future.

Conclusion

The number of women who choose tech as their career path need to increase, and we all need to work together to make sure that happens.

Gender equality still is a very sensitive subject with a lot of opinions and worries attached. Will it impact quality? Should we really focus on just one minority? What happens if we go too far? I leave all that aside here and focus only on how we can increase gender equality in our organizations. So – what’s next? We can do a lot but we can’t do enough. The number of women who choose tech as their career path need to increase, and we all need to work together to make sure that happens. All organizations have to see how they themselves can benefit from this change, and we need to start actively working with the issue on all levels, in every step.

In 2014 we will launch a conference and an initiative to get the entire industry to work together to change the gender ratio in tech. The site is coming soon!

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