“When I’m trying to survive, diversity is not the first thing that comes to my mind.”
That’s what I heard from a woman CEO a few months ago at an invite-only meeting of men and women who had gathered to talk about creating inclusive corporate cultures. The attendees represented a good mix of Fortune 500, tech unicorns, and fledgling startups.
Her statement came in the midst of a fairly heated roundtable discussion. It was an honest take on diversity hiring, and it was fair to give voice to her perspective. I was surprised by what she said, and I also thought she might be right. It seemed like a valid argument initially. When your customers are breathing down your neck with bug reports and feature requests, and you desperately need help (yesterday!), you’re not picky.
Then I stopped and thought critically about the power and purpose of diversity and its implication on a business’s success. And I realized I didn’t want to fall into the traps that let companies bypass diversity just to succeed. This topic is important to me right now because GoodTime is hiring, and diversity is top of mind.
Here’s what we’re doing about diversity at GoodTime.
GoodTime’s engineering team is expanding. We’re a young startup with a small, all-guy team of engineers. It was a more diverse engineering team until I (the only woman engineer) stopped coding to focus on growing the business as its CEO.
At GoodTime, we’re very aware that less than 25% of tech companies have women in leadership roles, so we know we’re in a unique position to be a champion of diversity hiring. We believe that women with influence should support other women, including those in engineering roles, where women occupy less than 15% of the tech jobs. It’s one reason we’re putting diversity at the forefront of our hiring effort.
All our engineers have worked at Silicon Valley unicorns and have seen companies struggle to create a diverse workforce. All too often, it’s done late in the game, or as an afterthought when the main team is well established. We believe there are significant drawbacks to that approach, so we’re actively recruiting women engineers in our early days.
What are the hiring traps?
We uncovered a few of the issues around hiring women engineers while celebrating some business wins with our dear friends. They’re amazing software engineers at large tech companies in San Francisco. A few beers into our evening together, we all started talking about how hard it is to find/hire/retain women engineers.
Some folks blame pipeline issues, saying there aren’t enough women in training to become engineers, and others believe women are regularly overlooked even when they’re qualified. At one friend’s company, the engineering team is composed predominantly of men. He suspects that women candidates applying for engineering positions find it alienating to see the entire floor full of male engineers.
Another friend’s company has a different issue. Her company’s engineering team is nearly 40% women ⎯ a ratio that is unheard of in the tech industry. Despite their great hiring practices, it’s still hard to attract and keep women engineers because they just don’t have mentors. There’s no one for them to aspire to or emulate in the company’s leadership.
There are also deeper social and political issues at play here, but for now, the examples above helped me think about our context at GoodTime, and what we wanted to achieve around diversity.
Moving toward diversity: It’s about more than lawsuits.
There’s a serious culture of bullying in some parts of Silicon Valley, and this can lead to scandals and even lawsuits. Some employees have resolved to change the status quo, and there have been several high-profile whistleblowers of late, including Pao v. Kleiner Perkins, and Susan Fowler of Uber. It seems that rattling a large company’s reputation can catapult them into rethinking their hiring practices. When household company names are mentioned in news headlines, they often start looking for a VP of Diversity and Inclusion.
Shifts at well-known companies can help address the traps we talked about above, but are they enough? What if diversity wasn’t considered a luxury budget line item to help contain or avoid lawsuits? What if a tiny, cash-strapped startup that’s short on resources was mindful of diversity when building its team?
Problems like a lack of diversity will only get worse if they’re left to fester, as they become entrenched in a company’s culture. If you recruit a homogeneous group of people, it’s going to become difficult to attract other people with diverse backgrounds.
At GoodTime, we believe in balancing the men:women ratio from the get-go. For us, this means doing so when there are fewer than 10 people on staff. It’s a great way to create a culture that invites and celebrates diversity, and attracts the right job candidates as the company grows. In this way, we’re hoping to set ourselves up as a more diverse company right from the start.
How did we figure this out?
Our ah-ha moment happened when, like every other software startup, we encountered an unanticipated software issue during our initial growth phase. It had a direct impact on our customers and they demanded a fix ASAP. We went into overdrive.
Though our engineering team knew how to fix the problem for the long term (which would take months to implement), we also needed a short-term solution. We invited the brightest industry experts to help us brainstorm, including an ex-Googler and one of the early contributors to PostgreSQL, among others. Nothing they thought of was immediately implementable. That is, until our Director of Sales, who has no engineering background whatsoever, suggested a solution that was so simple, we were dumbstruck. And it was exactly what we needed.
We had experienced group think. Everyone in that room was a man with a similar computer science background. They all worked at the top tech companies and were all trained to approach engineering problems in the same way. Our sales director was not subject to the same biases, so she saw the problem in a different light and came up with an unorthodox solution. That was the first time I recognized the power of diversity and how it could make or break our business.
We’re hiring. Interested?
Before we launched our current hiring round for GoodTime’s engineering team, we had a “Diversity and Inclusion Meeting” with our engineering team. It’s incredible that with a one-hour meeting, our small team was able to set the stage for thinking about our hiring practices. We’ve begun to build equality into our hiring practices early on, and this will only become an ingrained part of our culture as we move forward. We’ve already started reaching out to our contacts, and are incredibly excited to meet our next hire.