Even before Susan Fowler’s February post on the sexism and sexual harassment she witnessed during her year at Uber, gender in the tech industry has been a widely discussed topic. Earlier this month, I caught up with Allison Esposito, founder of Tech Ladies. Tech Ladies is a network of fifteen thousand women that aims to connect its members to the best opportunities at tech companies. We talked about the differences between how large and small companies hire, actions that women can take to inspire a more woman-friendly office, actions that companies can take to create a more woman-friendly environment, and measurable goals for the tech industry.
At Tech Ladies, you help companies of all sizes increase their pipeline of female candidates. Have you noticed any differences between startups and large companies in how they approach diversity in the workplace?
First, let’s start with what’s the same for all companies: we really haven’t built the working world to be for women yet. At companies of every size, there are good people who care about diversity, and who are interested in hiring women and underrepresented groups in tech. But we will never move the needle until people understand the business case for diverse hiring. But from the business case, it does make sense to hire and retain women.
Some big companies have already benefitted from playing the long game. Patagonia is a great example. In addition to maternity and paternity leave, they offer on-site child care. Because of that, their retention for moms is higher than their average employee retention. Plus, there are second-generation Patagonia employees. Employees that grew up at Patagonia. So in addition to the money saved from retention—people aren’t quitting or moving to another company when they start a family. That’s incredible loyalty to have.
You can’t put a dollar amount on that. And startups—what are some things that smaller companies with fewer resources can do?
Think about diversity early. We see this a lot with founders who have just raised their Series A or Seed fund. They come to Tech Ladies, and they’re thinking about diversity from the start, and they actively want to hire a diverse team. I think it’s smart when we see that, because first, they’re going to have a better product with a diverse team building it. But also, it’s hard when you’re a company full of white men to attract and retain women and underrepresented groups.
So the companies that are thinking about this early are doing a smart thing because they’re setting themselves up: “we’re ten people today, but what does it look like when we’re 50 people? What does it look like when we’re 500 people?” The more women they get early on, the more it signals to other women that this is a place you might want to work.