The publicly-available statistics about women in tech paint a worrying picture.
From 2009-2014, for example, the proportion of women founders of US tech startups grew modestly from 10 per cent to 18 per cent, according to a report by CrunchBase. A subsequent report by the firm in the first quarter of this year put the figure at 17 per cent and showed zero growth over the previous four years.
Furthermore, Techcrunch’s 2018 Q1 report on Investing Trends for Female Founders shows that, over the quarter, only 3 per cent of all venture dollars were invested in female-only founder startups with the number increasing only slightly to 9 per cent when female/male co-founded startups were included.
So, there has undoubtedly been some improvement over several decades but one might wonder whether we have reached a ceiling?
Many initiatives – most led by women – have emerged to combat this issue. One example, AllRaise.org, which is led by prominent female venture investors, aims to double the percentage of female partners from 9 per cent to 18 per cent at US tech venture firms with fund sizes of more than $25M.
They are buoyed by growing evidence that mixed-gender boards out-perform all-male boards.
So where do men fit into this story and, given most CEOs, VCs and recruiters are still male, how can men help improve these figures?
I happened to co-host a number of round tables conversations around the topic last week, the first in London with Innovate Finance and Lloyds Banking Group and the second at The Next Web conference in Amsterdam. I came to the following conclusions about how men could help fix the gender gap in tech and I would be interested to know whether readers of this post agree.
The gender gap is finally A Thing
People in the tech and startup space in general are driven by a will to solve big problems with the use of technology, innovation and design thinking. Finally, the gender gap and diversity in the tech workforce are challenges to which some great minds are applying themselves. The more I get involved, the more I realize gender diversity is increasingly a central issue for many men as well as women, as opposed to an afterthought.
Share the good, not the bad
We need a platform to share the positive examples of the individuals, companies or communities who are uniting to fix this problem. It is inspiring to learn from each other and helps us avoid reinventing the wheel. In tech, we A/B test product releases and marketing emails; so why do we not do this on job descriptions, recruiting processes and company messaging and culture to understand what attracts the best group of diverse candidates? This is effectively what we would be doing by sharing our successes in tackling the gender gap in tech.
Make CEOs and VC partners accountable
Startup founders, VCs and any other companies supplying services to the tech industry should make an effort to be accountable for bridging the diversity gap. VCs should be transparent with their numbers for funding woman founders or on the diversity numbers of their funded startups. And CEOs of companies that have a diverse target market, such as those in fintech, healthcare and transport, should make their companies accountable for making products that reach a diverse set of users. This would force middle managers to hire teams that could execute on this goal, often meaning they would, themselves, need to be diverse.
This has always been a bit controversial but fixing temporary quotas for female representation in businesses, particularly in senior roles, can help everyone in a company work together towards a single and very tangible result. Where this has been done, the results have very often exceeded the initial targets.
Promote bottom-up approaches
Communities inside workplaces help make women feel supported. Businesses should nurture internal groups that allow individuals to grow within a company, and to gain in confidence. Communities should be cross-company, cross-role and cross-gender to really be effective.
Work-life balance incentives should be available to men
Many tech companies are moving to remote working and other flexible working arrangements. But men have not traditionally been persuaded to take advantage to the same degree as women. Both genders should have these advantages – and should know about them – in order to avoid a gender bias towards men in the office when women choose a more flexible work-life schedule.
Close the gender gap early
Fixing the gender gap in workplaces might seem progressive but action is needed earlier and should take place in schools and homes. Families and teachers should encourage girls to investigate more technical roles when they are thinking about their careers. And while some female students will inevitably prefer creative training, we should still ensure art schools have career centres that promote jobs in tech. After all, tech is always in need of creative talent.
If only a small part of the male community could be persuaded to start contributing to the solutions above, the gender gap problem could be fixed easily.