An Executive's Tale of Persistence in Hiring a Diverse Workforce for a Scrappy Startup
I’m completely exhausted. My company, RecruitLoop, just went on a huge hiring binge, led largely by me. And I’m super proud of the results, but it hasn’t been easy. One thing that I didn’t expect when I moved to the Bay Area and started trying to hire was how incredibly hard it would be to find women.
I mean, they’re out there. I saw them when I searched AngelList and LinkedIn. And sometimes (albeit rarely) they even applied to the ads for the six jobs I had posted.
Once I found them, I could often get them to meet with me. And then things in the interview process would die. I’d get excited about a really cool woman who met her sales quota every quarter for the past two years, but then she’d just fall off the radar before moving to the next step.
After experiencing frustration after frustration, I realized that the women who applied for the three sales jobs during our three-and-a-half-month recruiting process were more experienced than the men, and had on average five to seven years more of experience.
Since (for the sales job, at least) I talked about compensation packages on the first interview, these more experienced women heard about what would probably amount to a pay cut for them and then quietly dropped out of the process. The men who applied had less experience and didn't necessarily fulfill all the posting's requirements. I thought about that Harvard Business Review piece about women tending to apply for jobs only after they fulfilled all the position requirements.
The female applicants for the sales posts simply completed the next step (the video interview) less frequently than the men.
This led to yet another struggle for me: How would I do an apples-to-apples comparison of candidates? And how would I handle balancing gender diversity as well as keeping a lid on expenses? It would have been easy to cut nearly every woman based on salary requirements alone (since they were, as a rule, much more experienced), but I kept the precedent of my own giant pay cut in mind and soldiered on.
I found that women responded to my personal story of having left Amazon for a big pay cut (and a big risk) because I had fallen in love with the company. Women who heard my story were more likely to stay in the process than women who didn’t. So I started telling my story -- to everyone.
Slowly, women started hanging in there longer. More of them started completing video interviews. More of them chatted with our Aussie team via Skype. And then many came into the office to meet with the San Francisco team (which was all male other than myself and my intern). Finally, one or two even made it in for our informal happy hour.
We made offers to a bunch of women and a bunch of men. After doing a lot of work to fill our hiring pipeline and romance people through the process while maintaining our high standards, the offers even ended up being a 50-50 split between men and women.
In the end, we didn’t hire one woman. We hired three -- for a sales hacker job, a U.S. marketplace-growth role and an Aussie client-success position.
After more than three months of trying, I was disappointed that I did not recruit at least one woman for the sales roles (despite having personally screened by phone or over coffee more than 100 candidates) because my testing had shown that our target clients were more responsive to a female name. The women who turned down our sales position offers went to safer companies. They said they didn't want to take a risk on a startup.
But the successful hires add up to our company now having a workforce of 16 that is 50 percent female worldwide, and there are now three women in the San Francisco office.
Having more women in the office has changed the dynamic some, but not like some traditional startup types might expect. Some of us women have a risqué sense of humor, which probably surprised a few of the men. We also ended up with significantly more racial diversity worldwide than we expected. Less than 60 percent of the company self-identifies as “white” and we have more than 30 years between our oldest and youngest employees.
After growing our company 50 percent in a month, we definitely have some culture and team-building challenges before us that we’re all looking forward to tackling. For now, though, I think I’m going to bask in our small (but significant) victory in diversifying our startup. Here are some tips that other companies might find useful:
1. Remove extraneous requirements from job postings. Putting "nice to have" requirements in your job posts could prompt fewer women to apply. Unless that's your goal, don't do it.
2. Go after diverse candidates. If they're not coming to you, go to them. Scour profile sites like AngelList and LinkedIn and reach out to the people who interest you (even if they're at a big company).
3. Make potential recruits fall in love with your company. Tell your own story. If your company seems like every other startup around, people won't be tempted. Show your passion and be honest about the sacrifices you have had to make. That will attract applicants more than free beer and ping-pong tables ever will.
Jenn Steele is director of product marketing at Indix, a product intelligence platform that helps ecommerce businesses make smart product decisions. She previously worked for Amazon and HubSpot and holds degrees from MIT and Simmons School of Management.