How We Built a Tech Company That's 40 Percent Women
No one questions Silicon Valley is an incredible driver of innovation, but lately, we have to ask: Who are they innovating for?
Whether it’s a new product or something as benign as a store layout, you don’t have to look hard to find examples of (largely white) men at tech companies siloing themselves off to develop The Next Big Thing, only to discover a major, avoidable flaw after the fact.
Oculus has become a poster child for the future of VR, but its Rift headsets initially gave women virtual reality sickness which, without getting into the details, is no fun. Although this is a VR-wide problem, Oculus didn't find out about it until it released developer kits because women weren’t very involved in building and testing the Rift. When a product works for men but not for women it doesn’t take long for its creator to be called sexist.
Even the design legends at Apple have made mistakes. The company’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City has a beautiful glass spiral staircase leading visitors below ground. It was a big hit when the store opened, but Apple quickly learned that the stairs were driving away women who felt they couldn’t wear skirts and dresses into the store without being exposed. Apple has since fixed the problem, but it’s one that could have easily been averted with a diverse group of designers. After all, this isn’t the first time glass floors have made women uncomfortable.
Oculus and Apple didn’t mean to exclude women with their designs. But, their errors show how diverse organizations build more inclusive products and become more successful companies. At Testlio, we've strived to make diversity part of our competitive advantage from the very beginning. It’s a research-supported strategy: Gender-diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform their peers, according to a McKinsey study. Ethnically diverse companies are even more likely to outperform the competition.
So, how do founders walk the walk? Here’s what my co-founder Marko and I have learned about recruiting for diversity over the last five years.
Your founding team matters -- a lot.
Founders obviously have a lot of say in an organization’s direction, but their impact on diversity can be more subtle. People naturally seek out co-workers that are like themselves. That’s part of why personal job referrals can be a double-edged sword -- you end up with teams that all arrive at the same conclusions, tend to agree and bring fewer outside-the-box ideas to the table.
Today, our team of 60-plus is over 40 percent female. When people see the diversity of our team they feel more welcome as prospective hires. We’re committed to becoming even more diverse as we grow, but the fact that we began with a gender-balanced (and married!) founding team definitely got us started in the right direction. Our first four hires, the original founding team, all reinforced our initial gender balance.
Recruit for experience, not quotas.
Diversity recruiting goals are usually well-meaning but they can sometimes miss the point of diversity -- finding talent with unusual perspectives and experiences that can fuel your overall success. When we interview candidates, we’re not looking for them to have specific views or say the right thing.
My co-founder and I always go into candidate interviews with an open mind -- you never know how a story someone will tell could reveal a skill or trait you’re looking for. This approach paid off when we found Michelle, our head of sales. We talked to a number of men about the role as well, but Michelle’s particular blend of software experience and her approach to building a sales team made her a hand-in-glove fit for Testlio. It’s no surprise to me that the candidate with the best experience was a woman. Female perspectives have always been incredibly valuable to us.
Find people who know what they don’t know.
The irony of spending years in high school and college before getting a job is that what employers want most isn’t any specific (or even highly specialized) body of knowledge; they want employees who can learn on the job. Over the long term, hiring a humble junior employee will almost always be a better decision than choosing someone more senior and less willing to learn. What’s more, companies and teams change. The slow and steady rise of artificial intelligence is going to alter millions of jobs over the coming decades. Companies will want employees who can cope with that change instead of resisting it. We do everything we can to put our best foot forward in job interviews, and we should, but sometimes the most revealing thing someone can tell me is what they don’t know or are dying to learn about. Know-it-alls need not apply.
We’ll keep evolving our diversity initiatives as we grow. Hiring a diverse team of 10 is wildly different than assembling a team of 100. I’ve been a fan of unusual hiring approaches since the beginning, like vacationing with prospective hires (this isn’t part of the process anymore, sadly). I know that by continuing to do what I’ve outlined above, we’ll grow a team that sets itself apart from the competition.