On Diversity: Building a 60% Female Tech Company

Diversity through three revolutions

I have worked in technology since I was a young teen, tinkering on a Commodore 64 in the wee hours of the night to my mother’s chagrin. Since then I have seen the tech market accelerate through three reinvention phases: the PC, the Internet, and mobile computing. Over those three decades and three revolutions I have witnessed first-hand the internal dynamics of a wide range of companies, from start-up to massive international scale, and from turn-around to hyper growth — and I can state unequivocally that teams and environments that embrace diversity thrive over those that do not.

So much has been written on the power of diversity in the workforce that I won’t recap it here. Multiple studies have clearly demonstrated that more diverse teams can make better decisions, out-perform less diverse teams, create higher employee engagement, and more. Instead I’d like to shine a light on how we have actually achieved outlier diversity here at Evite.

Our outlier diversity numbers

We are all too aware of the diversity gaps that, to varying degrees, face our respective companies in tech. Here at Evite our quest to achieve a more diverse and balanced company is a never-ending one. I am incredibly proud of our progress here over the last three years. To pick out gender balance as one example, females now make up: 60% of our total employees, 63% of our managers, 57% of Directors and above, and 40% of our technology and product employees. We have built a truly balanced tribe that has bucked the overall market trend and puts us well beyond the top 10% of diverse companies as reported by Diversity, Inc.

Tribe Evite in our new downtown LA offices, February 2017

Things we definitely don’t do

So how have we achieved this healthy mix? Before I describe how we did it, I want to be sure I clarify up front three things we absolutely don’t do.

We don’t set a specific quota for the diversity mix for any team or the company overall.

Once we have an interview pool in place, we do not take diversity into account when making an actual offer or when deciding on the best candidate within that pool. That process is gender, race, and belief agnostic.

We do not factor diversity into account when making any promotion or performance decisions. That process is also gender, race, and belief agnostic.

Three unexpected drivers of gender diversity

So how do we achieve our outlier numbers then? You might be surprised at the levers that actually drive change.

#1: We have an explicit process or language for capturing divergent thinking

Having a diverse employee base becomes truly powerful when you have processes to actually extract and leverage divergent thinking . It’s easy to make a blanket top-down statement that diversity matters, but it’s another to ensure your actual business and decision-making processes accommodate diverse backgrounds and thinking.

At Evite we use a simple yet powerful decision-making framework for ensuring we get the best, most diverse thinking from across the company and at all levels. I call it TIDE but internally we refer to it as “Divergence.” It boils down to a simple set of decision-making steps.

The TIDE framework for Divergence. Please see www.victorcho.info for full details and many other leadership frameworks.

The process is very simple:

Step 1: Define a very clear Target outcome that you are trying to achieve, and quantify what success looks like and under what timeframe.

Step 2: Bring a broad group of people together to Ideate not on the solution but all the possible solutions to the problem (hence the “Divergence”).

Step 3: Narrow down your choices and Decide on the best option.

Step 4: Execute the hell out of it.

When you combine a divergent process for problem solving with a diverse employee base you will be blown away by the creative ideas that stem from alternative opinions, experiences, and world views. More importantly, your entire organization will feel the pressure to add diversity to its ranks to make this engine run even stronger.

#2: We hire and promote based on a wide range of skills — not all technical

Most companies place overweight emphasis on technical skills when hiring and promoting for technical roles. Employees are generally hired based upon on their mastery of the skills needed to do their job with the assumption that those skills predict performance and impact.

A strong technical foundation matters, of course — but if skills are the primary dimension on which you are hiring and promoting individuals, you will ultimately mirror the broader market in terms of racial and gender distributions. Why is that? It’s a simple artifact of inputs and averages.

Because we have imbalances in the majority of our “skill building” feeder systems (the gender imbalance coming out of the higher educational institutions that feed the tech industry, for instance) our overall company distributions will, over time, gravitate to those feeder distributions. To use a simple metaphor: if you keep pouring twenty degree water into your bathtub (if degrees represented the percent of women graduating out of STEM areas, for example) you can’t lament that your tub doesn’t get to fifty degrees. When talent feeder systems are out of balance it is nearly impossible to bring your company into balance unless you expand the criteria by which you hire and promote.

Evite uses a much broader model for hiring and promotion — one in which an individual’s ability to elevate the broader team to a higher level of performance weighs as heavily as his or her own individual skills. We call this attribute “Energy Accretive” to the team (special thanks to Paul English, the Kayak founder and fellow Intuit alumni, for inspiring me with this concept over a decade ago).

Below is a snapshot of our talent development framework. As you can see, the “functional” skills are just a fraction of the equation, even for highly technical roles (for us, all of your specific technical skills would fall under just one subcategory of Content).

How we assess and reward talent. Please see www.victorcho.info for more.

And how does a talent framework help with diversity?

It’s simple. By expanding the criteria and dimensions that define performance you can cast a much wider talent acquisition — one whose edges reach beyond the overall market distributions and constraints. For us, the pool of qualified talent for us is much larger than for a company that only considers raw technology skills. Put another way: we will naturally hire a more diverse group of employees (in terms of race, gender, and beliefs) because our decision criteria are more diverse.

#3: Diversity is an ongoing and open discussion topic

For some reason, many companies and cultures shy away from having open conversations about diversity or their lack thereof.

Perhaps they feel that open discussions shine an uncomfortable spotlight on their imbalances. Or perhaps they are trying to avoid the perception that they are treating a minority group with unfair preference. Unfortunately for them, a conceptual desire for diversity without the organizational courage to have hard conversations leads to slow or no progress. Action germinates and ultimately springs from conversation.

At Evite we are incredibly comfortable having seemingly uncomfortable conversations like the below.

The “You’re skewed” conversation: We will explicitly ask managers about the diversity skews in their team and how they are modifying their hiring process to ensure their interview pools are more balanced.

The “Here’s where we are” conversation: We openly share our diversity metrics within the company for all to see. Nothing motivates action like public visibility.

The “Do you know a really good <insert gender> <insert role>” conversation: If you have imbalance in a team there is no reason to hide that you are actively trying to correct that imbalance, both internally and externally.

Ultimately, we bring in a broad pool of talent (using the expanded framework for hiring described above) and hire the most qualified candidate. But having the conversation ensures we tip the interview pools in the right vs. the wrong direction.

In summary

Diversity in tech matters and it’s clearly achievable — but it requires companies to think beyond quotas and top-down mandates. Sustainable diversity can only come from a culture that amplifies, rewards, and openly discusses diversity at every level of the company.

Written by

CEO of Evite. A dreamer, wisher, hoper, magic-bean buyer…

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