Building a top-performing startup engineering team
Spotlight on Plotly: Diversity as a strategy for success
While we spend countless hours helping our founders to succeed in business, truth be told, we learn as much from them as they do from us. In Real’s new Spotlight series, we are giving our portfolio companies the opportunity to speak directly to our community about what’s most important to them.
Jack Parmer, CEO and co-founder of Plotly, believes that diversity is a key to the company’s success. “When Plotly began, we set out to build a culture as well as a company,” Jack says. “We want a 50:50 ratio of women to men in our engineering team, absolutely. And Montreal is a great place to hire that talent.”
At Plotly, pursuing gender parity is an important strategy for success. That’s because building diversity into business is a practical way to drive innovation and returns. The McKinsey Institute found that companies with highly gender-diverse executive teams were 21 percent more likely to be profitable than companies with less diverse leadership. According to another study, management teams at tech-based SMEs had a greater influence over innovation when both men and women were equally represented in leadership.
At Plotly, we want to be the best company we can be. As the creators of Dash, we’re setting the industry standard and writing some of the fundamental software used by scientists, engineers, and analysts. In order to achieve that, we need to acknowledge and build on the benefits of a diverse team, which can translate to investing more time in the hiring process, waiting for the right candidate and keeping a sharp eye on the wealth of activity brewing in Montreal’s universities, meetups and startup scene.
With McGill, Concordia and the University of Montreal acting as feeder schools, we’re fortunate that there’s plenty of diverse tech talent to pull from in Montreal. We also target women directly by going to hiring and tech fairs. One of the major challenges is that the higher you go in the educational process, the lower the number of women. Part of Plotly’s strategy is to get women as interns early and try to change their minds about continuing their education in the face of opposition — convincing them that it’s worth it to grow and stick with it, despite the challenges of being some of the few women in the field.
We also rely heavily on our internship program to see if a potential candidate is a good fit for the company. This is beneficial in that our interns refer other interns. Once you develop a reputation as being a friendly place for female interns it becomes much easier to find further candidates.
But internships don’t necessarily help when it comes to recruiting gender-diverse senior employees. Having to invest extra time in finding female candidates at the senior level sometimes makes it hard for us to meet our company goals. So at what point is taking on more junior candidates more costly to our engineering team than just hiring senior men? We can’t answer that directly, but we mitigate this risk by pairing high-potential female hires with mentors to fast-track their growth and help ensure their success.
We also run female-focused tech events in the Plotly office to help position Plotly as a place where women can come to do the best work of their lives in a supportive and beautiful environment. Part of being a diversity warrior is actively building a community around the organization and Plotly is committed to continuing to give underrepresented people a place to flourish in tech.
Looking at our company, it’s clear to us that all of this work is paying off. Women lead several of our teams at Plotly. They’re managing new product development, speaking at conferences and making important decisions as we grow our brand. And they’re contributing to a work culture of collaboration, empowerment and transparency — in short, key ingredients for a truly open-source company.
Our CEO, Jack puts a lot of trust in his employees. There is a push towards independence, which allows us to be in an environment where our work speaks the loudest. This is opposed to many other companies, where women may be immersed in an alpha culture or siloed in male-dominated teams where they don’t feel confident to speak out or take credit for their work.
While we could continue telling you what Plotly is doing to recruit and retain fantastic female talent, we’d prefer to introduce you to three of our wonderful employees who share how Plotly seeks out, integrates, and supports women in our workplace.
Laura Gray, Operations Manager at Plotly, has been with the company since it began in 2014. She speaks about Plotly’s goal of intentionally seeking gender parity and promoting mindful hiring practices, including a salary top-up policy for staff who take time off after having a child:
Chelsea Douglas, Plotly’s Program Manager, started at Plotly as a software engineer. Today, she leads several of Plotly’s teams and customer outreach programs. In this video, she speaks about the positive, supportive work culture that has helped her grow in her career:
Shammamah Hossain is a software engineer at Plotly. After earning a joint degree in physics and computer science, she found work at Plotly, where the open office environment has provided lots of opportunities for collaboration and sharing ideas.
In Canada, male developers still starkly outnumber female, transgender and gender non-conforming developers. To seek real progress in our business and society, we can’t afford anything less than the freshest and sharpest innovative minds, even if it means going the extra mile to rise to the challenge of finding and keeping them.