Getting to 50/50

Christa Quarles
Published in
5 min readNov 14, 2017


I’d heard it more than once when it came to explaining why women were largely missing from leadership roles in tech and corporate America:

Women don’t always support each other.

My own career would not have been possible without a sisterhood having my back. A multi-generational network of women encouraging and mentoring each other as we’ve sought promotions, fought sexism, and struggled to find balance between work and family. Yes, there are certainly less than supportive women out there, but they are the outliers.

This statement confuses and distracts from the real issue. Women are vastly underrepresented in all ranks, but it’s more acute the higher you go. It’s pretty hard to be supportive of other women when you are literally the only woman in the room. This is also a well known problem in corporate board rooms. The fact is that 75% of the largest IPOs between 2014 and 2016 had either one token woman or zero women on the board. In order for a group to be supportive, there needs to be just that — a group.

This problem extends to our perceptions as well. According to the latest Women in the Workplace study by and McKinsey & Co., nearly 50 percent of men think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only one in ten senior leaders is a woman.

Let’s call these statements what they are: unfounded theories about women working against women used as an excuse for ignoring the very real shortcomings in the tech industry and society that hold women back.

When I heard the comment at a town hall on diversity at Fortune Brainstorm Tech, I hesitated for a second, debating whether to let the comment pass, as I might have in my younger years, or to call it out.

Then I thought of the brave women who in recent months were standing up to tell their stories and expose the blatant discrimination and unconscious bias, the sexual harassment and assault that kept them from advancing in workplaces from Silicon Valley to America’s finest restaurant kitchens.

So, I stood up. And called bullshit.

Fortune Brainstorm Tech 2017

This is my first in a series of posts on Medium where I hope to start a conversation about what we — both men and women — can do to continue to expose and dismantle the obstacles that keep women from holding 50% of the jobs in tech, and 50% of the C-suite.

This is not just a fundamental fairness issue. Helping women get to 50 percent representation across corporate America, as study after study has shown, is also good for every company’s bottom line. According to McKinsey’s Diversity Matters report, companies that are more gender diverse are 15 percent more likely to have better financial results than those with less diverse workforces. Furthermore, Rocío Lorenzo’s research team at Boston Consulting Group found that companies where women represent at least 20 percent of its leadership team are more innovative than those with more male-dominated teams. and McKinsey&Company

It’s not a woman’s issue…or a man’s issue…it’s a leadership issue

Dismantling obstacles starts with acknowledging and calling out the obstacles in the first place. When you are moving up in your career, you tend to have to play the game that’s on the field. And for women, that game hasn’t been pretty.

I believe that once you have the power to change the rules of the game, you must do so. Not because it’s a woman’s issue, but because it’s about getting the best outcome for your company and ensuring all of the voices in your company have an opportunity to make an impact. This is why it’s important to bring men along for this conversation as well. Men, particularly those in leadership roles, are also positioned to make these changes. How often do we read about men, who, with daughters entering the workplace, get inspired to create a better world for their daughters? While meaningful, let’s not wait or hope for every man to have this personal experience. Together, we can start today.

Change is coming

Change is clearly coming. It’s now imperative for those of us who managed to rise through the ranks by following the unfair rules of the past to change the rules and level the playing field for the next generation. It’s up to us.

At OpenTable, women are currently 42 percent of the workforce, and 37 percent of the executive team. Our largest division, the sales and services division consisting of nearly 600 employees, is led by a woman. But like other tech companies, closing the gap between the number of women engineers and the number of male engineers at OpenTable will be our greatest challenge. I won’t be satisfied until we reach 50/50 across the company, and eventually, in every department.

Diversifying the Applicant Pool

As we strive toward this goal, we’ve started revamping our recruiting and hiring process to focus on diversifying the applicant pool for every job opening, particularly in engineering. We’re reviewing and updating job descriptions to eliminate any unintended gender bias. To ensure that qualified women are not overlooked, we’re removing gender-identifying information from resumes and CVs. We plan to do a better job educating potential applicants about our family-friendly policies and keep looking for ways to help our employees achieve a better work/life balance. And we will continue to strictly enforce our zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment.

As our applicant pool grows and diversifies, we’ll be working to ensure that at least two women candidates appear on the finalist list for consideration for every engineering opening at OpenTable. In a recent study at the University of Colorado, researchers found that women are nearly 80 times more likely to get hired if there is more than one woman in the finalist pool. By having at least two women finalists, decision-makers tend to focus less on each candidate’s gender and more on their actual qualifications for the job. When there is just one woman finalist on a slate, the woman is judged not as a peer, but as “the woman candidate” and her odds of getting hired often dwindle to zero.

Let’s keep talking

So, let’s keep talking. And yes, I’ll keep calling out the bullshit when I hear it.



Christa Quarles

Former OpenTable CEO, Former SVP Disney, Mom, Iyengar yoga devotee.