You are a tech entrepreneur and a man. You look around. You see but a sea of white guys on the stage of your last tech event or in your office. Very few women. Few people of color. You know that there are lots of talented people who aren’t white guys from all walks of life in technology — and they rock. You also know that you will be more successful if we are part of your ventures.
So here are ten tips from a (white) woman in tech on how to create a pipeline of awesome and more diverse talent.
- Acknowledge that you have a problem. Determine that you are serious about solving it. It will take time and effort but as we all know, acknowledging a problem is the first step in solving it. So, take a deep breath and get real. Part of this is to be clear about your responsibility. As my friend Anthea Watson Strong points out in her excellent recent piece, it’s not our job to fix your pipeline problem. It’s yours.
- This means, you have to do the work. Build a real network on your own. Develop genuine relationships with leaders in the communities that you want to reach. Do it early and do it often. Best, do it all the time. And please don’t wait until the last minute. If you ask one of us ladies in tech for ideas for women speakers for your next conference the day before it is to take place because you realize you have too many #allwhitemalepanels, we respectfully decline. If you want to reach a more diverse talent pool for your next hires, go to more diverse communities when you first put the job out, not after you interviewed ten white guys. Plan ahead. Hold your team accountable to reach out and deliver on building relationships with new communities. We can help you reach more diverse networks but realize that these are valuable — and often built painstakingly over time. We may not want to just give them away for free, especially when it is clear that haven’t done the work to built your own.
- Pro-tip: We are not hard to find. Women in tech are very organized and you can definitely find us. We are on twitter: @techladymafia, @womenwhotech, @futuretechwomen, @AdasList, @railsgirls, @systers_org, @thelist, @CallbackWomen, @GeekChicPro, @WriteSpeakCode, @WITWomen, @steminist, @sheplusplus, and @thelist. And that is just for starters. We built dozens and dozens of tech women speaker lists to make it easy for you. Here are a few: www.pinterest.com/techladyp/mics-to-watch-out-for/, www.hersay.co.uk/, www.shesource.org/, geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_women_keynote_presenters_at_technical_conferences, www.mattgemmell.com/women-conference-speakers/, www.articulate-network.lanyrd.com/, www.plus.google.com/communities/101818001236662563704, www.callbackwomen.com/home.html, www.blog.bizzabo.com/the-100-speakers-who-should-be-seen-more-at-tech-conferences. As you can see, there are plenty of resources that make it really easy to get to talent. Use these resources before you come to us. Actively reach out to the people you want to recruit. Demonstrate that you have made a real effort to increase your pipeline.
- Here is an important one: Give to get. Sponsor events, underwrite scholarships, pay young fellows or interns from diverse communities. Start a company mentoring program. Underwrite early-career trainings for young developers, returning workers such as mothers, and female STEM students. Provide travel scholarships to tech events. To quote Anthea: “Mid-level superstars don’t just magically appear from heaven, they are nurtured and grown.” Help grow them. That means always, always, always give more than you take. Here are some groups to support: Change the Ratio, Pipeline Fellowship, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, and Mother Coders, to name just a few dear to my heart.
- You can always pay for professional recruitment. There are excellent recruitment consultants who will assist you in diversifying your speaker and your talent pool. They made it their life’s work to help you, so hire them instead of asking us to do this work for free. We are happy to provide lots of referrals.
- Create a respectful and welcoming culture at your your conference. No self-respecting woman in her right mind will want to speak at your event, for instance, if you have models scantily clad sexualizing products in your exhibit hall at your event. Also, have a real behavior code of conduct for attendees.
- Hugely important! Do the same for your company or organization. Make sure that if you diversify your pipeline that you do not stop at the door. Invest in good talent recruitment and retention staff, and in policies that help create a culture of respect for diverse talent. This is not an afterthought and no, your talent staff is not your sister or your wife, either. Professional staff who are empowered by a strong culture that values diversity can not only help you build a solid pipeline but make your talent succeed in your company. Take extra care to develop fair and clear promotion and advancement policies so that that all the awesome people you recruited stick around.
- Make it visible. Fellow Tech Lady Sarah Milstein who runs Lean Startup Productions says: “Document your processes — and do it publicly.” She rightly notes: “If you look like every other hiring org/business conference/VC portfolio/etc, potential candidates/speakers/entrepreneurs/etc from under-represented groups have no reason to think you’re going to take them seriously. (Same goes for new orgs/events/funds/etc.) One of the most important things you can do to change your own ratio—and to Anthea’s original point, convince us that you’re committed—is to write publicly about your understanding of why there’s been a problem with your entity in the past and what you’re doing now to try to change it.” Incidentally, Sarah also wrote a great piece with more tips for diversifying your conference that is a must-read.
- Throw out the boilerplate. If you recruit by checking boxes of qualifications, you are going to exclude a lot of people with non-traditional backgrounds. Boiler-plate job descriptions and requirements for specific degrees or backgrounds limit who even gets through the door and potentially excludes a rich group of talented people. Rather, look for signs of talent and alignment with your company values, and experiences that are outside of the traditional CS degree. Train your staff to spot the same. If you have done #4 and given support to young, early career talent, there is probably a wealth of people already whose potential you know.
- Lastly, start. Get Going. Show Us. We want to help you, we really do. We have a self-interest here: We want to speak at and work in diverse, creative, ambitious, and successful endeavors. And we want to help us all get to a place where tech does not have a “white guy problem” anymore. We love real grit and effort that shows that you get it, and are serious to see change. This grit is exactly is how we got to where we are today, so we know it when we see it. We are in this together.
Thank you to a number of amazing women who tech for the many ideas and suggestions that contributed to this conversation. A big shoutout to Tina Lee, Anthea Watson Strong, Rachel Sklar, Erika Owens, Aki Braun, Leah Bannon, Abigail Collazo, Rebecca Piazza, Melissa Hawks, Lorelei Kelly, Sarah Libby, Alison Monahan, Sarah Milstein, Margie Roswell, Elly Blue, Quinn Heraty, and Pam Selle (in no particular order). I learn so much from you all.