The first step in eliminating the gender imbalance is to acknowledge it. As a woman who's previously held management roles in the financial industry and currently holds a management role in the technology industry, I can attest that the companies furthest along in eliminating the gender imbalance are the ones that have identified it and are actively making changes.
It's widely recognized that the technology industry has a tendency to favor men. There are multiple factors that contribute to this: the 24/7 work environment that's not flexible for women with children; fields like engineering and computer science being dominated by men; and a cultural stereotype that has some similarities to that of a frat house. More importantly, there may be a risk of a general lack of attention within startups to the issue.
But change is occurring. In my view, culture and the recruitment process are two ways in which startups can raise awareness of the gender imbalance from the beginning and actively work to address it.
Be cognizant of the culture you want to develop
Culture doesn't grow by itself; it is created and nourished by people. The culture within startups has to be bred right from the beginning and must foster and support gender balance. A great way to ensure this is to establish principles, one of which is to strive for equality in the workplace.
In a former position I held in the financial services industry, there was a lot of attention placed on the gender imbalance internally. The company was extremely vocal, offering employees insights on male / female hiring trends as well as offering training, research and fireside chats to raise awareness of this issue. During my time at the company in a management role, I did not experience any issues as a woman in management. I was at times managing an operation of 40+ engineers -- most of whom were men.
By providing a high level of openness and visibility, as well as taking necessary actions to educate employees and create an environment where everyone feels they are an active participant, this company was able to meet its goal of providing a work culture free of gender biases.
If the small pool of employees in a startup establishes a culture of inclusion from the start and identifies neutral bias towards gender as a company-wide goal, it will establish a precedent that only expands as the business does. Entrepreneurs must build this balance into their business principles and ensure that it remains a central theme in their workplace culture.
Recruit candidates straight out of school
This is not to say companies should hire women for the sake of hiring women. Merit and achievements are certainly the first criteria, making the recruitment process just as important as the culture being established.
Undergraduate and graduate schools are a great way to recruit fresh candidates with similar bases of knowledge. If companies start hitting the classrooms early, they have a higher chance of finding the right candidates from a diverse pool that includes close to equal numbers of men and women.
For instance, Southern Methodist University (SMU) announced this year that it will be the first university in the United States to offer a master's degree in datacenter systems engineering. The degree provides graduate students with a strong knowledge base of data center infrastructure, making these students top candidates for the data center industry. Hiring students fresh out of university will allow both men and women to compete for the same job with a near identical knowledge base.
SMU's Master of Science in Datacenter Systems Engineering degree will supply a pipeline of candidates to the data center industry and employers can be confident that these candidates are knowledgeable and passionate about data center engineering. As a woman in the data center industry, I know I will be paying close attention to the talent coming out of this program – both men and women.
- Tamara Budec is the VP of Portfolio Operations at Digital Realty.