Article written by Siobhan Fuller, also posted on Medium
Have you ever seen the TV show Silicon Valley? If not, it’s about a computer programmer and his friends who are trying to be successful in a “high-tech gold rush”. If you have seen it, whether you enjoyed it or not, you’ll be aware that there’s a distinct lack of women represented. Out of the ten main cast members, only two are women. The faces of the tech startup industry are often portrayed as stereotypically “nerdy” tech geniuses (which in and of itself is irritatingly inaccurate), who struggle until their business hopefully takes off. The stereotype may not be true but the gender dynamic of the show is a reflection of the real Silicon Valley, where women represent just 29% of employees in companies made up of 10 people or less.
This International Women’s Day, I want to shine a light on some of the awful statistics and stories which have come out of some of the world’s most successful startups. Gender ratios, funding and equity gaps, and misogynistic culture all equate to a very unpromising picture for many women. This can change though, and is changing as I write in startups, programs and colleges everywhere.
Gender gaps in startups
One of the best things about working at TransferTravel.com is that, despite it being a startup, its broken free of the Silicon mould (don’t @ me for that pun). 58% of our employees are women and, from the beginning, the gender ratio has remained relatively even as it has expanded.
Why don’t we see this in other startups? There is an increasing number of female CEOs and founders who are breaking all the glass ceilings right now. However, only 2.7% of venture-funded companies have women as CEOs — that’s just 183 businesses out of 6,517.
So for the other 97.3% which are run by men, what’s going on? Why are women still only 29% of the people getting in at the ground floor?
In some cases, technology and business are often still seen as boys’ clubs, and women are performing lower-level roles, or given a position just to fulfill a diversity quota.
However, I think an issue we ignore more often is a kind of cultural passivity. There aren’t many female candidates, plus you want to bring in the people in your circle before you expand, right? You have to actively widen your pool of candidates through your recruitment methods, because there are women and non-binary people out there who are perfect for your startup, if you look for them. If you don’t, you end up with a homogenous group of employees who look and act just like you. It is harder to introduce and implement diversity later down the line when the foundations of so many businesses are decidedly undiverse.
But women don’t apply or want to be part of tech startups!
Can you blame them?
Tech hubs aren’t exactly known for their welcoming environment. For instance, two-thirds of women in Silicon Valley feel like they are excluded from social and networking opportunities because of their gender. In fact, it’s a regular public issue where we hear about the deep-rooted misogyny in startups. In the era of #MeToo, more and more of these stories are coming to light every day thanks to brave women exposing the men who have pushed them out of (or at least tried to push them out of) their jobs and their industry.
Ellen Pao, former interim CEO at Reddit, wrote a memoir about Kleiner, which was inherently built upon the discrimination and exclusion of women from all aspects of the business.
There was an anonymous Forbes interview with a female entrepreneur, who said a potential investor said, “Did your daddy give you money?”
Whitney Wolfe, co-founder of Tinder, said that Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, also co-founders, told her that having a young, female co-founder at Tinder “makes the company seem like a joke” and “devalues” it.
No wonder women don’t want to apply to tech startups if it’s considered a high standard to not be harassed!
Egalitarian workplaces ultimately create better workers, and therefore better business.
Then let’s take it back a step. From school age, we should be encouraging young girls and women to pursue those careers by showing them role models doing amazing things in business; showing them that they will be welcomed into the tech and business worlds; showing them that they are skilled enough and intelligent enough and good enough. The reason we have a 58% female workforce in a startup run by a male CEO is because all the women in it believe these things. We need to replicate that on a larger scale, starting with education. You can find some great resources about getting young women involved in and confident about STEM careers and entrepreneurship:
- Women in Engineering ProActive Network
- Women In Technology
- Girls Who Code
- National Girls Collaborative Project
- Girls In Tech
- The WISE Campaign
- Code First: Girls
This isn’t just about technology but female confidence in general. The women at TransferTravel.com come from all kinds of backgrounds such as communications, compliance, administration, graphic design and hospitality… All of us decided that we wanted to be part of a tech startup. We’ve stayed because there is a culture which fosters professional development, allows for personal growth and feels truly inclusive. We don’t feel like a statistic to prove to the outside world that TransferTravel.com is diverse, but like people who are good — no, great — at what we do.
A ray of sunshine amongst it all
I’m really proud of the team I’m part of and wanted to share how a startup culture should make women feel. I asked some of the women in the business how they felt working for TransferTravel and this is what they said:
Sarah Sandford, Graphic Design and Marketing Executive: “I applied to work at a startup because I wanted to learn and grow both personally and professionally. I’ve never doubted that I was hired for any other reason than that I was the most qualified person for the role. Over the two and a half years working here I have seen the team develop equally with the best people for the roles at hand. As a graphic designer creating imagery for branding and recruitment purposes, it’s of the utmost importance to me that the imagery and language is inclusive and encourages all genders applying.”
Jez Ocampo, Marketing Outreach Executive: “Seeing a business grow is interesting; working for a big company which has reached success already is one thing, but working in a startup allows you to see it differently. You feel more involved and included. You become part of this little family, and can proudly say that you’ve been there since day one.”
Natasha Clarkson, Customer Engagement Manager: “Being part of a startup, being able to help, nurture and watch the business grow is just an incredible thing to be part of. No day is ever the same. With the constant growth and changes, there is always a buzz of excitement as we leap over each hurdle. The team morale is high as we all work together; titles don’t come into conversation as every person’s voice is heard and no suggestion is ignored! I’m not sure I’d want to work anywhere else now.”
Katie Devereau, Customer Engagement Moderator: I am glad that I work for a start up company because I believe that it has helped my skills grow as you need to be able to adapt to all the changes and improvements that are constantly being made. Also, there is always excitement about where the company will go next! Maybe technology companies should be offering pre-employment training to show people that it is not scary and, with a bit of practice, it’s easy to pick up. This could help encourage more woman to make the move into this kind of career! I am so glad that I took the opportunity to work within a technology company especially within customer service as it’s great being able to help people complete the process and see the end result. I love being part of a team that can all support each other within different roles. I am very glad that I applied for my job at TransferTravel.com as our team is very supportive and definitely help build each other up to grow as individuals alongside the company.
Change is happening now. I’m seeing it and living it and working in it — now let’s make changes for every woman.
Women from all backgrounds need to be encouraged to pursue STEM subjects at school and college, to see that when they get a job, they’ll be treated with respect. There is always more we can be doing to support girls and women, but let’s start with a safe and fair workplace, at the very least.
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