Instead of starting this blog post off with a million caveats and disclaimers, which is what I desperately want to do for a topic as sensitive as this, I’ll just dive right in. Here are the facts as they stand at our startup right now:
10 of our 27 total employees were born in 8 different countries (other than the US), so we have the country of origin well covered. Our recent focus has been on our gender balance. 37% of our teammates are females. In the world of tech, that’s actually relatively good. Not great, but not terrible.
The BlueCart team comes from many different countries.
Broken down by division, our product team (the tech people) is 25% female, and the rest (sales, HR, support, and ops) is 42% female. Again, not great, not terrible. But definitely below average, and definitely below where we want to be.
Our biggest problem is at the leadership level. We have a Management Team of seven men, a Board of Advisors of three men, and a Board of Directors of three men. While we have lots of key meetings outside these formal groups, and make plenty of big decisions in the middle of our open HQ with everyone around to add their opinions, it’s probably fair to say that women aren’t necessarily “at the table” at BlueCart right now.
One question naturally arises here: What can we do about it?
Some argue that diversity be damned for startups. “Grow, grow, grow” is a catchy refrain, and many think it’s easier to get big quickly when everyone is on the same page, with the easiest way to ensure that being for everyone to have the same backgrounds (read: race, gender, class, etc.) more or less.
But even if keeping the team relatively homogenous leads to high growth, that does not override all the research suggesting that diverse teams make better, more creative decisions. We are in this game to grow—and we do that quite well—but we also want staying power, which is why we focus so much not just on user acquisition, but also on user engagement. If we want to add value to our clients in perpetuity, we better have a team that understands the needs and wants of our user base.
Then there’s this: All these companies that have grown crazy fast and become the Apples, Googles, and PayPals of the world, they’re all looking for more diversity now that they’re big, and they are struggling mightily to find it. What if they had started making inroads on gender diversity when they were at our stage? We’re a 27 person startup, but in the not too distant future, we are going to be much, much bigger. If we put things in place now, we have a real chance to grow as a diverse company, instead of trying to take a big company and make it diverse later.
This is a huge opportunity for us as a startup. We’re a small enough ship right now that adjusting course will require a lot less energy and resources than it will when we have hundreds or thousands of oars-men and women.
According to CNN Money
The big guys are spending millions on this issue. Obviously, we support them for doing it, but that is the cost of not getting out in front of this at our stage. There will always be a need to spend money on getting the right people into the right jobs, but the reason it costs the big guys so much is that nothing was baked in from the start.
Which brings us to our starting question: What can we do now?
As far as BlueCart goes, the first thing we have to do is attract applicants. Our numbers for new resumes roughly track our numbers on the team. Overall, our applicants are 37% female, which breaks down to 42% for sales jobs and 35% for product. That’s not going to get us where we want to be.
But here’s an interesting statistic: women are much more likely to get their engineering credentials from certification programs than traditional college degree programs. And what were we doing just a few weeks ago? Requiring college degrees.
Salvador Rodriguez looked into this for the International Business Times last year, and found that “At 36 percent representation, women are graduating from coding schools at a higher rate than they are graduating with computer science degrees at traditional colleges and universities. By comparison, women in the U.S. and Canada earned just 14.1 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees during the 2013-14 academic year, according to the Computing Research Association.”
So if we want to get more qualified female applicants, we have to take down the artificial barriers that keep their resumes from making it in the mailbox and out of the initial screening. We’ve opened up our hiring process to allow anyone in the door who can code to our standards.
Here’s another thing we’re doing: Offering up our office space to organizations like Hear Me Code, which brings together female engineers on the weekends for classes on programming, and general industry talk and collaboration. We’re hosting our first Hear Me Code event next month, and looking forward to showing off BlueCart to a talented crowd of women. Obviously “women coders” is not some monolithic group that meets every Tuesday, but there are some groups out there that do bring all the right people together in one place. We want that place to be our house.
Of course, applicants won’t always come to us. So we’re trying to be where they are as much as possible. This means going to recruiting events focused explicitly on women in tech, like DC FemTech. Talented engineers are in high demand these days, and we need to be in the right place at the right time to get the right employees. We’re making sure we are.
None of these things alone will boost our numbers, especially not at the management level and above, but taken together and started early enough, we’re hoping these tools can build a pipeline that will fill our ranks and work its way up.
Opening up our hiring process to welcome more qualified applicants from non-traditional schooling backgrounds, hosting coding classes and networking sessions for women at our office, and actively reaching out to recruit women in tech is just a start, to be sure, but we’re a startup, so that’s what we do. We’ll put a program in motion, iterate, and grow what works.
(Most of) The BlueCart Team
All this is to say two things:
First, we are committed to getting a head start on gender diversity in our company, and as a startup, we’re open to trying anything, so if you’ve read this article and have ideas for other things we can do, please send them our way.
Second, and maybe most importantly: We’re hiring. If you or someone you know is ready to be part of an incredible, fast-growing team, please get in touch. We’d love to have you on board.
Konstantin Zvereff, CEO