When someone tells you they work for a tech startup, you probably picture boys’ club in Silicon Valley full of fast-talking Aaron Sorkin-esque programming wizards with beer kegs and pool tables.
Although that bro-tech stereotype still prevails, many tech companies try to diversify their staff. In the end, they know the male-dominated culture is not sustainable.
When my co-founder and husband Danny Boice and I first created the idea of Trustify, a company offering private investigators on-demand, we wanted to build something different. We set out to break the mold of the traditional tech startup mentality of hiring only coders, computer science majors, or those with extensive startup experience. Instead, we cast a wider net to find the best talent out there. Most importantly, applicants had to fit our culture. Through the process, we noticed we had selected candidates with diverse backgrounds, experiences and skill sets — and most were female.
Trustify has been such a success thanks to the vast, diverse group of women that joined our team. In our quest to build something different, we broke the mold of the traditional startup company using non-traditional tactics that we believe will lead to more women in technology startups. Here are the five rules we followed:
Build a Company Meant to Last
Many startups look for a quick exit. However, true disruption is building a startup meant to last. While it is important to think outside the box, to do this successfully begins with your hiring practices. We recognized early on that we needed to have our best talent grow with us as a company.
Most startups seek to hire only young, hungry, recent college graduates who are willing to pull 18-hour work days in an office. But what happens when they get married, have children, find a place in their community and have obligations? They leave. In turn, startups have to start the process over of hiring more young, uncommitted individuals who burn out fast. These new hires have no institutional knowledge, as they were not a part of the original strategy sessions or tough first months in the trenches.
Require Work-Life Balance
“Leaning in” is not only about choosing work or family; it is about recognizing that the men and women on your staff are not only the best in business but are real people with a life outside of work. A truly diverse staff ranges from baby boomers to recent college graduates and every age in between.
As co-founders and married parents of five children, we understand the value of having policies that allow our staff to balance their life with work. Our team members all work flexible hours. It is not uncommon to go online at 2 a.m. and see other colleagues working away. This means, however, they took hours in between to pick their kids up from school, have dinner with friends, work out, go on a first date, or put their babies to bed. The best employees stay and grow with a startup when they feel they are supported outside of work.
Include Mother’s Rooms, Not Video Game Rooms
When we look at office space, our first question is if there is a mother’s room for pumping, as the majority of our female staff are of childbearing age. We want them to stay with us and we take measures to help them “have it all,” whatever that may mean to each employee. This includes instituting a maternity and paternity policy, as well as adoption benefits. Instead of paying for women to freeze their eggs, and thus promoting a delay of motherhood (interesting that these news-making startup benefits are only geared toward women), startups need to support hardworking women who are trying to balance life and parenthood.
Help Women Break Into — And Dominate — The Boys’ Club
It’s important to realize that anyone can aim to hire a diverse staff of various ages, backgrounds and genders. However, in order to retain the best talent, startups need to ensure their staff feel they are our most valuable resource and in turn, can grow with the company. The women on the Trustify staff are in every department. Some of our best private investigators and executives are women. If you want to shake up the tech industry, it has to show from the bottom to the top.
Change What “Diversity” Means
A healthy startup staff should have more than the traditional coding wizards. Instead, create a team with a wide array of talents. Our staff includes former nonprofit executives, journalists, lawyers, TV producers, yoga instructors, athletes, even a midwife, and many others who bring in a fresh perspective to better our company. When startups hire outside of the stereotypical talent pools, they open themselves up to more creativity.
Tech companies are often spotlighted for the lack of gender diversity within their teams. This is not unique to startups. The tech community can be unfairly targeted for issues prevalent in most other industries. However, the lack of female staff in most technology startups needs to change in order for the industry to excel and grow. True disruption is thinking outside the box on how to acquire and retain women who will plant roots and grow with your company.