Read the news today and you’ll find a plethora of stories on lack of equitable treatment of women in Silicon Valley as well as the startup world. There are stories about the pay gap across the industry, as well as a lack of representation so severe that some firms need to count cocktail waitresses as examples of diversity at their conferences, and the fact that female startup founders are less likely to recent VC funding than their male counterparts.
However, the fact that there is so much discussion of these issues is a great sign that the status quo is no longer acceptable. Here are three ways to help ensure women succeed in the startup world:
1. Leverage data.
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”
-- Virginia Woolf
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In order to make improvements, you first need to understand the nature and scope of the situation. It is imperative that startup founders be unafraid to explore where their workplaces need improvement. The first step toward correcting the problem is understanding it, and data reporting can play a key role in addressing these issues.
In recent years, prominent tech companies like Facebook and Google have begun to release annual diversity reports. This is an excellent step, and startups and mid-sized companies must follow suit, tracking data to ensure they are on the right path to promoting an inclusive work environment.
In addition to providing insight and analysis, many leaders in the startup world are finding other ways to leverage data and technology to promote solutions and inclusion. The Choose Possibility Project, for instance, launched by a Silicon Valley female tech entrepreneur, is creating a database of female board candidates based on the idea that board members have big influence on shaping company direction. Another fellow female leader, Olga Mack has launched online petitions to increase board leadership positions for women on major corporate boards, starting what she calls a “petition movement that makes the fiscal and social case for taking initial steps toward gender equality on boards.”
2. Encourage mentorship.
“I feel really grateful to the people who encouraged me and helped me develop. Nobody can succeed on their own.” -- Sheryl Sandberg
Being around fellow successful women can empower and help business development in the startup world. According to one recent report, despite there being 10.6 million women-owned businesses in America, only one out of five women has a mentor.
There are many third-party services that help with this dearth of female mentorship. Glassbreakers, for example, is a tool for businesses that allows employees to connect with a network of mentors, peers and sponsors based on personal and professional interests, and there are a myriad of networking groups for female entrepreneurs. Help your startup employees to seek out and take advantage of these resources and support, and see what programs you can put in place at your own company, such as launching a Lean In Circle, which are small groups of women that meet regularly to learn and support each other.
3. Create an equitable culture.
“If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."
-- Toni Morrison
Startups must ensure they create an equitable culture from the inception. Too often, an inequitable culture is rooted in the very foundation of the organization’s structure, permeating even the most basic issues, like pay. According to Glassdoor, male computer programmers, for example, earn 28.3 percent more on average than their female counterparts.
Another area that can affect company culture is paid leave, a benefit that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 12 percent of U.S. private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, which can be considered culturally inhospitable to women.
Also consider how working remotely and freelance can allow women to better manage both a career and a family. With today’s technology, flexible work arrangements are increasingly viable; a survey of business leaders conducted by the Global Leadership Summit revealed that 34 percent believe that over half their full-time workers will work remotely by 2020. These types of policies can help in retaining female workers following their paid family leaves.
These and other policies will help create your corporate culture and shape whether or not your startup is supporting women to succeed.
With the status quo no longer acceptable, change is on the horizon. By leveraging data and technology, finding mentors, and advocating for equality in the workplace, the startup world can make strides toward leveling the playing field for future generations of women.