In the past few weeks, women in technology has once again been thrown into the limelight, owing a large part of this new found attention to Satya Nadella’s recent comment at a Microsoft event about women having to do their karma and wait for the right compensation to follow. Similarly, the news of Apple and Facebook picking up USD 20,000 in supporting female employees with freezing their eggs in favor of progressing their careers has made big news. Gender, independent of the tech industry, has also been in the news for a while now with several crimes against women around the world, and in India, the Times Of India debacle over actress Deepika Padukone and the introduction of the “third gender” in government forms.
These various events put together, made me think about the gender debate and what it meant to WukiLabs, an 18-month old startup in the platform creation space. As I analyzed our journey so far and how we were doing in terms of gender inclusion, I came to the happy conclusion that we are doing very well.
Yes, as we scale, we will have to ensure this success stays with us. But as they say, well begun is half done.
So here are seven things we have done to make gender inclusion a way of life at WukiLabs.
Have gender diversity at the top
Nothing beats having gender diversity at the leadership level. We currently have both men and women and over time, we would be very keen to see gender queer/ transgender leadership and colleagues at WukiLabs. At several occasions, having a female co-founder has benefited our business. Especially at hiring and retaining women in technology.
As one parent told us, “I would never have let my daughter move to another city to work, but the fact that there is a woman who runs the company gives us the confidence to support her career decision.”
Having gender diversity in leadership also helps the team feels more comfortable sharing and feeling supported. Both men and women have someone they can relate to and share their problems with.
Hiring through conventional means such as marks (favors women) or institutes (favors men) can skew gender diversity in the organization. Research shows that women perform better in academics than men while men are encouraged to move to premier institutes while women are often not, due to hostel stays, distance from home and other “security” concerns. At WukiLabs, we have always hired based on merit assessed through multiple-member panels evaluating past performance and performance in simulations. It has helped us find gender diverse talent.
Openly discuss gender issues
Our coffee and lunch breaks usually have conversations around a theme. We throw in a trigger from an everyday occurrence – the #touchthepickle campaign by P&G, the domestic violence act, what happened at a team member’s home this morning – and use that to share personal experiences that make us identify or detach from a certain topic.
We have found that an open discussion helps people discover more through other people’s experiences.
It helps us respect why people behave in a certain way and stop seeing gender and related concerns as black and white.
Over time, we have seen these conversations encourage people to volunteer more information about themselves because they believe their team understands – pregnancy, menstrual cycles, health concerns, gender roles at home – and everyone participates, the men and the women – with their respective experiences.
Consciously drive inclusive language and behavior
Breaking gender stereotypes in the way we communicate and openly challenging those who engage them needs to become a behavior. For example, several people believe being sensitive to gender is to allow your female employee to leave early. We find that often, these decisions are not about gender roles alone. They are an outcome of self, life stage and family as well. Single female employees may want to work late and extra hours because they are enjoying what they do and married male employees may want to leave early to support their working spouse.
At WukiLabs, we follow a rule of “no assumptions” and allow the individual the choice.
So if a project requires long hours, for example, we ask everyone on the team if they are ok to stretch and accept that anyone might say yes or no, irrespective of gender.
We don’t use “he” or “she” or “he or she”, we use “they”.
Foster a flexible work environment
The ability to structure work around life-demands is becoming a basic expectation today. We find allowing people to choose their work timings, offering work from home and office, all the while ensuring expectations of outcomes are clear actually drives greater engagement and productivity. It is one policy that has consistently been a talent magnet in our employer brand.
Create mixed teams
People bond on their similarities. “We like people like us”. Often it so happens that people tend to form informal groups at work that are centered around gender. We experimented with breaking this pattern by creating mixed project teams. Not only do we find that the men and women seem to appreciate each other better after collaborating on a project, but the project itself becomes more intelligent than when it first started out with one person. Every business plan has benefited from leveraging gender diverse perspectives and now everyone actively seeks it.
Focusing on gender inclusion
While a lot has been said and perhaps is being done about work-life balance for and inclusion of women, it’s also important the same benefits be extended to men. At WukiLabs, we not “women inclusive”, we are “gender inclusive”. At inclusion of one group is always difficult when there is exclusion of another. So all practices and policies apply to all colleagues irrespective of gender, ensuring everyone has the freedom to make their life choices in a manner benefitting their career and their personal life. Somehow, that seems to get us more talented women from the workforce and also builds strong bonds between them and others in the team without heart burn.
What do you think about these practices at WukiLabs? Do you think these might work for you? How important is gender inclusion for your organization or startup? Leave us your thoughts in the comments section.