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As co-founders of a tech company in 2019, it's easier than ever to talk about differences in the experience of women and gender minorities compared to men in tech. Fueled by recent changes in the cultural climate (such as #MeToo), what was once an unspoken issue is now at the forefront, more than ever.
However, we're not yet winning. In a survey about work and home life, 78% of men and 75% of women said they don't believe the #MeToo movement has had a significant impact on the workplace. At the same time, the disparity in pay, exacerbated by remote work remains strong.
Have you thought about the impact your team's software and hardware stack has on the issue? Did you consider what your SaaS software or a new piece of hardware is doing to your team culture? Did it amplify the problem or set your business on a path for achieving gender equity?
While building Hugo, a software that connects your meeting insights to the rest of your stack, we discovered the impact tools can have on equity in your team. It's a simple way of thinking that can set gender equity in the sights of every tech company, small or large!
So far, I've managed to use equity, equality, and diversity interchangeably. But, there's an important distinction, explained by the London School of Economics and Political Science and General Assembly, which we can summarize, simply:
Most people talk about diversity when grappling with this issue, i.e. getting a mix of people in the room. I'm talking about the bigger challenge once you have a room full of different people with different perspectives.
That's where equity comes in.
As Aubrey Blanche, Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian once explained to me, if someone can't reach the La Croix on the top shelf, you should provide them the resources required to be successful with their overpriced lime-flavored fizzy water, let's say a stepping stool. But, do we then distribute one to every employee, including the 7-foot tall ex-basketballer now running customer success? No! That's equality -- not equity.
While we like to believe we invest in equity of voice amongst our team, it wasn't until we were talking to a few Hugo customers that we stopped to think about gender equity in a different way. Customers were sharing how certain tools in their stack had been successful in creating a level playing field.
Team members who have softer voices, who are often overlooked or who aren't effective at communicating in a certain way were now able to contribute ideas and join the conversation. We heard about people entering important debates with executives via chat apps, commenting on someone's meeting notes with an idea they didn't feel comfortable raising earlier or accessing helpful information never previously shared with them.
So, we dug deeper. We asked 580 people in tech of all genders about their experience working in tech. A common thread emerged where a team member's voice represented their value to the organization. From the team member's perspective, their voice is how they contribute their ideas, perspectives and 'feel heard'. From the organization's perspective, the voice is the vessel for the next great idea, unique perspective, and feelings of engagement and inclusion for that team member.
We were concerned that 25% of women told us that their voices were sometimes subdued, always subdued, or that they had no voice at all in meetings -- almost triple the percentage of men who said the same.
But, what emerged was something more encouraging. A near even spread of channels in which women and other gender minorities feel best heard. For some it is meetings, for others it was email. Many said it's online collaboration tools and some preferred remote meetings with video.
The spread of channels through which people felt heard led us to look at an organization's tool stack through this lens: Do you have the right mix of tools to enable a diverse, equitable team where the best ideas can be heard? If not, you could well be excluding certain genders, their voices and the best ideas for your organization or reducing the bandwidth of the best work.
Evaluate these issues when you choose and adopt your stack:
Encouraging a portion of communication by chat allows people to speak whenever they see fit without the restrictions of rank, age, race, or gender that can come up automatically in a typical human conversation at work.
Grouping together a category of tools from task management to customer support, the right project management solutions allow for an even and fair distribution of tasks as well as accountability. Respondents also told us how commenting and other collaborative features allow them to weigh-in on task-centric decision making they couldn't do in a face-to-face environment.
Voice and video communication remove the bias created in the workplace toward people who can physically be in the office, and towards those whose physical presence grants them a 'louder voice'.
As the gender equity survey demonstrated, even with their weaknesses, people tend to feel best heard in meetings. To capture, retain and share their voices accurately, meeting notes software can help equitably collect input in preparation, ensure contributions aren't lost, and encourage collaboration.
Audio and video conferencing hardware that provides a crisp picture and clear sound help all meeting attendees contribute to the conversation more equitably and helps prevent meeting attendees from talking over one another more readily.
Video conferencing cameras that display remote meeting participants on a monitor or auto-focus on whichever participant is speaking, like the Meeting Owl, can bring the group's attention to someone trying to join the conversation, regardless of their title, seniority, gender, race, etc., without interrupting the flow. Hardware like this can often do a better job than people at enabling equal voice and contribution during meetings.
We spend so much time as leaders thinking about team dynamics, culture and inclusion, but every book, blog post or video is focused on face-to-face. But, it's 2019. The average company uses 128 different SaaS tools and 75% of millennial managers have a remote team, at least in part. It's time to re-imagine team interfaces beyond the office environment.
Gender equity is one example where your stack can have a meaningful impact on your team, how they work, how they feel and how the best ideas are generated. Are you optimizing your stack in this way?
The small changes we make to our team's everyday tools can have the biggest effects. To learn more about gender equity in tech, check out Owl Labs' Equal Pay for Equal Work study and Hugo's Foundational Approaches to Gender Equity in Tech white paper.
Looking for even more? Check out these tips for fostering inclusivity on your team next.