Seize the Opportunity to Drive Gender Diversity in Tech

Erin PlattsBy Erin Platts, Head of Relationship Banking in Europe, Silicon Valley Bank

While we’ve come some way in narrowing the gender gap in the tech world, Silicon Valley Bank’s latest survey on the subject, the Women in Technology Leadership 2019 report, got me thinking about how to capitalize on the positive momentum we’re seeing.

After all, those of us in the tech ecosystem use that very mindset every day to fuel innovation. So here are five challenges the study brought to light and the opportunities I think they can provide to leaders looking to improve gender parity:

Challenge: Founder gender often determines women’s roles. 
The SVB survey found that startups with a woman on the founding team are much more likely to have a female CEO (often founders serve as CEOs) or COO. If the startup has male-only founders, the leadership roles for women are limited to head of HR or chief marketing officer. The numbers are stark: Of startups with only men on the founding team, just 5 percent have a female CEO, whereas 63 percent have female HR chiefs.

Opportunity: Start early.
While adding programs to increase gender and overall diversity are fine, why not make it a priority from the very beginning? If you’ve got a great idea for a company, add diversity to the founding team from inception; as the data has uncovered, male-only founding teams find it tougher to challenge the status quo and hire women into key roles outside of HR and marketing.

Challenge: Half of startups have no women on their leadership teams.
For the 2019 report, SVB surveyed tech and healthcare founders and executives primarily in the US, the UK, China and Canada. The combined results show just 56 percent of startups have at least one woman in an executive position, and only 40 percent have at least one woman on the board of directors.

Opportunity: Measure the gap and act.
It’s worth noting that the question we ask is about the percentage of startups with at least one woman on the board—so 60 percent currently have all-male boards. If that’s not an eye-opener on how far we have to go, I don’t know what is. It also underscores measuring progress—or the lack of it—is important if you are interested in a fix.  If you can’t find diverse candidates, maybe it’s a sign that you need to revamp your outreach strategies, including evolving job descriptions, using gender neutral language in job postings and interviews, expanding outreach and recruiting to non-tech companies/different geographies/new headhunters and ramping up mentor and sponsorship activities to fill the internal pipeline.

Challenge: Raising startup capital is hard.
Eighty-seven percent of startups with at least one woman on the founding team told us the current fundraising environment is somewhat or extremely challenging compared to 78 percent for those with an all-male founding team.

Opportunity: Tap new sources and work your network.
The tech-funding ecosystem is seeing new participants, and nontraditional sources are growing more active, notably including corporate venture capital arms, family offices, sovereign wealth funds and mutual funds. Our survey shows that companies with at least one woman on the founding team are more likely to tap smaller investors compared with all-male founding teams. My advice: Be confident, and ask for as much capital as you need.

Challenge: Resilience is a must.
Launching a startup regardless of gender takes special fortitude. As Ann Miura-Ko, a founding partner at Floodgate, a seed-stage VC firm in Palo Alto, California, advised a Watermark Conference for Women audience earlier this year: Live daily with the paranoia that someone is going to “do your idea…and you’d rather die 1,000 deaths” than let that happen.

Opportunity: Be fired up by “no.”
But Miura-Ko, who has been called “the most powerful woman in startups” by Forbes and was one of the first investors in Lyft and TaskRabbit, didn’t stop there. She says “no” does not mean your idea is bad. Investors have all sorts of reasons for turning down funding requests, and she says to remember that you only need one person to invest in you and your idea.

Challenge: Programs alone won’t be successful.
Fifty-nine percent of startups told SVB that they have some type of program in place designed to increase the number of women in leadership. Of those that do, the most common programs are a flexible work environment, recruiting/interview techniques and leadership development. Setting explicit promotion/hiring goals are less popular.

Opportunity: Foster a culture of participation and inclusion.
Any enterprise that cares about its employees and wants to retain the best, needs to do this. Use the ongoing focus on diversity in the tech world to encourage open communication and allow everyone to participate, with a goal of encouraging even the doubters to understand there is a direct correlation between diversity and business success.

Making sure that people feel included is crucial. If you have the right company culture and values, it will be much easier to retain the great, diverse talent you have worked so hard to attract.


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