• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

How Automattic Empowers Women: A Culture That Neutralizes Gender

7394245776_d83df216f0_z

WordPress maker Automattic takes a simple route to ensuring it has a women-friendly workplace; it just strives to build an awesome company culture for everyone.

By Janet Choi (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)

“Choose your own adventure” is the first section on the jobs page of Automattic, the makers of WordPress. Its roughly 170 employees, who are completely distributed all over the world, power over 66 millions websites.

Yet Automattic stands out not just for its all-remote team but for the thought put into creating an environment where talented people thrive. The company’s approach of flexibility and communication form the vital building blocks of their collaborative, quirky culture.

A Flexible Mindset

Automattic has a mindset of innovation that extends to its practices. Take, for example, its no-vacation policy and its similarly modeled maternity and paternity policy of allowing anyone to simply taking the time off that they require. “The great part about being small and a startup,” reports Sara Rosso, VIP Global Services Manager, “is we don’t have policies set in stone and we can test experimental benefits and iterate on them.”

The Transparency Advantage

Since you can’t just walk down the hall or poke your head over a cubicle to see your co-workers, Automattic employees put considerable effort into practically overcommunicating with each other. They connect through IRC and Skype like many companies, but a bulk of their communication takes place on over their 160 internal blogs — organized by function, teams, and projects — and all run on WordPress’s real-time P2-theme.

Through Automattic’s internal blogs, decisions and discussions are documented and accessible to the entire company, preventing insular silos and facilitating participation. “One of the best things about our communication style and transparency is it allows a really excellent window into other parts, functions, and focuses of the company,” Rosso says. “There is always space for someone interested to contribute their opinions and volunteer their time to affect a product or change.”

This openness not only fends off politics, it promotes more recognition and feedback for ideas and contributions, helping to equalize how people participate at work. “I think our communication style in some ways neutralizes gender. It puts the focus more on things like tone and making sure people participate and speak up,”  Rosso notes.

With fewer barriers to expressing themselves and being heard, Automatticians don’t have to wait for formal meetings or write out memos. “Recently there was a very long internal thread about finding great female job candidates and what we can do as a company to encourage this, or if it’s even a problem,” Rosso recounts. Rather than having a limp exchange about women in tech within the HR department, the question turned into a real dialogue throughout the company.

Never Stop Learning

Automattic’s approach of flexibility and agility also applies to individuals, encouraging the expansion of skills. From the hiring stage, where candidates don’t necessarily have to have previous WordPress or PHP knowledge, to one’s trajectory within the company, what matters, says Rosso, is that people are “great and passionate about what they do.”

In fact, the first tenet of Automattic’s company creed is: “I will never stop learning.” Accordingly, Automatticians can switch teams for months at a time or even on a permanent basis, which prevents work from getting stale and encourages growth.

While a real chance to develop is attractive to most people, Rosso believes that there’s a particular benefit for women. “I think getting stuck somewhere is a fear that many women face — more of a glass box than a glass ceiling — that you will be stuck doing the same thing you were hired to do and somehow to change you have to move out of the company instead of inside it.”

There’s no danger of that at Automattic, as one of the best things about working in a startup that’s growing so quickly, according to Rosso, is how “someone’s always asking for people to raise their hands and pitch in on something.”

That setting of empowerment and possibility certainly sounds like the kind of adventure women might choose for themselves.

(Image credit: Ziggy Creative Colony)

Women 2.0 readers: What do you think of Automattic’s approach to attracting and empowering female employees?

Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis, the easiest way to share and celebrate what you get done. Janet writes about productivity, motivation, and the way people work. She has previously been an opera magazine editor, lawyer, and gelato scooper. Follow her on Twitter at @lethargarian.