By Freada Kapor Klein (Partner, Kapor Capital & Founder, Level Playing Field Institute) & Allison Scott (Director of Research, Level Playing Field Institute) Women are vastly underrepresented in technical roles -– we only account for 20% of all computer software engineer and computer programmer positions nationwide. And as the Level Playing Field Institute just revealed in a new report, these women encounter negative experiences such as bullying at rates significantly higher than their male colleagues, are less satisfied with their jobs, and are more likely to want to leave their jobs in the coming year.
Our report, The Tilted Playing Field, found intriguing data showing a vast difference between women at large companies and those at startups with a critical mass of women in senior/technical roles.
According to survey participants, these tech-based startups in our sample offered far better work environments. For example, 65% of women in large companies encountered exclusionary cliques, versus 26% of women in startups. While 26% is way too high, it is a dramatic improvement over the treatment of women in large tech companies.
[Figure 6] - Workplace Experiences by Gender and Company Size Startups with women in significant leadership and technical positions illuminate the path for how all tech companies can become more welcoming and productive places to work. While women are doing better in startups than at large IT companies, we still see significant gaps between the experiences and perceptions of women at startups and those of their male colleagues.
As Figure 8 (below) of our study shows, we found a significant difference between men and women’s satisfaction with development opportunities and career path -– even though they are both much higher than large company employees.
[Figure 8] - Job Satisfaction by Gender and Company Type
It looks like these startups get the "work environment" piece much better, but still have issues on perceptions of diversity and job satisfaction. We found a large discrepancy between men and women in startups on whether their companies are spending adequate amounts of time paying attention to issues of diversity.
[Figure 4] - Perceptions of Diversity in the Workplace by Gender and Company Size
Important side note to this discussion: Neither startups nor large tech companies had a sufficient number of underrepresented men or women of color to explore how their leadership might change the work environment and practices of their respective companies. Projecting from the data, however, it seems likely that the same dynamic might unfold.
So what can startups learn from this?
We’ve put together four points to help your startup improve its workplace environment and diversity:
- Workplace culture should be set from the beginning. Be thoughtful about your recruiting strategy, your practices, and what you reward. Culture is hard to change.
- Women in leadership and key technical positions seem to make a difference to attracting women and to creating a work environment with fewer negative experiences.
- In the competition for talent, startups should focus on a more welcoming culture and greater opportunities, and ensure that they are available for all employees.
- What seems to be an emerging trend for some venture-backed tech startups —- i.e. a better track record with respect to women -— should be extended to people of color.
More recommendations available in our report The Tilted Playing Field.
For startups clamoring to recruit top talent, don’t forget to leverage the advantages that startup culture offers in recruiting - —for any woman engineer or technical manager or any man or woman of color with IT skills, offering them a welcoming work environment where opportunities and career growth are abundant will often beat huge stock options at a place where one has to check oneself at the door.
Join the discussion about the LPFI's report on Twitter by using hashtag #HiddenBiasIT.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest bloggers? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Freada Kapor Klein, Ph.D. is a Venture Partner at Kapor Capital and the Founder of the Level Playing Field Institute. Her entire professional career has been devoted to understanding and removing hurdles to creating welcoming, fair workplaces. Her book, Giving Notice: Why the Best and Brightest are Leaving the Workplace and How You Can Help them Stay, was published in 2007. Follow her on Twitter at @therealfreada. About the guest blogger: Allison L. Scott, Ph.D. is the Director of Research at the Level Playing Field Institute. Allison conducts and manages empirical research related to hidden bias and barriers in K-12, higher education, and the workplace. Allison comes to LPFI with a research background focused extensively on investigating educational inequality, perceived racial bias and discrimination, and educational outcomes for individuals with diverse backgrounds.