If cars can drive themselves and a settlement on Mars is within reach in the next decade, it seems reasonable we could have an awesome environment for women looking to work or start something in tech. But there is daily, if not hourly, proof that we’re nowhere close as an industry.
We believe in the transformative power of technology to change the world at breakneck speed when we put our minds to it. Why is it when it comes to the very same humans who will make it happen, we set our bar so low? My daughter’s preschool demands more of four-year olds in their code of conduct than we’re asking from tech bros behaving badly.
We shouldn’t have to pledge to be decent to each other. If you can’t be decent, hand over your La Croix and get the fuck out.
Let’s be bolder, aim higher, and turn up the volume on our individual contributions. Culture is a collective mindset, attitude, behavior and habit, and it’s ours to change.
The stories of brave heroines, reported and amplified by the media in recent stories, have raised the visibility of the issues faced by women in tech and been catalysts for change. We now need to complement that air cover by unleashing more of our own power. We can’t afford to have innocent bystanders; too much is at stake.
Empathy, not apathy. Involvement, not inertia. Position, power, and privilege to lift people up, not hold them back or put them down.
Below is a list of ideas. They require nothing but intention and time. They apply to men and women, people in leadership roles or individual contributors, people working for themselves or in companies. They won’t just benefit women, or even just tech, they’ll create a great environment for everyone.
Most importantly, they’ll make an immediate impact on someone. Action begets action.
Speak up about what matters — and create the environment for others to do the same. Keep in mind that bad behavior includes those who aid and abet it.
1- When you see something, say something. Don’t sit back and watch (and judge). Bad behavior that goes unchecked is dangerous. Last week a fellow executive acted in a manner that I didn’t think was productive for the team so I gave him feedback after the meeting. I did this one-on-one, was specific about what I saw, and offered what I thought would be better alternative approaches. I also was upfront as to why I thought his actions were counterproductive to creating an environment for the team, and specifically women, to thrive. It took courage and a lot more work than complaining to others, but it generated a long discussion that I am optimistic will make both of us better leaders. I gave a playback of my feedback to a senior, female colleague who was also in the meeting and shared that I thought we had a collective responsibility to intervene.
2- Acknowledge and celebrate what awesome looks like. Great behavior that should be copied and repeated should be called out so people can repeat it, and others take notice. Anyone can do this. It could be as simple as telling someone, “hey, it was great to hear you speak up and share your idea about X in that meeting,” (Paula, thank you for always happening to do this on days when I feel like I’m about to be eaten by imposter syndrome) or “Rick, I appreciate that you acknowledged there were only five female leaders in that meeting and we have a lot of room for opportunity.” (Rick, I did. Forgot to tell you.) “Shrisha, Garret, and Jeremy thank you for always speaking openly in Slack and our meetings about going to pick up your kids or having kiddo activities, role modeling that it’s welcome to be a working parent.” When possible, give positive feedback openly and publicly, and be specific about what you saw or heard, and the impact it had.
3- Carve out time as a team to share stories, data, and ideas. Two women on our team led a lunch session with our team where they brought findings and insights from internal and external research about how to create an environment where women engineers can thrive. We discussed in small groups and focused on one question: What’s one thing we can do? The exercise generated a list of several immediate things we could do — from declaring all interview panels have a woman to reviewing job postings for language. Most importantly, it sent a message that this was an important thing we could, and should, talk about. Leading a team? Schedule it. On a team, suggest it!
Listening is so powerful. It will expand your understanding, deepen your empathy, and spark creativity. The more comprehensively we are listened to, the more we respond. There are so many easy ways to hear what women in tech are talking about, struggling with, and proposing for change. As you do this, be sure to go beyond your usual circles (be it outside of your function, “level,” people who don’t look like you, etc.)
4- Leaders: Give your team and peers an open invitation to give you feedback about the environment you create. I am constantly humbled that there is more I could do differently, better, or more of, to create a great environment for everyone on the team. A lot of the best coaching I have received has been from people who I wouldn’t have solicited feedback from, but they have heard me state that’s important to me and that I’m open to input. Even if you think your team, your peers, etc. know they can give you feedback at any time, there is a big difference in officially giving permission. Then, when you get feedback — consider it, and act. You might also consider ways for people to anonymously give feedback via a trusted team member or online tool (lots of Google results and some ideas on this Quora post).
5- Follow women in tech on Twitter. There are amazing conversations happening in real-time on Twitter. Ask your followers to recommend #womenintech to follow. When I simply tweeted and asked for suggestions, I got back more than 30 great recommendations.
6- Ask a woman about her experience. A new hire 30 days into the job. A woman who was recently promoted. A woman who moved from another team. A woman who has decided to leave your team or company. A woman who just started a company. It’s a great way to hear about someone’s experience, gain empathy, and open a dialogue that might help you unleash new power or opportunity.
Connect women to opportunities. Seek ways to use your position, network, and privilege for greater good and impact.
7- Get inspired to create connections and opportunity for others. Spend 10 minutes watching Kare Anderson’s stellar TED Talk Opportunity Makers. Or, read Give and Take by Adam Grant, a really powerful book about why helping others drives our collective success and includes practical advice for anyone that will help others (and yourself).
8- Invest in mentoring. Let your team or colleagues know you’re open to sharing your advice. Agree to the next coffee someone asks for. Turbo charge your own personal career or corporate mentoring program by checking out Women Evolution.
9- Give away the glory. My friend, and innovation fancy-pants, Kara DeFrias has a great teaching point for leaders to give away the glory. She asks, “Was there a time this week — or is there one coming up — where you can let someone else do the interview, present to senior staff, or have the spotlight? Even better if it breaks up the diversity of the same types of people who we always see for these types of things.” It’s a great and simple way to connect women to opportunities they might not have had.
10- Nominate an awesome woman you know to theBoardlist. theBoardlist estimates that 75% of private funded tech company boards have no women, yet we know that board diversity is a proven driver of business performance. Find and refer women for company boards. #choosepossibility
11- Recognize a female colleague. Suggest a colleague shares out more about a product or project she’s working on. Submit a female colleague for an award inside your company, community, or industry. (Even simply suggest she apply.)
12- Support digitalundivided. digitalundivided “takes an innovative approach to economic empowerment by encouraging Black and Latinx women to own their economic security through entrepreneurship.” They serve thousands of people each year through their incubator and online courses. You can donate here or learn about other ways to get involved on the website.
Show your support to the women in your company and girls and women in the industry. Reach out to organizations or groups, offer to host one of their programs or events at your company, or sponsor their programs.
14- Send women to the annual Grace Hopper conference. Encourage your technical female engineers to submit speaking proposals and go to Grace Hopper to participate, speak, and recruit.
15- Help develop the next generation of female tech leaders. Work with organizations like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code to host an immersion program at your company, or volunteer and organize to serve as mentors, speakers, and field trip chaperones.
16- Get involved or support organizations working to equip girls with information and skills to succeed in the future. Examples include Girls Leadership, an Oakland nonprofit that aims to equip girls with the skills to exercise the power of their voice, and Ruling our Experiences (or ROX) that aims to equip girls with the knowledge and skills necessary to live healthy, independent, productive, and violence-free lives.
17- Fuel a little girl’s interest in tech. Do something simple: buy her a book like Rosie Revere Engineer or Ada Twist Scientist, get a GoldieBlox construction toy, or gift something cool to make from Adafruit. Invest in STEM classroom projects on Donors Choose.
A diverse workplace is proven to get better results, more accurately reflect your customer base, and ensure a wider range of experience.
18- Apply best practices (and use simple tools) to improve your hiring. There are simple things you can do to find and hire more women in tech that start with the language you use in job descriptions. The words you use might signal that your team has the potential to be unwelcoming, or even toxic, to women. Changing language is an easy way to improve. You also want to make sure you have multiple women in your candidate pool and have an agreed upon set of skills and capabilities you’re hiring for in advance (one safeguard against unconscious bias). Check out the wealth of apps and open source extensions noted in a call-out in this Atlantic article to help with all of the above.
19- Hire outside of your circle. When it’s time to hire, it’s only natural to look at the pool of talent in your own network or industry, or look to your go-to sources (e.g. a certain college). These methods generate strong bets: you know people in common, resumes have familiar backgrounds, and you feel you know the caliber of experience you will get. But this can also mean stagnation. Diverse experience and backgrounds are good for business. A fresh perspective can be invaluable, and people bring new and different competencies that can give you an advantage. This has nothing to do with women, it has to do with great talent; but this sort of approach creates more opportunity for women. (Alex Chriss, you are the best I have ever seen at this and should probably just go ahead and write an article about how you think about, and approach, it. Hint, hint.)
20- Create access, awareness, and opportunities for talent you might not have considered or have in your pipeline. Support and engage with organizations like Code2040 and Management Leadership for Tomorrow
21- Create new ways to fuel your female talent pipeline. I was so inspired when my colleagues in India created an initiative called Intuit Again to inspire and provide an opportunity to women technologists who have taken a break in their career and aspire to come back. They have run a few programs that have resulted in the placement of 15 out of 20 women into Intuit or a partner organization.
22- Have at least one woman on every interview panel. Candidates want to see that they’ll be working with women, and a woman can help vet for any biases a candidate may have against women. This can be influenced by anyone included in the process. If you’re invited to be on an interview panel, ask who else is on it and help ensure that women are part of it.
While women often enjoy short lines for the restroom at a tech conference, I’d gladly trade that rare benefit to see myself reflected in any of the “experts” on-stage waxing poetic about the future of an industry or how to address our biggest problems. Commit to better training seminars and conferences, proactively engage to help change the dynamic when you’re a speaker, and vote with your feet as an attendee.
23- Say no to “manels.” All-male (usually all-white) panels have jumped the shark. It is rarely an obvious choice to have all men and generally just frustrating to see the experts assembled at any event — internal company or industry event — are only men. If you’re invited to speak on a stage or panel, ask about the makeup of the program or panel. PR pros, if you’re submitting a male speaker, suggest a female expert who would be a great addition.
24- Commit to a better ratio of female and minority speakers at your conference. O’Reilly and LeanStartup Co. do an awesome job of this, as does the Shift Forum, which was committed to 50–50 gender parity throughout the program. When I had the opportunity to lead the QuickBooks Connect conference program team, we had a set of design principles for the program that included “Speakers will reflect the diversity of our ecosystem.” We declared it as important, followed some great tips from Sarah Milstein noted in her Harvard Business Review piece Putting an End to Conferences Dominated by White Men, and did one key thing: we tried. As a result, our program was 60% females and people of color.
25- Submit yourself, or encourage women you know to submit their name, to a list of female tech speakers. There are lots of options. The 50/50 Pledge has a database of thousands of female leaders and anyone who identifies as a woman can submit themselves. DevelopHer has a list of women who are keen to speak on various tech-related topics, and Women Talk Design promotes women speakers in design and tech. There are also great lists that have been compiled.
26- Have a Code of Conduct for your show. Make it so your conference or seminar is welcoming and respectful to all participants, enabling everyone to focus on the content and the networking. Check out this Code of Conduct you can use.
And finally, an action that spans any category:
27- Vote with your feet. Read and share articles about companies that role model good behavior and are having a positive impact on business and world, like those covered in NewCo Shift. Find a conference you want to go to that sucks on male to female ratio? Don’t go, then send feedback as to why. Applaud Pando because they dropped their paywall on all stories that involve harassment and discrimination, even though it was a horrible business decision, but the right thing to do? Subscribe. The list of possibilities goes on and on. The point is, take the wheel at every opportunity you get to shape the culture we want in tech.
Bros on their best behavior doesn’t get us out of this mess. Media and industry leaders will increasingly make it so there’s no place to hide, but they are not responsible for the environment at your company, or on your team. You are.
We’re past patiently waiting.
What ideas would you add? Leave them in the comments or share with the post!
I care a lot about leaving tech better than I found it, and am passionate about enlisting others to help foster an awesome environment for women. The above comments reflect my personal thoughts and opinions on how we all can create that better work environment across every aspect of tech.
A huge thank you to Kara DeFrias who read all of my ugly drafts of this piece and pushed me to be “Carpool Cassie” and actually say what I wanted to say, in the way I would actually say it. I appreciate all of your suggestions and those from Charles, Justin, Jeremy, and Alex. Shout out to all of the women and men who are working hard to make tech better — I am inspired by you and hope we can join you in doing more and making us all proud. (Mom, sorry for using foul language but trust me, it was appropriate in this case.)
Standard bio part: Cassie Divine started working in tech at the same time the Pets.com sock puppet did. A 10-year veteran of Intuit, she is the global co-chair of the Intuit Women’s Network, and vice president and Business Leader for the Self-Employed Segment, rallying around QuickBooks Self-Employed. She’s been called aggressive on numerous occasions, mansplained in good and bad ways, cares a lot about leaving tech better than she found it, and is a constant work-in-progress as a leader, mom, and human. When she’s not at work, you might find her at the fabric store getting inspired for the next product line-up of her seasonal Etsy shop, or day-dreaming about cheese.