Dear tech CEOs, here’s how to empower women in your company

4 min read
Claire Karjalainen
  •  Mar 16, 2017
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When we talk about women in technology, we often talk about “empowerment” and “support.” Less often, we ask, “What do those words mean in real terms?”

Companies can struggle to turn sentiments and earnest desire into real commitments and actions.

As part of last week’s International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we asked a few of the amazing women at InVision to share actions they’d like to see companies take. Their recommendations range from increasing access to opportunities to concrete ways we can build inclusive environments.

Our panel:

Performance reviews can level the playing field

EMILY: I believe in hiring someone because they are right for the role, of course, but many women do things differently, and I hope managers will become or continue to be aware of that. If a promotion is on the table, look at everyone’s track record and ability to interact with people—not just their ability to speak up and vouch for themselves.

LINDSEY S.: Agreed. I’ve seen in my experience that compensation and promotions for women can be delayed because they often don’t ask for them. Put everyone through a fair and regular performance review process.Twitter Logo A comprehensive evaluation process will often turn up women who are overachieving and ready for a leadership track, but aren’t necessarily vocal about that desire.

Related: An open letter to up-and-coming women in digital design

LINDSEY R.: Yes, the more leadership can be supportive of people who aren’t necessarily screaming their accomplishments from the rooftops, the better. Many product managers work to give away all the credit to our teams. But leadership needs to seek out and understand everyone’s accomplishments and reward them, even if the person isn’t putting themselves in the spotlight.

ERICA: In general, managers should be as supportive as possible. Recognize good work and play to strengths. Give constructive and valuable feedback to improve weak points. Be intuitive and invest in people’s wellbeing by getting to know your team.

At times, it can be unclear what’s necessary to get promoted, so purposefully carving out leadership paths and being transparent about what it takes to earn the role is critical to have more women in those positions.

“If a promotion is on the table, look at track record, not just ability to speak up.”

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Managers can create space for women’s voices and opportunities

LORI: I’ve been in companies where they’ve used quotas, and that hasn’t always ended well. It should be the best person, regardless of gender.

Rather than resort to devices like quotas, I’d rather see more empowering of women’s voices and making sure those voices are heard—and our solutions are heard. That’s one of the things I like to emphasize. You can’t just bring problems to the table. You have to bring a solution.

Related: Should you hire for culture fit?

JESSICA: Yes, and there are subtle things you can do, too. For instance, make sure the women aren’t sitting in the back of the room in meetings. If men are talking over them, give them the room to speak up. Bring in external female mentors or coaches if you don’t have many internally.Twitter Logo

CAROL: I think that managers can help women gain visibility and get credit for their work, too. Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time to be given an opportunity by the right person.

There is a statistic that says men will apply for a job or promotion when they only meet 60% of the criteria—while women will not apply unless they meet 100% of the qualifications. As a manager, you can take a chance on people with potential and give them the opportunity and resources needed to shine.

Everything builds upon or detracts from a culture of inclusivity

DANA: It’s everyone’s job to create an inclusive environment.Twitter Logo We’re not trying to make a workplace where only one kind of person succeeds. For managers, when you’re creating your team’s environment, it’s important to think, “Am I building this for everyone, or am I building this for me?”

JESSICA: Another thing we sometimes don’t think about in tech, especially at startups: Make sure team-building isn’t dominated by male-preference activities.Twitter Logo

LINDSEY S.: Yes! It’s smaller in the grand scheme of things, but it goes so much to culture. Companies should be doing more diverse things when it comes to planning group activities.

Golf outings, activities planned around going to the bar, trips to Vegas—all of that tends to appeal to a certain kind of person, and I’m not even saying this by gender. For instance, our InVision team in New York likes to plan amazing dodgeball outings everyone enjoys. It adds a totally different tone and dimension to the culture.

NATASHA: Inclusivity is about upfront commitments and taking actions.Twitter Logo It’s one thing to get people in the door—it’s another to help them stay and thrive.

I’d like to see more companies make upfront commitments to build a talent bench that’s representative of overall demographics, to ensure equal pay for equal work, and to protect people from harassment.

“It’s one thing to get people in the door—it’s another to help them stay and thrive.”

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Family leave policies are just the beginning

EMILY: I’ve heard of women who were promoted during their maternity leaves. That’s amazing. Women should not have to fear falling behind during maternity leave.Twitter Logo And that goes for their careers and paychecks. Also, give men paternity leave!

LINDSEY S.: And it’s not just better leave policies and flex time—everyone needs to be more educated around how to handle parental leaves. Companies and managers should not make assumptions.

I’ve seen situations where a woman went out on maternity leave, and the assumption was just that she wasn’t coming back. Or if she did come back, that the company would have to change her job to make it easier. And it came from a well-meaning place, where the manager was trying to be accommodating, but the woman never asked for that.

That goes for women too—don’t assume everyone knows what’s in your mind about your leave and your job. Communicate clearly so everyone knows your intentions and what to expect when you return.

CAROL: Yes, I actually went through this recently. My company at the time had an excellent maternity leave policy, but I was the first female employee to go out on parental leave in the company’s 6-year existence. So my transition back to work was a learning process for everyone. Few people could relate to the new boundaries and flexibilities I needed.

Women already have enough challenges with returning to the workforce after having kids. It’s important for tech companies to recognize diversity of all kinds—including people at different stages of their lives. It’s important to have strong family leave policies and expectations for transitioning back.Twitter Logo

Change at scale requires commitment at the leadership level

JENNIFER: Ultimately, it comes down to commitment. Companies can encourage and empower women to get into leadership tracks by placing women in leadership tracks. There is nothing more inspiring than a strong female leader.Twitter Logo

NATASHA: This isn’t something that can be done without professionals. Bring in people who know how to build an inclusive company culture. Don’t try to DIY it. Don’t make underrepresented people work a second job as diversity champions.Twitter Logo

And this—all of this—applies to anyone from an underrepresented background, not just women. We need to multiply all our efforts out to everyone from underrepresented backgrounds, including people of color, LGBTQ, and more. Be a rising tide that lifts all boats!

Related: 28 days of black designers: ESPN’s Tiffany Middleton

JESSICA: Building an inclusive company and culture is incredibly important—and being conscious of where you are now is a good place to start.

Look at your employee base—how many women are in leadership roles or will be? How does their compensation compare to their male peers? What is your parental leave policy? Do you have a nursing room at the office? What are the leaders—both men and women—in the organization doing to make sure women are recognized? What training and mentorship do you provide for aspiring female managers and executives?

If you can’t answer these questions in detail, then you know where to start.

“Be a rising tide that lifts all boats.”

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This is our final article in this limited series, but we will continue to devote space to discussing these important issues.

Conversations about women in tech should not be confined to women—while this series focused on a handful of the amazing women at InVision as a way to hear their stories, the work of increasing diversity in technology belongs to all of us.

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