February 21, 2020

What We’ve Learned From Putting More Women in Leadership

Media Coverage
What We’ve Learned From Putting More Women in Leadership

February 21, 2020


What characterizes a good hire? The answer is as unique as the position you’re trying to fill.

A few years ago, ElectrifAi was a very different organization. In fact, we even had a different name. Our team was structured like those of many modern tech companies. We hired based on whoever was the most qualified candidate for the job.

At least, that’s what it seemed like on the surface. If you dug a little deeper — like we did for ourselves — you might have concluded we were just another tech company with unconscious patriarchal bias embedded in our hiring process.

The scary part is you would have been right.

When we changed our name from Opera Solutions to ElectrifAi, we also took a hard look at our hiring practices. We realized they needed some improvement. We needed to remedy our lack of diverse voices, and we resolved to go out of our way to make sure our leadership team better represented the broad spectrum of talented people in the tech field.

Empowering Women in Tech

When Ed Scott took over as CEO of ElectrifAi last July, his wife and three daughters were at the top of his mind as he started making decisions for the future of the organization.

“Before coming to ElectrifAi, I spent 25 years in the tech industry,” Scott says. “I know from seeing it firsthand — from advisory boards to investors and executive leadership — it’s a very male-dominated culture.”

Indeed, the massive gender gap in the tech industry and STEM fields is no secret. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women held only 26 percent of professional computing positions in the US in 2018, but they accounted for 57 percent of all professionals across all fields. If tech companies want to continue to innovate, succeed, and lead as an industry, we’re going to have to fix that discrepancy. We’re going to have to harness the power of women in technology.

TrustRadius reports that roughly one in four leadership roles at large tech companies are held by women. Unfortunately, when we were looking at our own workforce at ElectrifAi, we realized this was true of us as well. That’s why we made a commitment to getting to gender parity in all leadership positions.

Overcoming Common Recruiting Obstacles

One of the most common challenges organizations face when they seek to improve workforce diversity is that a diverse stream of candidates doesn’t necessarily apply to their open positions. Many companies mistakenly assume this means the talent pool for the role is composed overwhelmingly of candidates from the same demographic background.

In reality, companies need to actively recruit the talent they want to have in their organizations. If you keep recruiting the way you always have been, you’re likely to keep reaching the same kinds of people. As our team acknowledged the lack of women in tech is a systemic problem, we also recognized we were perpetuating a patriarchal culture by failing to proactively seek the perspectives our company was lacking.

So, we changed how we recruit — and fortunately, we’ve learned that diversity begets more diversity. When you take a stand as an organization that intentionally seeks diverse candidate pools, word spreads. People tell their networks, and publications may even cover your hiring practices. A more diverse pool of job seekers will start applying for your roles, because they know your company prioritizes diversity.

Our own results speak to the truth of the matter: After just six months, women now represent half of our global management committee.

Of course, it takes more than good intentions to build a more diverse leadership team. We also use our own artificial intelligence and machine learning products for workforce planning. Using these solutions, we created an internal workforce management platform, that gives us visibility into professional progress for every employee in our business. We can rank performance and goals, generating complete transparency into which employees are ready for merit increases or are interested in expanding their positions. These tools are the foundation of our workforce management strategy and help us identify qualified people we may have otherwise overlooked.

Recruiting Is Only the First Step

You’re not done just because you’ve hired your way to a more diverse workforce. If you want your new employees to stick around for any appreciable length of time, you need to make sure you have the right resources in place to support them.

For us in particular, we saw we needed to enact business policies that empowered all of our employees. In the last year, we’ve tweaked our benefits offerings to better support the various work/life balance needs of our workers. For example, we now offer unlimited PTO and generous maternity and paternity leave.

So, how do you know what changes you need to make in your company? The answer is obvious but bears mentioning: As you hire more diverse candidates into leadership positions and beyond, listen to them. That’s what we did. Instead of a bunch of men speculating about policies that empower women, the men simply stepped aside to let those policies come from the people they most impacted: women.

Ask your employees what they need. Their insights will help you make changes that further promote inclusion.

The Compounding Nature of Diversity

Our entire organization has benefitted from these changes to our leadership team’s composition. When your employees see you’re going the extra mile for them, they feel valued. Employees who feel valued by the company will, in turn, create an environment in which all their colleagues and teammates feel valued as well.

That kind of environment drives engagement and job satisfaction, which could help to explain why diverse companies perform better. For example, one study found that diverse businesses earn 2.3 times more income per employee than their less diverse counterparts. That number shouldn’t be too surprising: Aside from the engagement bump, more diverse teams are less prone to the kind of siloed thinking that stifles innovation.

At ElectrifAi, women are informing policies that make our company increasingly friendly to dynamic and diverse individuals, who are in turn helping us go further. While building a more diverse team was a major and intentional transition for us, the benefits have been clear — and we hope other organizations will take note.

Diane Clark is general counsel at ElectrifAi.

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