Street Culture: Tech Startups Amping Up Opportunities for Women
Leadership is often a driver of company culture, even though some startup company CEOs and managers say that culture is driven by the employees. Every company is different, and in this industry the quality of communications helps welcome and nurture people. For many companies, transparent sharing and openness at all levels is inviting a new workplace generation led by women.
“Something we look for in interviews is people who will be honest and transparent with you,” says Emilie Fournelle, director of product at local search optimizing software company SweetIQ. “It’s a quality that you find in almost every woman. In general, women have that more than men.”
That is true in several ways – for example, female leaders outperform male leaders in the top three most effective leadership traits: leading by example, communicating in an open and transparent way, and admitting mistakes. That’s according to the 2016 Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor (PDF), an annual global study addressing effective leadership and communication.
Fournelle admits that yes, maybe some women are not especially transparent, but it is still an attribute that she believes she personally possesses and uses, including at work. Fournelle was recently promoted twice in one year after she saw opportunities for improvement within the company, and then took initiative to bring strategy development proposals to the management.
“Basically, I did an analysis of how the company was working,” Fournelle says. “I identified the biggest weaknesses and the biggest problem. My strategy proposed how to resolve the problem that we had. That’s also one reason I was able to convince them – I wasn’t sugarcoating the situation. It was not really about being promoted to director; it was more about the opportunities of what we should do; what I think the product team should aim for to be successful and help the company.”
Many leaders rely on active company-wide transparency, where management is open and accessible, and some leaders go to lengths to give employees an extra inside look at finances and incentive to care. Others focus on mentoring, or actual person-to-person connections, fun events, and down time.
One popular company offshoot speaks to the value in employee diversity: internal programs that educate and inspire personal wellness.
At the app Nextdoor, a female engineer created an employees’ group called “WAND,” which stands for Women At Nextdoor. The group began as an informal social welcoming meetup, but turned into an effort to attract more women to work at the company. WAND now assists with some of the company’s hiring efforts.
At localized digital marketing company G/O Digital, CEO Tim Fagan says women’s leadership has helped move the company forward significantly. G/O is a part of the Gannett digital media breakout TEGNA, where the president and CEO is a woman, the CFO is a woman, and more than half of the board of directors are women.
“Diversity is good for business,” Fagan says. “There are countless data points that show how when your company has women in leadership positions and minorities in leadership positions, those companies have better stocks, better revenue. I firmly believe it, personally and for our leadership here.”
That’s also true – years of data show that women in leadership positions often mean companies perform better financially.
The company has a “G/O Girl” women’s network, which aims to empower female employees with networking, education, and mentorship activities – a program that excels in local community volunteering efforts and encourages employees to pursue personal growth.
At mobile shopping app company ibotta, a recent weekly themed “standup” — a meeting so short that no one sits down — was a quick presentation about how to encourage women to become more involved in technology career paths or prepare for leadership positions. ibotta also presents a “women in leadership” series.
“Once a month someone will come in and talk about how she got to where she is, she gives her story,” says Alison Meadows, vice president of human relations at ibotta. “Last month it was a lawyer, before that an executive in Denver business development. My point is it creates opportunities for employees to come into one room, listen to a topic together, engage in conversation, it fosters dialogue between employees, and from all that stems new connections.”
At SweetIQ, Fournelle says it’s not like the company is trying to fill a quota for a certain number of women, though the company is comprised of nearly half female employees. Two of the 10 members of the executive team are female, and Fournelle says about three-quarters of her team is female.
“But whether you’re a woman or a man here, there’s no difference,” she says. “If you have a great idea and you’re ambitious, you can just move with it. We appreciate that women are at the table. We bring something different. But at the end, the executive team will give you the buy-in if your idea is well put-together and there’s value in it.”
April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.