Equity Starts and Stops with People

Jun 02, 2022

By Beata Puncevic, Chief Technology Officer at Techstars

It is no secret that women are drastically underrepresented in software and computer science fields. As of 2021, only around 14% of software developers and 25% of IT workers in general were women, and hiring statistics show that female software engineering hires have only increased 2% over the last two decades. Personally, I have been told many times that I don’t fit the mold and “don’t look” like someone in this field. 

As of today, the Techstars Technology team is 43% gender diverse, and while I am proud of the progress, we have a lot of work to do. A few considerations have emerged for me on this journey. 

1. Know Your "Why" - and make sure your team does as well. 

My “Why” is that gender diversity results in better quality products and companies. 

2. Don’t be afraid - of setbacks, uncertainties, and failures.

We often get paralyzed by the unknowns, the obstacles, and not knowing how to resolve such complex and fundamental problems. It is easy to get discouraged and forget to work through the problem. 

In my role, I try to be focused on working on the problem and on practical solutions that make it easier for women to enter the field and succeed. We don’t need to understand everything and have the perfect formula for solving this overnight. We do, however, need to work the problem with equity in mind and see past the obstacles.

3. Scope the problem correctly. 

Part of the problem is not looking at the space holistically. When confronted with the problem of gender diversity in technical fields, many hiring managers cite a lack of outstanding female candidates as the primary factor holding them back. That is not a good enough reason to not focus on moving the needle, and focusing on this obstacle is too narrow of a view. If you look through a wider lens, you can start to create processes that build on each other. That means focus on equity in recruiting, hiring, compensation and benefits, feedback, performance management, promotions, offboarding, and so on. 

A comprehensive strategy, likely should include investing in practices that take longer to pay off, like internship and training programs. If you only worry about gender diversity at the application stage, you will be only looking at the middle of the journey and not working the problem holistically. 

4. Don’t confuse equity with one-size-fits-all.

As you think about all these aspects of the employee journey, consider how to tailor and adapt the default approaches. 

How can you create a better pipeline? What communities should you be a part of and #givefirst? How can you tap non-traditional and non-linear career journeys? Consider working with specialty recruiters, investing in internship, apprenticeship, and training programs. Make sure there are roles in your team that are accessible from those paths. 

It is also essential to partner with the Human Resources team to make sure workplace policies and benefits do not unintentionally create unique obstacles for women.  

Oftentimes, organizations use a cookie cutter, templated approach with tools to help employees navigate career paths and growth. While helping people develop must be grounded in consistent principles and equitable practices, at the end of the day, it is a customized exercise. How can you invest in an individual development plan for that person? What senior positions could you see this person possibly excelling at in the future? Getting people in the door is just the start. Fostering an environment where expectations, achievements, and opportunities are equitably managed is essential. 

5. Respect network effects.

I believe magic happens when all these practices begin to build on one another. If you hire gender-diverse team members and make sure they have a fair and equitable opportunity to reach their goals, you can kick start a positive feedback loop. The more referrals, the more women end up in senior leadership roles, the more women see that as a successful path, and the more women decide to enter the field.  

People are more attracted to environments where they feel they can succeed. Workplace culture is heavily influenced by the people in leadership roles. This is why hiring women into low- or mid-level positions is necessary but not enough to create a domino effect that will change the gender ratio of a company or department. Your network is an asset in building teams, approximately 40% of the hires that we made in the last year were referrals. But if you can’t kick start that positive flywheel, you will continue to get the same kinds of referrals.

At Techstars, diversity is baked into our ethos. A top-down diversity-conscious employee equity approach is key to our continued success. I’m proud of what we have achieved so far, and look forward to the day when it would make no sense for a woman to be told: you don’t look like an engineer.

About the Author
Beata Puncevic

I’m a senior leader with a track record of driving business innovation through software and data. I develop and execute purposeful software and data strategies to fuel business growth and transformation.

I have had the opportunity throughout my career to serve in strategy, software development, data engineering, analytics, dev/ops, and security roles.

I am an avid learner and reader. I continuously reflect on ideas and experiences and seek to align my time and focus with what is truly important.