Assume Competence for Women’s History Month

I am often told we don’t have enough women in the pipeline for tech jobs. Here’s my take on that: there are enough women in the pipeline—if you assume competence.

What do I mean by “assume competence”? Let me give you an example.

The Volleyball Example

In September of  2018, men held almost 60% of the head coaching positions for Division I women’s volleyball teams.

Women make up 100% of the athletes in women’s volleyball. Yet not even 50% of the coaches are women. There are only 22 men’s volleyball programs at the Division I level in the NCAA, yet they apparently produce enough coaches to supply almost 60% of the coaches for 334 women’s Division I programs.

Over 75% of the athletes who play volleyball in the U.S. are women, yet there is no pipeline problem of men to coach women’s volleyball. To my knowledge, after some brief searching, there are zero programs that prepare men to coach women’s volleyball. There is no leaky pipeline study, no Lean In book telling men what to do to coach in a female-dominated sport.

Why do we not have a pipeline problem for men coaching women’s sports? We assume competence.

We assume men who have never played women’s volleyball or (other women’s sports) can coach women’s volleyball. There are key differences in the skills and strategies of men’s and women’s volleyball. Nonetheless, we assume not only that men’s skills at playing men’s volleyball are useful and transferable, but also that they can go to the next level and coach—lead, instruct, motivate, develop winning strategies for—a women’s volleyball team, even though they have never played this exact sport.

To put it bluntly, we assume whatever experience a man had before makes him competent to coach women. There is a gendered expectation that the man is fundamentally competent.

To reverse the situation, almost no women coach men’s sports. Women’s experience playing and coaching women’s sports is not seen as transferable to men’s sports.

Why not? I would argue that it is because we do not assume women’s competence in the same way that we assume men’s competence.

Back to Tech…

Imagine if we could replicate the pipeline of men coaching women’s volleyball and apply it to women in the tech industry. The NCAA was somehow able to take a pipeline of approximately only 20% men—none of whom had direct experience playing women’s volleyball—and fill 60% of the leadership positions, i.e., the most prestigious women’s coaching jobs.

How did they do this? What was their secret? They assumed competence.  

If we assume competence, we can do this diversity thing in tech. There are women, people of color, persons with disabilities, and many other underrepresented groups with either directly applicable experience or transferable skills who can lead, build, and grow your tech company—if you assume competence.








Diverse Startups Do Better: How To Make Yours More Inclusive At Any Stage

“Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.”

—Scientific American, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter

“Our latest research finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.”

—McKinsey & Company, “Why diversity matters

As an entrepreneur—and as a human being—you know that having a diverse founding team, advisory board, and team of employees is both the right thing to do and good for business.

Still not sure about this? Check out this terrific article from Scientific American, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” and this McKinsey report on “Why diversity matters.”

Focusing on Diversity & Inclusion can be difficult for busy founders who are trying to get a new company off the ground. That’s why we want to offer some simple and actionable advice for founders about how to create a diverse and inclusive company, starting from the very beginning. This advice is based on Techstars Founders Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion, including the Kapor Capital Founders’ Commitments. All participants in our mentorship-driven accelerators sign on to these commitments; we believe that they can be helpful to founders everywhere.  

Set Goals

Setting goals around diversity and inclusion is an important first step. You can’t meet goals you don’t set, so the very act of setting goals is meaningful—even if you don’t meet them yet.

Of course, not all companies are the same, so nor should their goals be identical. In setting your goals, take into account your company’s funding stage, employee size, customer base, and core business.

Keep Yourself Accountable

Now that you’ve got some goals, hold yourself accountable to them. Keep track of how you’re doing, and include progress reports on D&I in your quarterly investor updates.

Review (or Set) Policies

When was the last time you looked at your company’s anti-discrimination and harassment policy? Do you even have one?

Take the time to review your policy, and if you don’t have one yet, set one. A major step toward building an inclusive environment is making sure everyone feels welcome and respected; a good way to do this is to make sure your values are reflected in your priorities.

Here are some samples that you can use:

Example of a non-discrimination policy:

(Your company) is dedicated to the principles of equal employment opportunity in any and all terms, conditions or privileges of employment including hiring, promotions, termination, training and compensation.  (Your Company) does not discriminate against applicants or employees on the basis of age, race, sex, color, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, genetic information or any other status protected by federal, state or local law, where applicable.

Example statement on addressing bullying, discrimination and/or harassment:

A repeated pattern of physical and/or non-physical behaviors that (a) are intended to cause fear, humiliation or annoyance, (b) offend or degrade, (c) create a hostile environment or (d) reflect discriminatory bias in an attempt to establish dominance, superiority or power over an individual athlete or group based on gender, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression or mental or physical disability; is prohibited.

These are just a few key steps, but if you do all three, you’ll have made a very good beginning toward building a diverse and inclusive company.

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Do you have questions about how to build D&I into your startup?

Come to our AMA on March 1, 2019 at 1:00 pm ET “Diverse Startups Do Better: How To Make Yours More Inclusive At Any Stage” with Jason Thompson, Techstars VP of Diversity & Inclusion and Allyson Downey, weeSpring founder and author of Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood.