In an industry that’s overwhelmingly dominated by men – and where there’s lots of talk but not always a lot of action on closing the gender divide – one tech start-up stands out for its diversity efforts.
At Wave, an accounting platform targeted at small businesses, senior vice president of people and culture Ashira Gobrin is leading a push to bring more women into the tech world.
It begins with a hiring process, during which candidates’ gender, race, age and sexual orientation are often masked to avoid bias, while a hiring committee evaluates them based on a scorecard that covers hard skills, soft skills, and cultural fit.
Gobrin spoke to HRD about all of Wave’s efforts to balance out gender in tech.
Where do the challenges lie in the tech sector with regard to diversity?
There just plain and simply is a catch up game getting more women into STEM roles. The schools need to promote this as a wonderful career for women, we need to encourage our daughters and we need to make room for more women in our cultures. Anything unbalanced has problems - and when you have populations that are largely male, it’s easy to get a bro culture that makes it harder to get women to join as an example.
It's a hard ship to turn but we will do it. I’ve been in tech for over 20 years and I’ve loved every minute of the journey - even when it was hard, even when I’ve been the only woman in the room, even while I was raising young children. It is a great career for everyone, and I’m so pleased to be in a role that I can help influence other women starting out in their careers to see that.
How do you gauge your gender diversity progress?
I do keep an eye on metrics - but they are a way for me to measure that what we are doing is working and that we don’t have problems that we are ignoring. I don’t report the numbers because I have a problem with counting for the sake of counting.
For example: how do I know who is a visible minority? Because they self select? Because of how they look? If one parent is? If one grandparent is?
So I watch the numbers at a high level – age, nationality, gender, I gauge for diversity of thinking ... but I use them as a dial to know that we have representation and that we are increasing it, not decreasing it.
I also watch for numbers of promotions in these groups as a percentage of our base, who is leaving and who is staying. Who get opportunities to be recognized, to be in the spotlight for their great work and things like that.
What else is Wave doing to advance women in tech?
We partner young women with female mentors wherever possible. I also have a bi-weekly “Coffee with Ashira” for a group of young and upcoming, very talented women who are quieter and can have more impact when they are comfortable finding their voice. All of the leadership development programs work for females and males for different reasons. Mostly, we really build our culture on a foundation of respect for everyone, no matter who they are or what they look like. That means, we don’t really treat anyone differently, we treat everyone as a competent expert in their fields and a human being that deserves to be treated with integrity and respect, and we don’t tolerate anything less.
What could other companies learn from Wave, or what advice would you give HR leaders elsewhere relating to diversity and inclusion?
Actions speak louder than words – and culture is an outcome of behaviour. The way we behave, and the way we allow others to behave - is what determines our culture. So I would also like to state as loudly as I can in an email - if anyone in an organization is aware of any kind of discrimination or disrespect causing discomfort to any employee- regardless of gender, race, religion or anything else, they are obligated and responsible to bring that to the attention of someone so that it can stop it right then and there.
My door is always open, my day always has time for each and every employee with my utmost commitment to confidentiality, and appropriate action. Even if the problem is our CEO. Yes, I would address that with the severity that it deserved right at the board level if I needed to.
Diversity is about the way we think, not the way we look. Inclusion means there is a place for everyone no matter what they look like. And that has to be lived, not just talked about. Top down, bottom up and everywhere in between.
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