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How You Can Tackle Workplace Sexism in Your Startup

By: SmallBizClub

 

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There’s a running joke in Silicon Valley called “The Dave Rule.” It goes a little something like this: in order to ensure your startup has proper gender balance, there must be at least as many women on your team as there are men named Dave. Funny, right? 

 
It might be—if it didn’t also point to an uncomfortable truth about the tech industry. There’s honestly no way to put this delicately, so I’m just going to come right out and say it: tech has an extremely obvious problem with gender dynamics and sexism. For all the awesome stuff its developed, it seems that many of tech’s top personalities are still stuck in the 18th century. 
 
 
You get the idea. 
 
 
“Silicon Valley,” writes Newsweek’s Nina Burleigh, “is the sort of place where one of the valley’s “most-eligible bachelors,” Gurbaksh Chahal—an entrepreneur with companies valued at hundreds of millions of dollars—is shown on a home security video beating his girlfriend for half an hour.  It’s a community in which the porn-inspired, “drading” college tweets of Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snapchat, go public; where a CEO’s history of domestic violence has no repercussions but female executives get fired for tweeting about sexist jokes they overhear.” 
 
Alright. Now that we’ve established tech has a problem with women, let’s talk about how we can start working towards a solution. Or more specifically, how you can start doing so as an entrepreneur.
 
How can you make your startup more gender-inclusive? 
 
Step One: Stop Treating Women Differently
 
The enduring belief appears to be that women are somehow inherently “different” from men; that female entrepreneurs, programmers, and developers are some sort of anomaly in tech. They aren’t, and they shouldn’t be. A female programmer should not be treated any differently from a male one; your first step, then, should be to stop using gender-specific terms. 
 
Believe it or not, it actually works. 
 
“I asked our business development lead to remove gender-specific pronouns from his initial descriptions of the company and me,” explains the anonymous contributor we mentioned earlier. “Instead, I asked him to say things like “This CEO is exceptional. I’ve never seen an entrepreneur work so hard.” The longer we went without mentioning my gender, it turned out, the further the conversations progressed.” 
 
Step Two: Educate Your Employees
 
One of the biggest challenges facing you as a founder isn’t just changing how you think—it’s changing how your employees think. As noted by Rory Carroll of The Guardian, that’s easier said than done. Not to paint everyone with the same brush, but many of the geekier, more technically oriented men in the industry aren’t exactly well-versed in approaching women.
 
“One manager of a 20-strong software engineering team at a well-known company said he would like to hire more women, but his only female worker moved to another project,” explains Carroll. “Socially awkward geeks struggled to make accomplished female coders feel welcome. Some of the younger ones especially have a hard time relating to women as people.” 
 
Educate them. There are tons of courses on workplace sensitivity, diversity, and harassment online. Choose one that fits your business, and make it a point to have your employees complete it. 
 
Step Three: Institute Harassment Policies and Stick to Them
 
Last, but certainly not least, if you encounter harassment in the workplace, you need to stamp it out as quickly as possible. Institute a set of clearly established, readily available harassment policies, and make sure they’re properly enforced. Someone who makes a sexist comment should be instructed on why that sort of conduct is unacceptable.
 
A repeat offender should either be subjected to further sensitivity training, or simply let go. It may sound a little harsh, but that’s the only way we’re going to bring about change. People need to be made to understand that tech isn’t just for men. 
 
In Closing
 
Now, at this point, it’s worth noting that tech’s diversity woes extend far beyond a simple gender divide, and the problem’s a whole lot more complicated than we’ve made it out to be here. This piece is simply a guide on how you can make your own startup a little bit more welcoming an environment. That’s all it should be taken as; it’s not a treatise on how we can completely solve sexism in Silicon Valley, nor is it a manifesto on tech’s diversity problems.
 
But perhaps if every startup followed the steps here, we might be a bit closer to a solution. 
 
“I look forward to the day when my gender does not affect how people view my business,” writes the anonymous contributor. “In the meantime, if women in tech are going to lean in, as Sheryl Sandberg exhorts us, we also must armor up.” 
 
Author: Renata Magurdumov is responsible for overseeing overall marketing and public relations efforts at ColoGuard.
Published: April 14, 2015
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