Endocode wants gender balance: How to start?

October 16, 2014

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Endocode and newthinking are partner companies who campaign for gender balance. The following interview is also available in German on the newthinking blog; it was conducted in March 2014 with Jennifer Beecher, experienced manager in IT environments, trainer and coach. Jennifer is also chairwoman of the supervisory board of Endocode AG. The trigger for the interview was a conversation of the Endocode shareholders about gender balance in our company.

Hi Jennifer. As you know, Endocode started just over half a year ago and we are right now only men – but we have a supervisory board which consists only of women, and you are our chairwoman. What do you think we have to do to be more diverse here at Endocode?

Regarding gender balance, the best start to have is a founding team with women in it. It can be difficult to convince the first women to join your team of men. And the problem is now also that basically for now and forever all senior management positions are held by men, which is very tricky. I do think that the supervisory board idea is awesome, but it’s no replacement for having women as part of the team.

Unfortunately we can’t travel back in time. What can we do now?

I think the most important point is caring about the issue. It doesn’t help if there is only pressure from the outside, or only women care about gender balance. The most important thing is: You care and you start supporting women in tech, like getting into Rails Girls, supporting OpenTechSchool or the Geekettes and just being active in the scene. And this kind of interview is the same thing: It’s really important that you show you care because then it’s much easier to convince the first women to join. I love that you ask job applications to apply without any indication of gender, age or ethnicity, and I think you could actually make it mandatory. The biggest problem with these things is unconscious bias. That applies to race, that applies to gender and so on. Basically when you assess a CV, as aware as you might be of your own prejudice, you still have very strong unconscious bias that may cause you to judge different genders, nationalities or age groups unfairly. By having that anonymous process you at least invite these people to an interview and get them past the initial screening.

You mentioned the environment which women would need to work in: a team full of men in an area which is dominated by men…

I think what’s important to remember is, especially when women are often met with the assumption that they have no idea about tech. That makes it difficult for them to become learners, because they might be afraid to ask questions for fear of reinforcing the stereotype.  For those things it’s important to create a safe haven, like the initiatives I mentioned earlier or Geek Girl Meetup.

What does it mean for us at Endocode?

I think ideally a woman shouldn’t stay the only woman at Endocode for very long. But what’s most important is that you’re all aware of the fact that she is the only woman in your company, in every meeting and so on. What I would suggest is: If you interview a woman – bring it out in the open. Say “We are aware you’d be the first woman to work here and we really want to make it work for you.” It’s about creating the atmosphere for a dialogue. Nothing more.

There are other character aspects which should be taken in account, e.g. being introverted vs. extroverted, communication-oriented vs. revenue-oriented, etc. I think it’s important to see these character types as skills, to know and to address them in order to use them and to understand the possible positions in our internal discourses much better.

I love that, as it brings out exactly that the topic is not only about women, it’s about different humans. I think that’s a really great approach: That you are aware of where people’s strengths are. That’s good for people themselves to get that kind of reflection, the ability to know “Ok I am good at this but I am not so good at that” and to be able to make the best of that skillset you have as a team.

It’s about the so-called “soft skills”. I heard already things like, “That sounds a little bit esoteric to me”.

It has to be understood that different people have different needs. You have to create balance for this, a mature company culture which is doing both: Looking at facts and looking at the human beings. I personally finds it makes no sense to ignore emotional aspects because we’re all emotional beings, otherwise you risk making a decision that seems logical but you don’t get the result you want because the pesky human psyche got in the way. That would be a shame and not effective in the long run.

It’s finally comes down to how many people in a group think it’s worth considering a certain aspect of a topic. This brings us again to the subject of diversity in teams. Unfortunately we hire people which are like we are.

Yes, it’s difficult to get away from this. Because what happens if somebody is very much like you, you have chemistry, which means you are so much more likely to say, “Yes, I want to hire this person”. If you’re not sure about a hire, try and figure out whether it’s because of lack of skills or a lack of chemistry. If it’s the latter, it might be worth the risk for the sake of diversity. That way, you’re allowing the little bit of diversity you have to multiply.

This interview was conducted by Andreas Wichmann. Andreas is a partner at Endocode AG and an expert in collaboration. As a consultant he helps clients with their processes concerning teamwork and cooperation. In addition to his work at Endocode, Andreas is active on projects at newthinking in several capacities, including as an expert for open innovation projects_.__

Find all articles in the gender balance series here:

  1. Personal insights: women in IT – with Jennifer Beecher
  2. Just do it! – with Cecilia Palmer
  3. Free Software, Free Society? – with Silke Meyer
  4. What women want – and what they have to learn – with Jutta Wepler
  5. Endocode wants gender balance: How to start? – with Jennifer Beecher