Image Credit: Ghostbusters

As a representative of the tech industry, and also someone deeply in love with both film and tech, it’s been heartbreakingly and horrifyingly easy to find parallels between the two industries regarding gender equality and diversity. The biggest irony being, that in both film and tech, women have played a central role in building up respective industry.

In the early days of Hollywood film industry, 20 of the independent film studios were run by women. Women both directed and produced films with strong female characters, launched Charlie Chaplin’s career, and helped make movie going to become popular, and the billion dollar business it is today. The tech industry can thank Ada Lovelace, “the first computer programmer”, having laid the groundwork for the first modern computers, Grace Hopper for creating the first compiler for a programming language, and the six female mathematicians to program the ENIAC computer in 1944.

While Hollywood today is merely “sorority racist” holding White People Choice Awards, as Chris Rock perfectly named this year’s Oscars for only having nominated white actresses and actors (and why are there different categories for women and men?!), the tech industry is still mainly celebrating White Male Choice Awards. E.g. Sequoia, one of the most prominent and respected venture capital firms, can’t find women without lowering its standards, although, we occasionally do give awards for the Best Asian Friend 😀

Women In Hollywood Today

“Women comprised just 7% of all directors, 11% of all writers, 19% of all executive producers, and 23% of all producers (top 250 films 2014). Only 23% featured female leads or co-leads, and only 31% of the speaking characters were women (Films with international distribution 2010-2013)” –  MS.FACTOR The Power of Female Driven Content

In the context of these staggering statistics, the reports like Gillian Anderson having been offered half the pay of David Duchovny in the X-Files revival series, or that the writer of the excellent three Oscar nominated action film Sicario was asked to rewrite Emily Blunt’s lead FBI character into a male character before he finally met director Denis Villeneuve, are just the tip of the iceberg.

“Movies with a female protagonist earned 20% more box office returns on average than movies with a male protagonist.”

The  film industry is slowly starting to internalize the fact, that movies with a female protagonist earned 20% more box office returns (p.4) on average than movies with a male protagonist, why having chosen the new Ghostbusters movie to represent the progress is no co-incidence. (Full disclosure: There was no way I was going to wait 32 years to have women bust ghosts’ asses, why I in 1985 for my high school graduation costume party dressed up as a Ghostbuster, with a proton pack made out of vacuum cleaner parts, and portable loudspeakers on my back blasting the Ghostbusters theme song on repeat.)

Further representing the change, Anna Serner, CEO of The Swedish Film Institute since 2011, has in just three years mastered the “impossible”. In 2014, Swedish film institute had funded 50% female directors. Her advice on how to go about financing female -led films at Toronto International Film Festival 2015:

“Keep Asking: DO YOU WANT A CHANGE? Do you have a goal? You need to have an action plan.” – Anna Serner, CEO Swedish Film Institute

Women In Tech Industry Today

Sadly, the numbers for women in the tech industry aren’t any prettier than in Hollywood, regardless of the fact that women are better business with “36% better stock price growth and 46% better return on equity, […] because teams with more females demonstrate higher collective intelligence and better problem solving ability”. We’re still faced with  studies like“Gender Bias in Open Source: Pull Request Acceptance of Women Versus Men”, showing that women’s contributions to open software code tend to be accepted more often than men’s, unless a woman’s gender is identifiable, whereby she gets rejected more often.

If that didn’t scare the living s**t out of you, please continue with the 2012 study “Skirting the Issues? Experimental Evidence of Gender Bias in IPO Prospectus Evaluations”, showing that both men and women in the study found male CEO more qualified, and male led company IPOs 4x more attractive investments. The anticipated share price of IPOs led by male CEOs was also approximately 11% higher than those of female led IPOs.

Despite of all the excruciating studies and statistics, things are moving forward in the tech world, too. There are now more initiatives than ever before, such as Mehackit and Hello Ruby, to once and for all shut the hell up about the “pipeline issue”. To my great joy during the countless meetings with startups, I also run into men telling me how boring it is to just work with other men, as I have men approaching me to seek advice on how they can help increase gender diversity. Here’s your action plan for the tech industry:

5 Step Action Plan To Attract Women Join Tech Startups

I’ve stopped counting team pictures, both of startups and venture capital firms, where the company has placed its only female co-worker, almost exclusively a young and enthusiastically smiling, in the middle.

1. Hiring is everything, and a founder’s single most important skill. You set the tone and lead by example with your values. Start by looking yourself in the mirror and ask what kind of a company you want to build. Then sit down and create a culture document, or you’ll be heading into the deepest waters before you know what hit you. Make sure to have clear and explicit guidelines and Code of Conduct for the workplace environment.

2. Be very clear about WHY you want women to join your company.  Have all hands meetings and discuss the issue openly. This is an entire company matter. Unless the reason to hire women is to build a better and more profitable business, don’t bother us. We’re so not into making your team picture look more diverse, or worse, your need to become more organized in the office. To no-one’s surprise, I keep having way too many women confessing, how frustrating it is to be the only female at a tech startup.

3. Manage your unconscious bias. Treat everyone as a person, i.e. don’t treat women any different than men, and don’t treat men as men.

4. Showcase your team members with blog posts and through your team page. This is your opportunity to highlight your company values, since your employees are a reflection of them. Both women and men will join a company, not a job description. Anyone who joins a company just for the job description is most likely a wrong hire. Good examples of company blogs showcasing its employees are Lifesum, a Stockholm-based digital health startup and a team with 42% females, and  Clue, a digital female health company based in Berlin. You can get started by building your team and open positions pages using Teamtailor like Lifesum has done. You can find more tips from Lifesum and other Swedish startups here.

5. Always have a gender diverse team to craft and look over job applications and the language used in them. Just remember: The recruiting process is not the responsibility of your female co-workers! If you don’t have women in your team, reach out to the ones in the industry. Great places to start in Sweden are Geek Girl Meetup, the many women working at startups been highlighted @movetostockholm, and the Facebook group “Jobbtips till kvinnor inom tech, gaming och startups“. We’d love to help.

Bonus: Andrea Barrica, EIR at 500 Startups, has written an important post with stellar advice and resources on how to manage diversity. She calls it diversity debt, and has first hand experience: As two female co-founders of inDinero they themselves struggled to hire a diverse team.

Badass Ghostbusters Making Change By Taking Action:

1. Bocoup: Founded by Boaz Sender, the 30 people strong company developing and working with open source software has 25% female web engineers and 36% female co-workers. They live by its explicit Code of conduct and are organizers of OpenVis Conference (April 25 & 26 2016, Boston, MA ), a true role model for a gender equal tech conference speaker list. #YesYouCanToo

2. Spotify: In a tech company with 1 600 employees, gender diversity becomes a challenge that needs to be dealt with head-on. Here are few things how CEO Daniel Ek, these days part janitor and part editor, is taking action:

  • Global, paid parental leave policy. All full-time Spotify employees are offered up to six months’ parental leave with 100% pay.
  • Female Economist of the Year is an annual scholarship for students at SSE. Last year Spotify provided a full time, tailor-made working experience in order to empower women in leadership positions.
  • Diversify – A hackathon with 50/50 female and male participants.

3. 500 Startups: SV early stage investor and accelerator program, has from the start taken a clear statement on “Diversity is not just a strategy or tactic, it’s who we are”, which is reflected directly on its team and portfolio pages. It also recently held its first Diversity & Entrepreneurship Summit to discuss the challenges in raising money, as well as making the tech industry more inclusive.

More reading on Women in Tech

Dear Tech Startups and Hollywood: Who You Gonna Call? Upvote Women.

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Paula is Digital Product Advisor and Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe, focusing on Product, Go-to-market, and Internationalization strategies. She has to date mentored over 150 digital technology companies, and rated as one of the best startup mentors in Europe. Read more about her work and personal guidelines. Contact Paula to help you build better products and drive growth. “You never learn anything when you speak, only when you listen” – Roelof Botha / Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital. Connect on Twitter, LinkedIn.

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