How to Foster Inclusion and Equality in Your Startup

How do you keep up and tap into the awesome power of smart, talented women?

This is a question we ask ourselves every day at JVZoo. In an industry where women make up just 11 percent of developers, we’ve focused on creating a work environment that empowers employees (both men and women) to take on challenges and evolve in their careers. We don’t hire for demographics; rather, we hire for skill. As a result, our ratio of men to women employees is 50-to-50, and women make up one-third of our development team.

As a female CEO, I know my decisions and actions affect not only the women who work with me, but also the daughters and granddaughters who will follow us. That’s why I believe it’s so important that startup leaders do their part to make their companies more inclusive. It’s not always easy, even as a woman CEO. We’re battling centuries of social constructs that tell us to be quiet and sit down. But during my time as CEO, I’ve learned a few things about promoting equality for all employees.

1. Pay disparities exist — but they don’t have to

Many of us are familiar with the often-cited stat that women are paid about 80 cents per every dollar that men are paid, but for women of color, that gap is wider. Black and Latina women earn about 63 cents and 54 cents, respectively, for every dollar white men earn.

Some states, such as New York and Massachusetts, have taken steps to close the gender pay gap — but our fight is far from finished.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the gap won’t close until 2059 if the rate of change remains the same as it did between 1959 and 2015.

Business leaders can and should do their part to fix pay disparities within their own companies. Pay attention to how you decide salaries. They should be based on experience, skill set and difficulty of the job. Nothing else.

Put a system in place. Don’t “go with your gut” when it comes to pay. Go above and beyond by doing a survey every year to see where your wages fall in the industry. Competitive wages will always bring you the brightest talent, and if you build a reputation for paying your employees (no matter their gender) fairly, you’ll find even more superstars in the mix.

Related: Define Your Own Success: A Q&A with Dr. Patti Fletcher

2. Benefits should benefit everyone

Women and men divide domestic duties more evenly than they did a few decades ago, but women still spend more time doing housework and handling child care responsibilities than men. Often, that means working mothers are juggling household chores, attending kids’ extracurricular activities and managing family finances, all while working a full-time job with its own catalog of responsibilities.

Even inadvertently, companies can put working mothers at a disadvantage when creating benefits packages. For instance, if you require all employees to clock a certain number of hours within the office per week, working moms may be forced to sacrifice a vacation day to care for a sick child. It’s important that company leaders acknowledge unintended consequences like this when they’re building benefits packages.

Create benefits that allow parents of all genders to grow in their careers while also having and raising children. One of our biggest wins at JVZoo is offering paid maternity and paternity leave. Benefits such as flexible work, unlimited paid time off and autonomy make a job much more attractive for all.

3. Contribution trumps all

It sounds like a no-brainer on paper that promotions should be granted based on merit, not gender. Yet a 2017 study from Lean In and McKinsey found men get promoted more often than women.

This is indicative of a larger systemic (but subtle) problem. Gender discrimination is so deep-seated that many of us don’t even realize the ways it affects us — and our careers. From a young age, for instance, women are taught to be demure. In the workplace, that can translate to women hesitating to advocate for promotions; as a result, companies may promote less-deserving, albeit bolder, employees.

It’s crucial that we all fight these internalized biases to evaluate our employees’ performance from an objective point of view. Establish a process for promotion eligibility, and apply it to everyone. What are the key metrics that matter to each position? Do you value staying late every day or getting more done in less time?

It will be specific to your company, but when you have those standards in place, make sure every employee knows them. Then, be rigorous in applying them.

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4. Mentorship fosters leadership

Research tells us that having more women decision makers leads to stronger companies, yet a 2018 report found more than 70 percent of startups still have no women on their board of directors, and 57 percent have no women in executive roles.

Fixing this pervasive issue is less about being a hero yourself and more about creating avenues for women to lift themselves and each other up.

“Women don’t need help. Women need recognition and support. They need champions,” according to Jane Nelson, lecturer and a director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative.

Consider spearheading a mentorship program that allows women to network and connect as well as help one another navigate workplace challenges. Furthermore, through a mentorship program, those already in positions of influence can help guide promising women employees through their careers and pivotal decision points, eventually helping them rise to leadership.

As a startup leader, your goal is to create a work environment that appeals equally to both men and women. Then, you can look for the skill sets that match, regardless of gender.

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