by Natasha Postolovski. Writer, maker, programmer.
Today, we’re releasing gender diversity figures for Envato. We’ve been inspired by a growing movement among US-based startups and tech companies to make these figures public, even if they aren’t where we want them to be.
The figures form a solid basis for meaningful discussions about ways to address the gender imbalance in technology. We hope that other Australian tech companies will follow suit and contribute to a richer and more transparent dialogue around this issue.
- Male: 71%
- Female: 29%
- Male: 93%
- Female: 7%
- Male: 58%
- Female: 42%
- Male: 72%
- Female: 28%
These results place us far away from our goals. We want to be an inclusive and diverse place to work, and believe a diverse culture is a happy, welcoming and productive culture. A lack of diversity on teams can lead to groupthink and stifled creativity. Non-diverse teams also miss out on some incredible talent, valuable life-experiences, customer empathy and fresh perspectives. Most of all, we value fairness: a diverse workplace is a fairer and more welcoming workplace for all.
It’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.
Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, speaking on diversity.
Companies that have released gender diversity figures so far share one thing in common: the root of the problem lies in the lack of gender diversity in technical teams. Redress this imbalance and the overall picture looks much closer to where we, individually and as an industry, want to be.
For this reason, this is the core focus of our diversity efforts at Envato.
The Journey Here
As recently as March of this year, Envato had no women filling software engineering roles. Like most startups-turned-companies, we hired mostly through immediate personal networks, selecting great people but not casting the net far and wide.
Pete Yandell, Lead Architect at Envato Market, has worked at Envato as a developer for over four years. He has seen the company’s technical team grow at a rapid pace. “I’m a startup junkie,” he says, “and when you’re founding startups you get whoever’s going to get the job done. You don’t stop to think about the diversity in your internal team culture, let alone diversity externally. Once you’ve got half a dozen guys in a room like that, it makes it really hard to change the culture. The first person you bring in who is not like that is immediately an outsider.”
At software startups, developers are the engines of growth, and startups want nothing more than to grow quickly. A gender diverse team can be seen as a luxury that the typical startup cannot afford.
Yet, startups like crowdfunding platform Indiegogo have proven that this is flawed thinking. 45% of their overall workforce are female, as are 33% of their tech employees.
“Indiegogo are showing what is possible. The big tech firms are making excuses saying that they can’t find the right talent. Indiegogo proves that it is not that the women aren’t there, it is that companies have to think differently and recruit differently.”
Vivek Wadhwa, Diversity Expert
What’s different about Indiegogo is that, stemming from the founding team (which includes Danae Ringelmann, a female co-founder), diversity is baked into the company’s mission.
“Our mission at Indiegogo is to democratize access to capital by empowering anyone, anywhere to fund what matters to them. At its core, Indiegogo exists to promote equality of opportunity. And so far, we’re on track to achieve this vision.”
Danae Ringelmann, co-founder Indiegogo
As a result of this discussion in the tech industry, we hope to see more startups being mindful of diversity from the day they are founded. Years of imbalance left unchecked makes the issue harder to address in anything but baby-steps.
The League of Extraordinary Inclusiveness
The League of Extraordinary Inclusiveness.
Sebastian von Conrad, Development Solutions Lead at Envato Market, says that though Envato staff had been concerned about diversity for some time, it was a controversial incident in the tech community that brought the issue to the fore-front. Envato co-founders Collis and Cyan Ta’eed decided that rather than weigh into the broader debate, it was time to address the issue on home soil.
In late 2013 the company formed a dedicated group to tackle the issue, dubbed ‘The League of Extraordinary Inclusiveness’. It would bring together men and women from different parts of the business to discuss and act on ways to make Envato more inclusive for all.
Amber Johnson, HR Business Partner at Envato, says the move was an effort to turn frustration into real action. “It was about seeing what we could do to really make a change for the future.”
The group immediately decided to focus Envato’s efforts on improving gender diversity. “Our focus is on where we have the most room for improvement,” says Amber. “That’s the technical team, and the greatest imbalance is in gender diversity when compared to other types of diversity.”
“The way we’re structured at Envato makes the gender imbalance even more stark,” says Chaman Sidhu, Envato’s Legal Director and one of the founding members of the League. “Development is the core of the company.”
The group’s focus turned to one central challenge: making Envato a place where awesome women would want to work. The ratio of applicants for tech roles suggested there was lots of work to do. At the group’s founding, less than 5% of applications for tech roles at Envato came from women. Evidence of unconscious bias had started to show up in small but worrying ways.
In May of this year, Stephanie Staub became the first female Ruby Developer to start at Envato. Previously she had worked as a Senior Engineer at Lockheed Martin in the US, focusing on air traffic control middleware. Engineering is in her blood. “My two older brothers were in Computer Science, and my dad worked for Apple as a salesman but he had done electrical engineering. And my mum actually was a programmer, though I didn’t know that until I was older. I found out when I’d work on website stuff and she’d help me. She was a stay at home mum and she’d still do things on the side, make websites and script things. She was at NASA for a little bit, working with punch cards.”
Stephanie has a Masters in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University. Like many other female developers, she deals with constant surprise when she tells new people she’s in CompSci. “People would never believe it. It would be the most shocking thing that I was into that.”
Yet, for her, being a woman in programming has not held her back. “For the most part, I don’t really think about it too much. I’m sure a part of that is because I had two brothers also in Computer Science. Growing up with them I was used to being the only girl in the group.”
Stephanie says that it’s the times she was treated differently by her colleagues, often by well-meaning managers and team-members, that stick out in her memory. “In the past, when someone has made a crude joke at work I’ve gotten apologies after the fact and an email sent to me. It’s not offensive, and it’s not mean, but I’m sure they weren’t emailing the guys.”
Shevaun Coker is a Senior Ruby Developer at Envato who started at the company shortly after Stephanie. “On the whole, gender hasn’t affected my journey through programming,” she says. “I took a computer programming course for the last two years of high school. I was the only girl in that class but I didn’t notice or care. It was more obvious at university, there were a few girls but mostly guys, but again it wasn’t a big deal.” Coker graduated with a Computing and Mathematical Sciences (Hons.) degree from the University of Waikato.
“I think I was pretty lucky with the way I was raised,” she says. “I know my mum made a special effort not to stereotype me. She’d let me choose what toys I wanted to play with, whether it was lego, a doll, or a truck. It was never in my head that I couldn’t do computers because I was a girl.”
According to a 2013 survey by Graduate Careers Australia, representation of women in Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics at a university-level in Australia, where Envato is based, is low. Degrees in these fields have traditionally been pipelines into software engineering jobs for many graduates.
In 2013, women made up 1/5th of total Mathematics enrolments, and just 1/10th of enrolments in Engineering and Computer Science. The reason for this imbalance, and how we fix it, is the toughest question of all.
Of those women that did get degrees in STEM fields, the same study found that male graduates were twice as likely to enter the technical workforce as female graduates.
Elizabeth Enders, HR Recruitment Partner at Envato, says that one thing companies can do to level the playing field is to look at real-world experience as the primary measure of candidates. “Computer Science degrees are definitely not essential at Envato,” says Enders. “For us, it’s all about the experience that you can bring, your potential, your passion for the industry and alignment to Envato’s values. You may have taught yourself to code, or have contributed to open source on Github, and have built yourself a reputation in the industry through your collaboration with others. We’re more interested in these achievements than high distinctions in a Computer Science degree.”
Pathways Into Technology
“I learned to program at 8 years old,” says Pete Yandell. “Learning to program as a boy you’re encouraged, as a young girl you’re surely not.”
Sebastian von Conrad agrees. He says that young girls, and later women, are not encouraged to see themselves as builders. “You don’t see many women as tradespeople, or plumbers, or electricians, or carpenters, or working to build houses or roads. I think that technology is an extension of that because it’s still about building things. Engineering in general, not just computer engineering, is very male dominated.”
Sebastian von Conrad.
“I think this division starts very early. We’re talking about the books that you get children to read. There are princesses, and then there’s Bob the Builder.”
That’s why, for Envato, it has been important to support groups that intend to redress this imbalance by providing women with entryways into technology. We’ve become frequent supporters of Rails Girls, locally and globally, through both sponsorship and mentoring. It’s a small step, but for us, a meaningful one.
The Best and Brightest
Mary-Anne Cosgrove, who goes by Mac, is a Senior Ruby Developer at Envato. She joined the team remotely and works from Canberra so she can be near her family. Providing flexibility for staff makes Envato a more family friendly place, which in turn helps recruitment of some incredibly talented people for whom family is paramount. In addition to being able to work remotely, Melbourne-based employees have flexible start and finishing hours and are able to work from home once a week.
“I think the approach we have with flexibility works great for parents and for family life,” says Chaman Sidhu. “We’ve rolled out much better parental leave. I think that we’ve avoided having a face-time culture, which means you can do good work and do it around family. That makes a big difference when it comes to women at work.” Envato staff have access to 18 weeks of fully-paid primary carer leave, and 2 weeks fully-paid partner leave.
Part of the shift toward becoming more family friendly is being open to staff joining part-time. Elizabeth Enders says that this involves a mindset shift for teams. “It’s about realizing that it isn’t really a risky thing to do, and that the work can be shared across a few people.”
Elizabeth says that for her, increasing gender diversity is often a matter of looking for great people in the right places. “We’re starting to share open roles with more diverse groups. I’ll often share new jobs with different female orientated professional groups, like Business Chicks and Girl Geek Dinners. Through this and a combination of other efforts, the range of applicants we’re seeing is more diverse than ever before.”
“There are these amazing, talented, experienced professionals,” says Sebastian von Conrad. “We’ve just got to find them and make Envato a warm and welcoming place for everyone. If we can do that I think we have a much better chance to go out into the community and say ‘Hey, this is what we’ve done and this is what’s worked for us.”
Yet, there’s much more work to be done. “The imbalance is staggering, still. We have three female developers and forty male developers. Less than 10%,” says von Conrad.
The Ruby Community
“Diversity in the Ruby community is worse than in the tech community in general,” says Pete Yandell, “and the Australian Ruby community historically has been worse than the global Ruby community.”
Yandell says that as the tech community becomes more conscious of diversity, this has flowed through to improved conditions at events like Rails Camps, today much more inclusive than they have been in the past. “They’ve really promoted getting new people to come through channels other than just having a job in Ruby, things like Rails Girls and General Assembly.”
“Having Ruby Australia incorporated, with a committee that cares about this kind of thing and has been pushing codes of conduct for events, it makes a difference,” says Yandell.
Shevaun Coker says her first experiences with Envato came through meeting friendly staff at events in the Ruby community. “I felt really welcomed by Envato before I was even thinking about applying. I knew a few of the devs from Rails Camps and the Ruby on Rails meetup. I went to a meetup just as I was getting an offer and heaps of people came up and high-fived me and were so excited that I was joining them. That was really positive, and I was excited to start because everyone seemed so happy for me to be joining.
“Since starting, everyone’s been friendly and welcoming and nobody’s been anything else,” says Shevaun. “Everyone has just treated me as part of the team, so that’s made it really easy to be part of the team.”
Sebastian von Conrad hopes the small inroads we’re making at Envato will one day result in learnings we can share with the broader Australian tech community. “That’s where I’d want this to go in future. If we can be a light on the hill for other companies a year in the future and say that we cared about these things, we cared about gender diversity and now look what we’ve accomplished. But we need to accomplish more first. We’ve accomplished a few things but we can do so much more.”
Pete and Sebastian recently gave a talk to developers at Envato called Culture Matters Too. “We have all these great practices for reflecting on our tech and our processes. You do standup every day and you do retro and you go: ‘Hey, this stuff we did in this sprint, this stuff sucks and this was awesome. The premise of the talk was that you should treat the culture of your team in the same way,” says Pete.
A key theme in the talk, and in Envato’s approach to gender diversity, has been raising awareness around unconscious bias. “In your retro, if someone goes ‘This thing you were doing made me uncomfortable,’ then reflect on it, change it, then move on. Part of the culture around development is that it’s OK to acknowledge when you really stuff up. Bring that mentality to the culture of your team, and treat culture on an equal level.”
“Part of the reason we gave the talk at our developer meeting is that it’s usually reserved for technical talks. That was deliberate. We wanted to send the signal that what we’re talking about here should be at the same level.”
Stephanie Staub was one of the developers who attended the talk. “I feel like it’s nice to know that people are thinking about these things. Not in the way that I’ve experienced in the past where people feel like they suddenly have to be more appropriate. Just knowing that it’s on people’s minds, just knowing that they’re aware of it.”
The hardest step is to go from no gender diversity to a little. From there, things get easier. “You want to get to the point where women feel like they wouldn’t be the first one there. It wouldn’t just be me. Because that’s daunting,” says von Conrad.
“We’re one of the biggest Rails shops in Australia now,” says Pete Yandell. “If we have a positive voice, it’s actually a really powerful voice.”
What We’re Working On
- Broadening our support of events to help women enter technology
- Continuing to improve our interviewing and recruitment process
- Improving flexibility for employees
- Reaching out to more diverse networks and groups about relevant job openings
- Encouraging staff to mentor women in technology
- Helping Rails Girls attendees to take the next step by providing access to screencasts and courses
- Incorporating inclusiveness and diversity into the Envato values
- Hosting events for women in technology at Envato HQ in Melbourne
- Encouraging inclusiveness and an awareness around unconscious bias at a team level
- Training to help teams reflect on and be conscious of their culture
- Rewriting our job ads with a focus on inclusiveness
This article was originally published on Inside Envato by Natasha Postolovski.