What does your software stack say about gender equity in your business?

Written by on October 11, 2019

At Hugo, we often talk to our customers about what they think of our product, and how their business benefits from using it. Over the last few conversations, we noticed that a certain theme recurred: our customers told us that equity and the share of voice from certain team members were on the rise after using Hugo even for just a few weeks. We had not previously considered how collaborative software solutions like Hugo and others provide an equal opportunity for contribution from all team members. Our customers explained that these tools they strip out title, gender, race, and other factors that weigh in on a team member’s ability to speak up, be heard, contribute ideas, and otherwise participate in business growth. Software lacks human bias, i.e., the right tools can help teams more equitably set agendas, share meeting insights, and encourage discussion for everyone – from the intern to the CEO.

We wanted to dig deeper to explore whether there was more behind these anecdotes. We partnered with Freshworks, Atlassian, and BlueJeans and asked nearly 600 professionals in tech how they felt about the state of gender equity in our field. 

Gender Equity starts on day one

There’s no denying that gender equity is an important issue. Movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have encouraged many industries to take a good hard look at gender diversity and inclusion in their own organizations. Many tech companies have realized that there is still much work to be done.

What’s a business to do? Large companies demonstrate commitment by instituting outreach and hiring programs aimed at increasing diversity and introducing mentorship programs designed to improve the upward mobility of underrepresented team members. But most startups can’t make such big commitments – it is tough to justify investing in these strategies while your business is fighting for survival.

At Hugo, though, our experience has been different. We have discovered that it’s never too early to think about gender equity since it can significantly contribute to better ideas, more engaged team members and better business outcomes, all at a low cost. For instance, decisions like which tools to include in your software stack can make a more diverse, inclusive team easier to achieve as you grow, with better decisions, ideas and happier team members along the way.

Until recently, I had never thought about how a company’s software stack could be inherently stacked against women and other lesser represented genders. When I took a closer look, however, the connection became clear. For example, do the tools you use default to organization-wide access, or do they prevent access to information on a need-to-know basis by siloed parts of your team? Do important debates only occur face-to-face, or only via email? How are tasks and tickets in your project management tools allocated? Do you use tools that make remote work a seamless part of the way your team works or do those out of the office constantly feel disconnected?

The software that runs your business critically influences your team’s operations, which means they hold a lot of power to promote equity. The tools you choose create the scaffolding for company culture and the norms around communication and decision-making. That means you can truly prioritize and instill equity of voice and diversity of perspective by choosing tools based on whether they encourage or hamper equity in your organization.

The state of gender equity in tech

In the work that led to our whitepaper, we found that while women and marginalized genders are doing their part to achieve equality in the workplace, the industry continues to let women and under-represented genders down. Of the 580 people Hugo surveyed, 26% of respondents said that gender differences exist in their work environment, but they don’t complain. Notably, 57% more women and non-binary people agreed with this statement than men. 

The responses we collected also provided interesting insights. For example, men consistently reported feeling more heard in channels other than email and instant messaging platforms such as Slack.

Personal voice is a team member’s greatest asset, but it can only be leveraged if their voice is heard. In our survey, 55% of women felt best heard in meetings, even though 25% reported feeling their voice was at least somewhat subdued while there. Only 10% of men reported feeling similarly subdued.

Worryingly, all participants who reported feeling their voices were actively subdued in meetings (20% of respondents) identified as Asian, Black or African American, Latinx, or Mixed Race. Unlike email and instant messaging tools, meetings appear to foster more human bias which affects team member participation. How do we combat this?

There are collaboration tools which, intentionally or not, manage to do so. In providing wide and transparent access to information, enabling everyone to ‘join the conversation’ and promoting operational agility through digital channels, they create equity by stripping out gender, race, and other bias-creating factors from contribution, great ideas, and getting work done. That’s not to say the solution is to remove human interaction to achieve equity. Instead, what if the way we interact digitally can dictate better interaction in person? If I’ve had all the great ideas from certain members of the team that I previously never heard, I’m surely going to encourage them to speak up in meetings or ask them for their views day-to-day!

Creating an equitable structure as a business grows means building an equitable organizational foundation from the ground up. This is action leaders can take even in the earliest stages of growth, rather than waiting until later to retroactively design and invest in diversity and inclusion programs. When equity is in your organization’s DNA, diversity and inclusivity come easily.

The ideal software stack for diversity

How can you use tools to effect change at a grassroots level in your organization? You need to make choices that provide individuals the tools and structure they need to have their voices heard. When it comes to your software stack, here are some things to keep in mind:

 

  • Chat: Chat apps equalize access to information by giving everyone in the business the ability to join a conversation and read others’ conversations. Better still, personality and bias-driving factors are minimized to just your name and your text-based contribution. It’s so easy for a female intern to weigh in on a chat-based debate with the executive team if she had a great idea for example. 
  • Customer management and collaboration: CRM software centralizes sales data and provides accountability for customer-facing teams. Equitable access to account information and the ability to track pipelines and team members’ contributions to the customer experience helps the team make informed decisions. It also enables them to give credit where it is due in cases of customer success.
  • Workflow and project management tools: Project management software cuts through decision-making bias by making information widely available and shareable across an organization. Good workflow tools allow for an even and fair distribution of tasks, as well as accountability and accessibility. With a big-picture approach and tracked activity, it’s easier to see everyone’s role.
  • Meeting tech: As our survey found, people tend to feel best heard in meetings. Using connected meeting notes software like Hugo allows teams to capture and retain the discussion and decisions from meetings, and provide access to the rest of the business to drive alignment, transparency, and maximize contribution.

 

It’s time to prioritize gender diversity

Gone are the days where gender equity was a problem for ‘later’. This issue, and the tools to effect change, are here now. Why wait? With the ability to make inroads on gender equity today, businesses should be excited to improve team processes and collaboration and strengthen team culture.

What are you missing in your own software stack when it comes to diversity? Learn more about  the Freshworks Suite, and how they can help you achieve exceptional outcomes for your team and customers.

Darren Chait

Darren Chait is the cofounder of Hugo, a connected meeting notes software company. He leads the growth and operations side of Hugo.