Want More Women in Tech? Design it.

Original article: https://medium.com/ideo-stories/want-more-women-in-tech-design-it-40691587033d

“Female Engineers Continue to Outnumber Male Counterparts.”
“Top 10 Most Innovative Companies now run by Women.”
“Investors Back More Female Founders, study says.”

Just kidding. But could we design a future in which those headlines were true?

We took that challenge to TEDWomen 2015, where the theme was “Momentum”. More than 750 women (and a few brave men) spent three days hearing from extraordinary people who are already transforming how we think, live, and work.

When it comes to the tech and venture world, it’s clear that no one is happy with the current state of affairs, not least our most visible CEOs. Talk of gender inequity — and lack of diversity in technology more broadly — has reached a fever pitch.

Our team at IDEO partnered with TED and Greylock Partners to have an open, generative conversation about how we might change the tech ecosystem to provide greater opportunities for female entrepreneurs.

If design is about solving problems, we thought, let’s use it to address this one.

Of course, we knew this was not a problem that could be solved over salmon at a 90-minute lunch. But we also knew this was an unmissable opportunity to convene a remarkable group of TEDWomen attendees — from C-suite leaders and investors to startup founders and entrepreneurs — who could help us create the kind of momentum the women up on stage were telling us about, from a school principal in Chicago to a teenager in Malawi.

We did a little prep to help direct the conversation. At IDEO, design starts with people. To get a broader sense of what women are dealing with out there, we asked some successful female founders to tell us about their experience as they built and launched their companies. Down to the last, everyone had battle scars to share with the group. Problem identified.

To keep us on a directed course, we charted the entrepreneur’s journey as a Steve Zissou-esque voyage out to sea (the TEDWomen conference took place in the coastal town of Monterey, after all) and identified a few ports of call along the way where we might wield influence:

The open seas can be choppy for any entrepreneur, and especially for women. Illustration: Jane Ha; Katie Clark

Using that chart as a backdrop, we asked some open-ended questions:

How might we encourage women to take the leap from idea to action?

How might we support women in being bullish about valuing their companies?

How might we productively call out bias to shift perspectives?

Almost immediately, the ideas flew.

Here are just a few: Our hope is that this springboards more conversation, and also encourages people to start prototyping.

  • An app or hotline that women could use to help bolster negotiation strategies in real time
  • Systems to make comparing and sharing valuation data more transparent
  • A “bad manners” movement that would call out bias in a loud, public way
  • A 1% Diversity Pledge, modeled on Salesforce’s 1% pledge for philanthropy
We designed fast and furious, hoping the female leaders at our lunch would take the ideas back to their workplaces.

In one of the more poignant moments of the discussion, one female VC suggested that to truly affect change, investors need to back more women founders and start writing checks. Her point was that the core leverage in the system as a VC is who you back. Vigorous head nodding followed.

The optimism, hope, and ideas lobbed by the group spilled over into the rest of the conference, as we bumped into one another at the coffee stand.

(Our bubble wasn’t even burst by countless cab drivers and bus boys who chipperly called us “girls” and “sweetie” underneath the TEDWomen conference banner.)


So what. Now what? (thanks, Linda Cliatt Wayman)

How can we outmaneuver or simply work around the implicit bias that is holding women back in tech, where we make up only ⅓ of employees(compared to 59 percent of the overall US labor force)? Systemic bias can start pretty far upstream (lack of STEM encouragement for school-aged girls, for example), but every day we wade through those waters without calling it out, we lose ground.

The need for more women as founders and leaders of companies isn’t really about equality, either — it’s simply good business. In companies that have the top 20 percent of financial performance, 27 percent of leaders are women. And from a Gallup study that looked at 800 business units from two companies representing two different industries (retail and hospitality), gender-diverse business units in the retail company had 14 percent higher average comparable revenue than less-diverse business units. In the hospitality company it was even more pronounced — 19 percent higher average quarterly net profit.

Anyone can run with ideas like “bias stickers” or a support hotline for women in business and learn what works and what doesn’t. Let’s experiment our way to a future that makes the headlines of this article a reality.

For more thoughts on this topic, listen to our IDEO Futures Podcast. Other ideas? Send us a flare! #HowMightWomen.

The future is ours to design.