It’s Women’s History Month this March, and many companies out there are offering support, sending out positive stories about the women they hire, and making out as if the workplace is a heavenly place for females. And while there has been a lot of progress in some industries, the tech startup scene is, sadly, still lagging behind in matters of equality.
Stories of sexual harassment are common.Bro culture seems to reign, with alpha males in all the key positions and women engineers being accused of overreactions. You might think that we are beginning to get past these issues in 2017 – but you would be wrong.
But for bro culture startups, there is trouble ahead. More women are starting to make a stand, and if an investigation ends up taking place, startups could face embarrassing takedowns. Now, more than ever, it’s important for startups to look seriously at the way they treat women. Scandals involving sexual harassment, misogyny, and treating women like second-rate citizens tend to stick. Here are a few things you should be doing to ensure that you provide a comfortable working environment for females.
Take a look around
First of all, there are some typical signs of a misogynistic startup – and they are easy to spot. Look at your company and what do you see? Are all the well-paid engineering positions filled by men? Are all the admin and lower positions occupied by women – typically fresh out of college – on low wages? If so, there might be something wrong with your company culture.
Speak to the girls
Ask your women employees about their thoughts on working for your startup. Give them a platform to speak openly, too – and listen to what they say. It can be uncomfortable when you are confronted with opinions you don’t like, and you might not even be aware that women in your workplace are feeling that way. But it’s important to accept their issues, hear them out, and try and fix things.
Speak to the exes
Sadly, many women still feel they can’t speak up to their bosses – even when asked. So, to get a bigger picture of your startup’s attitude towards women, speak to ex-employees. Women that have previously worked for you will be far more open and honest about what they liked and disliked, why they left, and suggestions for change. It would be worthwhile listening to them, especially if they left because of bro culture. If you don’t, the next time a woman leaves your startup, it might be alongside a serious complaint of harassment or discrimination.
Look at your HR team
Many startups see human resources as an unnecessary cost to avoid, and even those that hire a department still treat it as an afterthought. But, according to HR specialists Ellis Whittam, your HR team should be central to everything you do. Are you listening to them when they display concerns? Are they being honest with you? And, most importantly, do they ever challenge you and tell you are wrong? These are all good signs of a working HR department, and vital when managing people.
Plan a policy
It’d be good to think that every company had a policy of zero tolerance towards sexual discrimination and harassment. Sadly, this isn’t the case. If you want to ensure that your startup is a fair and equal environment for women, it’s vital that you have a policy set up. Again, speak to an HR professional about creating this with you, and ensure that everyone – male or female – knows their boundaries, responsibilities, and protections.
It can be an exciting time starting a business with your friends – as many startups tend to begin these days. But, are all these close-knit, fresh new graduates who are bursting with ideas creating bro culture environments as a result? One thing startup owners have to understand is that as soon as you start employing people, things have to get serious. Whether you are hiring women or men, you have responsibilities as an employer – and failure to fulfill them can result in huge problems. When you are an entrepreneur, you can play your own game, by your own rules. But as an employer, there’s a few you need to follow, too.
As you can see, there are plenty of things you can do if you are concerned your startup is too focused on bro culture. There are some fantastically bright women out there who could be bringing a lot of good things to your business. But if you are scaring them off – or worse – they could be bringing the full force of the law with them instead.