5 Insights From a Female Dominated Tech Start-Up

Indian women business colleagues working around a laptop
Indian women business colleagues working around a laptop

"For any of us in this room today, let's start out by admitting we're lucky. We don't live in the world our mothers lived in, our grandmothers lived in, where career choices for women were so limited." YES! We have been saying this for years ourselves. It's so important to take a step back from time to time and appreciate the fact that we have so many options that were never possibilities for generations before us." -Sheryl Sandberg

I am one of the women who benefit greatly from the generation of women before me. I work at a tech startup called Spylight, and I consider myself very fortunate to work in an environment that is over 80 percent female. This number may not seem so unusual because our product deals with fashion, but in fact it is quite the anomaly in the tech industry.

In the past year, the majority of college graduates were women, and women make up more than half of the American workforce. Knowing this, it would make sense to see a predominantly female office. Unfortunately, these numbers aren't reflected in the tech industry. Only 14 percent of computer science majors are women and women currently hold only 25 percent of tech jobs. Clearly, female talent isn't being fully developed or put to use in this field.

I have been working for Spylight with an amazing team of men and women for over a year now. This experience has taught me a few lessons about what its like being in a female-dominated work environment.

1. Women are good for the bottom line.

Spylight is a free new app that allows you to instantly shop clothes from your favorite TV shows. According to the Harvard Business Review,

"Women now drive the world economy. Globally, they control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, and that figure could climb as high as $28 trillion in the next five years. Their $13 trillion in total yearly earnings could reach $18 trillion in the same period. In aggregate, women represent a growth market bigger than China and India combined -- more than twice as big, in fact. Given those numbers, it would be foolish to ignore or underestimate the female consumer. And yet many companies do just that, even ones that are confident they have a winning strategy when it comes to women."

We already know that women will make up the majority of Spylight users. We aren't going to make the mistake of letting only men make decisions when most of our consumers are female. In this case, a female perspective is necessary to make a product that women want to use.

2. Women are great at making decisions that the whole team can get behind.

Spylight has a very unilateral system of decision-making. It is clear who is in control, however it is very important that everyone's voice is heard. Because of this, decisions are usually made through a consensus. This does not seem to be a unique trait to women in Spylight's leadership. In fact, a recent study says that women are better at making decisions than men in general because they use cooperation:

"A survey of more than 600 board directors showed that women are more likely to consider the rights of others and to take a cooperative approach to decision-making. This approach translates into better performance for their companies."

Because of this, it is very important to have diverse teams in all departments of the company. That is why our tech team as well as our content and media teams are predominantly female.

3. Managers with empathy are more effective leaders.

"Women leaders also were found to be more empathetic and flexible, as well as stronger in interpersonal skills than their male counterparts. 'These qualities combine to create a leadership style that is inclusive, open, consensus building, collaborative and collegial,' according to Herb Greenberg, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Caliper."

In order to be a good product manager, it is extremely important to have empathy towards your team. I am not saying that men can't be good leaders, but a diverse team will lead to better decision making. As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said in an interview with USA Today:

"Endless data show that diverse teams make better decisions. We are building products that people with very diverse backgrounds use, and I think we all want our company makeup to reflect the makeup of the people who use our products. That's not true of any industry really, and we have a long way to go."

4. When you work in a predominantly female environment you don't have to deal with everyday misogyny.

For example, I wore a dress to work last week,and I was completely comfortable in my working environment. I stepped outside the office for lunch and was immediately honked and yelled at by men in a car. The environment changes the second I walk outside the door and it can be very shocking. At Spylight, I am privileged to not have to be "on guard," which is a harsh reality other women face every day at work. The outside world makes me more thankful everyday for my work environment.

I'm not implying men can't control themselves, but due to our mostly female environment, we have not created a culture of sexual harassment and micro-aggressions that I have to deal with on the street. Because women at Spylight hold positions of power, and the men are not seen as aggressors, the men and women at Spylight see each other as co-workers and equals -- everyone is respected.

5. Besides the above privileges, working with all women is no different.

In interviews we are often asked, "How do you deal with being one of the only female-dominated tech companies?" The truth is, there is nothing about a female-dominated work environment that needs to be "dealt with." We face the same struggles and triumphs that other start-ups face. The women at Spylight are not gossipy or catty. Our menstrual cycles are not synched (actually maybe they are -- I have no idea) and we also don't have naked pillow fights (get your mind out of the gutter and into some feminist literature!). We do eat excessive amounts of chocolate though -- that stereotype about women is true.

"Our diverse gender mix is honestly not something we've been very aware of until journalists started asking us about it. All we have done, without exception, is to always hire the best person for every position, including leadership and tech positions. And here we are." -- Casper Daugaard, CEO

I am not saying that Spylight has transcended issues of gender equality. There is always more room to change and improve. What I am saying is that because women at our company are not a minority, and have roles in leadership, everyone who works for Spylight sees women as fully valuable individuals rather than as lesser employees or sex objects.

So how can you improve gender equality in your workplace? If you yourself are a leader, do everything you can to improve the work environment for the people who work for you. Everyone is at least a little sexist (me included). In order to improve your behavior you must first admit that. And most importantly, BE A MENTOR. Set an example. Young women and girls often do not have career goals because they do not know that such goals are possible. If you simply open up the possibility that they can pursue any career they want, they will try.