Who hasn’t heard the quote “We only hire the best candidates?” How many of those teams only have straight white men? I’ve been fortunate to work on diverse teams across various companies. Madewithlove is currently very dominated by men. Being the only woman in the team makes me wonder, where are the other women in Tech? What can we do to increase our representation and have a more diverse team?
I’d like to share my experiences with you about what it’s like to be the sole woman at madewithlove.
My experience in numbers
Back in my college days, the female to male ratio was about 3 to 10. My classes were packed with men but also some women. And as the years passed, the percentage remained the same.
When I started my first job as a Software Developer, I was shocked to see so few or no female faces on some teams. In my team usually, there were two women (including myself) and about six men. When I started working remotely, I continued to see that trend, maybe one woman in addition to myself on the dev team.
In the companies I worked at, the leadership positions never had female faces. The women I worked with were: two software developer colleagues (each in different companies), one designer, and one product manager — few in comparison to my male colleagues.
I also had the experience of working for a recruiting agency focused on women in tech, sales, marketing, and digital roles. After years of being a lone girl, it was good for a change since there were so many female colleagues. Still, it didn’t feel in balance — we work better together.
When I was in a team full of women, our meetings almost always took more time than expected because we chatted more or spent more time describing situations or things. That may be because women and men’s brains work differently.
The negative aspects of being the sole woman
When I joined madewithlove there was Anne-Julie. We were room-mates on the Greece retreat and it was great being with her, chatting and listening to her stories. She left madewithlove to pursue her own business. So now it can be lonely. I miss having chats with my female colleagues to talk about ordinary stuff, maybe family, maybe a food recipe, or just life. Last year when I visited Belgium, I got together with one of my husband’s female colleagues. He also works in IT but has a bigger ratio of women than we do at madewithlove. I had to go to another company to find a companion.
Sometimes I wonder if some of the criticism I receive is because I am a woman. Would I get the type of feedback I do today if I was a man? Maybe I am missing out on some things because people think I may take it the wrong way. Or on the contrary, I am getting critiques about things people wouldn’t say to a male colleague.
The positive aspects
Could there be a benefit of being the only woman in the team? Besides having a room of my own when we go on the annual company retreat, I don’t think there are many advantages. As part of a minority group, apart from loneliness, I feel the team notices me and remembers if I missed something. My voice is heard in meetings.
I didn’t feel the need to blend in or become “one of the guys”. Perhaps it’s because that’s just how I am. Everyone in the team is special in their own way.
In my early days at madewithlove, I got the feeling everyone wanted to mentor me or help me catch up on the daily routines. Before my first retreat, I suffered a personal loss and again the team was very protective of me and comforting. I am really grateful for how I was treated back then.
In many environments, women have a lot more work to get respect as their male colleagues. That is not the case in our company. You do not have to prove yourself. I feel treated and compensated as any other person in madewithlove.
Where can we improve?
In late September, we went to our yearly company retreat to Tuscany, Italy. Surrounded by vineyards and beautiful landscapes, we had a Diversity group discussion led by Tim Sterkens, our COO. It was the first time we touched base on such an important matter.
Almost 96% of the team is men. I would love to see more women, but the idea is not to hire them just because of their sex. Hire people that are amazing at their jobs and bring value to our team.
The people who write job posts should own the responsibility of actually getting the word out to the widest pool of candidates possible. If you’re only getting male European candidates, perhaps the problem lies with the pool of candidates who are actually seeing the job post. There are specific websites if you want to attract more women or people from the Americas, for example.
Another thing we can improve is our job descriptions. I personally find it important to include information about how madewithlove manages parental leave and time-off requests. Those benefits may be interesting to parents or people who want to have kids. I brought up this subject during the last retreat with my colleagues and we ended up chatting about it during dinner. It was nice to see how those with kids manage parenting while working remotely.
We want to have a more diverse team
That’s one of the things we concluded from our group discussion last year. We aim to be a world-class team and I believe we are doing a good job but there’s definitely room for improvement. Even though madewithlove’s headquarters are in Belgium, people from Canada, Brasil, Poland, Germany, Portugal, Croatia, and France make our team international.
Diversity includes all of those things that make us unique. Here at madewithlove, we employ people no matter the gender, religion, race, age, disability, linguistic differences, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation. Almost all of us are non-native English speakers and come from different cultural backgrounds. On the retreats, we get together, bringing what makes us different.
Monoculture is bad for business. Studies increasingly show that diversity improves your company’s productivity and performance. In addition to that, it helps hearing more voices and to get a broader point of view. You can be missing things others see.
Hiring people from diverse backgrounds and experiences in design, product, project management, community, and leadership positions create a healthier workplace. A diverse workplace more accurately reflects your customer-client base and ensures a wider range of experience.
I believe our industry needs more women who code and participate in technical careers. I am really looking forward to seeing more female faces in the years to come, not only in madewithlove but in STEM in general.