It’s a Pipeline Problem, and Other Lies

During Women's History Month, it can be hard to swallow a company's “rah rah women" programming when that same company’s leadership looks, well, not like women. Given that All Places is focused on women every month, we have chosen this month to give a gift to those companies who are struggling to find women. The bad news: if you think you have a pipeline problem, it’s probably your own fault. The good news: there is something you can do about it. Happy International Women’s Day!

We’ve all heard it so many times that I’m basically boring myself by writing it down: we would love to hire women but there just aren’t any out there. It’s the pipeline! We love women! If only there weren’t this doggone pipeline thing women would be running this place! Sure. Let’s be clear on what this person is actually saying: we cannot find any qualified candidates who belong to underrepresented groups, and since we need to hire qualified people, we have no choice but to hire from overrepresented groups. The solution to the problem lies within the statement itself. Let’s break it down.

Your Experience Requirement Is Killing You. Let’s start with “qualified.” The primary requirement most companies place on candidates is experience. At first glance, this makes sense. Of course you want someone who has some idea what they’re doing. But guess what, the data show that experience is not a predictor of success when it comes to employment. [HBR 2019]. Case in point: I was listening to an episode of the Venture Unlocked podcast featuring Charles Hudson, the founder of Precursor Ventures. He explained quite rationally that he was able to create a diverse workforce by taking people who fell outside the “normal” Silicon Valley pipeline and then training them. Eureka! I’m not saying that everyone in the universe is the right fit for every job, but experience may not be as important as you think. One thing that is clear about an experience requirement is that it perpetuates the status quo. To state the obvious, you can’t bring diversity to an industry by only hiring candidates who have already been working in that industry.

You’re Right, They’re Not in Your Network. Then there’s “find”: we just can’t find any diverse candidates! Most of us have networks who are reflective of us because we naturally gravitate towards people who are like us. Now if you take that as a given, and put aside any feelings of shame that your network looks exactly like you, this is an imminently solvable problem. Reach out to people who have different networks than you do. Now I am not recommending that you task your female friends with finding you female job candidates. But I am recommending that you reach out to companies and organizations who exist precisely for this purpose. Are you looking for female candidates for an open slot at your venture firm? Great! Why not start by reaching out to the Women’s Association of Venture and Equity or the Private Equity Women’s Network or 100 Women in Finance? Yes, this takes more work than just looking around your existing circle. If you see diversity as a real priority and (as has been proven) profit driver, why wouldn’t you invest that time?

They May Not Want to Work With You. This is the second part of “finding” candidates: finding a candidate who wants the job. That’s right. Just because you offer a job to a woman does not mean she should have nothing but feelings of gratitude and jump at the chance! This is a two-way street. You need to want to hire her and she needs to want to work with you. If you have had a hard time getting women or people of color to accept job offers, or to stay at your company for very long, you should give some long hard thought to this. Is your company the kind of a place where this person wants to work? Does this person feel like she can be herself, that she will be valued, that her voice will be heard, that she will feel like she belongs? Why would a woman want to join an executive team where she will be the only woman? You should have a good answer.

Be Honest: Do You Really Want Them There? There is value in diversity because it creates friction and discomfort. This is true regardless of the type of diversity you are talking about. If you do not want someone to come in and challenge the existing, homogeneous structure, then you do not really want diversity. Don’t just plop a diverse candidate into a position and expect her to manipulate herself into being like everyone else. We’ve all done it. I certainly have. And it’s not good for the woman or the company. 

If you’re interested in hearing more on this subject, and in particular about specific, concrete first steps companies can take who want to build more diverse teams, please join us for our event with Turning Rock Partners on April 28. Invitations will be going out later this month and we cannot wait!

--Jessie Gabriel