Gender bias (both conscious and unconscious) remains a critical problem in today’s workforce, especially in tech, with many complex influences and factors sustaining the problem. While hundreds of experts and business and HR leaders have shared their suggested strategies, solutions and approaches to this serious challenge, the needle has been slow to move.
Interested in learning how a CEO in the tech world is addressing gender bias in his organization, and creating systems and platforms that support gender equality, I recently caught up with Rajeev Behera, Founding CEO of Reflektive. Reflektive is modernizing performance management by simplifying it and making it more real-time, so employees get feedback on an ongoing basis throughout the year and managers can effectively coach their employees to achieve their greatest potential. Rajeev built Reflektive after spending the last 4 years of his career at Disney Interactive, where he ran an 80-person mobile application development studio and lead the creation of two of Disney’s top 10 grossing mobile applications. Prior to building mobile applications at Disney, Rajeev worked at various startups running marketing teams. Reflektive serves over 100 clients including Pinterest, Lyft, Optimizely, Mulesoft and Instacart.
Below is Rajeev’s take on the issue of evolving towards gender equality in tech.
Kathy Caprino: Rajeev, from your perspective, what have you seen in the tech world that reveals gender bias?
Rajeev Behera: Gender bias is not limited to the tech industry. However, in any male-dominated industry, gender biases become more apparent. Women make up just 36.8% of entry-level workers in tech, versus nearly half in other industries. In my career, I’ve seen men boast about their achievements, negotiate and ask for raises — quite frequently — whereas women tend to shy away from taking credit for their successes or asking for a raise, even when it’s deserved.
As a tech entrepreneur, I’ve seen investors approach male and female founders differently. This dynamic was clear when my wife, Surbhi Sarna, and I, were raising money for our respective startups. Surbhi founded nVision Medical, a device company that focuses on women’s health. I founded Reflektive, a modern performance management platform.
While VCs were excited by both of our ideas, the style of which we raised funds was noticeably different. I received invitations to grab drinks left and right — Surbhi didn’t. Her relationships stayed at the office. It was easier for me to build more personal relationships, which gave me a huge advantage during the fundraising process.
Caprino: What can be done to help leaders in tech understand the complexity and magnitude of the problem and deal with it effectively?
Behera: For tech leaders, it’s too easy to believe that reports of gender bias are corner cases. When industry studies show bias is widespread, it’s important not to believe your company is the exception.
Organizations like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In are very effective in raising awareness of these challenges across the board, and the work to confront gender biases at technology giants such as Salesforce and Facebook definitely trickles down to smaller companies and startups. CEOs can improve outcomes for everyone in your organization by raising awareness and understanding the extent of the issue through data analysis.
Caprino: What can startups and other companies do to remove gender bias from the performance management and promotion process?
Behera: Tech leaders are data-driven by nature, and data is helping the industry move towards a much more fair environment for workers. This also requires leadership teams to address these issues head on, raising awareness of specific biases when they matter most — for instance, while an employee is writing a performance review, you can share statistics on unconscious biases to bring them to the forefront in the moment when they may actually affect a raise or promotion.
When companies abridge an employee’s accomplishments into an annual review, they get a skewed story. The reviewer is likely to remember the last few weeks of performance, not earlier contributions. That leaves space for biases to creep into the review – and compensation decisions. By focusing on continuous performance and feedback, you can leverage data collected throughout the year to help minimize generalizations of past performance.
When managers provide feedback, coaching and recognition on a continuous basis, and this data is measurable over time, you can focus on actual accomplishments in any more structured review process.
Caprino: What can be done to ensure that the contributions by both women and men are acknowledged fairly and appropriately?
Behera: Performance Attribution Bias has shown that women are less likely to take credit for their own contributions, and instead give credit to their team. Companies should rethink how they measure performance.
Managers should quantify individual goals for each employee on their team. How many white papers should this content marketer write per quarter? For a developer, what is a reasonable volume of features? The key is for managers to be aware of their team’s contributions and goals, and to have a record of successes, so they aren’t forgotten when it comes time to discuss promotions and raises due to recency bias.
It also helps to introduce a culture of peer recognition where employees who are less likely to boast their accomplishments can be recognized by their peers. For instance, you can ask managers to host a weekly team meeting where everyone calls out a co-worker for their contributions. This can be done in digital recognition solutions as well.
Caprino: How do you gain buy-in for changing the way managers and leaders across an organization operate to support change to combat systemic gender biases?
Behera: Most companies don’t talk about “equality” in their culture statements or value docs because doing so acknowledges there’s a problem. Most executives don’t want to admit gender bias – or any other biases for that matter — is an issue in their workplace. It’s on the CEO to say, “Hey, we do have this problem, here’s data that proves it, and here’s how we will fix it.”
When CEOs take responsibility for a difficult problem like gender bias, they earn buy-in. And once they show that vulnerability and transparency, changing methods is just a matter of retraining and supervising managers. They, too, need feedback and coaching on an issue as complex as gender bias.
Caprino: There are certain terms such as “assertive” that are often seen as negative attributes in women and positive in men. How can company leaders, whether CEOs or HR leaders, track this effectively across a company to get a holistic view to compare how women are being measured both quantitatively and qualitatively versus their male counterparts?
Behera: In performance reviews and related feedback systems it’s quite possible to quantify usage of certain terms and decipher if they’re used more often for women than men. This is actually something we look at here at Reflektive as we have this data and can do more in-depth anonymous analysis on these terms.
On a day-to-day basis, again, I think awareness of the issue at hand is key. Reminding managers to think before they use certain terms — to stop and ask him or herself if s/he would use that term to describe the behavior if the employee was female instead of male.
Caprino: What have you done at Reflektive to combat gender biases? How do you plan to scale this for your company as it grows?
Behera: We’ve aimed to create a culture of equality from the ground up. I was inspired by Marc Benioff’s initiative to fix unfair pay gaps at Salesforce, and I’ve worked with our managers to make sure pay is set based on individual skills and contributions, not negotiation ability.
I also make a point of going to lunch with new hires and meeting one-on-one with all employees outside the office, not just male employees, to ensure women don’t miss the opportunity to network with the leadership team for career development, and to scale this, I train our managers to follow my example.
We also practice what we preach about measuring performance and providing ongoing feedback. Reflektive helps us better understand any unconscious biases in our organization as we scale from 30 employees to over 60 this year. The technology aggregates and normalizes data on performance. We can compare the type of feedback, recognition, and rewards that men versus women receive at our company. If there are imbalances, they can’t be ignored.
Read the original article on Forbes.