– Cindy Gallop in No One’s Blaming Anyone on WIMN’s Voices
The gender ratio and gender biases of the start-up community are long-standing topics of contention. But this piece isn’t about why there are so few women in tech, and it’s not about what it’s like being one of the few. Rather, I want to talk about why it even matters.
Hiring women as a core part of the team isn’t just important for the women’s movement or some grander sense of equality. It’s important for the success of your start-up. And especially true during the early stages, when there’s just 3-10 people around.
A recent HBS study makes the point clearly: “What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women.” And they’re not talking about an all-male team with a female office manager or receptionist, as cleverly pointed out by Chris Dixon. The dynamics that a woman brings to the table are crucial to the success of a start-up early on. Here’s why.
(i) Women Have Higher Social Sensitivity & Empathy
Women tend to empathize more. They actually listen. They have open minds. Women have an uncanny ability to understand what a user wants, and how he or she is feeling when using a product or service. Is it useful? Is it intuitive?
Women are fantastic at conducting user interviews, holding feedback sessions, collecting ideas and synthesizing them into actionable requirements, prioritizing features, designing wireframes, and ultimately, communicating business needs to the technical team.
I would even go so far as to say women make better product managers and user experience specialists in a start-up environment – a sentiment echoed by Fred Wilson at Rachel Sklar’s event “Diversity In Tech: A Great Investment” last October. In a world where we’re aiming to build products that fill in the gaps of unmet needs, what better person to do the job than a woman?
(ii) Women Can Balance the Silent Power Struggle Among Men
If you’re in a start-up that has at least 2 men, you’ve seen it: inevitably, some subtle form of male power struggle exists. (And don’t get me wrong—it happens at female-founded start-ups, too.) When there’s a difference in opinion, a woman is usually a natural mediator and can serve to break the intensity of the moment before it escalates.
Because women are more likely to talk about relationships than men, they tend to be the ones who surface issues and confront team members with what they see. Underlying discontentment is more likely to be nipped in the bud, rather than swept under the rug where it’ll resurface later in another form. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a “third voice” coming from a woman (even when the founders are women)—I’ve seen first-hand how it does wonders at softening the perspective of both parties.
(iii) Women are More Detail Oriented & Comprehensive
In 2006, Louann Brizendine’s controversial book, The Female Brain, claimed that women speak three times the number of words that men do. While other studies have disputed this as a myth or pop-psychology, look around and you’ll there’s some truth to the claim that women are more verbose. We are more expressive and descriptive. We like to give the context of every situation, and want to make sure that the person we’re talking to fully “gets the story” before they pass judgment on us or make a decision.
At a start-up, this is an asset. It translates into attention to detail, making sure nothing falls through the cracks. Most start-up founders tend to be big visionaries with lofty goals. Having someone who’s more comprehensive and pays attention to the little things can help those founders—male or female—avoid missing the trees for the forest.
(iv) Women are probably using your product
Look at what percent of your user base is women. In CityPockets’ case, almost 70% of our most active users are women. If you’re in e-commerce, then a woman should have a fundamental role in designing your product—because they’re the ones with the strongest buying power and influence over financial decisions within a family.
Why do you need a woman? Partly because men and women have very different purchasing habits. For example, men go for instant gratification while shopping. They’re less likely to browse or be influenced by discovery, since their intention is to “get in, get what they want, and get out.”
Women, on the other hand, love to stumble upon a great deal. And they’re willing to wait or postpone gratification for the promise of an even better deal. Just understanding these basic differences will help you design a better product.
Practicing What I Preach
I’m proud to announce that right after we closed our round of funding, I decided to hire Jin to be my Head of Product and Design, and as my first full-time hire. I had originally hired Jin to be our UX consultant to revamp CityPockets’ design and improve usability. I never thought I’d ever be able to hire her full time since she was a high flying consultant and has an incredible background, coming from years of experience at PayPal & E-bay in the Bay Area and working on interesting projects for prominent companies and startups in New York such as Walmart, Razorfish, Publicis Modem, Intent Media and Global Mind. But toward the end of the project, she hinted at her continued desire to work with me, her passion in our product and the vision of the company. It didn’t take long for us to establish an offer and get her on board! Her decision to join us speaks volumes to me and CityPockets. So far, she’s been a dynamic force within our small team and her contributions have far exceeded my expectations.
More than just bringing gender diversity to a start-up team, women contribute to the diversity in ideas and innovation because they look at things differently than men. So if you have a start-up, you need women on your team, on your board, and among your advisors.
Women may be harder to find in this male-dominated start-up space, but they’re essential to the health of any start-up. And they are out there.
Update: Unfortunately, Jin Kim is no longer working at CityPockets as of end of August. Initially, I wanted to remove the post above which mentions her as my first hire. But after thinking long and hard, I decided to leave it since it was true to my July blog post. I hope to someday unfold my thoughts on why the hire didn’t work out and the challenges of identifying the right people for your startup.