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Women’s mentoring group ARA and tech recruiting company Harvey Nash hosted an event in Seattle this week called “Women in Technology: The Male Perspective.”

While the idea of an all-male panel talking to women in tech was seen as controversial by some, the evening delivered some data (good and bad) and some solid advice about how we can all move ahead — together. The event, held at the Pacific Science Center’s IMAX theater, drew a crowd of about 300 women and men in tech.

Photo via Molly Brown/Avvo's Mark Britton
Photo via Molly Brown/Avvo’s Mark Britton

Avvo founder and CEO Mark Britton provided some fantastic data to start the conversation, calling out Google’s original hiring tactics.

“When Google started hiring, they were looking for what they called ‘Googly’ people,” he said. “I hated that. You want to bring in people with a different point of view that covers your blindspots.”

Britton said that 46 percent of Avvo’s total workforce are women, with 33 percent in senior leadership roles and 25 percent in engineering — well ahead of the national averages he presented where women represent 25 percent of jobs in tech, with only 12 percent in engineering.

Obviously, there’s still a long ways to go, especially since Britton said only 11 percent of tech startups were headed by women in 2014.

What’s to blame for the lack of women in tech?

Britton cited the “brogrammer culture” as one major deterrent. These “tribes” in companies actually dissuade women from joining in, creating a culture of isolation rather than collaboration.

In fact, Britton cited a statistic that has 50 percent of women eventually leaving STEM jobs.

One thing everyone agreed on is that collaboration is essential if you want your business to succeed. “Women drive collective intelligence,” Britton said. “And that translates into higher performance in business tasks.”

With about 1.4 million jobs in computer science related fields coming open in the next five years, many of those roles will need to be filled by women. But that won’t happen until we solve some problems.

Photo via Molly Brown/Smartsheet's Mark Mader and Pic Monkey/GeekWire's Jonathan Sposato and moderator Anna Frazzetto, Harvey Nash
(Left to right): Smartsheet’s Mark Mader, PicMonkey CEO Jonathan Sposato and moderator Anna Frazzetto from Harvey Nash

The panel — SquareHub‘s co-founder Dave Cotter, Smartsheet‘s president and CEO Mark Mader, Apptentive‘s VP of engineering Charlie Morss, and PicMonkey CEO and GeekWire chairman Jonathan Sposato — then took on several major themes that emerged, including why so many women fall out mid-career, the pay gap and getting young women interested in pursuing STEM fields.

A lot of barriers come from misinformation or straight-up ignorance when it comes to women.

“I think a lot of men are very well-intentioned, but they actually don’t know how to do this,” Cotter said. “Diversity is a core value, but how do you hit the metrics and be deliberate about getting more women in engineering and the C seats? I think a lot of men want to act, they just don’t know what to do.”

Some solutions? As Mader pointed out, his company is about 50/50, outside the engineering department of course (see more on that below), but he says that just by hiring women they get more women through the doors via word of mouth and networking.

However, women often exclude themselves from the hiring field by simply not applying. Cotter shared this story from his Zulily days.

Photo via Molly Brown/(left to right) Anna F. / Dave Cotter and Charlie Morss
(Left to right) Anna Frazzetto, SquareHub’s Dave Cotter and Apptentive’s Charlie Morss

“We were hosting a women in coding event, and one of the most eye-opening experiences was listening to women talking about whether they should apply for a Zulily job. And this one woman said, ‘Well, I haven’t applied because I don’t meet this one criteria.’ I smacked my head, and said, ‘Of course, you should apply! If you were a guy you’d have one element of the job and embellish the rest!’ I think many women just aren’t applying.”

Another problem?

Different communication styles between men and women. While men are praised for being direct, women are often penalized for being too “assertive.” Yet, when they’re not, men often still don’t hear what women have to say.

“In the pitching business, statistics show the same pitch with the same content, when pitched by men and women the VCs favor the male speaker two to one,” said Sposato, who earlier this year announced he planned to invest only in startups with at least one female co-founder. “When someone is talking in a business context, if the person doesn’t sound as assertive, stop and take stock as to the content of what they’re saying. Is it different? You have to be very cognizant to the context, not how it’s delivered.”

Once women get in the door, they face work-life balance issues, especially when it comes to family, causing many to give up mid-career.

“It definitely comes from top of funnel,” Sposato continued. “Companies need to better support a life stage…there needs to be a semi-tolerance, like when it comes to setting meeting times to accommodate drop-off or pick-ups for school. The majority of child care falls on women, and there needs to a softer approach to socially engineering the day to accommodate that.”

What about advancement and pay?

“Men are always thinking about how to get to the next level, but when you compare them to top-performing women they don’t do that because they are actually focused on doing their jobs,” Cotter said. “But you also have to manage your career. Even if you are working hard, think about ‘How do I get to the next level?’ ”

Mader added: “The wage gap is a situation that’s a problem. Be aware of what’s going on in your business to take action on it. There needs to be a certain level of visibility and transparency here so people can ask and you can take action on it.”

Sposato cited a statistic that while 50 percent of graduates are women in STEM fields, many drop out if not for family, then cultural issues.

“The pipeline is there, but it’s what happens is in the middle,” Sposato said. “As a culture, are we collectively creating companies where diversity is welcome? Awareness is key…The answer shouldn’t be ‘we need to fix women,’ the answer is ‘we need to fix men.’ ”

As Morss said, there’s still no easy fix for some of the cultural stereotypes around engineering. “It’s really a chicken and egg problem. Many women don’t want to enter a brogrammer clan.” (In fact, we reported on this presenting a UW research in 2013, which found that women still don’t choose careers in computer science because of the “nerd” stereotype in the media.)

Photo via Harvey Nash/ARA panel
Photo via Harvey Nash/ARA panel

Cotter and Mader, both have daughters, talked about encouraging curiosity from an early age — including developing apps for devices — which younger people tend to love.

“How my daughter got into it was she was playing around with some app,” Cotter said. “And I was like, ‘You  know, you can build one of those.’ And she said, ‘No, I couldn’t.’ And I said, ‘Yes, you can.’ It’s easy to say ‘no, you can’t,’ but the reality is that you can teach them early that they can.

Cotter also told the audience: “I tell my daughters, ‘It’s OK to be a raging bitch sometimes. Stick your elbows out and get out there.'”

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