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Bridget Frey of Redfin
Redfin CTO Bridget Frey speaks out about improving gender diversity in tech. (Redfin Photo)

When Bridget Frey joined Redfin, she had the advantage of an existing relationship with the CEO, Glenn Kelman. The friendship allowed for a frank conversation about how Frey would balance her new job and family; she had two young children at the time. The two worked out an arrangement that worked for everyone, allowing her to thrive as an engineer and climb the ranks to CTO.

Frey wants all executives to have those kinds of conversations with their employees, even if they don’t have the same rapport she does with her boss.

“It was so important during those years,” she said, speaking on a panel last week at Google Cloud Next in San Francisco. “So for anyone who’s a manager out there or someone who’s working with people who are going to be parents or have leaves coming up, I would ask you to focus more on what it’s going to be like for that person when they come back. There’s so much focus on when the person’s going to be out for a few weeks or a few months but that’s not the issue. The issue is, how are you going to support that employee when they get back and when their kid’s needs are changing over time?”

Frey believes keeping parents in the workforce with flexible schedules is key to improving diversity. Beyond the moral imperative, she also stressed that diversity is better for tech companies’ bottom lines.

“High-performing teams are teams that are able to get a lot of ideas on the table and then figure out what to do with those ideas … Having a diverse team is one way to manufacture that concept of having lots of ideas to choose from,” she said.

Frey was one of Redfin’s first female engineers, and has helped take Redfin’s workforce to nearly 30 percent women, the company says. That’s no easy feat, given the systemic gender diversity issues in tech. Frey, and many members of the tech community, believe that it’s imperative to change the messaging that young girls receive about computer science to tackle the diversity challenge.

In Frey’s case, she got excited about computers at the age of five, before anyone told her they weren’t for her.

“My dad is an appliance, sales, and repairman and so when I was five he bought an Apple 2E and to him, it was just like another machine,” she said. “It was like a dishwasher. You get the manual, you figure out how that thing works, and that’s what the two of us did.”

Frey’s early access to computers fostered a life-long love of the technology — an experience that, unfortunately, isn’t as common as it should be among young girls.

“By the time I started getting messages from society that tech wasn’t for girls I already loved computers,” Frey said. “So I was able to get through that phase but there are so many girls for whom they’re not getting those really early experiences.”

Watch the full panel discussion, “Driving Success through Diversity & Inclusion,” above.

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