women.js: Leading by Diversity

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Meg Bowie, Customer Success Manager and Rafiullah Hamedy, Developer are Co-chairs of women.js - a group started within the Toronto-based tech company Jibestream to increase the percentage of women in various roles within the organization.

Q. What was the reason or inspiration for launching women.js?

Around March of this year one of our senior managers called out that no women had applied for the recent developer roles. Our Founder and CEO, Chris Wiegand, and a few of us from different departments in the company decided to do something about it.

We formed a task force to understand why we had no applications from women and to dive into how we could get more women applying for all jobs, specifically the technical roles. It grew from there and became women.js.

Q. Tell us about the various roles you’re focusing on and what you’ve changed or accomplished to date.

We’re focusing first on the developer roles and the sales team. Both of these groups have historically been predominantly, if not 100%, occupied by men.

We were first thinking 50/50 but then as the discussions evolved we realized that we needed to look at the bigger picture. It would be unrealistic to strive for 50/50 split within our technical team when that number is woefully being underachieved in Universities today. So we’re now targeting the same percentage that universities are seeing, and after we hit that goal, we will look to grow it even further.

It’s still early days but we have a roadmap for the last quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2018 that will get us out in the community to learn what others are doing and how we can partner. We’re also looking at how we can help build the pipeline with efforts to support more youth in tech, starting with sponsoring the upcoming Ladies Learning Code events.

Q. Has there been any push back on this new direction or all applause?

When we started there was tons of applause with lots of people that wanted to join the group. We did receive a little push back - not in terms of ‘we don’t want women’ but we soon realized that it’s not an easy topic and not as simple as it might appear.

The conversations have led to some really interesting meetings and overall it’s been educational listening to everyone’s reasoning behind their opinion and ideas. Going down this path means changes within the organization, so you have to find a common ground. It’s challenging but everyone wants it to be a fair approach.

Q. What’s been the hardest and easiest part of women.js?

The hardest part is that everyone is putting in personal time to make it happen. So that means outside events, meetings over lunch, etc. So we all have to be patient with the progress and watch for the incremental changes.

We have to be very mindful that we disseminate information to everyone outside of the women.js group and make sure we are providing support on the changes we’re making. ie: Making sure that we take the time to help groups write a job description in a gender neutral way or conduct interviews differently.

The easiest part has been getting people on board. It’s the biggest volunteer committee we have! We are grateful to have lots of ideas so now we just have to figure out which ones will really #MovetheDial.

Q. How does Jibestream’s women.js initiative differ from what you see in other tech companies your size? Are you leading the pack, in the middle or way behind?

It’s challenging to really see what other companies are doing so one of our goals is to meet up with others to learn, share, and to identify opportunities to collaborate on events.

We have many employees involved so maybe we’re ahead of the curve there but honestly, it’s all so new that it feels like we’re behind. We’re very encouraged by others leadership on the subject and hope that we can be an inspiration to other tech companies.

Q. What is one suggestion that you have for other tech firms when thinking about launching a diversity group?

Come up with really specific goals to action. Pick one or two that the group can focus on for the quarter and keep building on those goals over time.

We definitely want to be leaders in the tech sector in Toronto, and Canada, so we encourage others reading this to reach out so we can together build a pipeline of successful women in tech!

Q. What does MovetheDial mean to you?

MovetheDial validates what we’re doing at women.js. We feel it’s critical to have the support and backing of a group of women in tech like #MovetheDial who have a similar vision, mission and focus, but on a larger scale. It’s awesome to know that we’re not alone in trying to achieve our goals.

 
articleElektra Simms