Over the last 10 years, the technology community has been stuck in the "five men and a whiteboard syndrome," based on the success of technology companies like Facebook , Twitter and Google.
These companies have become the poster children for the successful start-up. This archetype has become so culturally ingrained that the popular HBO show "Silicon Valley" features a stereotypical start-up that employs only men. As an industry, we've too often become comfortable with this model, but in reality, the success of this structure is an outlier for successful start-up companies — not the blueprint. If you look past Facebook, Twitter and Google, you will see many successful technologies companies that had a diverse group of employees, which was part of the reason for their success.
Collectively, and at every layer, from universities to the venture-capital community, we need to break out of the five guys and a whiteboard syndrome. The following are three companies that have done so, and, as a result, built successful businesses while having policies that encourage women to join their workforce.
Etsy , the online marketplace for handmade products, was founded by three men. As they built their company, they quickly realized the value of having a diverse team, and so, the young company launched "Etsy Hacker Grants." The program provides a three-month scholarship for talented women to take courses at Hacker School. Within a year, Etsy was able to grow its female engineering team by nearly 500 percent.
This example highlights one of the biggest challenges for the technology industry: scarcity of talent. Like a tree that has outgrown its pot, the industry is poised for restrained growth if it can't attract great talent outside of the typical computer science graduates.
We have come to rely on universities with strong engineering schools to produce the leaders of our industry. Unfortunately, these computer-science programs are built to attract programmers that have an immense amount of experience, which has traditionally attracted men. Venture-capital firms look to invest in the technologies that are being developed by graduates of these schools and technology companies have bidding wars to attract them to join. But, because these universities are so focused on producing technology leaders who are programmers, there are so many other skills that are equally important in the tech community that are overlooked.
We've learned that there are many attributes that are extremely important in building a start-up that don't require a math and science background, such as communications and design. By only catering to a single skill set, we are severely limiting the opportunities to scale our industry through diversification. We need to evolve how we brand technology as we recruit new professionals.
Automattic, parent company of WordPress, realized that it didn't need a conventional office in order to grow its business. In having all of its employees work from home, it not only allowed WordPress to be geo-agnostic when hiring talent, but it also became an attractive place to work for women who needed a strong work-life balance and a flexible schedule.
The days of "location, location, location" are dead. Technology companies are finding that being in one centralized office is not essential to building successful businesses. In fact, decentralization opens the door to a 24-hour workflow, hiring the best talent available regardless of location and hiring people that who need work-life flexibility.
Pinterest was one of the first companies to admit the need for more diversity in its team. But it didn't just talk the talk, it developed a program to increase the number of women and set goals to grow its numbers. It's invested in broader recruiting methods and educational opportunities to grow its diversity.
But in July, Pinterest took an unprecedented step. It publicly announced its hiring goals for 2016. By sharing this goal publicly, it is holding itself accountable to reach these numbers and proving how seriously the company is taking this initiative. In the past year, the number of female Pinterest employees has grown from 40 percent to 42 percent, well above the standards of their peers. According to Girls Who Code, only 17 percent of Google's tech positions and 15 percent of Facebook's are filled by women.
At RebelMouse, we are committed to having a highly diverse and global workforce. The percentage of female employees is 35 percent across 28 countries around the world, and in the U.S., the percentage of women is more than 42 percent. Thirty-seven percent of our engineering team and half of our mobile apps development team are made up of women. We have been aided by recruitment strategies that include PowerToFly.com, a company that is dedicated to helping women all round the world find work with flexible schedules that suit their lifestyles.
As an industry, we are known for our innovations. But we are severely outdated in the areas of developing talent and diversifying our workforce. The companies that make it a priority to diversify their workforce will continue to grow, while the rest of the industry will end up like the tree that wants to sprout but can't grow beyond its pot.
Commentary by Paul Berry, founder and CEO of RebelMouse. He is also an advisor to Lerer Hippeau Ventures and serves on the Digital Advisory Board of American Express. Previously, he was CTO of Huffington Post and before that, Vice President at Related Capital. He is married with 3 kids and lives in Tribeca, Manhattan. You can find him on Twitter @teamreboot.