Gender and the firm

Our firm is not unlike many of its clients: the majority of our employees are male. This has been true since our inception. It is not an issue that has been much discussed internally. Nor is it one that I have discussed with clients and their predominantly male management teams. On both counts I am surely at fault.

I have championed the notion that it is the CEO’s responsibility to make sure that within its means, the company sources the best candidates. I have not been shy in advocating that growth companies should ‘always be hiring’; always be scouting for the ‘best’ talent rather than settling for the three or four candidates caught in the net of a recruiter’s trawl. And here of course is the rub: tech has always been and remains a heavily male enterprise. Recruiters work on the basis of matching a role with previous experience. The more senior the role, the more it seems the pool is loaded on the male side.

If attracting ‘the best’ is to be a serious proposition then the addressing the imbalance between male and female must surely be addressed. Can we claim to be hiring the best when we know that girls are outperforming boys across the board from nursery through to university? Add to this the common assertion that while IQ determines one’s success up to university, EQ will be the greater determinant of success thereafter. On this front, too, it would seem we are prepared to settle for less than the best.

At a senior level, companies need to pursue recruitment strategies that are more akin to internal promotions, where candidates are assessed not on their record of doing a similar job but on performance indicators that they have the talent and aptitude to do the job. The recruiter may well argue that this approach increases risk, but this is merely an argument for the perpetuation of the status quo. On this basis, no founding, first time CEO is qualified for their role or likely to be successful. The paradox here, of course, is that most great technology companies are closely associated with their founders who remained at the helm long after the start-up phase has passed.

It is with less senior hires that there is an opportunity to remake the future, level the playing field, and secure the best of the best. For the first few years at RIG we advertised our annual summer internships on the Cambridge Careers website. For us, internships are a serious business that are used to assess potential entry-level employees. For several years the number of male applicants outweighed the female applicants. We reviewed the language we used to described ourselves and reduced the emphasis on technology. The point, of course, is that to create a balanced pool of applicants takes some thought and design. Our primary commitment is not to employing equal numbers of men or women or to ensuring that the senior levels of the firm are populated by both genders; it is to ensuring that we are always hiring the best of the best.