Over the past two decades, I’ve been part of seven tech companies, and in that time, I’ve worked my way up to my current role at Tiny Technologies, as CFO and Head of HR. That breadth of experience has allowed me to manage and participate in big and small teams, and I’ve arrived at a simple conclusion. A more diverse team is a smarter team – and a more successful one.
However, my opinions on the way to achieve that diversity goal may not be what you’d expect.
Diversity hiring is merit hiring
Yes, I’m a woman. Yes, I’m a minority. Yes, I’ve experienced discrimination on many levels. Given that, it’s reasonable to assume that I’d believe diversity goals should be set and achieved to correct those imbalances. And you’re right, I do, in a way.
However, hiring and promoting people just to achieve diversity, isn't a positive move. For anyone… no matter their gender or race.
Having been involved in acquisitions, fundraising, and co-founding tech companies in Silicon Valley (some successful, some not), I’ve seen what works. Generally speaking, it's the diversity of thought and experience that people bring to a company that's indispensable. Neither should be overridden by goals focused on gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
A clearer definition can perhaps be gained by looking at others. Ideal.com defines diversity hiring as “...hiring based on merit with special care taken to ensure procedures have reduced biases related to a candidate’s age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics that are unrelated to their job performance.”
So, really great teams that have been hired and motivated without bias, will naturally reflect a more diverse workforce. That's what we have at Tiny. Because they’re diverse, our teams are better at reflecting the real world in their decisions, at factoring in any ideological blindspots and making more informed decisions about difficult circumstances. As well as being brilliantly qualified and skilled at their roles.
Finding my way into tech
Personally, I’d love to see more women in tech, but not because of their gender. Hiring and promoting without bias must be the key. Even though (at times) through my career I was the CEO’s wife, I earned every single one of my promotions, and am certain that other women I know would insist on the same rule.
Growing up, my ethnicity and gender always paved my path. I knew I had to work harder than my counterparts in order to get ahead, and always lived by that model. But because of that ‘can-do’ and ‘doing more’ attitude, I was quickly promoted through the ranks and thrived on the intellectual stimulation I got from work.
In the late 90s, I sort of fell into tech and found it both refreshingly different and more accepting of women than the traditional male-dominated businesses. Of course, there were a lot more men than women (and still are today), but it was a different type of environment, with more opportunities for women to work their way up.
My boyfriend at the time (who went on to become my husband) was a seasoned technologist. He’d worked for multinationals, startups and struck out on his own in 1998. He needed someone who he could trust with his finances, and I joined the company some 4-5 months later.
Forging and rewarding my own path
Looking back, he was my gateway into technology. Together, we went on to launch three companies – some successful, some not. While that first one was my crash course in technology (as well as fundraising, acquisitions, mergers, and due diligence), it led to other roles for me in technology companies and startups – spanning software, gaming and hardware – so I’ve seen firsthand the highs, lows and disappearances of Silicon Valley.
Given where I am now, I’m thankful to my husband for bringing me into the tech world. When we first worked together, I was a mid-level manager with a banking, consulting, and real estate development history, so he shared his tech experience and mentored me on becoming an executive. Interestingly, each subsequent promotion I achieved – from Controller to VP, to CFO – happened at a company other than my husband’s, so I can proudly say I was hired and promoted based on my ability… nothing else.
Why is that important to me? As I said, I believe that promotions should be earned on merit, not your connections, gender or ethnicity. When hiring, a position should always be offered unbiasedly to the most qualified candidate. However, if the qualifications of all candidates are equal, then a company should look to its diversity beliefs and make efforts to balance its team.
Motherhood in tech
Speaking of balancing, my life took another turn in the early 2000s, when motherhood was thrown into the ‘life in tech’ equation.
In 2003, I was pregnant with my first son and the Financial Controller for a software startup. The company was funded by some pretty big VCs, but unfortunately, it couldn’t manage to pivot. As the finance person, I had to write the check of the remaining funds back to the VCs and was (quite literally) the last person to exit. So, I decided to have my baby and then figure out what came next.
Although I adore my kids, I soon realized that I couldn’t be a 24/7 caretaker. My brain missed the action.
After 5.5 months at home I went back to work, as the Vice President of Finance at an online gaming company. However, even with a supportive husband and a live-in nanny, I soon realized just how tricky it is to balance work and kids.
Working mom guilt
No matter what you do, you always feel guilty about something.
There’s much that's good and bad about being a working mom, but the thing I regret the most is having missed morning time with my kids – they were at their absolute cutest when they first woke up! Evening chats were a great consolation (after pick-up from after school care) and I also appreciated that my husband handled all the separation issues at drop-off (that’s the toughest, because you feel so guilty leaving them).
The one constant that was always tough though, was when they asked “Mommy, why are you always working?”. And it’s true, every vacation, I was (and still am) always working.
While it’s been difficult, I do think the pandemic era has also been a blessing in disguise for some working moms. It has been for me. My older boy goes to college in the fall this year, so with me remote-working and him remote-learning, I've appreciated having him around me more.
Lately, I’ve often seen him more than I did pre-COVID – because then he was at school all day, while I was in the office. Pre-pandemic, we usually only saw each other in the evenings – so our level of connection is far greater now, which I do enjoy (especially given what I’ve missed).
The Tiny era of my tech life
Eleven years ago, after working in numerous tech companies, I landed the role with Tiny. At the time, America had just gone through ‘The Great Recession' and my husband and I had exited a not-so-successful venture. It was a tough time for the market. The recruiter told me there were more than 900 applicants for the role.
Andrew (our CEO) and I hit it off right away and he hired me as the first female on the leadership team. Thankfully, (given my strong views on the subject) I know my appointment was based on merit, not a diversity hire, and I’m now not the only woman on the leadership team, after Elise joined in 2019 as Director of Marketing.
Over the last decade, we’ve extensively grown our team and pivoted many times, all the while striving to increase our workplace diversity, based on sound business decisions. The biggest lesson has been to open ourselves to adding diverse perspectives – not just because it creates smarter teams, but because it also gives a deeper dimension to them, and a stronger cultural pull.
It’s noted in a Harvard Business Review article that, “In recent years a body of research has revealed another, more nuanced benefit of workplace diversity: non-homogeneous teams are simply smarter. Working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance.”
My own journey through technical teams, leadership positions and motherhood, certainly validates that view. Because of that, I’m better equipped to support the women that join our team – offering advice and empathy – while also being able to introduce policies that shape the future experiences of Tiny’s women in tech.
Fellow women (and moms) in technology, I’d love to hear your stories. Please tag @joinTiny on Twitter to share your thoughts and experiences.