Forty percent of all companies are run by women. But only 3% of VC-backed companies are run by women, as Broadway Angels’ Karen Boezi pointed out at our seventh annual Rock Health Women’s Summit held last week. Women make most healthcare decisions for their households—so having women on your leadership team is key because they better understand what women as customers of your product would want. In digital health, the percent of startups with a woman CEO jumps to 13%. We still have so far to go. Rock Health aims to make a broad impact—and want to share specific takeaways and learnings from the event to reach all those championing gender diversity.
- Start by being open with your team about times you’ve experienced or demonstrated biases
- Hide names on resumes to limit bias toward potential employees
- Set clear criteria for the role before the hiring process begins
- Pay close attention to when that criteria shifts and when subjective criteria is used
Tools to improve balanced gender representation on your team
Biases are real and have a huge impact on companies. They can happen at any stage of employment by even the most ‘progressive’ of employers—from hiring to performance reviews. They skew the balance in not just who is on your team but who makes up leadership—and how and what decisions are made for the company. Terra Terwilliger of Stanford’s Clayman Institute shared some startling results from their research on performance reviews. Compared with men, women receive 2.5X more feedback about being aggressive in their communications, 2.4X more references to team accomplishments (as opposed to individual accomplishments), half as many references to their having vision or technical expertise, and one-third as much feedback linked to a business outcome.
So what can you do to overcome unconscious prejudice? Genentech’s Nelli Theyel, who led a roundtable discussion, suggested gathering your team together to set values and determining standards for the language you use and the behavior that is acceptable. Then ask everyone on your team to commit to these shared values and standards. Explain the “why” for diversity initiatives. Talk to your team about what’s at stake by discussing the purpose and mission of the company—and their part in driving that mission and positive change. Beyond being good for your bottom line, improving diversity is also “the right thing to do,” as Jenn Maer of Omada Health so clearly stated.
Another tip: start with yourself. Being open about times you’ve experienced or even demonstrated biases creates an open environment for your team to recognize and adjust their own behaviors.
So how can you decrease bias in hiring? For one, hide names on resumes to reduce unbalanced judgment from the get go. But this won’t solve all your problems. You also need to consider if candidates are evaluated unfairly during phone or in-person interviews. For these instances, set clear criteria for hiring before you begin interviews in order to limit biases creeping in. Notice when that criteria shifts during the hiring process and when you hold some people to a higher standard than others. Pay close attention to the use of subjective criteria such as “culture fit,” “executive presence,” and “leadership potential.”