How tech companies can build a more equal workplace

The founder of the 3% Conference shows how tech companies like LinkedIn, Google and UberConference can make applications to help advance women in the workplace, but creatives must come up with them

Too few women in tech, in government, in Hollywood … Everywhere you look, headlines scream that women are underrepresented in almost every sector of professional life. Yes, we hear you, Washington Post, Mashable, NBC.

Many of these doom-and-gloom articles include research about factors keeping women down: Women get interrupted more in meetings; they use diminishing words like "just" and "sorry" when they do speak up; and unconscious bias runs rampant and unchecked throughout corporate America.

The next time you see an article like this (likely one is as close as the sidebar of this very web page) notice what’s always missing: possible solutions. The research is delivered like a verdict, a truth and a chronic condition. False! It’s merely an observation about how things are right now. Yet the articles end there, with a staggering failure of imagination.

That’s where you come in, fellow creatives.

Whenever reading a piece of research, my brain can’t help but leap into problem-solving mode. I’m a creative director, and the business of solving problems and connecting dots is in my DNA. So it’s only natural these articles set my mind into overdrive.

And what I see is that almost always, technology can solve for these injustices. I can’t build what’s needed, but I imagine it, almost instantaneously.

Here’s an example:

Research: Women are interrupted more often than men in meetings.

Answer: Find a way to illuminate those moments, so guilty parties can self-correct.

Application: Reveal interrupters on conference calls.

My team uses UberConference for almost all of our meetings. When the call ends, I get a recap that breaks out who was on the call and who spoke and for how long. UberConference delivers these stats almost as an afterthought.

Yet, once I read the research about women being interrupted, I sent the marketing director at UberConference an email. I asked whether their technology could also report which callers interrupted other callers who were still speaking. She thought it could. I suggested they build that feature and market it to customers as an added-value offering. Features like this elevate their brand from a utility to a valuable HR tool. It’s good for UberConference. It’s good for gender equality. And it’s likely free — or inexpensive — to create.

Example #2:

Research: Women only apply for jobs when they possess 100% of the skills listed.

Answer: Encourage women to reach for bigger things earlier.

Application: Invite women to apply for promotions, not just lateral moves.

LinkedIn serves up "Jobs You May Be Interested in" postings. These jobs are always at or below the job I have now. I suspect that’s because their algorithm is simple and searches for a match between my job title and openings with the same title.

Yet if LinkedIn did a little research into each industry’s job title hierarchy — for instance that ACD comes after Senior Copywriter — it could be planting the seed to both women and men to take the next step, by serving up ads for the next job up the ladder.

Read more from Kat Gordon: The year ahead for women

Furthermore, it could coach companies to write these ads using linguistic cues that encourage more female applicants. Changing "job requirements" to "desired skills" side-steps research that shows women follow rules and assume requirements are exactly that — required.

Women also negotiate just as much as men when an ad includes two magic words: "salary negotiable." Again, LinkedIn could go from being a utility — job ad server — to a value-add of encouraging more diverse applicants, including those ready for more responsibility, to companies seeking to hire.

Example #3:  

Research: Women use filler words like "just" far more than men.

Answer: Raise women’s awareness of the diminishing vocabulary they use.

Application: Flag the word "just" or "sorry" or other crutch word of your personal choice  in your online communication.

A huge proportion of online communication passes through Google’s servers. A simple plug-in to Gmail could allow women to self-monitor their language, flagging how many times they used filler words in a day, a week or month. Better yet, it could highlight these words before you hit send, just as it notes you used the word "attached" but didn’t include an attachment. Once again, a utility — email server — becomes an ally in gender equality.

See what I mean? I can’t build what UberConference, LinkedIn or Google need. But I can imagine it and suggest it to them. So can you.

Kat Gordon is the founder of the 3% Conference.

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