Think & Grow partner, Vinisha interviewed Kelly Spoerk, Project & Community Manager - Startmate Women Fellowship to get her insights as to how to thrive in today's market as a woman in tech and start-ups.
What are some of the barriers you see women facing in the tech industry?
Heaps. But, the barrier that the fellowship tries to address is entry. There’s just not enough awareness around start-ups being a viable career option which I believe is a huge misunderstanding.
Some women feel they can't work in a start-up because they’re not 25 and riding a scooter to work, or don't have the technical skills to code. They don't realise that start-ups, similar to other organisations, have a variety of ages and a whole host of non-technical roles such as Customer Success, Chief of Staff, People & Culture, Partnerships, etc.
I also believe there to be a significant barrier for mothers, who would choose a stable career/role even if they hate it. But, here’s the thing – even corporate roles and big companies aren’t “safe”. Many of the Big 4 consulting companies, banks and giant tech such as Google are making people redundant.
A start-up might fail, however, the skills developed in that short period of time can actually make you a more attractive candidate. In a start-up, you get to wear many hats, which means you might have gained experience in multiple areas such as marketing, ops, HR, sales, or project management. As a result, you will have developed a larger skill set which enables you to land another job.
Yes, completely agree. And knowing the difference between start-ups and scale-ups so you can have a career in a more established company whilst receiving all the benefits and security.
I also think that many people don’t know just how many start-ups there are or what they are. They just think of a few and presume they can’t work at Google because they can’t code or don’t want to work for a super early-stage company because it’s too risky. Which doesn’t leave you with many options.
How do you think tech start-ups could be more inclusive for women?
There are a few things you must consider, especially if the women that join your company have the desire to have children at some point. They do have to consider parental leave policies. Even if you’ve got graduates joining, it’s still something in the back of a lot of people’s minds.
Early-stage start-ups don’t tend to have parental leave policies in place because they have very few employees, so feel it’s not a priority or the policy will probably change as they grow anyway. But, here’s the problem with that – it will deter many women from joining. They may even be too afraid to ask in the interview process so when the time does come they may end up leaving and going somewhere else to benefit from a thought-out policy.
Even asking might make them feel awkward, it’s true. We know that one of the last things to be included as start-ups scale is HR operations, which obviously includes policies such as parental leave. Meaning so many meaningful strategies that could really encourage and welcome more women into the tech community are left until much later on.
What I’d love to hear from you is how the Women Fellowship has used the Start-up Salary Guide and how you would advise others to use it.
The guide is really helpful for women who are learning how to negotiate salaries as well as for setting expectations around base salaries. Many women just don’t know where to start, which impacts their confidence.
It’s also beneficial to understand more about equity – what it is and how much is a reasonable amount to be offered. So, the guide is a great starting point for education and to use as a reference when negotiating.
What advice would you give to people transitioning into start-ups?
The first step is to know what your values are. We spend a whole week on that topic in the Women Fellowship so they can unpack who they are and what’s important to them.
The second step is understanding what you want and what you can offer. For example, some people like change or ambiguity. Others prefer sociability and flexibility. Some people say ‘I love a challenge’ because it sounds nice in an interview, but then when they’re faced with one, they actually hate it.
Be honest with yourself because start-ups aren’t for everyone.
Yeah – so understand your comfort zone and relationship with risk?
Yes and lastly, understand what it means to work in a start-up environment in order to know your comfort zone and relationship with risk. You can find this out via articles, interviews, communities and groups… It’s everywhere.
It’s true that many people seem to jump into a job or even a career without much consideration or without intent. And due to start-ups being so demanding, you end up investing time and energy into something that you might not even want.
Agreed, reflection and intent are needed. I also want to emphasize that this isn’t just for young people. Think about it – if you’re 40 or 50 years old and you’re under the assumption that you can’t change your career despite hating the one you’re currently in, you’re signing up to potentially another 10-15 years of doing something that makes you miserable.
Thank you to Women Fellowship Program Leader at Startmate, Kelly Spoerk and Think & Grow Partner, Vinisha Rathod for this interview.