It’s a problem nearly every company faces on a regular basis — how do you source technical team members of different genders with a tight turnaround and budget?
That dilemma was the genesis of Milena Berry’s company PowerToFly, which matches women across the globe with enterprises in need of tech talent.
Prior to founding PowerToFly, Milena led a technical team of 20 at Avaaz.org and helped grow her company’s platform to 33 million members. As she put it, “I was a woman in tech who had an exciting career, but at the same time I had kids. I feel very lucky that life happened this way, and I wanted to give that inspiration to millions of women around the world.”
With studies that have shown diverse teams outperforming similar companies by up to 35%, the importance is hard to ignore. Milena spoke with us about her personal experience and challenge in sourcing diverse technical teams, and how she sees PowerToFly changing workplaces around the world.
You spent several years at Avaaz as a CTO. What challenges did you personally face with recruiting a diverse tech team?
I never had enough diverse candidates. Every single time any engineering manager or CTO knows projects are coming up, they ask for the budget, get through the budget approval, then have to get through the hiring process as quickly as possible. And they get 99% male applicants.
Not all managers are making the decision to hire for a certain gender, but the place they’re starting out at is not with a diverse pipeline. Almost all the candidates in my pipeline were male. That’s when I realized we have something special with PowerToFly, because managers using the platform have a higher chance of hiring a diverse workforce.
What do you think is the biggest blocker keeping companies from hiring more diverse tech talent?
There are many. We need a better pipeline. I also think companies are a little stubborn in terms of all their requirements. They’d like people to have a formal computer science degree, to have attended Ivy League universities. When you create all those very hard requirements, you’re not going to change anything about [your company].
Diversity [is] not a Band-Aid. It’s a lifestyle choice. If you want to lose weight you don’t go on a diet, you change your lifestyle.
With every problem, the solution comes from creativity. You have to change and adapt to work in a new environment. I urge anyone who feels they don’t have diversity enough to question these assumptions and requirements and [ask themselves], ‘What can I deal with and what can I deal without?’ If it’s true you require an Ivy League education or a four year computer science degree, challenge that status quo and get on the other side of innovation.
PowerToFly has been operating for two years now. What lessons have you learned as a leader along the way?
It’s really important to always ask yourself as a CEO, ‘Where are my gaps and where do I bridge those gaps to become a better CEO?’ Leadership can get lonely and it’s so important to surround yourself with people who know the things you don’t know, who are experts in the things you are not. To build a complementary team is really important.
One of my other favorite life lessons is accept the fear and push through it. So many times as leaders and as humans in general, we have moments when we need to make a decision and it’s scary to make decisions that affect people that could make it or break [your business].
Push yourself to the other side of fear. To practice bravery in those moments, to act in love instead of out of fear and push through is a lesson I can’t stress enough to someone who is up and coming. It’s the one thing you have to train as a muscle.
What do you see Powertofly accomplishing within the next three years? We have big ambitions. We want to be in a place companies can come to us if they’re looking for a diverse candidate pool.
Unless [women] define the precedent and become part of the solution, we’ll always be victimized and change will never happen.
The other piece we’re aiming to be known for is completely reinventing how jobs are sourced and what jobs mean. Job postings haven’t changed in years, and we feel that jobs are so closely related to our lives. We should be confident in very different ways and we’re looking how to change that up.
This quarter’s Justwomen is focused on the theme of diversity. What do you hope participants walk away with after this event?
A couple of things. The main thing I get from talking about diversity is it’s not a Band-Aid. It’s a lifestyle choice. If you want to lose weight you don’t go on a diet, you change your lifestyle. To achieve diversity, you have to change the lifestyle of an organization, you have to commit to it for the rest of the life of your organization.
Once you’ve done a hire, it’s not something where you’ve checked off the diversity box. It’s [about] a strategic partnership over the years. Otherwise, we fall into the same old patterns.
Also, women can get involved. We don’t have to be passive. We can be part of the solution on gender diversity in the workplace. We should talk about what we need and bring those issues to our managers and talk to them. Unless we define the precedent and become part of the solution, we’ll always be victimized and change will never happen.
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