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By Rachel Merriman , Photos by Dustin Meyer

As the founders of recruitHer, Ashley Doyal and Gina Helfrich have one mission: to advance diversity in the technology industry. Now, with clients like Pinterest, Pandora and RetailMeNot, these two women and their Austin-based recruiting firm are proving why diversity is critical to candidates as well as companies.

In the modern world, it might be a surprise to learn that women hold only 26 percent of technology jobs. For women of color, that number plummets to 3 percent. Some say the numbers are so staggeringly low because girls aren’t encouraged to pursue Stem (science, technology, engineering and math) coursework in school, but that’s only part of the problem. Fifty-six percent of women in technologyend up leaving their positions mid-career, and only 20 percent of them return to the tech industry. So what can be done to solve this huge retention problem?

Enter Ashley Doyal and Gina Helfrich, the founders of recruitHer, a full-service recruiting firm that connects candidates with tech companies that provide inclusive and supportive workplaces for women and other under-represented groups. In addition to offering job-matching and career-coaching services, recruitHer offers recruiting services and diversity consulting to companies that want to hire and retain more diverse talent.

Between them, Helfrich and Doyal have more than 20 years of experience promoting diversity and inclusion in their areas of expertise. Doyal is an experienced recruiting and human-resources professional. She began her career working for a medical-staffing agency whose major client was the U.S. Army.

“I was both lucky and totally unprepared for that role,” Doyal says. “It was wonderful because both the Army and medical staffing are aggressive environments, [so, it was] a good primer for going into tech. It taught me to find my voice—literally. I would have to stand on a table in front of hundreds of dudes and corral them.”

Next, Doyal worked for a small startup before landing at locally based gaming company Electronic Arts. There, she co-founded its Diversity and Inclusion Guild, which partners with organizations that empower people with different backgrounds, and began offering advice to anyone who approached her about women in the gaming industry and in tech, as a whole.

“People would find me and ask, ‘How do you get more women in?’ [and]‘What do you do if no women apply?’ ” Doyal says. “I’d always done it for free, but then I found out that some of my peers were charging for that expertise. So, I made a promise to myself that I was not going to work for free anymore.”

Meanwhile, Helfrich was firmly rooted in academia. She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and women’s studies from Emory University, and after serving on the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, she became the director of the Harvard College Women’s Center.

“I had a wonderful experience at Harvard,” Helfrich says. “I was so excited to be able to work and teach with people who were big nerd heroes of mine. I sat on a committee with Mahzarin Banaji, a woman who is one of the foremost researchers on unconscious bias. … I got really interested in unconscious bias, stereotype threat, impostor syndrome and how those things affected my work at the women’s center.”

Helfrich soon felt the need for a new challenge, and moved to Austin, where she had heard there was a vibrant technology community, with the intention to “be a drop in the ocean” as a woman working in tech. At South By Southwest last year, she met a woman who worked in diversity consulting, inspiring her to start her own management-consulting business.

“I thought, ‘That is the kind of thing that I would get up and be really happy to go to work and do every day,’ ” Helfrich says.

During Helfrich’s initial exploration for her consulting business, people kept asking her if she planned to match candidates to the companies she worked with. Because recruiting isn’t her area of expertise, Helfrich posted a request for an informational interview with a recruiter on the Austin Digital Jobs Facebook group, and Doyal responded.

“When Ashley and I talked together on the phone, we realized together that these things are interconnected [and that]we could utilize our expertise to reinforce good behavior from companies,” Helfrich says.

Every company recruitHer provides recruiting services for is thoroughly screened to ensure they’ll be a good fit for candidates. “Every company has to answer the same questions. [We ask] about what their current team looks like, work-life balance, remote
work flexibility for employees, their parental- leave policies, trans-inclusive health care and career-development tracks,” Doyal says. “These aren’t out-of-the-ordinary questions to ask; it’s just what our candidate pool generally wants to know about. We do this pre-vetting so that, at a minimum, they can go into the interview process with a better idea about whether or not they’re going to be a fit there long term.”

If a company is having problems with attracting and retaining diverse talent, recruitHer offers management-consulting services to help make their processes and policies more inclusive.

“Sometimes, companies don’t realize they have a problem until the team has 50 white guys in their 20s, and they can’t figure out why no women will apply or make it through [the hiring process]. We get into the concept of diversity debt a lot when we counsel companies that are in their early and growth stages,” Doyal says. “It’s so much easier if you put emphasis on diversity early on and really be thoughtful about the way you scale your team in the beginning so that you don’t accrue so much diversity debt. It’s 20 times harder when you have to reverse to try and fix it.”

One of the ways in which recruitHer focuses on reducing diversity debt is making companies aware of how unconscious bias may affect their hiring processes and HR policies.

“We’re exposed to messages, associations and images in our everyday life all the time, and so, we unintentionally teach ourselves to associate certain concepts with women,” Helfrich explains. “You can see this in action if you go to implicit.harvard.edu and take some implicit bias tests, which measure in split- second differences how quick or slow you are to match certain concepts. One of the tests you can take, for example, is about career and home life, and men and women. So, you may take the test and learn that your brain is quicker to associate women with words like ‘laundry’ and men with ‘briefcase,’ even though implicitly, you don’t hold those beliefs at all.”

“One of the ways our brain makes decisions quickly is by association,” Doyal adds. “If you’re comparing resumes with the exact same skill set—literally, word for word, the same thing—and you put what sounds like an ethnic name on one and what sounds like a typical American name on the other, people choose [the American]one or rate it higher, even though it’s the exact same information.”

Companies can reduce the negative effects of unconscious bias by implementing better hiring processes that don’t introduce bias. To evaluate potential candidates, Doyal suggests using GapJumpers, a technology platform for employers that uses blind-audition challenges in lieu of resumes to compare candidates’ skills. It’s also now relatively easy for companies to provide employees with unconscious-bias training since Facebook recently made its unconscious-bias training free and open to
the public.

“You have to be aware of the way [unconscious bias]works in order to set up steps to mitigate those influences in your hiring decisions and your interview process. … Education is the first step in figuring out what we can do to make sure it doesn’t negatively impact our processes internally, now that we know our brains are wired to do this weird thing that we don’t want them to do,” Doyal says.

Just hiring diverse talent isn’t enough, though. To retain women, companies need to implement and properly support inclusive policies, such as flexible work options and parental leave. Sometimes, Doyal and Helfrich agree, those are tough but necessary conversations to have with their clients.

“I would argue that, at the end of the day, what it comes down to is that our societal ideas of what it means to be an ideal woman are still in conflict with what it means to be an ideal worker,” Helfrich says. “The modern American workplace has not yet caught up to making the changes necessary to support great work for women, and great work for anyone who wants to have a life outside of working a 60- to 70-hour week. There’s nothing wrong with women; what needs to shift is workplace cultures.”

Transparency about salaries, promotion policies and bonuses is also essential to ensure women are fairly compensated.

“Here’s exactly how you’re going to be measured to determine whether you get this particular promotion because, again, those are the areas where biases can creep in, and then someone who is maybe less qualified gets it because they are white or a man or more vocal,” Helfrich says.

Doyal strongly opposes a hiring practice that has become routine on job applications: asking applicants to disclose their salary history.

“If you’re someone from an under- represented group who has historically been underpaid, there’s no way you’ll ever catch up if you’re being paid based on your past history versus the competitive market rate,” Doyal says.

“I think that’s the future: getting to a point where market rate determines what you’re being paid, not your skills in negotiation or what you look like,” Helfrich adds.

Successfully implementing diversity and inclusion strategies takes time and effort, but companies that do so will see rewards for their bottom lines. Gender-diverse companies have a 15 percent higher return on investment, while racially diverse companies have a 35 percent higher return on investment. And a recent study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics shows companies with women in leadership positions have stronger profits.

“You’re literally leaving money on the table if you’re a company that’s not taking this stuff into consideration,” Doyal says. “If someone came to you and said, ‘I have this tool you can use, and if you just click the button, you’ll get 15 percent more customers,’ you would do it!”

A diverse team can even be the thing that makes or breaks a company’s products or services. Doyal points to the release of Apple’s Health app, which comes standard on all iPhones, as an example. The app measures every intricate thing imaginable about the user’s body, such as calorie intake, sleep patterns and blood pressure, but doesn’t offer any options for tracking reproductive cycles.

“They were ridiculed, and it happened because they didn’t have a diverse team,” Doyal says. “If they had any women involved, someone would’ve flagged it and said, ‘Hey, you forgot this hugely critical piece.’ It was a totally avoidable problem.”

In addition to helping companies promote diversity, recruitHer offers job-matching services to individuals, who can simply upload their resumes on the recruitHer website and receive a call within two business days.

“We’ll dig into what you want to do next, what your ideal role looks like,” Doyal says. “It’s a very human process. It’s very different from other sources that use algorithms to match people.”

It’s important to note that recruitHer’s focus is on diversity, and while that certainly includes helping qualified women find amazing tech jobs, absolutely anyone can sign up for the company’s job-placement services.

“Obviously, our areas of expertise and our personal experiences are in women in tech, but our mission from day one has been to serve marginalized groups in tech,” Doyal says. “And until those numbers change, that will include women, people of color, veterans, the LGBTQ community and disabled candidates.”

“The hobbyhorse I’m on all the time is that there’s no such thing as a diverse person,” Helfrich adds. “Diversity is a quality of a group. We’re providing a diverse set of candidates. No one is going to fit a particular mold.”

recruitHer also offers career-transition planning, goal setting, resume and portfolio overhaul services, and more. For those who are stuck and simply don’t know where to start, chances are recruitHer will know how to help.

“For example, maybe a person’s been out of the workforce for a couple of years and they want to sit down with us and do mock interviews for a couple of hours,” Doyal says. “Maybe someone is transitioning from one industry to the next and they need help figuring out what their narrative is.”

Best of all, recruitHer gives back to organizations that support marginalized groups through its referral program. Like most referral programs, the person who refers someone to recruitHer that is hired within a year gets $1,000. Organizations that refer candidates get $2,000. And if candidates who weren’t referred by anyone get hired, recruitHer still gives them $1,000 to award to an organization that supports the community.

“Because we’re a for-profit company, we want to be able to funnel the revenue we bring in back into the community we’re set up to support,” Doyal says. “It works well because it incentivizes our community to send us referrals, but also makes sure that we put money back
into the communities that we’re trying to bring visibility to.”

With community support, career planning, job matching, education and more, Doyal and Helfrich’s full-service approach to diversity advancement comes in all shapes and sizes. And while one company does not fit all candidates, and vice versa, Doyal and Helfrich know that if there’s one thing capable of cracking the foundation of this technology town, it’s diversity.

 

RECRUITHER TIPS FOR SALARY NEGOTIATION

Do your research. Ninety percent of the process is making sure you’re well-prepared before you even start the actual negotiation. know your target salary and the minimum you’re willing to accept. Make sure to base your figures on market rates for the role specific to the location where you’ll be working.

Always, always, always negotiate. If the salary number can’t budge, negotiate for benefits.
Think carefully and creatively about what you want: flexible work hours, a free public-transit pass, a spot for your child in company day care? There’s more to negotiate than simply salary figures.

Show you understand the other person’s perspective. Research on gender differences in salary negotiation out of Harvard’s kennedy School shows women do better when they show empathy for the employer. Say “we” to indicate you’re on the same team, and give business-based reasons why you deserve more.

 

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