Workplace diversity has been a big deal for some time now. Anyone who attends a tech-focussed event can see the challenges many businesses face. Not only are women under-represented but different ethnicities, age groups and educational backgrounds are also an issue. Heather Brunner has enjoyed a long career in the IT business and is now the CEO of WP Engine. She is setting out to build a company that embraces diversity through a series of deliberate actions and policies.
Brunner spent most of her career trying not to be viewed as a woman. She was often the only female executive or woman in the room and simply tried to fit in. But her mindset has changed. She wants to engage her emotional intelligence, as well as her IQ, as she leads WP Engine.
She said “The numbers show we have a lot of work to do”.
Indeed, a look at Australia’s ASX 200 reveals some damning data. CEO and board chairs are represented by 32 men named John, 32 named peter and 21 named David. The total number of female CEOs or board chairs in that list are just 19.
She said women and minorities need to see more people in senior roles in order to model what’s possible. And men need to see that too, in order to expand their horizons.
“Diversity attracts diversity,” said Brunner. “You have to declare it and be intentional If you don’t you’ll find yourself surrounded by people who look just like you”.
In order to overcome these biases and to be intentional in hiring a diverse team, Brunner’s team has adopted three pillars in their strategy.
- Agree to disagree
- Open your doors wider
- Invest on the inside
Agree to disagree
Businesses and managers need to agree that there may be different ways to get things done and be open to to those. Diversity, said Brunner, isn’t just about culture or ethnicity. It’s about accepting that people can see the world through different lenses and you need to allow people’s different views to be heard.
Open your doors wider
WP Engine sees themselves as a pathway for people from different backgrounds to enter the tech industry, even if their educational background might not be what’s expected. Brunner said the company does not require tertiary qualifications to get a job.
The also engage in “open book management”. Everyone in the business, as part of the induction program and ongoing education, is taught how ton read the company financials and understand the business’ KPIs which are released every month.
“People are learning abut their roles and the business,” she said.
That on-boarding process has developed as the company has grown from about 40 staff when Brunner arrived to over 520 five years later with plans to increase to 1000 people. It now takes several weeks with every new team member flown to San Francisco for training in financials, communications and other important company knowledge.
That big investment, said Brunner, has paid off.
Invest on the inside
Brunner said the company’s leadership development program is offered to all employees, not just this is management or leadership roles. Over a quarter of the staff were promoted last year alone.
It’s all well and good to say these things but how does Brunner put these into practice? She told me the company is deliberate in the language they use in job ads, avoiding terms like “rock star” or “ninja” as they can be off-putting to many people.
During the recruitment process, when candidates answer screening questions, names and genders are not provided to section panels in order to ensure biases based on those factors are eliminated.
No haggle salaries
Potential employees at WP Engine don’t get to negotiate their salaries. The company has a “no haggle” policy so stronger negotiators don’t have an advantage over other people. Regardless of experience, gender or any other factor, if two people are doing the same job they will be paid the same wage.
However, the company is working at being more declarative about this and has to work hard to track things closely to ensure inequities don’t develop.
“We want people to come, feel like they can be themselves, where their opinions matter . They’ll be treated as an adult and the company will invest. This has attracted a strong and diverse global workforce with strong retention”.