6 min. read
Xena’s Allyship Award Winner 2023
Victor Moreno shares insights on how to be an effective ally – it all starts with intentionality
An ally is someone who is not a member of an underrepresented group but who takes action to support that group.
In an industry that is quite male-dominated, it’s important that we celebrate the male allies who go above and beyond to address the challenges that women in tech face. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Delivery Hero to champion the men who are making minorities a priority.
How can we close the gender gap in tech?
To close it, we first have to make it visible. Not everyone makes the effort, not everyone is aware of their surroundings. It’s easy to look at a room of men but be blind to it because we have normalised that this is what the tech industry looks like or the reason is that “it’s a men’s world”. I believe in ‘positive discrimination’, for me it’s the right thing to do.
The only way to close the gender gap is to be extremely intentional.
There’s THE gap then there are sub-gaps but it all comes down to intentionality and what policies are in place within companies. Through intentionally, you can bring awareness to whether there is a gap in terms numbers of gender, salaries, or access to promotions. Decision-makers need to be intentional with these issues, identifying and talking about them will lead to education. When the company acknowledges and educates itself as an employer, then the bias starts to break. In order to enforce this, it is essential to additionally have governmental support and policies to put rules in place.
How can we encourage men to be allies for women in tech?
In my opinion, being an ally is basic decency. To start, I would break it down into 2 easy steps:
1. Reflect, acknowledge, and recognise your own privileges.
2. Extend these privileges at the service of others.
In the world we live in, there’s a culture of glorification of the male figure which is not a coincidence but rather built by culture. Not everyone has the same social-economical background and upbringing.
You need to open your eyes first and be aware of your privilege. It can be something as simple as: not being interrupted or not being told to “smile more”.
Next comes educating yourself on what are the numbers and stats of what is happening within and outside your company and your industry regarding minorities for instance. If you are in tech, you will see that women are a minority and there’s no one-size fits all solution but we have to stop being bystanders and passively supporting inequality. We all have to start making intentional decisions to not be part of the problem.
Some reading material I can recommend:
• Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace – David G. Smith, W. Brad Johnson
• Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women – Brad Johnson and David Smith
• Don’t Fix Women: The practical path to gender equality at work – Joy Burnford
• Invisible Women – Caroline Criado-Perez
Make sure to not confuse allyship with becoming ‘a saviour’ or ‘a hero’.
Take microaggressions as an example, if you see this happening at work and regardless whether you are or not in a position of power – make sure to call them out. The calling out does not necessarily need to happen in public, unless it’s bluntly sexist or misogynistic. It’s a fine line to walk but a simple way to call them out is by saying: “Excuse me, what did you say? That doesn’t sound appropriate to me.”
If you do not feel comfortable confronting publicly at first, make sure to make a note of it, discuss it privately, and double-check with all parties involved. You can ask: “It seems to me, that X made an unacceptable remark towards you. I noticed that you didn’t respond. Is it because you didn’t want to or felt uncomfortable doing so? How can I support you? Would you like me to talk to X?
Use nonviolent communication to make sure it’s coming from your understanding, do not create a narrative, and stay true to the facts at all times when it comes to calling out people.
However, if you have hiring power – then you have real power to make an impact and you have to take action. As a manager, you have the responsibility to create a safe space and must put your privilege at the service of your team. You can start by setting an example, sharing your nonnegotiables, and communicating boundaries. Personally, I can easily be triggered and I am learning how to hold back from calling out people (or men) in public automatically.
To be an effective ally, you need to get to know your team members properly.
Talk with your team about hypothetical scenarios about how you could support them. Find out their preferences when it comes to communication styles and what works best for them personally. Make sure to not impose your personal opinion, instead be inquisitive and open. Don’t let your biases get in the way.
What are your diversity stats and goals at HER this year?
At a leadership level, we are proud to say that out of 5, there’s only 1 man – and it’s me. This was very intentional, we are a company building a product for queer women, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folks. We still have some work to do on racial representation but we are on it.
Within the company overall, we have more women than men. How did we do that? As a startup, we are privately owned and are lucky enough to make our own rules. We dedicate days to learn about queer and female issues around the world on a monthly basis. We also take a moment to celebrate loud and proud when our users find love.
We are trans-inclusive and have a set of values designed to celebrate our colleague’s differences in terms of experiences, backgrounds, gender, and sexual orientation. We believe in honouring, learning, respecting, and using our differences as a guiding star to what is right and wrong.
On my team, we have had parity for the past years but by end of 2023, I want to shift the representation and have a majority of women. I want to create an engineering team where women are the majority. As engineers, we are the executing link between marketing and product teams, and since HER is a product for queer women –it makes sense that the team is majority women as the first-hand insights provided are extremely valuable.
My personal goals are to keep mentoring the female engineers in my team. I want to encourage them to not be afraid of being wrong, to break things, and coach them to have the right tools to become leaders themselves.
How can we improve and secure diverse hiring processes in the industry?
Recruitment starts with being exemplary. If you are in a position where you can choose and have the privilege to pick where you want to work (which isn’t the case for everyone) you look for companies that reflect your core values. If you are not living and breathing diversity as a company then you will not attract diverse talent.
The problem isn’t a lack of women in tech. The problem is that your company isn’t attracting women.
When it comes to pipelines, once again, being intentional is essential. You can not leave it unattended and hope for the best. Your first step in securing a diverse hiring process is to make sure your job descriptions, such as the language used, are tailored to the people you actually want to hire. The language used should be open, welcoming, and genderless. Move away from a gendered language by avoiding any male examples and be inclusive to the nonbinary spectrum.
Then comes a matter of selection, if you have done a good job and have a diverse pool then you need to make sure your interview process provides a fair chance to participate. If a male candidate has more years of experience or specific niche knowledge than the female candidate does, ask yourself why is that? Don’t focus on hard skills but on the bigger picture.
Remember: you can teach a skill but not a diverse perspective.
This does not mean always choosing a female candidate for the sake of it. But make sure to consider which candidate will bring more to the table and then make sure to include your peers in the interviewing process to make sure your personal biases are not taking over.
When hiring, you need to be thorough and ruthless when analysing answers. Above all, you need to make sure you have an alignment in values regardless of their gender. Make sure you don’t over-promise, keep your integrity and protect your existing team members above all.
Lastly, when you send an offer to the candidate, always offer the same competitive salary independently of their gender.
Pro-tip for candidates searching for a job: don’t fall for the shiny hiring ads, and do not buy into the overly queer-friendly advertisement. You can easily identify the red flags, so make sure to take a look and check the company’s mission, values, and current team members.