International Women’s Day 2022: Break the Bias, Break Barriers

Every International Women’s Day (IWD), companies like ours write blogs like these. Ask women what they think about them and they’re seldom full of praise. It’s not hard to see why: most of these blogs pay only lip service to the bigger issues at stake and act more as puff pieces for the companies that publish them. “It’s all very well doing PR,” said one colleague I spoke to, “but if we're not taking active steps to make sure that we promote, hire, retain and treat women equally,” then we’re missing the point.

For some, these blogs are a good way to sidestep a conversation that not everyone wants to have. That’s why we’re not going to write the same old things this year. Instead, we believe it’s better to face the music and have that difficult conversation, even if some find it uncomfortable. After all, the momentary discomfort that some feel is felt by others for a lifetime.

Breaking the Bias in the Workplace

The theme of IWD this year is “breaking the bias”. So let’s start there, with bias. According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2021, one in three women have recently considered downshifting their career, four in ten have considered leaving their company or switching jobs and, since the start of the pandemic, “burnout is escalating much faster among women than among men.” Women are shouldering the lion’s share of the burden that this pandemic has created at work, and they’re paying a heavy price for it.

Representation of women of color is especially poor too, especially in more senior roles. According to the same report, it “falls off relative to white men, white women, and men of color at every step in the corporate pipeline, leaving them severely underrepresented at the top.” It’s also women who “spend more time than men on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work that falls outside their formal job responsibilities.” In short: women are underrepresented, burning out, taking on more than their male counterparts, and doing more than men to fix the situation.

The outlook is bleak. But where do we go from here? How do we, as a company, learn from this and get our own house in order?

Making Diversity, Equity and Inclusion a Reality in a Tech Startup

The tech industry is not especially diverse, nor are the life sciences. According to a PwC Women in Tech report, only five percent of leadership positions in tech are held by women and only three percent of women students would go into tech as their first career choice. At Synthace, we’re fortunate enough to be ahead of the statistics: forty percent of our leadership team and twenty nine percent of all our employees are women. While this is a start, there’s a long way to go. We’re nowhere near a 50/50 split and, when we get to board level, it’s even worse: only one woman sits on the Synthace board.

There’s a reason it’s called diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s because there are three parts to this challenge: diversity means recruiting, retaining, rewarding and promoting a more diverse range of people, equity means making the workplace a fairer and better place to work, and inclusion means making sure these efforts leave nobody behind. Just working on one and forgetting the others is pointless. For example, why bring a more diverse range of people into the business if it's an inequitable place to work? Those new recruits will have a terrible time, then leave. 

For Becky Farnea, newly appointed Director of People and Culture at Synthace, DEI is one of her main priorities in the next twelve months and beyond. Chief among those efforts, she says, will be “making sure that we are doing something exceptional for women, that makes them feel welcome, that they enjoy it here and they want to stay and pursue their career.” But how do we do this? It’s not enough to just make some top-down changes and hope for the best. “What we do needs to come from the people in the business,” she says. “What's important for me is listening to what people want, finding out what's missing, and then plugging the gaps.”

The Challenge Ahead: Where Do We Go From Here?

Compared to more established businesses, startups are a double-edged sword. We often make the mistake of thinking that there’s little time to put towards anything other than working on the product and getting it out into the world. But with the right strategy and leadership in place, there is a huge opportunity to take the relatively blank canvas that a startup represents and build a people-first company from the ground up, laying the foundation for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture.

There’s a reason that Becky’s title is “Director of People and Culture” and not “Director of HR”. For Guy Levy-Yurista Ph.D., CEO of Synthace, bringing someone like Becky onto our leadership team was key to his desire to get our house in order in a way that puts people first and not in the same old ways that traditional HR usually functions. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” says Guy, “and while we may have a strategy to go to market, it's all nonsense if we don't get a handle on the way we operate internally, if we don't properly consider who we are and how we function on a truly fundamental level.”

Looking ahead, says Becky, “if we've got more parity—so more women in the workplace—and if we've got closer to a 50/50 gender split across all levels,” then we know we’ll be in a much better position than we are today. Getting there may be simple, or it may be hard. However things look the next time International Women’s Day rolls around, we hope we’ll be doing better than before, that conversations like these only become harder to avoid, and that we’ll be closer to that diverse, equitable and inclusive culture we’re all chasing for.

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