When it comes to diversity in the workplace, we’ve all heard the age-old story on how challenging it can be for women to break the glass ceiling, especially in tech. From the unbalanced gender disparity in business leadership, to uneven pay, women often have to double-down or tout their own accomplishments to break into leadership or receive recognition for their efforts.
First, to provide some context, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado compiled an extensive report on gender diversity in the STEM industry and found unsurprisingly that men in Colorado are more than twice as likely to work in STEM occupations. Women represent less than a third of all STEM workers, despite making up 46% of the total Colorado workforce. For comparison, in Washington D.C. women make up 44% percent of the STEM workforce.
As our economy and daily lives become increasingly dependent on technology, recognizing the contributions of women in this field is paramount to continuing the conversation on diversity in the workplace. This piece will highlight the journeys of women in tech, in order to elevate a diverse range of contributors to Denver’s flourishing tech industry.
Overall, women hold only 25% of leadership positions available in the tech industry. While we could examine this situation with the glass half empty, it’s the BWBacon way to shed light on some of the great companies owned and lead by women that are swinging the pendulum the other direction. We know there is still work to be done surrounding gender equity in tech, so we wanted to hear from women blazing the trail themselves.
We had the opportunity to speak one female tech CEO to hear her story and thoughts on diversity in the workplace. We asked a few questions to find out more on how she has established her company, ways she has promoted female inclusion on her teams, and how having female leadership can help attract diverse talent.
The first woman we spoke with is Sheryle Gillihan, CEO of Causelabs, to learn more about her career. CauseLabs, started in Denver but currently based in Texas, uses technology to help companies scale their impact through strategy, design, and custom web development. Causelabs strives to be an ambassador for accountable capitalism and to help other companies use business as a force for good. Since 2003, the expert team at CauseLabs has helped companies solve problems and embrace opportunities to scale their business with technology.”
Sheryle: “I was actually looking to get a job with a non-profit somewhere and just wasn’t finding the right fit. I ended up in the Mergers and Acquisitions Due-Diligence space working for a small company. I grew in that company and became the VP of Operations. It was a 24-hour job, I was getting calls at 2 in the morning from China. Mergers & Acquisitions never rest, especially when the company is global. I was doing well, I had the pay, I had the title, and I had everything that my mother would be proud of. I was climbing that ladder, but I just wasn’t happy or fulfilled. We were stable, had stable income, and were able to pay for ballet, choir, all of these extra activities for our kids that I couldn’t do when I was younger. And I thought, well, I’ve made it. However, my husband started looking around because he knew deeply that I was not happy.
So, back in 2010, he found that BWBacon had posted an ad on Craigslist. This was back in a time where everyone was on Craigslist looking for jobs, and I thought it was such a scam. I had a call with Dave and Mike Henninger at the time, and I was thinking I’ve never worked with a recruiting company before, but this seems like a legit position with a legit company. I told Mike, I need to know this is stable and is not going to fail in a couple of months. We had a conversation and he said well, I’m not going to tell them you’re a Rockstar or something like that, but I’ll set you up for success in the interview.
At that point I was like hold on, I am a Rockstar, and you need to tell them I’m a Rockstar, otherwise I am not going to get selected for this position. Tell them that anything they throw at me I will do it. I’m all in at this point, I have researched the company, and I will make it happen. He said OK and I took the project management position.
Within a month, I was in India for the project I was working on, and I felt like I had found it. It checked all of the boxes. This is what was missing that I didn’t know. When I got home, I told my mom this incredible story about this orphanage in India and the semi-orphans that were there. Then she says, did you know that you were one of those kids? At 33 years old, I’m learning my poverty story for the first time coming home from this project. Things that I remember but didn’t know because you don’t really know you’re poor when you’re a little kid. Then as an adult, I started surfacing these memories. I’m looking back at old pictures and realizing we didn’t have indoor plumbing. My mother got $3 a week for food. It was then that I realized I am doing the work I need to be doing. I thought I was all in before that, but then I was really all in.
Then In 2016, there was some executive mismanagement of the funds in the company, and a need for change. The owner, who had been an absentee owner for some time, asked if I was willing to step in as the CEO of the company. I said yes, and with the team I had, who all cared about the company so much, we turned it around. Within the next year and a half, the owner was ready to not be an owner anymore. There’s a lot that comes with being a business owner, so he asked if I would be willing to buy the company? It was an easy yes.”
Sheryle: “I would say that first interview that I mentioned, I remember thinking at the time that if you do not tell them I am a Rockstar, I am not going to get this role because I’m a woman, because I’m a minority, because I’m a veteran. Due to some of these things there are biases against, I felt like I had to be represented by somebody else to advocate for me, and to say yes, she deserves this. So that was the first thing.
With women in tech especially, I feel like there’s not enough of us in that space. It’s too easy to get overlooked by another person, maybe with the same skillset, but there are biases there even if not intended necessarily. If you’re not intentional about overlooking the bias, or not intentional about growing diversity in the tech space, and not in a way that’s checking a box, it won’t be as successful. I feel like everybody has to start somewhere, and if starting somewhere means checking the box, then please check the box, but then grow beyond that.”
Sheryle: “We definitely look for getting women involved in technology. Where their skill-sets aren’t necessarily up to par, we give them our stack, and say please do apply once you’ve ramped up those skills. We use social media and advocate in certain channels where women are more prominent. We seek channels like Women Who Code and Black Girls Code, and tag our posts with that accordingly. If you’ve seen our recruiting posts, you’ll see one that’s a Wonder Woman. We try to appeal to women this way. We’ve even changed the language in some of our job descriptions. We found a tool that scans the language in a job description and determines if it’s even appealing to women, and helps us adjust that language accordingly. Also, our benefits are great across the board, if you’re male or female, but we pay attention to having great benefits for families.”
Sheryle: "I don’t think it’s a blanket assumption at all, I think it’s absolutely true. It’s not just leadership in a company, it’s female leadership at events, leadership at volunteer places. When you see your gender, your race, or your likeness resembled in the leadership, then you tend to be more willing to participate. I think that’s definitely true that more women probably apply because we have a female CEO and owner. I know there are some agencies out there that hire exclusively women, and they are definitely in that realm. However, we are more diverse and inclusive of all types, so we’ve got gender diversity, age diversity, race diversity, religious diversity. We’ve got veterans, people with disabilities, and many other types of diversity. Diversity to us is not specific to gender."
In conclusion, women in tech leadership here in Denver and across the country are making waves. We can utilize insights from these women in leadership and studies on gender inequality to creatively, and more effectively actualize diversity in the workplace. Whether through hiring experienced females for their leadership teams, or starting inclusive training programs for women, there are a plethora of approaches to balance the scales in the tech industry.
Our goal in amplifying these stories is to gain a greater understanding of how companies in Denver are implementing diversity in the workplace not just on paper, but in practice. We look forward to continuing to see women in Denver energize the tech industry, and will continue to share initiatives making a difference.
Here at BWBacon Group, we know and live what you are experiencing as an employer or job seeker in Denver, Boulder, Dallas, San Francisco, New York City or any of the other cities we work in. We believe great recruiting starts and ends with understanding people.
If you have any questions about living, working or playing any of the areas we serve, please contact us. We are happy to help. Seize the day, every day, that’s what we say!