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Is It Me? Open Letter to Women in Tech

 

As the CEO of a early-stage startup, I’m proud of what we’ve built, but our team consists of 10 men and 1 woman, and that’s a problem.  

By Samir El-Alami, CEO of doctorly

Women in tech, I need your help.
As CEO of doctorly, one of my responsibilities is recruitment. I am ultimately responsible for building and leading a team capable of realising our vision Click To Tweet

This makes sense, as we are an early stage startup and it is imperative that all early stage employees really buy into our company vision and fit into the culture that we are actively trying to build and nurture. Every hire, this early on, has a massive effect (for better or worse) on the culture. I would describe this responsibility – building a working environment where employees feel valued, empowered, engaged, respected and challenged – as my number one priority.

What exactly is that vision?

Our vision is universally relatable: We want to enable people to live healthier lives.

We have all dealt with health systems and know how old fashioned the processes are. We wish it could be better and more inline with service levels in other industries, for ourselves, for our friends, for our family, for everyone.

We are all children, brothers, sisters, parents, humans… so it’s not difficult to find people who believe in what we are doing and who want to contribute to its success.

 

What that looks like in practice
  • We save the doctors from their 90s software and bring them into the 21st century with our new cloud powered, digital first practice management software. (Help the doctors).
  • We empower the patients via our fully integrated health app, where they can digitally book appointments, access and share health records, communicate with their doctors digitally and a whole lot more. (Help the patients).
  • Integrate other services and tools from across the health industry into our platforms enabling doctors & patients to access the best of what’s out there, all via a single holistic platform. (Help the whole health industry).

 

So far, so…so.

We’re pretty early stage (we just turned 1 year old) and are currently 11 people based in our lovely Berlin office – CEO, COO, CMO (medical), CBDO, CTO, HO-CRM, 2x Full-stack developers, a Frontend developer, a UX/UI designer and a Key Account Manager.

Our investors are happy. Doctors are happy. Patients are happy. The wider health-industry stakeholders are happy.

10 men. 1 woman. Here in lies the problem for me (us).

 

What is the point of a tech-startup?

To innovate. To disrupt. To create new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things. To help industries to evolve. To create employment. To help people to grow and evolve as individuals, in the hope that they will pay it forward, if and when, they move on to other companies.

What breeds evolution and innovation in life? Diversity! You need all kinds of people, all kinds of experiences, backgrounds, perspectives, talents, methodologies and points of view to truly get to the right answer (whatever the question may be). To the right way of doing something (whatever you are trying to achieve). To the most informed opinion. To the optimal culture.

Now, to be fair, the one woman we have in our team (so far) is a cofounder, and across the 10 other employees we are incredibly international and represent a wide range of backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles. Everyone is also committed to the vision and to creating a wonderful culture.

 

But it’s not enough. No way near.

Things are going very well at doctorly. We are growing. Some of the open roles include;

  • x3 Full-stack developers (C#, .NET
  • x3 data migration/on-boarding managers (business analyst, intelligence, Data experience)
  • x3 Customer success manager (experience in medical field a plus)
  • x1 Product Manager/Head of Product (experienced building & leading a successful growing startup product team)
  • x1 UX/UI designer (UI focus, Mobile app experience)
I am aware unconscious biases exists and glass ceilings are everywhere across every society, industry and culture Click To Tweet

I am 100% certain we can fill these roles with really great people. (That’s a good thing).

But I want to ensure that I am doing enough to actively promote ourselves & our wider (tech-startup) industry as one that can be inclusive, that can be enriching, nurturing, kind and value a work-life balance. Putting the people/team at the forefront of not just what we do, but how we do it.

Over the past year and a half, I have reached out to thousands of candidates regarding roles at doctorly and I have interviewed hundreds and hundreds of them.

And here we are with a, yes wonderful, team, but it is lacking in diversity, and thus, lacking what we need to become the best team and company that we possibly can be Click To Tweet

My cofounders and I are constantly in discussions regarding internal structures and how we believe they ‘should’ be.

For example, we all know that in general, women get paid less for doing the same roles as men. We see this across multiple industries, company types and countries.

At doctorly we have a very transparent structure to remuneration where everyone can know what everyone else is earning, because we’re trying to lay the foundations for a company structure focused on openness and mutual value.

 

Is it me?

In my mind, I believe I am fair in the way I source, fair in the way I interview, fair in the way ‘WE’ decide who to hire, but I am also aware unconscious biases exists and glass ceilings are everywhere across every society, industry and culture. Simply put, in the way I write a job description, in the language I use in the telephone interview.. I could be unconsciously discriminating.

 

The typical interview process at doctorly looks like this
  • A lot of personal reaching out to candidates via Linkedin (CEO).
  • Phone intro interview with the CEO.
  • In-person one hour meeting with the respective manager +CEO.
  • Competency based interview.
  • Cultural interview, where the whole team takes the candidate for drinks/dinner and get to know each other on a personal level (everyone has a say on a hire).

 

Certain questions roll around my head
  • Are the roles we are hiring for simply not attractive to women?
  • Is my way of sourcing, (direct to candidates via Linkedin), not the best way to access the wide pool of female talent?
  • Is the wording/vocabulary I use off-putting?
  •  Is the early stage of our company unattractive?
  • Is the startup industry, and its less-than-inclusive reputation, a deterrent to women applying?

Over the years, I have always been fascinated by, and determined to overcome, unfair biases in all aspects of life (even my dissertation for my Archaeology degree at university was focused on how multiculturalism within society and the politics of heritage are intertwined with how we learn ‘history’ at school. It’s all about representation and inclusion).

During one period of job-hunting (in London) I decided to conduct an experiment. I applied for jobs with the same CV but changed the name from Samir El-Alami to James Smith Click To Tweet

I’m sad to say the response rate to James Smith was markedly higher than Samir El-Alami.

But I believe times are a’changing and I am optimistic that as long as people are ‘trying’ to do, and be, better, then things will improve.

I have worked with startup companies pretty much my entire adult life, 10-11 years or so. I am aware there are clear problems in this industry (the industry I love). I have sat at C-Level management meetings, looked around the table and been struck by the lack of diversity (not simply with respect to gender).

I have seen the early stage 'bro/alpha-male' culture. Maybe I have even been a part of it at one time or another Click To Tweet

I acknowledge it. don’t like it. I don’t want it. I’ll fight against it.

But we need help.
I've reached out to a lot of people on the subject, men and women, who have worked or still work within the startup scene and the feedback has been interesting... Click To Tweet

 

Some of the feedback that came up multiple times;

 

‘It’s always like this at the beginning of a startup because there are more technical roles (e.g. developers) and these candidates are overwhelmingly male’

 

‘Once the company grows and you start hiring Marketing, HR, Product management, Sales people, you will have more women applying.’

 

‘Women crave job security and are less likely to apply for roles at super early stage startups. When you get bigger they will apply.’

 

‘Men are more likely to jump from somewhere they are comfortable for a new opportunity, where as women are more likely to stay somewhere they are comfortable and will only look at new roles when they actively decide to move on.’

 

‘Startups have a reputation of not being female friendly, so less women are interested in working in one, dealing with all of that bravado & testosterone.’

 

I hear it. I don’t like it, and while there may be some truth dotted around there, I don’t/won’t believe it. I refuse to take some of these opinions as fact

I have been privileged to work with amazing women over the years, in ALL kinds of roles throughout a startup. They added SO much value to them Click To Tweet

If I could hire them all, I would!!

But I’ll settle for their help and advice for now

What can I do, as an early stage health-tech startup CEO? What can we do as a whole company, to ensure that we attract the best talent from ALL backgrounds, experiences, cultures, genders, lifestyles, religions and abilities?

 

The point(s) of this post are:

Drawing a line in the sand. This is a problem and I want doctorlly to take an active part in addressing it

I don’t want to guess.

  • We need women to tell us what it is about early-stage tech startups that is not so appealing (if that is indeed the case) and help us find ways to change that.
  • We want amazingly talented women, who like the vision of our company to read this and apply for a job with doctorly, and/or tell their friends about it.
  • We want amazingly talented women, who believe in the vision of this company, to work with us to actively participate in setting an example to the rest of the tech industry.
I'd love to hear how other people have tackled this issue, advice on best practices and feedback on our approach so far Click To Tweet
We want our company to be the very best it can be. Please help to make us better.

Samir El Alami is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of HealthTech startup doctorly. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter @SamirElAlami