How Ada’s List Is Challenging Tech’s Gender Gap Through Community

The gender gap in the tech industry is an issue that continues to reveal new challenges despite progress toward a more equitable workforce. While more obvious gender biases and discriminatory practices have been abandoned, organizations still exhibit cultures that undervalue — and oftentimes push out — the women who work for them. What’s more, many women who work in tech suffer from imposter syndrome and don’t actually consider themselves to be “women in tech.” Those who do overcome imposter syndrome often wind up in competition with their female colleagues.

Designed to help drive change and make the tech industry more inclusive, Ada’s List is a global community for women and non-binary people within tech to connect with each other and provide them with opportunities to further their careers. The community provides a place for members to freely exchange advice, ideas, and connections. Since its launch in 2013, Ada’s List has grown to over 9,000 members who collaborate and provide each other with encouragement and tips for both their personal and professional progress.

During a recent interview with Trilogy Education Services, Ada’s List Co-CEO Mara Larson-Richard explained how the community supports individuals on a personal level, how women and non-binary people can have more transparent relationships with businesses, and how you can get involved and join the movement.

Helping Women Find Community

Finding and connecting with a community can make all the difference — no matter where you are in your career. But, for a lot of people, being told to “find your community” can feel vague and be difficult to know where to start. What should you even be looking for in the individuals who make up your community?

“Everyone’s journey is so different that they have to chart their own path,” Mara explained. “Everyone’s tribe is going to be different based on what your journey is and what you need, and that’s one of the strengths of Ada’s List in a lot of ways. It can feel overwhelming as a community — it’s very ‘choose your own adventure’ and organic and open — but it also gives you the ability to reach out to those people and explain what you need and what you want.”

Mara also provided helpful examples of types of people or experiences to seek out when building your own community. You might be looking to connect with engineers, pick the brains of women and non-binary people who have started their own companies, women who have dealt with pay or hiring disputes — or you might just be looking for a fun group of welcoming, like-minded people. Once you know what you’re looking for in terms of support, it’s a lot easier to identify the individuals who can provide it.

Partnering With Employers

With a focus on lowering the barriers women and non-binary people typically face in entering tech roles, Ada’s List partners with companies and connects them with resources that can help them change their culture. “We help change company cultures by partnering with companies to understand their hiring strategies to build better relationships with women and non-binary people in tech,” Mara explained.

Through these partnerships, Ada’s List members are also afforded the chance to understand what it’s really like to work for a particular company. Being able to identify the type of culture they’ll be working in can help them better discern which companies are the best fit and where they can thrive.

With an industry standard of 19% female employment, it’s a shocking (and encouraging) outcome that many of Ada’s List partners have achieved 50% gender diversity. However, Mara pointed out that while companies should celebrate these successes, they can’t stop there — it’s crucial to stay on the path toward progress.

Connecting Women With Opportunities

Ada’s List balances organizational needs for gender equality with member needs for information, community, and opportunity. Through the Jobs Channel, members can view jobs posted to the site, trade contact information, and connect members to companies.

“We’re launching a brand new jobs board toward the end of the year, which will be publicly available on our website,” added Mara. “It’s really intended to help women and non-binary people have conversations about the roles and the companies and create those connections.” In fact, it’s common to see members comment that they know someone who works for the company or are familiar with the company culture, bringing valuable insights to facilitate a successful job search.

But that’s not all. The Jobs Channel doesn’t just align members with job opportunities — it also helps organizations make connections and build trust with diverse audiences, like women and non-binary individuals, to facilitate a long-term goal of building quality relationships. “[It’s] a far more impactful way of changing the [gender] ratio,” Mara said.

Challenging STEM Stereotypes

When Ada’s List was founded in 2013, there weren’t many groups out there for women and non-binary people in tech, and while the community space has grown, Mara left us with the reminder that “there’s more work to be done.” For instance, women in leadership positions can play an important role in helping to bridge the gender gap simply by referring other qualified women for jobs in their organization.

Did you know that in 2020, women-led startups received just 2.3% of venture capital funding? Even more concerning, this 2.3% statistic came after the previous year’s all-time high of 2.8%, which is still disappointingly low.“It’s not moving as much as we want it to. Why is it not moving? What are the elements that continue to hold women back?” While many people would have trouble moving past these questions, Mara and her team, as well as the community at Ada’s List, are actively working to answer them.

Unfortunately, the answers aren’t always encouraging. Talent and experience aren’t necessarily enough for women and non-binary people working in tech roles. “It’s really hard to stay in tech for decades at a time if you feel like you’re waging this battle alone,” Mara explained. Through Ada’s List, members have a virtual sounding board to receive advice, resources, and contacts, so they’re never alone on their journeys — even if the companies they work for don’t provide the support they need to succeed.

Equipping Companies to Make Permanent Change

“I don’t think people in tech realize how high the barriers to entry are.” Rather than place the responsibility on members to champion the mission of gender equality in tech, Ada’s List aims to keep companies accountable while providing them with the resources to promote fair hiring practices, equitable career pathing, and a safe workplace culture.

While it might seem obvious to outsiders, the strange truth of many tech employers remains that they see a talent shortage and believe it’s indicative of low — or no — barriers. Whether it’s because organizations hire through their own networks, or candidates get confused by company lingo or erratic hiring processes, there are a variety of “invisible” elements that create these barriers. By working with Ada’s List, companies can connect with and add women and non-binary people to their talent pipeline.

“We have all these different Women in Tech initiatives, and I think they’re amazing, but by and large, almost all of them have a business model that asks the women to pay for access to those opportunities. They provide amazing services based on that, but to a certain extent we’re asking women to pay to solve a problem that companies and society created,” said Mara. “It’s companies and culture who created this problem, so how do we make companies and cultural elements pay for fixing this issue and give women and non-binary people the freedom to access these opportunities and resources without having to pay for it?”

Closing Thoughts

There has never been a better time to be a woman or non-binary person in tech, especially with supportive groups like Ada’s List full of members who are ready and willing to help you reach your goals. Visit the Ada’s List website to learn more about their mission and join the conversation, and connect with Mara on LinkedIn. If you’re interested in sharpening your own tech skills, Columbia Engineering Boot Camps can help you reach the next level in your career.

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