The tech community has long struggled with gender parity. Under 30 percent of tech workers are women despite the proven economic advantages of gender equality. It’s why, on March 8th, 2018, Stockholm - which was once dubbed 'the tech capital of Europe' - launched an initiative to help businesses stamp out equality problems and create more female-friendly organisations.
Since its launch, over 100 companies have joined the ‘A Woman’s Place’ initiative. One such company is Bannerboy, a Swedish production agency founded in 2010. This relatively young company has undergone rapid expansion over the last few years, taking on big name clients such as Spotify and Duracell and establishing a global presence with offices in Stockholm, New York, Amsterdam and soon, Los Angeles.
By comparison, IT-consultancy company, Netlight, founded in 1999, is a veteran of the tech industry. Their strides towards gender equality have been ongoing for the past decade; their most recent measure has been to declare as ‘A Woman’s Place’, reaffirming their commitment to equality.
Photo: Abel Buko
The Local met with Abel Buko, Bannerboy’s culture director, and Sara Frisk, a consultant at Netlight, to find out how their companies have been using the ‘Gender Equality Toolbox’, an online resource of five guiding principles, articles, podcasts and on-hand experts to help companies of all sizes increase gender equality.
‘A place where women are free to fulfil their professional potential’
Abel joined the Bannerboy team four years ago but says his role in the company evolved in response to the need for greater gender equality.
“When I first started in the company I was a producer and then when the company expanded there became a need to make sure that our culture grew with the company, so my title switched to being the culture director two years ago.”
After discovering the ‘A Woman’s Place’ initiative at the Austin, Texas-based festival, South by Southwest in 2018, Abel was certain it was exactly what Bannerboy needed.
“At the time, we had three women out of 30 employees. Recruitment was the first thing we really thought about because that was our biggest problem. We only had 10 percent women, which doesn’t make any sense because obviously women know how to program. They’re out there, they just weren’t here,” he recalls.
Abel, a former women’s studies student, understood the importance of gender equality but didn't know how to implement policies promoting it at Bannerboy. Although he had a theoretical understanding, he had none of the practical knowhow. It's where the toolbox really came into play. Using the resources, he was able to create a plan to make the job adverts more attractive to women.
“I’d had the academic background but none of the practicality of what it is about a company that makes it uninviting for women to apply, so I needed a toolkit and people to talk to.”
'A place where women and men have equal access to resources, knowledge and networks'
Over the past decade, Netlight has been actively initiating events and networks promoting the sharing of knowledge and resources to level the playing field in the male-dominated tech industry.
Photo: Netlight's Sara Frisk
One example is TechEq, a cooperation between over 100 companies in Sweden, which strives for equal gender representation in the tech industry. Netlight also initiated a female tech network called ‘Code Pub’ which has become increasingly popular, with over 4000 members and 25 events across Europe in the last 12 months.
“We arrange events where women can meet and talk about tech and be in an environment without feeling like they’re in the minority and as though they have to explain how they ended up in IT,” says Sara.
She adds that the company also started an initiative called ‘Purple Pill’ to get men involved in equality topics, even though it might not affect them directly.
“I think it’s very cool to be at a company where men take ownership over these questions and really believe that this is not only an issue for women.”
Photo: 'Purple Pill' at Netlight
'A place where women feel safe and free from sexual harassment'
Abel admits that Bannerboy’s track record of gender equality isn’t entirely clean.
“It was this assumed thing that of course we weren’t going to sexually harass each other and as a small company it just never dawned on us to have policies and procedures. Until we had an incident,” he says.
The company now has a strict procedure to respond to harassment and ensure new female recruits feel safe in all Bannerboy workplaces.
“We needed to start thinking about the fears that a woman might have when she enters the workplace because they’re really different from what a man thinks when he walks into a workplace,” he reflects.
'A place where women's and men's ideas and ambitions carry equal weight'
Sara recalls being passionate about tech from an early age but it took her a long time to realise that women in her industry were underrepresented. She says that, outside of Netlight, she still notices that she is in the minority which can be jarring.
“The biggest challenge in my work life is when I feel that I don’t belong or when people approach me not expecting me to know about tech, the area in which I’ve spent my whole career. That happens a bit too often.”
Bannerboy has worked hard, drawing on learnings from the diversity toolbox, to ensure its female employees never feel this way. Abel explains they actively engage female team members so that their voices are heard both internally and in external communication.
“We have a job ad right now where we explicitly state that we want more women. The women of the company were asked to write a statement to put below the job ad explaining why it was important to us,” he says.
'A place where women and men have the same opportunities to combine work and private life'
“Last year we defined our six core values for the company and ‘Being Swedish’ was one of them. We look at how things are done here and roll them out in our other countries. Specifically, offering five weeks of vacation to an American is mindblowing,” Abel says proudly.
A key example of this so-called ‘Swedishness’ is the parental leave policies both Netlight and Bannerboy have in place for their employees.
“We’ve looked into how fast women and men progressed in their careers both salary and challenge-wise and we have made improvements to our parental leave policies based on those findings,” says Sara.
Bannerboy is just weeks away from launching parental leave in their New York office and Abel says these Swedish values have strong pulling power for potential employees.
“It’s purely out of our pocket that we’re offering this. It’s a very strong selling point,” he concludes.
Invest Stockholm’s ‘Gender Equality Toolbox’ provides resources to help companies of all sizes practically increase gender equality. There you’ll find podcasts, articles, guiding principles and contact details for gender equality experts to help you create a working environment where both men and women are free to reach their professional potential.
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Invest Stockholm.