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Robert Walters International Women's Day Breakfast 2019 Wrap-Up

We are more than thankful to everyone who attended last Friday's breakfast in honor of International Women’s Day.

More than 40 Bay Area leaders with a desire to #BalanceforBetter joined us for the roundtable event to address ways to increase gender diversity in the workplace and empower more women to progress into leadership roles.

Topics of discussion ranged from recruiting and interviewing with a focus on diversity, all the way to simple adjustments you can make on the daily to improve workplace culture for women and underrepresented groups. Below is a summary of discussions from some of the Bay Area's top leaders.

Why is diversity important in the workplace?

We can all agree that diversity in the workplace has been a hot topic for a number of years, inspiring a vast pool of research, hundreds of headline articles, and even a few executive apologies. However, diversity is much more than a fleeting buzzword, and there is clearly much work to be done. Embracing diversity is not just the right thing to do - it’s also good for your business. A diverse workplace positively affects brand perception and overall profitability (resulting in lower levels of employee turnover and maximum productivity).   

“You have to have employees that are part of the community that they serve. If you don't do that, you're going to lose and dilute your brand very, very quickly. It really is in the business' interest to have a group of people that are diverse, if that’s the type of customers you're trying to attract," says Kate Pearson, Former Head of Operations & Experience at Tesla.

Stephanie Otway, PR & Communications Director at Instagram adds: “Your employees will hold you incredibly accountable for the diversity metrics you need to hit, but the second biggest group that will hold you accountable is the public. Set a baseline as early as you can, and no matter what size the company is, show the incremental change.”

Starting from the bottom

Start by incentivizing employee referrals. Take for example, Kate Pearson, who identified “pockets of diversity” in her previous role at Walmart, and created “a contest among each of these diversity groups to go and recruit other people that they know in their community.”

Next, diversify your talent pipeline by removing “bachelor’s degree from a top university” as a bullet point in job descriptions. “We actually just hired a new head of recruiting, and one of the things he challenged was the wisdom that only people from Stanford or Berkeley are going to perform at the levels that we're looking for,” says Melissa Alvarado, VP Growth & Analytics at Chime.

It’s helpful to look at the performance of people from other schools, and remember that college performance does not necessarily translate to job performance.

Shelley-Ann Denoon, Former COO at Jane, recommends that businesses ensure that there are women and people of diverse backgrounds on the hiring team. "Promote diverse people from within to inspire other people of color and people of diverse backgrounds to apply,” she says. She finds that when leadership is diverse, candidates will come in more confident and able to express themselves.

Some specific tools identified during the discussion were Include.io, a mentoring and recruiting platform built to fight bias by scaling access to direct referrals for underrepresented candidates, and Smart Recruiter for enterprise recruitment and tracking. Of course, for high-growth startups, nothing beats the specialist professional recruitment of Robert Walters.

Keep it consistent

Unconscious bias can easily hamper an organization’s attempt to create an inclusive and diverse workplace. The leaders at Friday’s breakfast revealed that the best ways to overcome unconscious bias in the hiring process are to standardize questions and answers during interviews, have a preset framework for competencies, and create a standardized scoring system for hiring managers.

“Asking standardized questions really levels the playing field. By doing this we were able to hire some of the first female support engineers and female SRE engineers in our Singapore office,” says Grace Lin, Head of Biz Ops at CloudFlare.

Julie Goergen, Head of Talent at rideOS, also found that standardizing questions "really helped eliminate our internal bias," helping them scale from "0% women to 30% women, even as a small startup."

Another good practice is to create a framework for competencies, and have each hiring manager write their scores down individually and reveal them all at once.

Practice what you preach

Many of our International Women’s Day Breakfast attendees mentioned policies that are helpful for increasing workplace diversity. Interestingly, flexible working policies in the US still seem to lag behind other countries.

Michael Kyle, Director of Talent at Redbubble says that the standardized parental leave policies are much more progressive and generous in other countries, such as Australia. "The capacity modelling that companies take to ensure that the teams and individuals are all supported is really far beyond," he says. "I think we're starting to make policy changes thanks to companies like Facebook and with leaders that said: The time is now. We can't wait any longer.”

Faye Tracey, head of the People & Talent Recruitment Practice at Robert Walters adds: “it's the same with unlimited PTO. If you implement it, but raise an eyebrow every time somebody's out for a week, or you don't use it yourself, then it defeats the purpose of having it.”

It’s also worth evaluating whether or not certain policies and systems are equitable.

“Often with D&I, the missing letter is “E”, which is equity. That is, understanding how your systems and policies are equitable and fair,” says Michael Kyle, Director of Talent at Redbubble.

Make everyone feel welcome

There are simple things that can be altered to create a more inclusive workplace. For example, ensuring your application has an input for your candidates’ preferred pronoun, or installing restroom signs that are non-exclusionary. David Rudman, People Operations at Narvar, also suggests hiring an external consultant to facilitate the conversation around diversity and set the right tone.

“We structured our diversity program over the course of three months, and had three different sessions that were more educational, followed by sessions that were conversational, and at the end of that we set our company goals.”

Other tools suggested during the conversation included Culture Amp and Paradigm, which are resources for employee surveying and inclusivity training, respectively.


Conversations around diversity and inclusion are important to have not only on International Women’s Day, but everyday throughout the year. Diversity and inclusion programs should strive to recognize all underrepresented regardless of gender identity, race, sexuality, or disability. At Robert Walters, our recruitment consultants are in a unique position to transform the future workplace. Want to add to the conversation? Be sure to stay in touch and join us at once of our next events.


Additional Resources


Veteran Recruiting Resources:




LGBTQ+ Resources:

Lesbians Who Tech

Diversity in Tech:

Diversity in Tech Remains Embarrassingly Stagnant — These Groups Could Help



Hackbright Academy


Jennifer Brown Consulting

Amy Lazarus, with Inclusion Ventures

Recruiting and Training:

Code2040 (Find intern talent at historically underrepresented school & help them transition to the startup/corporate work environment.)

Further Learning

Steve Robbins - Video on Unconscious Bias

Questions or comments?  Email Faye Tracey at faye.tracey@robertwalter.co.

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