HR/Recruiter Advice, In the News, Interviews

How POPSUGAR is Working for Equality in the Office

Lisa Sugar started POPSUGAR as a personal blog about celebrities, fashion and pop culture back in 2005. But as it started to gain popularity, she and her husband Brian saw the potential for more.

Building on her personal passions, they envisioned a whole network of sites for women. In 2006, they set out to make it a reality and brought in a founding team of Krista Moatz, Arthur Cinader Jr. and Jason Rhee, to turn Lisa’s love of writing into the media powerhouse we know today.

In addition to the POPSUGAR team’s powerful voice and media know-how, the company is a shining example of female leadership in the workplace. Among POPSUGAR’S worldwide staff of about 500 employees, 71 percent are female and nearly 50 percent of its executives are also female. However, POPSUGAR’S engineering team is just 25 percent female. And although the average engineering department in the U.S. is just 15.1 percent female (according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), 25 percent is not good enough for POPSUGAR, according to Krista Moatz, POPSUGAR co-founder and executive vice president, culture and corporate citizenship.

We got together with Krista to discuss the company’s new initiative to support women in technology and its efforts to make the gender ratio in their engineering department much closer to the rest of the company.

The goal

The goal is ambitious — to bring the POPSUGAR engineering department to equal parts men and women within the next two to three years. The company will start actively pursuing the 50/50 target this year, using information it gathers from a company-wide study of gender and ethnicity as a guide.

Although Moatz couldn’t give us too many details on how the goal would be achieved in these early planning stages, she did say the company would put specific programs in place to actively recruit more women into engineering roles and to promote the women already on staff into leadership positions.

“We will certainly be growing [the team] and will be trying to recruit from a variety of sources to ensure we are seeing a diverse group of candidates, including women,” she said.

Why engineering?

Moatz says that focusing on the engineering department will be a jumping off point to address any lack of diversity they find in other departments after their company demographics study. But this department is not the only one where POPSUGAR, a company focused on women and gender equality, struggles, but is one that has been traditionally difficult for women to break through.

In fact, the Elephant in the Valley survey of more than 200 women conducted in 2015 found that women in the Silicon Valley feel discrimination on a regular basis. Among professionals with at least 10 years of experience, 84 percent said they had been told they were too aggressive, 88 percent said colleagues and clients address questions to male peers that should be addressed to them, and 75 percent were asked about their family lives, marital status, and children in interviews.

These are the barriers POPSUGAR is looking to break down, starting with their engineering department.

“We feel that we can set a great example for the rest of the tech industry,” Moatz said. “When we do accomplish our goal I think we will have sent a message to all of the women at the company and to the outside word that there are opportunities to be anything you want to at POPSUGAR.”

Not just about recruiting

The problem of gender equality in the workforce doesn’t stop at bringing in more women — those professionals need to be trained and developed to take on leadership opportunities.

As it stands now, only 25 percent of women hold executive and senior level jobs, and just 4.6 percent are CEOs according to the 2015 The Women’s Leadership Gap report by Center for American Progress. What’s more, a 2015 study of close to 30,000 professionals from 118 U.S. companies in finance, healthcare, media, retail, and technology released by McKinsey & Co. found that the rate women enter leadership is so slow it will take 25 years to reach gender equality at the senior VP level, and more than 100 years at the C-suite level.

At POPSUGAR, the goal is to begin by developing the women within the engineering department.

“Most of the women in engineering are more junior, and we’d like to make sure we are retaining and developing them into leaders in the organization,” Moatz said.

The need for diverse development

Developing a diverse workforce isn’t as easy as offering the same training to each employee. Leaders need to listen to their employees and provide opportunities to fit their unique needs.

“I think it’s important for companies to make sure they are investing in the development of all of their people and realize that it takes different things for different people to succeed,” Moatz said. “Some people might need training on negotiating skills while others need training on public speaking or management.”

After all, 48 percent of employees surveyed by Intercall in 2015 said they would like the ability to customize training to their job function. Smart employers should pay attention to employee strengths and weaknesses and align training with employees’ career goals.

But an employer can only do so much to help develop professionals.

“I also think it’s important for people to take some of the responsibility on themselves,” Moatz said. “Each individual person is ultimately responsible for their own success.”

With the right resources and equal opportunities provided at each level, it’s that much easier for every employee to take advantage and move his or her career forward.

“As long as companies are not trying to make all of their employees fit a certain mold and are offering a variety of development opportunities, then I think anyone of any gender or any ethnicity will feel like they can succeed there.”