One way to create more racial and gender equity at Seattle startups is to have more women-founded companies.

Share story

Seattle’s startup ecosystem is undoubtedly among the most vibrant in the country. According to LinkedIn, Seattle features as the No. 1 city that Americans will be moving to for work in 2017. That’s in no small part for jobs in our legacy companies, but also at startups.

Early this year, I helped launch Catalyze Seattle, a survey to measure gender and racial equity among Seattle startups that I believe is the first of its kind.

Our research showed that the more women a startup’s founding team had, the more diverse its workforce tended to be — more women, people of color and parents of all genders worked there. While we weren’t able to capture overall representation of women in leadership in startups, we saw a significant correlation between female founders and work cultures which were inclusive to employees beyond single white men – the stereotypical image of a startup founder or employee. We call this the “female founder effect.”

The effect of women leaders had a marked impact on advancing employees with children. Respondents without children outnumbered parents by a ratio of 2:1 in startups that were male-dominated – or had a founding team that was under 10 percent female. Conversely, where more than a quarter of the leadership team was female, there was an almost equal representation of employees with children as without. We believe that startups with more female founders tend to create policies and work environments that are more inclusive to working parents.

The survey, which garnered over 300 responses, indicated that more fathers with young children work in Seattle startups than mothers. But even among parents, the different expectations around child care in the home create gender inequities in the workplace. One-third of men we surveyed indicated having a stay-at-home spouse, while 70 percent of female respondents had a spouse who worked full time. Just 1 percent of women reported being married to a stay-at-home parent.

Our work on gender equity has shown that if startups were more accessible and inclusive to parents, it would have a follow-on effect of advancing more women – whether or not they are moms – across the board. But discrimination, male-dominated work cultures and lack of support for working mothers creates what one respondent called “death by a thousand paper cuts” for women working in startups.

As we create more jobs in this city and more great companies, we see a glaring lack of women represented in them. While there’s no single silver bullet on how to create more women startup founders – or catapult more women into leadership roles within a startup – there are ways to create equity that would have a longer-term impact on these numbers.

First, pay women and people of color equally. Our data found that while women in Seattle startups are more highly educated and have more work experience than men, they were paid at least 10 percent less than men. We also found a 15 percent racial wage gap.

Second, women must be given greater mentoring and funding opportunities to advance as leaders and entrepreneurs. There’s national evidence to suggest a gap in both for women. Locally, too, our study found that 21 percent of women found it “extremely difficult” to find a mentor, and 40 percent said it was “somewhat difficult.” In comparison, just 5 percent and 27 percent of men reported the same, respectively. Both genders – 85 percent female and 74 percent male – overwhelmingly believe men have more advancement opportunities in Seattle startups.

Lastly, offering benefits and support for employees with children and other dependents will lead to more advancement opportunities for women. Just offering paid paternity leave has been linked to greater equality between the sexes at home and work, as well as creating more inclusive workplaces for all parents. But in the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave for its workers, it is up to companies large and small to take the lead on this.

Ruchika Tulshyan is a journalist, speaker and author. Connect with her on Twitter at @rtulshyan or her website