In recognition of International Women’s Day, we went straight to GR8 People’s favorite sources of inspiration—CEO Diane Smith and Chief Product Officer Jayne Kettles. Given their successful track record as co-founders of two prominent talent acquisition technology companies over the past 20 years, we couldn’t imagine better voices to weigh in on the state of women in the workforce and reflect on where they’ve been, as well as leadership lessons learned along the way.
Among the objectives of International Women’s Day are raising awareness about women’s equality and lobbying for accelerated gender parity. In terms of employment, women are bearing the brunt of job losses to the point that the economic impacts of the pandemic are being referred to as a “shecession.” What do employers need to do to reverse this troubling trend?
Diane: This is incredibly personal for us given that our platform was created specifically to help recruiters find the talent they need and, likewise, to make it easy for workers to connect with the right opportunities. I think two things, in particular, will be essential to bringing women back to work more quickly. First, it’s absolutely critical that employers remain committed to worker flexibility after the pandemic subsides and not just in terms of offering the option to work remotely but by making sure women can take advantage of flexible hours, especially given the challenges they face trying to balance work with taking care of their children and/or other family members while some schools and daycare facilities remain closed.
Employers will also need to rid themselves of long-held biases towards candidates with employment gaps on their resumes. It may not be easy to overcome as many recruiters and hiring managers often don’t recognize this as the reason for passing on a candidate. However, technology can help here by allowing AI-driven sourcing applications to rank candidates based on the experience and skills they offer versus looking at a resume through the lens of chronological work history.
Jayne: I’d also add that, as female entrepreneurs, Diane and I feel strongly about offering support and more gender-neutral tools and resources for women entrepreneurs. Organizations like Ellevate—the largest community of women at work—and the Female Entrepreneur Association are great examples of where to go for support and to expand one’s business connections. Plus, the assistance these organizations offer isn’t limited to overcoming the challenges women have faced in securing funding (though that is certainly a significant need). There’s also help for women as related to determining how best to grow their business and reach velocity of scale. Ultimately, the goal is to prioritize support and collaboration to protect and promote gender diversity in business, because, as women do better, we all do better.
You founded your first technology company—VirtualEdge, an ATS acquired by ADP in 2006—in the late 1990s. What challenges did you face at the time as women in a space that was, and remains, largely dominated by men?
Jayne: One big difference for us is that, given our focus on solutions for talent acquisition professionals, women are extremely well-represented among our customers and prospects. This was also the case when we were just starting VirtualEdge. I think it often worked in our favor because it provided a distinction. Here was an ATS provider that not only gave them world-class technology but was led by two people who looked just like them and really listened to their pain points in order to find ways to solve challenges together.
Diane: I completely agree and also want to recognize that women have to overcome barriers and challenges in business every single day. As for us, I think we got lucky regarding gender bias because we met the right people who wanted to support our vision. When we were raising capital 20 years ago, the ratio of male-to-female entrepreneurs was very obvious visually when we attended funding events. I will say it made it easy for investors to find us in a crowd.
Yet, when it comes to being women entrepreneurs, we’ve always believed in just doing our jobs and have never thought about our female status as something unusual. Actually, we feel we must stop thinking about women this way and start treating women at the helm as completely ordinary. After all, what’s the issue? For us, none, since women in the United States can do anything they want to earn a living. Each year we find more reasons to celebrate the glass ceiling being broken in many different, beautiful directions.
What keeps you motivated and engaged after decades of working in the talent acquisition technology space?
Jayne: That’s an easy one. It’s an unwavering commitment to why we do what we do, our amazing team and our remarkable customers. In terms of why we do what we do, it’s pretty simple: We give talent acquisition professionals a seamless platform to manage end-to-end hiring needs. And, this isn’t just what we believe in—it’s a point of distinction in an industry where most TA tech stacks have been cobbled together from many different providers.
Diane: Definitely. After years of buzz around point solutions, we’re now seeing research that supports the need for HR to reduce the number of disparate tools and solutions being used in order to be more efficient and effective.
Jayne: When I think about our team, the people we get to work with day in and day out are simply outstanding. This is especially true when it comes to doing whatever it takes to help GR8 People customers be successful. Our team’s dedication and devotion to the company, our customers and one another are extraordinary.
Diane: Ditto again. I can’t say enough about our team. Or our customers. We are so grateful for the close, long-term partnerships we have with our customers and seeing what they’re able to achieve when they use our platform, whether that means continually finding ways to be more efficient to reduce average time to fill or building a new candidate relationship management program from the ground up.
You both shy away from the spotlight when it comes to being recognized as leaders in the technology space. Why is that?
Diane: Okay, so my gut reaction to this question is that Jayne and I don’t “shy away” from the spotlight at all. We’ve had countless opportunities to voice our perspectives on the industry, including speaking engagements at conferences where we share the stage with our customers and highlight accomplishments that are the result of strong partnerships.
But it is our foundational belief that the spotlight does not belong to the few. It takes a smart, talented team to build exceptional software. As founders and head coaches of GR8 People, we prefer to share the spotlight and lead from behind. We have realized extraordinary outcomes as women in technology over the past 20 years and a big reason for that is that we created a vision and culture that team members can believe in and commit to. Just as it is with our customers, it’s the collective talent that makes an organization shine. We’re no different at GR8 People. Instead of top-down management hierarchy, we encourage all team members—not just the most vocal employees—to express ideas. This helps foster a quick and nimble innovation pipeline that will drive the company forward as we ideate, evolve and flourish well into the future.
Jayne: I couldn’t have said it better myself. As co-founders and talent acquisition technology leaders, we’re far more concerned about the achievements of our team and our customers than individual glory. We learned long ago that people are looking for more meaning and purpose in their work lives, and this has been magnified by the unprecedented events of the past year. People want to be valued for who they are and to be able to put their thumbprint on something larger than themselves. We’re always excited to work with team members who want to be co-authors in our purpose and our success as this allows GR8 People to further our mission of giving talent acquisition professionals the seamless platform that enables them to revolutionize the way they find, engage and hire the very best talent.
What advice do you have for women who want to start a technology company today?
Diane: I’ll speak for both of us here and keep it short and sweet. Go for it. Find great mentors. Then, focus, focus, focus.