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How Redfin is breaking up the boys’ club of Silicon Valley

In this exclusive excerpt from the paperback edition of “Brotopia,” Emily Chang describes how the real estate tech company’s CTO transformed its workplace culture.

How Redfin is breaking up the boys’ club of Silicon Valley
[Photo: LumineImages/iStock]

One company that has come a long way, and can show us all how to make change–in a short amount of time–is Redfin, a real estate technology company based in Seattle. When Bridget Frey joined the team in 2011, she was one of just a handful of female engineers. She was later promoted to chief technology officer, and within a matter of years, women represented one in three of Redfin’s hundreds of engineers. “The idea that diversity takes time or it’s a tough nut to crack has been belied by our own experience,” Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman told me.

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To get women in the door, Frey took the lead on rebuilding the infrastructure to better attract and serve female engineers, and Kelman would then close the deal. For a while, he personally spoke to every single female candidate. “Bridget, before she focused on how much code she was going to ship, she focused on building a system of fairness,” Kelman says, explaining how she began by broadening their recruiting efforts. Redfin sought out women with nontraditional backgrounds for engineering jobs, and even pulled some candidates  from their marketing team, teaching them the necessary technical skills in-house. They collected data on whether these unlikely recruits could perform just as well as a typical Stanford-educated computer science graduate. “Lo and behold, they are getting promoted at the same rate as people coming out of those four-year programs. I realized, clearly you can teach people how to code,” Frey said. Redfin executives didn’t complain about the “pipeline” of talent; they created their own.

And there was a business payoff too. Redfin had been trying to automate tour scheduling for their real estate agents for many years, to no avail. The goal was to allow potential home buyers to book a tour with a Redfin agent in just a few clicks. But adoption was low. “Our agents are 60 percent female, and many of them don’t have a college education . . . and we kept ignoring their problems,” Kelman explains. Once the engineering team hired more women, the more gender-diverse group took a completely different approach and decided to visit and speak to agents on the ground before they developed more software. When they reworked the product, adoption tripled, increasing traffic to Redfin agents. “There was more empathy, there was more diversity, and when we solved that problem, we generated an extra 30 million dollars in revenue over 18 months,” Kelman says.

Redfin has also focused on keeping all employees engaged in an ongoing conversation about why such efforts are important. Often building a more diverse team means more voices, more disagreements, and more potential conflict. “It’s a good thing to have conflict to move things forward, but you have to teach people how to deal with it,” Frey says. You also have to be open to making mistakes, and remember that the best practices to create inclusive workplaces are still evolving. “Talking about diversity is about feeling uncomfortable,” Frey adds. “Male allies need to participate in some of the discussions. And you need to accept that sometimes it’s going to feel awkward.” To avoid a James Damore–type scandal, it’s essential to keep workers educated about the purpose of various initiatives, to have the data to  justify them, and to talk openly about how it’s going along the way.

Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boy’s Club Of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

Sometimes, that data would be more easily ignored. In 2015, Salesforce undertook a companywide audit to determine if male and female employees in similar jobs were being paid equally. After a painstaking, yearlong review, the company boosted the salaries of 6% of its workforce, spending a total of $3 million to eliminate unexplained differences in pay. Salesforce repeated the audit the following year after acquiring several companies, and examined not just gender but also race, and found the gap had crept back. Salesforce spent another $3 million to level up salaries and close it. A year and another assessment later, it cost an additional $2.7 million to get back to parity.

“It’s a huge amount of work to pay attention globally,” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff told me, reiterating his vow to reexamine the pay gap every year. “Every CEO needs to be focused on equality . . . Every CEO needs to realize they can make these changes. They can evolve. They can go forward. They can inspire others.”

Excerpted from BROTOPIA: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Emily Chang, 2019.

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Emily Chang is the host and executive producer of Bloomberg Technology and the author of the national bestseller BROTOPIA: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, to be released in paperback by Portfolio Books on March 5.

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