February 4, 2022

Our diversity dilemma: only 10% of our team are men

Most startups don't have enough women. Here's how we're dealing with the opposite problem.


On all the typical measures of diversity and inclusion, our startup is an extreme outlier in the not-so-diverse world of tech. We’ve got an exceptionally high representation of women whom we support with flexible working times, free education, perks and benefits. 

I was self-satisfyingly patting myself on the back about the situation until I realised we had just as bad a diversity problem as many other tech companies, but a bit different: only 10% of our team are men. 

Though tech’s Achilles' heel is female representation, it’s not so in other sectors. 

If having lots of women is so great in tech, why do we need men anyway?

Being a tech-enabled, in-house healthcare startup, we struggle with male recruitment. 10% is actually also the worldwide average for men in nursing, historically considered a female-only profession. Even as late as the mid-1970s, most nursing schools in Germany didn’t even accept male candidates. 


So how did we deal with our problem? And if having lots of women is so great in tech, why do we need men anyway? 

Bad news for men? Gender stereotyping hurts all of us

In healthcare, diversity is not only a useful add-on to the operations side but moreover required by patients, who, in moments of poor health, appreciate the comfort of familiarity and true empathy through common connections. Patients are as diverse as it gets — and so must be our teams. 

Discriminating against men in care ironically also further disadvantages women by furthering typical gender stereotypes in both directions. We can’t just hire more men, who often take more senior, better-paid positions in nursing, but make sure that they are represented in all types of jobs in care. Diversity is not just reflected in the number of people by each gender employed but also in the tasks they do. 

Thinking through why I — a tech founder with too many women on her hands — would want to increase the proportion of men is important is actually an interesting exercise. By switching it around, it’s easy to why diversity is so important for startups with the opposite diversity problem. And why it’s important that employees take on roles that aren’t traditionally associated with their gender. 

Don’t wait for society to make the shift and get in the driver’s seat instead

Integrating diversity doesn’t mean just adding a shiny diversity message on a recruiting site. We’re trying a few things to increase the number of men and other diverse candidates on our teams. 

  1. Put it on the menu: Our male caregivers all started their career in care because they had early contact with the sector, often by chance. Don’t make it a matter of chance! Make the job visible as an option to choose for all. Create job postings with an inclusive language, invent new gender-neutral words if you have to (for us: caregivers or just “kenbis”) and feature male and female staff in all communication. 
  2. Customise onboarding: Equality is not the same as equity. To achieve the latter, adjust onboarding to give everyone the same starting ground. In the case of male joiners, have a buddy system to team up with a male mentor from day one and put diversity training on the onboarding schedule for all. 
Invest in your diversity and do it continuously. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is necessary
  1. Hone those skills: Society teaches women self-defence. Companies give language training to joiners from abroad. But we pretty much leave men alone to deal with discriminating situations at work. Make sure training isn’t perpetuating gender stereotypes! 
  2. Never stop integrating: It’s not enough to recruit diversely when there is no integration in everyday life and work. In our case, we set up mixed teams internally. Externally, we have men-tours for customers who are open to being cared for by men and arrange personal intro sessions with those who are not. Educate and integrate in action, not just in words. 
  3. Let them do the talking: Celebrate diversity and let your staff tell their story, not your HR diversity manager. Over 75% of our staff come to us by word of mouth. Let your teams run recruiting, encourage mixers at work, support interest groups and feature role models in and outside of your company to show you are real.

So, do men care? The answer is yes, but it’s up to us to make sure they can. Achieving a diverse workforce — whether it is to include men or another minority in your field — is always the same route: invest in your diversity and do it continuously. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the necessary thing.