I’ve written this post in response to requests from other folks in tech who would like to do something similar at their companies. It’s my hope that it will help those in People roles or management to build a case and a strategy to meaningfully change the makeup of their own teams as well (and offer hope that it’s possible). It’s a bit of a long read, but I wanted to share the entire story with you. Grab a cup of coffee and get comfy!

In June 2018, we were preparing to kick off a big hiring push with the goal to nearly double the size of Clio’s 61-person software engineering team in the second half of the year. Hiring that many people in such a short period of time posed a risk of further homogenizing our 87% male engineering team, but more importantly, it was an opportunity to meaningfully change the makeup of our team for the better.

Looking ahead at the next few years of growth, we needed to set our team up for success, and we knew a more diverse team would be a higher performing team. If you’re unfamiliar with the business case for diversity and inclusion, I’d recommend checking out Why diversity matters by McKinsey & Company and Why diverse teams are smarter by the Harvard Business Review before continuing with this post.

We also knew that our culture was primed, from an inclusion perspective, to welcome a higher number of underrepresented Clions, particularly women, because we’d been laying the groundwork for some time in terms of education and engagement. And we strongly believed that we needed to ‘get it right’ now, versus trying to catch up on diversity debt later.

To get there, we decided to use a quota, that’s right, a quota.

Our stance was this: A homogenous team thinks the same, challenges each other less, innovates less, and will therefore be lower performing. Therefore, a homogenous team is just not an option for a company that has goals as aggressive as Clio.

What can we do about diversity as we scale?

At Canadian Tech @ Scale on June 1, 2018, a few leaders from Clio’s engineering team heard Sarah Kaplan, Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy, present a talk that covered not only about the business case for diversity and inclusion (i.e., it’s critical for innovation and therefore company performance) but also how to build a more diverse team (i.e., make a commitment to achieve a specific goal versus just saying it’s important to you).

Sarah specifically spoke about research that proves a quota is very effective at creating meaningful change in the makeup of a team. While her talk sparked a lot of conversation, we assumed that something like a gender quota would be perceived as far too extreme or controversial to implement in reality.

A couple of weeks later back at Clio, we had kicked off our big hiring push and the first few candidates had started coming in for interviews. In our Calgary office in particular, we noticed that the first wave of interviewees were all men. We had only opened that office earlier in the year and were in the process of filling the first 30 seats.

When we looked at the data, only 13% of our 61-person engineering team at that time were women. This prompted a discussion during which our engineering leadership team agreed on three things:

What if we tried a gender quota?

So, we asked ourselves, “What would it look like if we created a gender quota for this hiring push?”

We reviewed the research, primarily research done by the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE). We needed to understand the hesitation and concerns that exist regarding quotas.

In response to the imposition of a quota, GATE reports that: