How this entrepreneur built a global organisation helping to empower women in tech and improve startup diversity

When Adriana Gascoigne joined a Silicon Valley startup in 2007 there was one big problem.


After getting a job at GUBA, she quickly discovered she was the only woman in the entire company.


“That was a big problem,” Gascoigne tells StartupSmart.


“I was going to work every day and looking around thinking, ‘I’m having such a blast, why aren’t more women applying for positions?’.


“But I realised that it’s not they weren’t necessarily not wanting to apply; it’s that they didn’t know the positions even existed. Companies have to take responsibility and be accountable.”


Instead of ignoring the issue or leaving the job, Gascoigne decided to make a real difference.


So she created Girls in Tech, a not-for-profit group focusing on “engagement, education and empowerment of influential women in technology”.


“It was one of the first organisations at that time that existed for women in the startup world,” Gascoigne says.


A global movement


Since then, the growth has been massive. Girls in Tech now has over 30 chapters around the world, and will be establishing a branch in Australia in the next few months.


“It’s really jaw-dropping,” she says.


“I never knew it was going to grow so fast or going to be so lucrative. I didn’t know women around the world were going to open up chapters or that we’d make such a huge impact.


“We’re not only helping women in Silicon Valley build startups, we’re helping women around the world.”


Girls in Tech will be launching in Australia imminently and holding a conference in Melbourne, and Gascoigne says she can’t wait for it to get off the ground here.


“We’re really excited to be in Australia,” she says.


“It’s a huge opportunity and there are great institutions here so you can keep and retain talent and help build a tech ecosystem and startup ecosystem.


“It’s about building a network, building a culture with immigration reform, tax relief reform and making sure the infrastructure is there to help expand the opportunities to really create a tech ecosystem that fosters growth and entrepreneurialism, and enables women in particular to be support to launch companies and not be scared of doing that.”

Still work to be done


In the near-decade since Gascoigne launched the non-profit she says things are getting better, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.


“It is improving significantly but there’s still a long way to go,” she says.


“We have seen some headway. Companies are becoming more accountable for different things like recruitment tactics, the training they offer, work-life balance for expecting mothers and compensation parity.


“All these things we’ve lacked over so many years and now people are really flagging it and doing something about it.”


To keep this momentum going, she says it’s crucial that the diversity issues become more than just a debate.


“Our motto this year is be part of the dialogue and be part of the solution,” Gascoigne says.


“We have to hold all the stakeholders accountable – the big companies, government entities, institutions and incubators.”


Focusing on the simple things


In terms of advice for startups looking to improve their internal diversity, Gascoigne says it’s about the simple things.


“You need to be creative in how you write job descriptions,” she says.


“Think about what resonates with men versus women and don’t use ‘code ninja’ – that might deter women from applying.”


The team actually doing the hiring should also be gender diverse, she says.


“It shouldn’t be all men but it typically is,” Gascoigne says


“You can bring outside people to serve on the committee.”


It also involves creating a workplace that isn’t too male-focused as well, with Gascoigne pointing to things like Star Wars posters and beer pong tables.


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