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How Chili Piper Achieved 50% Female Leadership

This year, we hit a milestone — 50% female leadership. 

This is huge, especially when you consider the gender inequality that still exists in the workplace. 

For example, 99% of Forbes list of innovative leaders are male. Only 26% of computing related jobs are held by women, and just 40% of US businesses are owned by women. 

So, as our Head of Talent, I’m very proud that we achieved gender equality in our leadership. 

But it would be a lie to say it didn’t take work to get to this place. 

In this article, I’ll explore the actions we took to recruit and lift up our female employees. 

The tipping point

At Chili Piper’s founding, the company was equally balanced between men and women. 

Chili Piper was co-founded by Nicolas and Alina Vandenberghe in 2016.

Once the company started growing, the balance started shifting.

We were hiring for a lot of engineering and sales roles, which can be predominantly male fields. 

By 2018, we were ~90% male. 

If we wanted to shift the status quo, we needed to do more than sit back and wait for things to change.

We needed to take action. 

Being intentional when hiring

We knew that if we wanted to be a high-performing team, we needed gender equality. 

The action we took from there was simple. We became intentional about who we were hiring. 

We made sure we had gender diversity among the candidates in the hiring process before continuing to the next steps. 

By waiting for equality in the hiring pipeline, we increased the chances that the outcome was equal as well. 

We also actively sourced female candidates, altered job descriptions, and removed unnecessary requirements (since women are more likely to not apply if they are not 100% qualified).

We never lowered the bar to get hired, but instead took the time to get a more balanced number of candidates. 

Helping throughout the interview process

One of our core values at Chili Piper is “Help.” 

We help our customers, prospects, and fellow employees every day.

So, we thought, why not extend that same help to candidates going through the hiring process?

That was the impetus behind “Chilinterview Buddies.” 

If candidates opt-in to participate in this initiative, they are matched with a current employee who can answer questions and help them put their best foot forward in the interview process.

By putting candidates on a more even playing field, we make sure we’re getting the best of the best, not just the people who have the most experience interviewing.

And since well-off white men are 3x more likely to get interviews (and have more experience interviewing), this initiative aims to give women and people of color a more equal experience in our process. 

Creating a safe space

In addition to increasing our diversity in the hiring process, we also wanted to make sure we were continuously elevating females as well. 

One successful initiative we launched recently was our Piper Plans. 

This is a growth plan each person creates and shares with their manager.

It includes space to map out what direction you want your career to take, and the skills you want to develop.

Something amazing happened when we created a space for people to tell us how they wanted to grow with the company.

We were able to uncover multiple leaders in the making who we may have otherwise been overlooked. 

This included three fantastic women who were promoted to leadership positions shortly after filling out their growth plan. 

There’s still progress to be made

We are far from perfect when it comes to diversity in the workplace.

While we’ve made promising strides recently with gender equality, we have work to do to become fully diverse. This work is an ongoing practice that we will continue to learn from. 

One change that is currently in the works is to evaluate candidates more heavily on skills, instead of years of experience. 

We’ve learned that your previous titles and age are not always what make you qualified or unqualified for a job.

It’s more important to have the raw skills, which can be crafted in other ways outside of roles that are specifically related to the role we’re hiring for. 

For example, a stellar salesperson is empathetic, has excellent listening skills, and great interpersonal skills. 

You can be a great listener without three years of sales experience. 

The future of hiring is getting away from length of job experience and towards human experience. 

Lessons learned

There are a few ways to get started on the path to gender equality in leadership positions:

  • Create an environment where women feel comfortable advocating for themselves (like with a growth plan that you go over on a quarterly basis)
  • Be cognizant of diversity throughout the hiring process, and help candidates where you can
  • Think about what skills and qualities make for a successful candidate, instead of how many years of experience
  • Try out new programs to help you achieve your goals around equality and diversity (and then give them fun names so that they stick with people)

If you do these things then you’re well on your way to creating a diverse environment where women can thrive! 

Shoutout to a few of the fantastic female leaders at Chili Piper – Alina Vandenberge, Gemma Cipriani-Espineira, Ashley Zagst, Emma Carey, Amanda Bagley, Kaylee Edmondson, and Marie Lunney.