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Diversity = Variety: What Does It Mean for Commercial Routesetting?

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Diversity in Routesetting

Routesetting is a central part of the experience for every climbing gym’s end users: its members. Routes that are challenging but varied are one reason why climbers keep coming back. In order to provide the best experience for your customer base, it’s crucial to keep diversity in mind as you build your routesetting team and develop your setting program.

 

For an inside look at building a strong routesetting crew and what makes diversity so critical, I got in touch with Sean Nanos, Touchstone Climbing’s Head Routesetter for all of Southern California.

 

Sean discovered climbing at boarding school in New Hampshire, but it wasn’t until he moved to Oakland that he started setting. He rose to foreman at San Francisco’s Dogpatch Boulders before moving to Los Angeles for his current position.

 

WK: What are some of the meanings of “diversity” in routesetting?

 

SN: The most tangible meanings of diversity in routesetting are size (including weight, height, and ape index), age, gender, race/ethnicity, climbing ability, experience, and style.

 

WK: Why is diversity in routesetting important?

 

SN: By definition, diversity means variety. For a commercial gym, supporting climbers in densely populated urban areas means you’re going to be setting for nearly every body…I have yet to come across a single gym in any part of the country that is 100% all one “type” of person.

 

What diverse routesetting brings to the table is promoting inclusivity in our community and providing an experience that challenges every climber while at the same time validating their experience. It also opens the door to those who are interested in routesetting but didn’t think it was for them.

 

WK: What parts of the climbing population are underserved by a homogenous routesetting staff?

 

SN: The first groups that come to mind are women and short people (5’4” and under). As a 5’2” climber I can personally attest to feeling like I am not represented when I go climbing at a lot of other gyms. It’s very discouraging and annoying when you know it can be done differently. From a membership perspective, unknowingly setting for one specific body type can ruin a person’s first impression of what climbing is or how it can be enjoyed.

 

WK: When building a team, what are you looking for a setter to bring to the crew?

 

SN: I tell this to my new routesetters all the time: “You’re here to share your climbing experience, and whatever that means to you is what I want to climb.” Obviously we’re still a commercial gym, so during forerunning we’ll smooth out the climb as a group and make sure it’s comfy, safe, and consistent. But the core—the “soul,” if you will—of the climb won’t change.

 

That’s the goal, anyway. Every time we set a climb it’s a manifestation of how we think climbing is experienced, and when I’m building a team, I need a lot of different setters’ perspectives in order to come close to representing the variety of climbers that come to our gyms.

 

WK: What makes building a diverse team difficult?

 

SN: A lot of people still think that to be a routesetter you have to climb V10+. This archaic way of thinking is still prevalent when I ask someone if they are interested in routesetting. Also, most setting crews in the U.S. are still just a bunch of “tall” white dudes, which is a huge deterrent for talented potential setters that aren’t tall white dudes.

 

The desire and passion to learn routesetting is more important than how hard you climb. With the right training, talent, and experience, setters are able to set great commercial routes for any level.

 

WK: What can gyms do to find and maintain a diverse group of setters?

 

SN: You have to keep your ear to the ground. You have to put in a little more effort to reach out to those people that show potential. Don’t assume “if they’re interested, they’ll apply,” because if your team is a homogenous group of dudes, there’s a very high chance you’ll keep getting resumes and interest from more of the same dudes.

 

I wholeheartedly believe that having setters that are all at different ability levels makes for more successful commercial routesetting. If your entire team climbs V10+, they can become very disconnected to the way moderate grades should feel and climb. They may know objectively what makes a climb “easier,” but it’s easy to set inappropriately for lower grades when everything feels the same.

 

I make it clear to my crew that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing how to use those to efficiently and effectively set, forerun, and grade is a lot of work, but the work shows when members climb our routes.

 

WK: As routesetting develops as a profession and craft, how do you think diversity will influence gyms in the future?

 

SN: As indoor climbing becomes more popular and all kinds of people are introduced to the sport, the need for standardized commercial routesetting training will become paramount in creating an inclusive community.

 

Even if you know a diverse team is good for your gym professionally and socially, you can’t lead with diversity—diversity is what you get to after you do the hard work of making your crew more inclusive.

 

You can’t hire someone just to make you look more diverse, you need to take a chance on people and figure out the best way to support them. Having a standardized training entry point can teach potential setters the basics and level the playing field so you can hire based on what an individual has to offer as a setter rather than as a token minority.

 

Elite routesetting teams will be composed of individuals capable of fielding climbs that can be enjoyed by all.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended Williams College and works as a freelance writer out of Providence, Rhode Island. When he's not writing, you'll find him rock climbing, playing with his cats, and drinking too much green tea.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  employee engagement  leadership  member retention  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  workplace diversity 

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Where to Begin with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Posted By Emma Walker, Friday, January 4, 2019
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Puzzle

There’s a lot of talk in the climbing industry lately about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI): What will it take to get more people tied in? How can we make climbing more accessible to a larger, more diverse audience? If you know where to begin, incorporating DEI initiatives into your gym’s practices is more approachable than you might think.

 

Offer basic instruction

“When I first walked into a gym,” says Kriste Peoples, “it looked like everybody else automatically knew what they were doing. I never saw any kind of promotion that said, ‘If you’re new to climbing, we’ll show you the ropes!’ That feeds this notion that climbing is really exclusive.” Peoples instructs Women’s Wilderness’ Girls Lead for Life program, a weekly after-school climbing and leadership program for girls. When Peoples started climbing, she didn’t know much about what gear she needed or to how to tie a figure-eight, and she felt intimidated by the lack of information available for newbies. Offering a short class—even a free community night—on how to tie in would have gone a long way. “In my opinion, this is just good business,” Peoples laughs.

 

Partner with Local Organizations

Representation matters. That’s why climbing organizations like Brown Girls Climb (BGC) and Brothers of Climbing were created: so climbers of color would have opportunities to climb in safe spaces. Monserrat Matehuala, a member of the BGC national leadership team (and co-founder of the group’s Colorado chapter), recently helped run a DEI training for Earth Treks in Golden. “Gyms are gatekeepers for the rock climbing community,” she says, lauding Earth Treks for its commitment to DEI. “They’re often the first contact new climbers have with the community, so it matters that they feel welcome there.” Facilities who reach out to the local chapters of these organizations and create space for them—hosting nights when members of those groups have free or reduced-cost gym entry, for example—tells climbers of color they’re welcome all the time.

 

Watch Your Language

Using inclusive language, says Matehuala, is one easy way to make all your members feel welcome. “There’s a difference between being welcoming and being inclusive,” she explains, using greeting language as an example. Matehuala suggests using a non-gendered greeting—“Hello! How’s your day going?”—rather than one that assumes a member’s gender, like “Hey man!” or “Thanks, sir!” She cites the often-used shortening for the word carabiner (many climbers say “biner”) as an example: it may sound innocuous, but that shortening sounds exactly like an ethnic slur. “It’s hard to break a habit, but as educators, it’s really important,” Matehuala explains. Many gyms are choosing to incorporate that change into their learn-to-climb curricula, she says, which has the added benefit of minimizing the jargon new climbers must learn. Another quick step: Take a look at the imagery around your gym, including ads for upcoming clinics and posters of climbers on picturesque routes. If all the photos you see are of white climbers, it’s time for an overhaul.

 

Train Yourself and Your Staff

Ready to take the plunge? Consider hosting a DEI training for your staff facilitated by someone like BGC or the Avarna Group. If it’s not feasible to bring a facilitator to you, the Avarna Group and others are offering some excellent DEI workshops and conference sessions at the 2019 CWA Summit!

 

It's also important to make professional development resources available to your staff, model inclusivity, and have regular conversations about the importance of DEI. BGC has a number of resources available on their website, and James Edward Mills’ The Adventure Gap and Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces are excellent primers on the importance and value of DEI in the outdoors.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  diversity  leadership  management  staff training  workplace diversity 

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Cultivating Space: 10 Steps to Create and Maintain Cultural Relevancy

Posted By Elyse Rylander, Monday, November 26, 2018
Cultural Relevancy

Hello CWA world!

 

Before we go any further, I want make a confession...I do not at all consider myself a climber. I know, I know. You're probably wondering "well then why on Earth is she writing a blog post for the CLIMBING Wall Association?!" This is a fair question, so I'll tell y'all a little about myself first and then we'll dive into this month's topic of cultivating inclusive gym spaces, which is in fact something I know a fair bit about.

 

My name is Elyse Rylander and I use she/her pronouns. I was born on Sauk, Meskwaki, Miami and Ho-Chunk ancestral land (otherwise known as Southern Wisconsin), and took my first canoe trip down the Wisconsin River at the tender age of four weeks. From then on, all of my summers and winters were spent outside canoeing, kayaking, camping, or downhill skiing with my family. In 2006 I started working as an outdoor educator and then paddle sport retail associate. From there I moved to Alutiiq ancestral land (a.k.a. Valdez, AK) where I guided sea kayaking and camping trips in the summers and worked at a climbing gym on Suquamish and Duwamish ancestral land west of Seattle on Bainbridge Island in the winter.

 

Throughout these years I founded and grew my non-profit, OUT There Adventures, whose mission is to connect the queer community, primarily queer young people, and the outdoors. OTA has now completed four years of programming and also birthed the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit, of which we just held the second annual gathering on Ohlone and Coastal Miwok land north of San Francisco. It is at the intersection of this work around equity, and in particular queer equity, in the outdoors that I have also found myself consulting for the last year as a Partner of The Avarna Group and working with many amazing outdoor organizations and companies committed to furthering outdoor pathways to equity for all.

 

I was privileged to come of age in the outdoor industry, and it has been fantastic to see the growth in equity work happening in that time, with the most profound change happening in the last few years. While I will always have a bias towards paddle sports, it was my time running youth programs at Island Rock Gym that gave me insight into the amazing potential climbing gyms have to continue to create pathways to equity across all outdoor interests.

 

As they say, with great power comes great responsibility, which means you may be wondering exactly how your gym can engage in this work further. So let's dive in.

 

Step One: Define the work.

The words diversity, equity, and inclusion get tossed around with immense frequency, which means their meanings can vary across time and place. At The Avarna Group we have crafted definitions for these words, and others, that we find work well in the context of outdoor spaces, so without further ado, here they are:

 

Diversity: The differences between us – based on which we experience advantages or encounter barriers to opportunities and resources.

 

Inclusion: Celebrating, valuing, and amplifying voices, perspectives, styles, values, and identities that have been marginalized.

 

Equity: An approach based on fairness to ensuring everyone has equal access to the same opportunities; recognizes that advantages and barriers exist. Equity is not the same as equality.

 

Cultural Competence: Your ability to interact effectively across various dimensions of diversity; to flex with difference.

 

Cultural Relevance(y): What you do and how you do it is relevant to more people and communities.

 

If that has your head spinning, don't worry. Sometimes folks find this framing helpful:

 

Inclusion is what we do.
Equity is how we do it.
Cultural competence is what we need to do it well.
Diversity & cultural relevancy are outcomes.

 

Take some time to sit with those definitions, and then allow yourself to critically analyze where you and your gym are in terms of engaging with these concepts. This will help you further uncover some of the why's, what's, and how's of this work.

 

Step Two: Get Right With Yourself

This work truly begins and ends with all of us. Without taking the time to assess our own privileges, lived experiences, and biases, cultivating spaces of true inclusivity becomes near impossible. Just like one has to become acutely aware of their strengths and limitations as it relates to climbing, the same logic must be applied to each of our own individual strengths, but more importantly our blind spots. So take the time to be challenged and humbled, to make mistakes, to correct those mistakes, to make even more mistakes, and then repeat the whole process.

 

Step Three: Bring It to Work

Since companies and institutions are made up of lots of people, the next logical step in the process after we've all done the hard work of assessing our individual biases is to bring that knowledge to our places of work. This can take many forms, including one of the first steps of simply noticing who is accessing your gym spaces and what the demographic similarities are amongst those members/customers.

 

Step Four: Consider the Consumer Experience Continuum

It can seem overwhelming to look at an entire business and try to parse out exactly what, where, and how equity work can occur. It can be helpful to think of the possibilities along a continuum wherein we begin with a consumer's first touch point with the gym and end with that consumer turning into a member or a staff person. How does that experience look and feel different for someone based on their identity? How is that process leaving out portions of potential new customers or employees?

 

Step Five: Marketing

For new members or first-time users, the first interaction they may have with your company is through your website or your social media accounts. Looking at these mediums through the lens of an underrepresented person can provide immense insight into how your gym may initially be perceived.

 

Step Six: Hiring and Retention

Earlier I broke down some of the biggest buzzwords as it relates to creating inviting spaces for more identities, including the idea of diversity. You may have noticed that The Avarna Group prefers to frame these concepts in relation to each other in a way that specifically notes that diversity is not the thing we lead with, but rather an outcome of all the other good work we do. Many times we have seen companies and organizations attempt to solve their diversity problem by hiring "diverse" people, and many times we have seen these organizations thus exacerbate the problem. Consider not only how to bring in staff with different identities and lived experiences, but how to actually keep them there for the long run.

 

Step Seven: Built Environment

Consider the messages that are being sent by your facility’s physical space, or built environment. We are seeing progress in this arena around gender inclusivity, and specifically the neutralizing of bathrooms, locker rooms, etc. Beyond this, consider what images are seen once a customer is inside. Who is being represented and who is not? What sort of culture is perpetuated by what you hang on your walls? If your gym is still in the planning stages, how can its location and layout play a role in welcoming in new communities?

 

Step Eight: Programs

I founded an organization whose soul purpose is to provide outdoor opportunities/programs for people who often self-select out of such spaces because of their identities. As a result of my experiences, I cannot stress enough how significant it is to be able to offer ways for underrepresented identities to come together in a space that was created by them and for them, sometimes exclusively away from other more privileged identities. The next question for your gym is to consider what programs are already offered and how they can be made more truly inclusive for any identity. Sometimes we see this manifest through partnerships.

 

Step Nine: Partnerships

Just like climbing partners, good business partnerships can be hard to come by. However, partnerships offer climbing gyms, and the industry, some of the greatest potentials to continue to shift the paradigm. I would highly encourage your gym to not even consider going down this road until you've done some serious work on the previous eight steps. If you invite a new community or group into your space in hopes that they will light the DEI way for you, you will undoubtedly cause great damage that may set the whole process back years. If you feel you're ready to engage in this work authentically, with humility and initially ratchet back expectations of rapid increases to the bottom line, then my next piece of advice is to think big and outside the box.

 

Step Ten: Rinse and Repeat

Simply put: repeat. There will never be an arrival at perfection as it relates to equity because the conversation continues to evolve along with our needs as humans. It is imperative to understand that this work needs to be constantly reflected upon and reworked in order to remain true and relevant. But don't worry, just like we've learned to grow and get better with new gear or new techniques that help us reach new heights, so to will we learn how to grow and get better with this set of skills and tools.

 

Elyse Rylander Head ShotAbout Elyse Rylander

Elyse holds a B.A. in Communication Arts, Gender Studies, and LGBT Studies from the University of Wisconsin. She is also a Master of Arts in Adventure Education candidate at Prescott College. Elyse has been an outdoor educator and guide since 2006 and has taken thousands of youth and adults on outdoor adventures across the Midwest, West Coast and Alaska. Elyse founded and currently runs OUT There Adventures and is the co-organizer of the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  company culture  diversity  workplace diversity 

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Closing the Gender Gap: What Climbing Can Learn from the Tech Industry

Posted By Eva Kalea, Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, June 19, 2018

**Note: This article was originally posted on Medium.

 

 

At the CWA Summit this year, I kept hearing one recurring question: how can we hire and retain more women, particularly in management and routesetting?

 

This is something I’ve looked into extensively and what I found is that the tech industry has learned some hard lessons on the importance of gender parity and how to start working towards it.

 

I’ve collected some of the most compelling lessons here to share with others in the climbing industry. Let’s work together to create a truly inclusive and diverse climbing gym culture — one that reflects the communities we serve.

 

Keep in mind that while I focus here on gender equality, the same principles also apply for equality across all identity markers, including race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

 

Why hiring women should be a priority

A significant percentage of the climbers in our facilities are women. We need staff at all levels — including managers and routesetters who understand women as customers, how we climb, and how to set routes that are fun for us.

 

Lessons from the AI field:

 

“If we don’t get women and people of color at the table …we will bias systems. Trying to reverse that a decade or two from now will be so much more difficult, if not close to impossible. This is the time to get women and diverse voices in so that we build it properly, right? And it can be great. It’s going to be ubiquitous. It’s going to be awesome. But we have to have people at the table.” —Fei-Fei Li, Chief Scientist of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at Google

 

Research from the Kellogg School of Management and McKinsey Global Institute suggests that diverse teams perform better, make better decisions, and are more profitable.

 

Women are outpacing men when it comes to earning bachelors and graduate degrees. Your company’s ability to attract and retain top talent will be predicated on being an appealing and friendly place for women to work.

 

Surveys from the Pew Research Center suggest that women in male-dominated companies face more gender-based discrimination and more difficulties in advancing their careers than at gender-balanced companies.

 

How to hire + retain more women

Make gender equality a core value and set concrete goals with measurable impacts. Stating that you value diversity is not enough — make sure you’re actively working towards it. And remember that this isn’t a one-off project: revisit the issue at predetermined intervals to make sure you’re making progress towards your goals.

 

Don’t lower your standards

 

“Lowering standards is counter-productive — the idea that “it’s hard to hire women engineers therefore we won’t hold them to such a high standard” is noxious. It reinforces the impression that women aren’t good at engineering (writer’s note: for us, insert managing, climbing, routesetting), which is obviously a downward spiral.” —First Round

 

Read the tips below and get creative! Breaking a mold is difficult and requires thinking outside the box you have been operating in.

 

Take a look at the recruiting process

 

Talk to everyone who’s involved in recruiting and hiring and let them know that hiring and retaining women is an important goal for the company.

 

Make sure that women are represented in your marketing materials and any graphics that are being used to promote job openings: women have to see themselves represented in your media in order to connect with you as a company. Beyond that, make sure that women are involved in the hiring process. We all have unconscious biases and preferences for people who remind us of ourselves. Men who are hiring may subconsciously prefer male candidates. Similarly, having women involved may help female applicants feel more at ease during the interview process.

 

If you aren’t seeing as many women applicants as you would like, talk to women and find out why they’re not applying.

 

Advertise in the right places

 

Make your employees your ambassadors: have them spread the word about job openings and let them know that hiring women is a priority for the company.

 

Research where women find out about job opportunities and where they get their media, then post ads there. You can also reach out to online communities for women and underrepresented genders like Flash Foxy, Alpenglow Collective, Brown Girls Climb, Indigenous Women Climb.

 

Hire women at the entry level

 

Like many other climbing gyms, The Cliffs (where I work) seeks to promote from within whenever we can and offers opportunities for our staff to grow with the company. This makes it even more important that gender parity starts from the ground up, since the people getting promoted to shift supervisor and ultimately to positions in gym and corporate management often start out as general belay or front desk staff.

 

Provide training

 

With routesetting in particular, finding qualified routesetters is tough already, and finding routesetters who are women may seem impossible. In the tech world, Etsy launched “Hacker Grants,” which provide need-based scholarships to women enrolling in Hacker School, a 3-month course designed to teach people how to become better engineers.

 

Although these women may have been risky hires due to a lack of hands-on experience, putting them through Hacker School groomed their hard skills while allowing Etsy to work with them closely over the course of several months. This program has been a success for Etsy, and they’ve hired several women out of the Hacker School.

 

If your facility has the resources, consider offering a training program for routesetters or providing scholarships for women who want to attend a routesetting course.

 

Hire women at mid-level, even if they may not have much experience in the climbing/outdoor industry

 

In the tech industry, bootcamps produce thousands of graduates a year, with a significant percentage being women. These graduates may have entry-level coding skills, but mid-level professional skills: you won’t have to teach them how to manage teams, write professional emails, and stick to budgets and deadlines.

 

In the climbing industry, we can look for career changers who have cut their teeth in other sectors, but are passionate about climbing and looking for opportunities in a fast-growing industry.

 

Take a look at your employee benefits + perks

 

Make sure that your employee perks and benefits appeal to women by talking to the women who already work for you.

 

Paid parental leave, flex time, the ability to work from home, and medical benefits that cover family planning and prenatal care support employees who are (aspiring) parents.

 

Promote women

 

Having women at all levels of your company, particularly in upper management, provides staff with the opportunity to have women as mentors, role models, and knowledge-keepers. You’ll also send the strong message that women are not only hired, but also promoted within the company, which will help attract motivated female candidates.

 

Further, research shows that companies with more women in management have less sexual harassment.

 

Retaining women

It’s lonely being the only woman

 

Etsy found the most success when there were either zero or two women engineers on a team. “If there’s only one, she’s a woman engineer as opposed to just an engineer.” Keep this in mind, particularly with routesetting: hiring two female routesetters will likely increase the chances of them both sticking around, since they won’t be alone on a male-dominated team.

 

Preventing + addressing harassment

 

Create space for people to share their experiences in the workplace and take their concerns seriously. Implement a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to harassment.

 

Research shows that traditional sexual harassment training doesn’t work. In a recent article, The New York Times broke down several methods that work in addressing harassment, including empowering bystanders to intervene, encouraging team members to speak up in support of marginalized colleagues, promoting more women, encouraging reporting of harassment, and providing training seriously and often.

 

At The Cliffs, we had the opportunity to work with Alicia Ortiz for our inclusiveness and diversity training. She’s an incredible facilitator who is the Education Director for Let’s Be Clear. I highly recommend her for your training needs if you’re based in the Northeast. The Avarna Group also provides trainings and resources on equity, inclusion and diversity.

 

Culture

 

Make sure women feel supported, even if they are the minority on a team. Create a “calling in” culture where team members feel empowered and responsible for letting each other know when behavior or language they use is unacceptable. Be aware of microaggressions — words or actions with undertones of sexism, racism, or any other “-ism” — which may be subtle or imperceptible to the casual observer, but can compound over time to have serious effects on mental health and quality of life. (See: How Microaggressions Are Like Mosquito Bites)

 

For more resources on “calling in,” microaggressions, and other social justice issues, check out Everyday Feminism and The Avarna Group.

 

“Patience is a requirement. Habits are hard to break, and your culture may favor the incumbent majority until you get closer to parity.” — Tech Crunch

 

Check in regularly with women who are on male-dominated teams and conduct exit interviews with employees who quit. Is the culture friendly for women? Are there other issues affecting employee satisfaction that should be addressed? Knowledge is power. Letting go of defensiveness (even though it sucks to learn that your culture may be unfriendly to women) allows you to gain a true perspective on what is happening and take steps to address it.

 

If you’ve read this far, you’re on the right track! But thinking about gender equality is not enough. Write down three actions you’re going to take and share it with your team. Keep each other accountable! Feel free to share your thoughts below as well.

 

Read More

TechCrunch: How to recruit, hire and retain female engineers

 

SocialTalent: Emma Watson: Your New Recruitment Guru — How to: Attract, Source and Recruit Women

 

First Round: How Etsy Grew their Number of Female Engineers by Almost 500% in One Year

 

TechCrunch: There’s a simple solution to tech’s gender imbalance…hire more damn women

 

 

Tags:  diversity  human resources  women  workplace diversity 

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