Allison Esposito Medina is the founder of Tech Ladies, a 100,000 member-strong worldwide community that helps women in tech grow their careers. Recently, Caro Griffin, a senior operations leader focused on building sustainable businesses, joined the Tech Ladies team as VP of operations.
Tech Ladies is a fully remote team, and many of the partner companies the community works with are also fully remote, or are going remote at least part time due to the impact of COVID-19. Griffin and Esposito Medina have been supporting and guiding many of these companies as they adapt to remote recruiting and retention with a focus on diversity and inclusion.
The two sat down (virtually and remotely) to discuss some of the common themes and insights they’ve been sharing on the topic.
Allison Esposito Medina: Hi, Caro, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work at Tech Ladies?
Caro Griffin: I’m an operations leader and I’ve spent most of my career working remotely. I started my career as a developer and a tech educator before realizing that the business side was more fascinating to me. I’m still an educator at heart, though, and I think that plays out well with my work at Tech Ladies.
So much of building remote teams is trial and error because there isn’t nearly as much precedent for teams that aren’t in the same physical space, and even among remote teams, there are lots of ways of doing things. Some teams rely heavily on video meetings, others work almost entirely asynchronously, and so on. I had to figure out a lot of things on the fly, so I try to publicly share as many learnings as I can. We do the same thing at Tech Ladies by offering webinars for our hiring partners on topics like recruiting, onboarding, and managing remotely.
Part of my role is managing the Tech Ladies job board. We want to make sure we’re sharing good opportunities and that our partners are putting their best foot forward. That means reviewing every job description that comes in and offering advice on how to make it more inclusive.
Esposito Medina: I agree about trial and error as far as remote working goes. At the end of the day, as a manager, all that matters to me is that we have clearly defined what we need each person to accomplish, and that they’re enough of a self-starter to get their work done without a lot of follow-up. Once you have the right team in place, it becomes less important whether you’re requiring video toggled on, have a Slack running all day, etc. If anything, I think too many meetings burn people out and then they don’t have time to get actual work done (true both remotely and in person), so I would say only have the structure you need in order to get the results you want.
The best part about remote work is there’s less “work theater,” where you’re trying to run out the clock to look busy. With a strong remote team you do the work you need to do and then do whatever you want when you’re done. Life is limited, so it’s actually very sad to think about the hours I’ve wasted in past jobs waiting for 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. to leave so I appeared to be a “hard worker.” All that really matters is results.
Esposito Medina: What are some of the most common pieces of feedback we give to hiring partners?
Griffin: Hands down, the most common request we make is for companies to send along information about their culture and team and a list of benefits to include on the job posting. This information is really important to women in general, and can especially motivate more passive applicants to apply. We see a lot of Tech Ladies who aren’t actively searching for a new job but would consider making a change for the right opportunity. A blocker for them is worrying that the new company can’t match their salary or benefits, or that they’ll be walking into a toxic culture. Providing a salary range and more information about the company up front can be really helpful.
We also often ask that companies remove any education requirements they have. They are outdated and unnecessary 90 percent of the time in our industry, where bootcamps are common and so many self-guided resources exist. Requiring a bachelor’s or master’s degree makes your applicant pool more homogenous and often penalizes BIPOC candidates the most.
Esposito Medina: Can you share what you personally like about sustainable, full-time remote work?
Griffin: I spent years traveling full time before settling in Mexico City, so I love that I can live wherever I want and design the life that is most fulfilling to me. But in a broader sense, I love that my teammates can do exactly the same thing, and that our choices are often so different. The same flexibility and autonomy that allows me to occasionally work from Asia allows one coworker to pick up her kids from school every day, and another to work a split shift because that makes it easier for her to cope with a chronic illness.
Going remote doesn’t magically make your company inclusive, but it can make it easier to attract and support a diverse team, especially when you’re focused on the outcomes your team members are producing versus how much work they’re delivering.
Esposito Medina: I think that’s one of the most underexplored parts of remote work, how much more inclusive it can be. I can’t help but think of all the talented [parents] who stay home with their kids but given the chance could easily contribute 20 hours a week to teams and change their whole trajectory with their talents. Or, as you mentioned, people struggling with chronic illness or mental illness, as well as people who are caretakers of parents. The list goes on. There is so much talent out there that gets left out with this structured and outdated idea of an in-person nine-to-five.
Esposito Medina: What opportunities are there for companies going fully remote right now?
Griffin: There are so many. Remote work advocates often say the whole world becomes your hiring pool when you go remote, and while that’s true, there’s more to it than that. Not only can you more easily hire people from other states and countries, but more of the people in those states and countries will want to work for you.
Remote work was in incredibly high demand before the pandemic and is even more in demand now. Offering flexibility and remote work, as well as a strong, positive culture, can allow you to compete with much bigger companies for talent. There are lots of candidates who prioritize things like shorter commutes and a positive culture over making the highest possible salary.
Esposito Medina: What are some red flags for women and BIPOC when they’re looking for a new remote role?
Griffin: I think everyone from an underrepresented group in tech has their own “checklist” they use to screen potential companies, especially highly qualified candidates who can afford to be more selective. Some red flags we often warn against at Tech Ladies include:
Making full-time roles “contract to hire” or including a trial period before giving benefits. This is reasonable in theory, but in practice, it’s asking candidates to take a risk on you that you’re not willing to take on them. Some people aren’t in a position to give up a stable job or be without health insurance for the interim.
Benefits that don’t match a company’s espoused values. If a job posting touts free lunches and team game nights but doesn’t mention parental leave, that shows where their priorities lie, no matter how many times their About page mentions being “family friendly.”
A homogenous About page. It’s a common “joke” among women in tech that there are often more pets than women listed on a startup’s About page. BIPOC in particular will look to see if they’re going to be “the only one” on the team. If your team has historically been very white or male and you’ve committed to doing the work to fix that, you should consider acknowledging that in some way.
On the flip side, remote companies that are transparent about their culture and include a salary range on their job postings have such a leg up.
Esposito Medina: That’s such a good point about how stressful it can be to be “the only one” on a team. If you have more than one role open and you realize you have no Black people on your team yet, no people over 40, no parents, no trans folks, whenever possible you should aim to onboard a few people at the same time so there is a support system. This might sound like a “nice to have,” but if you talk to people from underrepresented groups in tech, you’ll realize how important it is.
Esposito Medina: Hiring people from other states or countries can feel overwhelming if you’re a small team. What are the basics people need to know about how to do this legally?
Griffin: Hiring people across the country and/or world can be such a mess because local laws were really not designed for remote companies. You generally have to register your company in every state or country where you have an employee, but this can look really different depending on the area. In the U.S., it often doesn’t mean incorporating in every state but instead registering with the requisite offices in each area, such as the Department of Labor, and alerting your payroll provider so that the proper state taxes are taken out and you’re compliant with local regulations around paid leave, unemployment, and so on.
It’s often easier for smaller companies to manage this by using a modern payroll provider like Gusto or a professional employer organization like JustWorks. They will do a lot of the setup and compliance work for you.
International team members are another story. For American companies, they usually need to be hired as independent contractors for tax purposes, or you run the risk of having to pay business taxes in that country. You can keep a lawyer on call to briefly research and adapt your standard contracts for each country, but there’s an increasing number of startups like Remote that are seeking to make this easier.
I’ve used all of these options to some degree and generally recommend that newly remote companies rely on their HR and legal teams to vet the options, or to hire a remote consultant to provide guidance that will often save you time and money [around] 10 times their rate.
Esposito Medina: Do you think pay scale should be tied to location, experience, or something else, and why?
Griffin: I don’t believe in tying compensation to location or paying everyone a San Francisco salary. I prefer to pick a market size the company can afford (maybe that’s San Francisco, maybe that’s Orlando) and pay everyone on the same scale. I’ve spent my career building sustainable, bootstrapped companies where paying San Francisco salaries has never been possible or even necessary. There are lots of talented people outside of San Francisco—so many that I’ve never felt the need to compete in the highest-priced markets.
Does that mean I’ve occasionally had to pass on a great candidate? Sure. But it was worth the trade-off in my mind because it allowed us to build sustainable businesses on our own terms, without having to answer to investors or a board of directors. Without those outside voices, we could build the company we wanted with the values that were most important to us. Hiring talent that believed in those same values helped us retain talent even when they could make a little more elsewhere.
This model has worked for me, but it won’t work for everyone. Companies that have money but not time will need to be super competitive, and that probably means paying salaries based on a high market like San Francisco or New York, at minimum for the folks who live there but potentially for the whole team, depending on what you feel is most fair.