We've had a great time building an exclusive networking club based upon Ben Franklin's Junto. The big problem is that we've failed to get women involved, and we want to fix it.
At Packet, we have four core values that inspire what we strive for as a company each day. Originally scribbled on a whiteboard during a day-long visioning session, they've made it into our wiki and into every single serious conversation we have about charting our course:
- We are community minded people who try to do the right thing.
- We are driven, ambitious people who find creative solutions.
- We are effective at getting things done the right way.
- We are excited about leading our industry.
This all builds up to a single, handy statement about what we are trying to do when we're not making servers boot up and down: we are passionate about building a better internet.
Lofty goals for sure - we're not there yet, that's for sure. But happily this has given us a clear lens to look through when faced with the challenges and opportunities that every scrappy startup encounters day in, and day out. It is our moral compass that helps us determine product strategy, hire new colleagues, or decide on our approach to marketing.
The Success So Far
When we started thinking about how to introduce people to Packet, and to be relevant in the awesome conversations in our space (container technologies, net neutrality, IPv6, the cloud, etc), we hit upon the idea of the Junto. High level networking, yes, but also a space for intelligent conversation that could help us make progress on the real issues and opportunities facing our industry, tech and otherwise.
We've now held three events, and in so many ways they have each been a huge success for us and the other attendees. We've built some important relationships, connected each other with ideas to help solve big challenges, and received feedback from respected peers.
But in one massive, glaring way we have so far failed: gender diversity.
The Failure Backstory
In putting together our first event in March, I was excited by the opportunity to try to continue the momentum we built at our holiday party a few months prior: instead of just having a party, we had a party and raised over $10,000 to support the work of Coalition for Queens - specifically to support their efforts at diversifying tech.
I tried for six weeks to book a group of innovators that not only represented the wide range of ideas and areas of expertise that our industry thrives on, but that represented our broader community.
At the event in March I asked the group for help, because I had not been able to get a single woman to attend. Strike one.
At our second Junto in May, we celebrated the work of the Network Time Foundation and dedicated ourselves to helping Harlan make progress on his important (and selfless) work. But again, weeks of outreach up and down Silicon Valley left me with an all male cadre. Strike Two.
Take a look at our third event this week in Portland and you'll see a disturbing (at least to me) trend. I even had one invited invitee decide not to come because of our track record of male dominated events. Strike Three.
What's Root Cause Here? What Can We Do Next?
Certainly part of the issue I'm having is simply my personal and professional network being limited in scope. My professional social circle has limits and it's obvious I'm hitting some of those. Over time, this should get better as I proactively focus on diversity and challenge the other attendees with the same.
In my opinion, the real issue is more basic and harder to address than simply scoping LinkedIn -- it's that our industry workforce simply isn't diverse enough to start with. At Packet, we are addressing this by offering apprenticeships to local high school and community college students - building our way up, so to speak.
Our program is for underrepresented groups (community, gender, etc) and strictly for beginners or those with little experience in the infrastructure space. The effort is small, humble and about all we can handle as a lean, 20-person startup with a full plate, big ambitions, and scrappy funding. But we have our first apprentice starting next month (a young woman!) and we're pretty excited about it.
We feel that building long-term talent pools and exposing more people to the skills and job opportunities in internet infrastructure is the only true way to promote diversity. It's good for us (we get more talent), it's good for society (we expose more people to a growing part of the economy) and it's good for our teams (we meet new people, and learn new ways of teaching and learning).
As a person of action who doesn't give up easily, I'm open to new ideas, new connections, and fresh energy. If you'd like to help me move the needle on this issue and others, I'd love to hear from you via firstname.lastname@example.org.