Women to Watch

Baltimore businesses address gender inequality, build more inclusive cultures

When he realized the refrigerator at his tech start-up was always being cleaned out by the same employee, a woman, Mike Subelsky told her to stop and took on the task himself. It was perhaps a small gesture to guard against workers falling into “traditional” male or female roles. But the founder of Staq hoped it would send a signal.

“I want people to know this is something everyone has to do, not just women,” Subelsky says.
Companies in the Baltimore area promote gender equality in a variety of ways. Some set strategies to achieve parity in hiring, pay, promotions and management, while others strive for a culture of equality. In an election year when issues such as equal pay are at top of mind, many employers are taking a fresh look at the issue, says Kerry Chou, compensation senior practice leader at human resources association World at Work.
While discrimination still occurs, “most employers are trying to do the right thing,” Chou says.
Chou recommends that employers regularly analyze how they measure performance and tie it to pay, how pay compares based on gender and whether the makeup of applicants is reflected in the gender makeup of new hires.
At Staq, a 40-person company that helps web publishers, Subelsky took steps to achieve a diverse workforce from the start, despite the industry typically attracting men. The chief technology officer recruits people who are problem solvers, even those who lack programming experience.
“There are plenty of women in mid-career in some other career field who get into programming later in life or maybe grew up and didn’t even consider software as a job,” he says.
To recruit them, he relies on software that identifies phrases in job postings that might create gender bias, such as “rock star programmer.” His postings emphasize teamwork and mentoring.
Upon becoming CEO of Rendia in Fells Point three years ago, Smitha Gopal sought to make subtle tweaks in the health technology company’s culture, hoping to improve “the ability to contribute to the conversation.”
She wanted to encourage women, as well as junior staffers, to contribute to decision-making about everything from marketing to new content for the videos the company produces for doctors. Gopal switched from in-person meetings where a few people tended to dominate to encouraging work via collaborative websites such as Trello.
“The advantage is it really is an equal playing field,” Gopal says. “It creates confidence.”
When Steve Kozak was hired in November as chief growth officer at The Verve Partnership, a 10-person commercial interior design architectural firm, he brought along ideas from previous workplaces. Employees are paid full salary for the first two weeks of maternity leave, before short-term disability kicks in, supplemented by bonuses. The company of mostly female employees offers flexible work schedules and has created a private room for pumping breast milk.
S. Chris Edmonds, a consultant and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group, tells firms to think beyond business results and decide what kind of culture they want. If an employer wants to be more inclusive, for instance, leaders need to embrace that with specific measurable goals, he says.
At Baltimore-based Adams Funds, two of eight board members are women, including the chair, and the five-member management team includes one woman, winning the firm recognition from Network 2000, which tracks women on Maryland’s corporate boards.
Gender equality is “in our DNA,” says Mark Stoeckle, CEO of the investment management firm. “It’s important to us to have a broad representation and skills, and that includes gender.”