TECH
01/29/2016 01:45 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2017

I'm a Woman in Tech, But Even I Didn't 'Get It' Until This Week

Laura Roeder

After 10 years as a business owner, I encountered a specific kind of sexism this week that I've actually never come across before.

We were in the final stages of interviewing a dev candidate for a job at my startup, Edgar. He was a favorite -- he'd aced several interviews already, and even worked alongside our team.

The only check mark left was the "culture fit" interview, which is always held by people outside the candidate's department to make sure they would be an awesome personality fit for our entire team.

During the final interview, the candidate made some comments that made our team cringe. Comments about the interviewers' appearance and intelligence (or lack thereof). The kind of inappropriate "jokes" that every woman has heard countless times and had to laugh off so not to stir the pot.

But this time, the women were the ones making the hiring decision. They vetoed the candidate, and he was out.

The thing that fascinates me most is that if we hadn't held this interview with women, we never would have known that this was the type of workplace behavior he thought was appropriate -- not until it was too late, anyway. We would have hired him.

His behavior wasn't over the top. It wasn't outrageous. For better or worse, people know better these days than to overtly express certain prejudices in a job interview -- but they can really show them in the way they treat people. (Not many candidates will open with, "What's with all these women in the workplace, right?")

If your candidates don't get a chance to interact with women during the interview process, you don't know what kind of comments they might make -- and you might not know about the biases those comments reflect until it's too late. You might not know how they act toward women, or whether they take them (us) seriously.

Worse still, if your company lacks women, or people of color, or other groups who are historically targets for discrimination, it might mean you already have people like this on your team -- even making hiring decisions. People who might not say out loud that they prefer not to work with a certain person -- maybe even people who don't consciously recognize their own biases at all, nor the way those biases influence their behavior.

Our team is ethnically diverse, and our leadership is predominantly female. This is something that's happened organically by valuing raw talent, and by cultivating a company culture of kindness and openness.

So even though I always knew diversity was important, I really got it this week in a way I hadn't necessarily in the past. Homogenous teams create a vicious cycle of homogeneity. Is a candidate uncomfortable around people who are gay? Older than they are, younger than they are? People of color? You might never know until they get a chance to interact with a variety of people -- is that time going to come before or after that candidate is on your staff?

Please don't take this article to mean that you should bring on a few token minorities you can trot out as part of some kind of tolerance test during your hiring process. It is, however, an invitation to examine your own team --  to ask yourself whether you're part of a system that encourages diversity, or one that perpetuates a cycle of sameness. What's the makeup of the people who surround you, and in what direction does that culture encourage your business to grow?

I now understand better than ever why it is that the more diverse our team, the more diverse it will get -- and that's a trend I'm happy to continue. (And PS -- we're hiring.)

This post originally appeared on Medium.