My name is Rachel Dowling and I’m from the USA. I was born in Philadelphia and lived in California for over ten years, in the Bay Area, Palo Alto and San Francisco. In 2019, I moved to Germany with my partner – a German. I am the CEO and founder of Equal Time. Our tool is a virtual meeting app that you can use together with Zoom, Google Meet or MS Teams and that analyzes, for example, who had the most speaking time in the meeting or who didn’t get a chance to speak. Each participant receives an email with feedback: How dominant or supportive were they? Did they listen to the others? Equal Time also creates a transcription and meeting minutes.
In young families, it is often the mother who takes parental leave or who takes much more parental leave than the father. Often the father takes one or two months, and for the woman it’s one or two years. And even when she goes back to work, it’s often only 20 or 30 hours. So, she progresses more slowly in her career. I wish there was more equality: that men could take on more family responsibilities and women could continue their careers the way they would like to. I would like to see it become more normal for fathers to take longer parental leave, for it to become more normal for women to return to a full-time job and have a career.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked in the tech industry – in product management and user experience, design, and data analytics. During this time, I’ve observed that especially in tech teams, it’s often not very inclusive and it can be difficult for women to voice their opinions and feel part of the team. Often there is only one woman on the team. I know stories of women who have been told by their bosses that they shouldn’t contribute themselves, but should be quiet and listen, or that they don’t fit into the tech field in terms of their personality: So, these women were openly talked down to, and it would be no wonder if many of these women choose not to pursue careers or leadership positions in tech because of it. So, I started looking at data from other industries, and I realized that there’s a lot of room for improvement here, too, in terms of inclusion and representation in leadership positions. Equal Time can help here by showing the dynamics of meetings: Who dominates? Who might be stealing ideas from others?
Equal Time uncovers power imbalances and can thus help create a more equitable work environment. However, it is not just about imbalances related to gender – cultural or personal differences, such as intraversion or extraversion, can also play a role. The pivotal moment for starting Equal Care was when I was working with a designer who was a bit more introverted; she also came from a culture that was quieter. And she was on a team with a man from Spain who was extremely loud and dominant. There were always terrible interactions in meetings. I didn’t like the way this man, as well as others in the company, treated her and talked to her, although I don’t think the people who did that were even aware of the impact they were causing.
With Equal Time, we want to encourage people to self-reflect. If you get an email at the end of a meeting saying you were too dominant and didn’t let others have their say, that can be very telling and an impetus to maybe back off a little bit next time. Many people are not aware of how they dominate others and are willing to change. This can create an empathetic and inclusive culture. Our tool is designed for leaders who want to be aware of how well they are integrating underrepresented people into their teams. Equal Time gives them objective feedback on how they are facilitating meetings and whether they are actually including all voices on their team well.
There are cases when participants don’t want a particular meeting analyzed, and that’s always possible. You can always remove the bot from a meeting. In general, though, I would say that our tool doesn’t hurt anyone or hinder their work. The feedback we have received is very positive. We’ve already been told that Equal Time is a gentle reminder for self-improvement, continuous diversity training, so to speak. And, of course, we take data privacy and security very seriously: we use encryption and our databases are set up to meet the latest privacy and security standards.
That’s a big topic that I’ve thought about a lot. I have the impression that diversity in Germany is still thought of primarily in terms of gender. Other dimensions of inequality such as origin, disability, age or parenthood are perhaps talked about a bit less here. However, I think Germany still has some catching up to do when it comes to gender equality. In my opinion, this also has to do with the generous parental leave regulations here – that’s a good thing, of course, but as long as women take much more parental leave than men, this leads to many German women withdrawing from their jobs: They work part-time or take one, two, three years of parental leave for each child, and that naturally slows down their career advancement.
Members of diverse teams simply bring more perspectives and have different work styles. Some people are more detail-oriented, others bigger picture oriented; some are very fast, others very meticulous. There are simply more ideas that come to the table. Diversity shouldn’t be a financial argument, but of course companies that take diversity seriously get better results: They are more creative and innovative, have higher returns and stronger employee retention. The latter again has financial implications, as it is very expensive to find new employees. In addition, non-diverse companies will have a problem in the medium term if their product team is not as diverse as their customers. This is because such a team is less able to recognize the needs of customers.
This is where the issue of equal opportunity comes into play. It’s not about giving everyone the same resources, but about understanding that everyone needs to be supported in different ways so that he or she achieves the same result. Maybe the company should set up a breastfeeding room if mothers with young children work there. Perhaps flexible work schedules need to be created for parents. It may also mean that managers need to encourage certain people more to express their ideas, or perhaps they need to revisit what they have said so that their ideas are attributed to them. It’s a manager’s job to make sure that even silent employees are given important projects and therefore the visibility they need to be promoted. It’s not necessarily due to a lack of ambition if someone doesn’t speak up as often. It can be a matter of gender, culture or personality.
I personally believe that there is something special in every person. Everyone deserves to be valued, supported and encouraged. Everyone should have the chance to succeed in the world and reach his or her full potential. It is unfair if not everyone receives the support they need to do so.