8 minutes

Softjourn CEO Emmy Gengler sat down with Adriana Gascoigne, the founder and CEO of Girls in Tech (GIT), a San Francisco-based nonprofit that focuses on leveling the playing field for women when it comes to jobs in tech.


Only a quarter of the technology workforce was female in 2015, according to a survey by the National Center for Women & Information Technology,1 and little of that seems to have changed in recent times.2 Girls in Tech is a direct response to this, and has since expanded to include other minorities such as LGBTQ. Workplace diversity is not just an inclusion fad—McKinsey research shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same.3

Gengler and Gascoigne discuss GIT’s inception, the background of the issues the nonprofit seeks to solve, the partnership between GIT and Softjourn, and, lastly, advice for female entrepreneurs. Read on below for the full interview.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

1Women In Tech: Facts, Figures And Percentages.
2Dickey, M. R. (2019, June 17). The future of diversity and inclusion in tech
3Hunt, Victoria and Prince, Sarah (2015, February) . McKinsey. Why diversity matters.


Emmy Gengler (EG): Could you just tell me about GIT and your role within that company?

Adriana Gascoigne (AG): Sure! I am the CEO and founder of GIT. I started the organization in 2007 in San Francisco to solve the problem of leveling the playing field for women within the STEM fields.

EG: Could you talk a little bit and explain a little bit about the problem that you asked Softjourn to help you address?

AG: The issue really was helping to solve one of our corporate partner’s major qualms, which is diversifying their workforce and finding diverse talent to fill technical roles. Since those conversations, it's now spread through all roles within their companies, and really highlighting opportunities and exposing great opportunities for minority groups. Not just women of diverse backgrounds but also LGBTQ and other groups of minorities that could help fill those roles.

And that's still an ongoing issue or challenge, I should say, but we look at it as a great opportunity. Instead of just providing programs and curriculum to help our members in terms of skill building and creating opportunities and resources for them. We thought to actually create a platform where we can encourage our corporate partners to put job listings and create corporate profiles to really promote their culture and career resources. Things like that, that could really help our members in terms of achieving their career goals.

Similarly, we really wanted to support our members that are currently looking for employment, [provide] a mechanism to discover really interesting and relevant job opportunities within the companies that are currently our corporate partners and subscribers.

I really do think that this solution was imminent. I don't think we're the first company to create or think of an idea like this, but given that Girls in Tech has such a vast database of global members within 52 cities around the world, in 38 countries and 6 continents, over a hundred thousand members and we also have a really well-known brand.

We thought that it would be great to couple that with a platform that can really help solve the problem of discovery of interesting job opportunities and exposure of great jobs to our community.

EG: That's very great background on the problem, that's very helpful. Can you talk a little bit about what Softjourn did for you and how working with Softjourn was different than your previous experience?

AG: It's definitely been a great opportunity and a great experience working with Softjourn.
We had a few references from companies, and my contacts personally professionally, that have worked with Softjourn and have spoken very highly about the experience and the results of the product that [Softjourn has worked] on. That really helped us build confidence. We did have a not so great experience previously, where we did invest money and time and effort into wireframing and developing the recruitment platform, and then, because it wasn't up to par both from a user interface as well as from a back-end perspective, we sort of had to start from scratch.

In doing the research with a few of the references and also working with you and your team and getting samples of work that you've done in the past and getting that initial sort of overview of what the product could look like, I felt that there was deep knowledge and deep experience of what a recruitment platform could look like and how it would benefit not only our subscribers but our [job seekers]. I think in terms of functionality the team at Softjourn was very knowledgeable, provided guidance and advice in terms of the user experience, new and interesting product features that could help differentiate the platform from other platforms out there, and really were attentive and well organized in terms of the workflow and delivering upon product features in a timely way.

That overall has been our experience to date and we're continuing to work with you, the Softjourn team, to make sure that the functionality and the product is up to par and that we're listening to our testers that provide detailed feedback on an ongoing basis, so we can launch officially to the world in April 2020. Then we hopefully will get subscribers that will invest money and also reap the benefits of working with Girls in Tech and subscribing to the platform.

EG: You have mentioned that you are planning on launching officially in April of 2020, but you have a soft launch going on right now for the jobs recruitment site. Can you talk about the feedback that you've received from people who are actually using it? What are some of the results you've had so far?

AG: The feedback has been mixed. I think because a lot of the early testers work for high tech companies. A lot of them work for enterprise companies. A lot of them have actually used companies like LinkedIn Recruiter or other types of recruitment software solutions to help with recruitment efforts. So it is sort of been an array of feedback. And what we're really homing in on is simplification of the platform, our messaging, and how we market and create the messaging around the platform so that people really know how to compare or who to compare us to.

Comparing Girls in Tech’s job listing site to LinkedIn Recruiter isn’t an apples to apples. We're really homing in on who our competitors are and doing a SWOT analysis on that, so that we really compare our product features to theirs and understand how to make ours as robust as possible. We're working through that process and so far the feedback has been, I would say, medium. We are taking all of that into consideration. We’re really focused on areas of the user experience like those that important to us as a company, like the transactions platform. We want an integrated product feature that doesn't redirect someone—like they use PayPal for instance and they receive an invoice from PayPal. We want everything to be integrated as an official Girls in Tech product. So that plugin of our product feature should be sort of a white label solution, fully integrated.

In terms of creating profiles, that should be seamless, soup-to-nuts, from signing in to updating content easily and saving those updates. The discovery and search engine should also be very really robust based on the top tagging algorithm that is included in there. And we want to make sure that it is really refined, so our subscribers as well as job seekers can benefit from that feature.

There's a lot of different things we're working on simultaneously, but one thing the product team is really thinking about is a simplification and an internal messaging and setting the tone and the expectation for the product so we're not over-promising but under-delivering, which a lot of times I think is probably the case. We are really focusing on a solution that is basic, that it has achieved the goal that our job seekers are looking for and helps with the goal of our partners the companies, which is to fill these roles. As you might remember, we initially had the WordPress plugin, which is so basic, this like wonky little plugin, and we actually are making money off of that consistently.

Recurring revenue really brought a lightbulb into my head this is definitely something that people want and will pay for, and people are looking for this solution to solve the problems of finding diverse talent for their workforce.

That was the initial sort of impetus for us to start these discussions. So yeah, that was a very long-winded explanation.

EG: So that was your first validation of it that you knew that there was a value in the market for this kind of product. Since you're still doing validation in the market and you're going to be launching next April; is there a reason that you chose April 2020 for the big launch?

AG: That's a good question. I think we wanted to make sure that we had all of the product features really tight and we were very happy with the user experience and back-end functionality before going live. We did have a few small fixes that we needed updated and a few different changes; in some cases we added a product feature which we then ended up taking out. We opted to [add an assessment feature], but we are adding another functionality where our subscribers can actually upload their own [assessments] or use an integrated questionnaire.

We are rejiggering that a bit and we've decided that we hope to have all of the simplified product features done by the end of December 2019. And then do an internal launch which means expose the platform to our member base, over a hundred thousand users, so that they can put up their profiles and their CVs and if they're looking for a job, they can say specifically what they're looking for. And then by the time those are all uploaded, and hopefully we'll have a lot, then we'll feel very comfortable opening up the floodgates, so to speak, to potential subscribers. That would be April 2020.

EG: Okay, all right. You have a plan, that sounds good, it's exciting. You've mentioned a lot about this already but maybe just one thing in your opinion that has been the best thing about working with Softjourn so far?

AG: I do think that it's all about organization of workflow. I think that is a big, well one something that I really care about, because the whole team is virtual and we work remotely. So it's really important for us to have an organization of product features and rollout of the different features within the roadmap and timeline. The workflow has been very easy and having the weekly calls for all of the different projects that we're moving forward with Softjourn has been helpful. The follow through after each call, just giving a synopsis of what was discussed and the action items for each stakeholder, I think is really important.

I do think the pricing structure is reasonable. I think that is has been an important part of why we just decided to work with Softjourn.

One thing that I would love to focus on it is really understanding in terms of the overall budget and time allotted to give [the client] different product updates is really homing in on what Girls in Tech can do as a product team, [Softjourn] ensure[s] that we're communicating effectively so that we don't have to go back and fix any kind of upgrades or features. Do it all at once. A lot in the effort put in, you developing those, and also money essentially, we invested in a way that's productive and fruitful for both parties.

EG: In theory, there is a one-time shot of definition development, you know, your acceptance testing and it works as expected; versus sometimes there is a lot of more flexibility and there is a little bit more back and forth. Because sometimes when you see something like, 'oh, that's not what I meant or now that works a little different than I expected'. Sometimes there is a little bit of that.

AG: That is expected, and I think it's also, you know, we're learning too what works and what doesn't work so I think that that is a process. But if there's anything we can do to effectively communicate in a detailed way what the expectation is, it's better all the way around.

EG: Just as a follow-up then; you are an entrepreneur, you are a female entrepreneur. I'm wondering as a last question: do you think do you have some advice that you would give to your other fellow female entrepreneurs if they're looking at working with service providers who are virtual from them, what would you advise them on?

AG: I think that it is the best way to go. There are a lot of female entrepreneurs, or just entrepreneurs in general, who come to me and ask advice on hiring a CTO. And I always say, it's great if you're going into your B series or late in A series and you have secured funding and you have an idea of exactly what the product or services that you're building will look like: the actual functionality as well as the revenue model. But for first-time entrepreneurs, especially ones that are bootstrapped in funding, I would say definitely work with a consultancy company that can help manipulate the investment based on what you have. A consultancy can also help with the MVP, really create a basic platform or service or app or whatever it is, and ensure that you're not breaking the bank.

At that point you haven't invested hopefully that much money, and can decide whether or not it's a viable product or service. Much like what Softjourn did for Girls in Tech; you guys spent a lot of time upfront, sort of pro bono essentially, giving us an idea of the what the wireframe of the product would be with the functionality and user experience. So we could get an idea of what you could offer should we move forward. That really prepares the entrepreneur to really get an idea of what the expectations should be and how much money that they'll have to raise in order to work with you.

And, again what I said before, Softjourn is very reasonably priced compared to what I've seen and have discussed with other fellow entrepreneurs and CEOs. I think it is the best way to go.

I also think entrepreneurs feel that they need a cofounder and that is a big myth. I built the organization without a cofounder and relied a lot on consultants and still do to this day. Various areas of the business are moving forward and it's worked really well for us. Knock on wood, we haven't had major issues, but I think as long as there's a communication, organization, a good workflow—like for example we use Asana and Jira with Softjourn, consistency with calls and things like that—I don't think it's an issue at all to work with consultants or contractors.

So that would be, as it pertains to working with Softjourn, that would be my advice. And, just in general, I think being an entrepreneur is freaking awesome. You can attest as well; there's nothing better than being able to control your destiny and not have to report to anyone.

EG: Except your clients.

AG: Well, yeah, and your sponsors; but if you have a strong team and your team is happy, and you believe in your product or service or your company, then most of the time your clients will be happy. And you guys are all about customer service. Girls in Tech is all about customer service. So something's not right, if people are not satisfied, fine, we'll fix it. We'll offer something else so that they can be happy.

That is really at the core of who we are, what we do, and that starts with the employees. If the employees are happy, then they'll be productive and then our partners and then our members [will be happy too]. That is my just general advice.

EG: That's very good advice. Thank you very much for helping your fellow entrepreneurs, whether they be female or not. I wholeheartedly agree. Adriana, it has been a pleasure to talk with you. I thank you so much for all of your feedback and for your willingness to help your fellow entrepreneurs. Thank you very much for your time.

AG: Thank you.