I should have seen Trump’s election coming.
Working with big companies to diversify their ranks and change how they hire women, I've spent over two years crisscrossing this country, and I’ve communicated with women in depressed red areas, desperate for jobs.
I’ve been told by numerous top 100 brands that they can’t fill more tech jobs with women because of a “pipeline problem” in America. My response has always been, yes we need to educate younger women, but there are millions who want to work now. The problem we see at PowerToFly, the company I cofounded, is many of the qualified women aren’t living in the urban areas where companies are doing their hiring. They’re living in suburbs and rural areas, and it’s too expensive for them to move, especially if they have families and are already under-employed.
During the last two years, I’ve met women like Sara who worked for Hearst as a frontend developer from her home in Texas, Laura who lived off a dirt road in Vermont and made a living as a full-stack coder, and Adrianna, a very pregnant QA who operated out of her home in Pennsylvania. I don’t know if they supported Trump, but they live in the parts of America that did. (I've changed their names and identifying details to protect their privacy.)
Of course, many women on our platform also work in offices in big cities, but so many are looking for opportunities in the communities that claim they ignored Donald Trump’s racism, sexism, nationalism, and endlessly divisive statements in a quest to better their own futures.
The data from this election shows that both men and women in redder, rural America -- including the Rust Belt states-- went for Trump, in part because of his promises to bring back lost steel and coal industry jobs. They voted against a blue urban America that offers the jobs of the future. Trump won as a change agent, promising to bring back dying industries but technology has set us on an irreversible course.
Let’s consider that driverless transportation is coming when millions of people in the US make a middle-class living as truck drivers. Losing toll booth jobs to EZ Pass or checkout positions to customer-operated scanners is a relative drop in the bucket. At the same time, more and more jobs are opening up for people who can write code or eventually operate the virtual service centers for these driverless vehicles.
Much of the future of work will be in the hands of people who will write the software and manage the products that are changing the world. And those roles can’t be filled fast enough. Software is also making it possible for people to work from anywhere, including the rural red state areas that won a bloodless revolution on election day.
My company employs women in many red states because we believe diversity of thought, race and gender is how we’ll build a successful business. My cofounder and I live in New York, but we employ a talent manager in Louisiana, a writer in Kentucky, a customer service manager in Florida, an accounting manager in the red part of Staten Island and women in parts of Virginia.
I’ve been crying - and even protesting - since the election and I’m one of the lucky ones because I’m white, I’m straight, and I’m employed. I’m heartbroken, concerned and deeply saddened for my friends who are fearing for their safety. But I’m also sad for the millions of people who voted for retreat because there’s nowhere for them to go if they don’t join the future.
That said, I’m also a pragmatist who realizes that if my company and the businesses we work with don’t act to make Trump’s America economically successful, then we’re all in for an even ruder awakening.
On my part, my company will redouble its efforts with major brands to fill jobs with more women, especially those underrepresented ones in red states. Yes, we’ll focus on lifting up diverse, female candidates more than ever, but white women in red states are key for us to reach out to as well. If we don’t work with them and they don’t have meaningful, promising opportunities, then we’ll never heal the society that feels so broken today. Allowing women to work remotely is one way for companies to diversify faster with people who represent all of America. If companies won’t change their out-of-office policies to include more women then they should set up offices in more areas that went red.
But corporate leaders, startup founders and technologists also have to recognize the rampant skills gap. The digital divide looks remarkably like the new, redder, electoral map. Unlike people’s hard-coded political opinions, new skills can be taught faster and with less friction. It’s on organizations, like mine, and major brands who are serious about building a united and productive America, to step up and fill the gaps where the education system has failed adults who need the skills for today’s opportunities.
These ideas are just the beginning of how we can cross a divide in America-- but they’re ones we need to all work on if we want to ensure America can one day be a place that values inclusion and opportunity for all.
Katharine Zaleski is the Cofounder and President of PowerToFly.com, the platform connecting Fortune 500 companies and fast growing startups with women who are looking to work for businesses that value gender diversity and inclusion. She lives in New York with her husband and three-year old daughter.