Will Yammer lose its female advantage now it belongs to Microsoft?

Yammer has a high percentage of female staff that love its culture and progressive attitude. Will its acquisition by Microsoft start the gender drain, or will it encourage the larger company to increase its ratio of women hires?
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor
Credit: Yammer

Six months on from the Yammer acquisition by Microsoft, is it still leading the way in terms of female hires? Yammer started in San Francisco in 2008, rapidly grew its European customer base and set up an operations office in London’s Tech Hub in 2010.

Initially Yammer had three people in its London office, planning to rent office space for six people. Georg Ell, General Manager, EMEA at Yammer explained:

“From a hiring perspective we made the decision really early on that we believed Yammer was going to be a big company and we decided we were going to hire people that were going to help us scale and help us build a really big company”.

And Yammer have done this by hiring a large percentage of women.

“I love what this product can do for companies. It is really going to transform organisations”.

“You can’t have disruption without diversity” says Ell.

“We think that diversity plays a key role. we wanted to create a culture that people would want to work in. It is all about sharing ideas inherent in the engineering culture”.

The female representation across Yammer UK is high. The percentage of women varies by team. The leadership team is 50:50 male to female ratio.

The Yammer lead generation team has about 80 per cent women. “We got up to eight or nine women before we hired the first guy - its just the way it happens” says Ell. “We hired all the team before we hired the manager -- who happens to be a woman as well.

“We did not set out to hire 80 percent women -- it just happened. We hired the best people. They have first class honours degrees from Cambridge or UCL. One even decided not to go to Harvard and joined Yammer instead”.

Yammer have hired in workers with Enterprise experience, hiring senior people who are award winners in other large companies. As Yammer grew the strategy was to hire in around and under them to grow the organisation.

Cheryl Razzell, IT Director is one of Yammers female leaders who was head hunted to work there. She has worked for News International and the BBC – both male dominated environments. I asked her why she decided to make the move.

“Yammer has a great reputation as an employer in London. I knew some senior people here. These people were in high profile positions and they decided to take that leap of faith to join Yammer.

"If people at that kind of level were willing to take the step over and were that passionate about Yammer then the sky is the limit. I could see the potential of Yammer – and see the potential of social networking. I had used Salesforce’s Chatter and could see the pitfalls".

"I could see the potential of Yammer. I jumped at the chance. When I joined Yammer things were really chaotic. I had never worked in a start-up before. I had been here 3 months and became the IT director”.

Emma Stephen, Account Executive at Yammer had a similar experience. She came from a very male dominated environment in her previous role. “I was happy where I was” she said. “There were 120 men, 19 women and two women in the new business team”.

She was impressed with Yammer from the start. “I love what this product can do for companies. It is really going to transform organisations”.

It certainly feels like a great team effort at Yammer – and still feels like a very distinct company with its own identity rather than another of Microsoft’s acquisitions. The team all agree that they are all in it together standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’.

“We don't win alone – we don't lose alone.” says Ell.

The UK team at Yammer who range from age 21 to late 40’s feel a strong sense of ownership across the company. Everyone is are part of the team and free to express opinions – which could turn out to be a competitive advantage. It is all about the idea.

The team feel that they are all adaptable and feel passionate about the company whether it is part of a larger company or not. They are not focused on Microsoft.

“In our hearts we are still Yammer – our goals are still visible. Using Yammer inside Microsoft means we are beginning to see the people behind the company” says Stephen.

“It’s not important whether you are male or female – if you can do the job then the company believes in you and puts you in the position to empower you to do that job”. says Razzell. “There is no chauvinistic attitude here” adds Stephen.

As Yammer moves further and further into the structures and process of the Microsoft behemoth things might change. Hopefully its passion and leadership in hiring female talent will be adopted as a best practice, both by Microsoft and across the IT industry.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO has already told the team that Microsoft wants to adopt Yammer processes, take on its way of thinking and change Microsoft internally.

“They (Microsoft) realise that they need to change to keep up with current markets and the way that companies are going and they look at Yammer to help them do that because we’re doing so well” said Razzell.

But even with 50 percent of women at Yammer, Ell, struggles to get enough females to apply.

He reckons that he has carried out hundreds of interviews for roles, but only three females have applied for roles in the Sales team. Although there will be no preferential treatment – Ell wants to hire more female sales staff and invites you to apply.

So ladies, if you want to work for a smallish company in London’s Tech Hub that has recently been acquired by a largish company in Redmond, then you know who to get in touch with...

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