|Posted by Guest Blogger|
August 29th, 2010
This weekend a storm blew up in the blogosphere. It began on Friday with Shira Ovide’s piece on WSJ.com, “Addressing the Lack of Women Leading Emerging Tech,” which quoted Rachel Sklar:
“Part of changing the ratio is just changing awareness, so that the next time Techcrunch is planning a Techcrunch Disrupt, they won’t be able to not see the overwhelming maleness of it,” said Ms. Sklar, referring to the influential tech conference.
Michael Arrington of TechCrunch took exception to this comment and posted on Saturday “Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men” (A sample argument from Arrington: “Yeah ok, whatever Rachel.”) This in turn generated 665 comments as of Monday morning, which ranged through agreement with the sentiments expressed (by both women and men) through strong disagreement (both women and men) to, at the extreme end, misogynistic crudeness (men).
Here’s my response:
1. No one is blaming anyone.
In a sector where one gender far outnumbers the other on every possible front (participation, positions of power and influence, gatekeepers and bestowers of capital and funding, role models and inspirational symbols of success, leaders, conference organizers, most-invited conference speakers, most-read bloggers, media outlet owners etc etc), women are asking men for help to even things out. That’s all. And hopefully any man who would genuinely like to see more women in tech, will.
2. Nobody – women least of all – is suggesting that help should be provided in anything other than a meritocratic context.
Every single woman in tech I have ever spoken to, myself included, would rather we didn’t need to ask for help, didn’t need to even raise the issue of one gender’s experience versus the other. We do it because…
3. The meritocratic playing field is not level.
It’s difficult for any man, no matter how well-meaning or well-intentioned, to conceive quite what it’s like to live as a woman in a world where the default setting is always male. To take just one example - men: imagine you had been going for years to conferences where you never saw a single speaker of your own gender onstage (bar one or two seemingly token exceptions); where you never saw role models of your own gender to aspire to; where you never saw anyone of your own gender to inspire you, to make you think, ‘I want to be like them and that’s what’s going to keep me going as I struggle with my startup’, to make you feel, ‘One day that could be me.’ Imagine all you ever saw and heard from on those stages were women, year after year, conference after conference (and the majority of the audience around you were women too). How do you think you’d feel about that?
4. We need help with what is otherwise a self-perpetuating cycle.
It’s a numbers game. There are far fewer women in tech than men. So anyone genuinely interested in changing the ratio and evening out the balance, has to more than meet women halfway – because you won’t run into them as frequently as you do men, and you won’t find them simply by ‘asking around’. You have to make a real and ongoing effort to locate the best of female talent, speakers, startup founders to fund, while actively publicizing ‘Women are welcome here’. (And no, to some of the TechCrunch commenters, things have to even out a whole lot more before any of that can possibly translate into discrimination against men.) That will bring more female perspectives and input, which will encourage more open-mindedness and support (as well as more difference, creativity and innovation), which will generate more successful female role models to inspire more women to follow in their footsteps, which will lead to more women cycling through over time. But we need that help.
5. Many, many women want to start, lead and grow tech companies.
As some commenters and twitterers have pointed out, the roots of this whole issue run very deep. The numbers of girls electing to study computer science in high school have actually gone down over time. This is not as simple as just ramping up class recruitment efforts: those numbers improve when parents and the girls themselves cease to see computer science, math and engineering as ‘unfeminine’, and when boys start seeing studious, hardworking, geeky nerdy girls in high school as hot and dateable. But I personally know (and mentor and advise) a very large number of women who either want to, or have, started up tech ventures. Yes, we have other things to contend with, like family duties and childcare (nothing gender-equal about who’s expected to shoulder the brunt of that), but never doubt for a moment that as many women as men burn with a passion to start something, to stick with it and make it grow, to have an impact, to make a difference, to change the world through technology. So please, let’s just help each other do that, and let’s show the rest of the world that tech is one arena where anyone with the right combination of talent, grit and determination, really can achieve anything, no matter what’s inside their pants.
Guest Blogger Cindy Gallop is Founder & CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld