In years past, it may have been sufficient to blame the lack of women in technology on inadequate education, preparation, experience, interest, etc. With the recent boom in ways to learn or self-teach web development, design, and computer science, education isn’t the hurdle. We now know that interest and confidence aren’t necessarily the problem, it’s that girls are aware of the gender discrimination in tech. Yet, gender differences in the tech world are not just the result of one gender. So what are we to do?
Advice for Guys:
Stop Making Assumptions
This is the easiest one to follow, and is pretty self-explanatory. We all know what they say about assumptions. So don’t assume that we’re in marketing, the girlfriend, emotional, or incompetent. Not being a jerk, especially based on prejudices, is a common sense way to be a better coworker/cofounder/investor/whatever that can be overlooked.
This one goes for women too (I’m looking at you, Penelope Trunk). We’re not all emotional, stability-craving people with our eyes set on rearing children. If you’re this type of person, male or female, you wouldn’t/shouldn’t be working at a startup in the first place. There are other kinds of tech companies for that. If you’re making blanket judgments based on gender, you might want to re-evaluate your ability to understand users and markets.
Quit Making Boys’ Clubs
It can be easy to have a boys’ club without realizing it, but the last thing that women want or need is people patronizing them. You don’t have to cater to women in the office, but a place where women don’t feel like they have to be one of the bros would be nice. It doesn’t mean you have to cut out talk of girls and beer (if that’s your thing), but make sure you have an environment that is welcoming, comfortable, and encourages participation.
Advice for Girls:
Be More than a Woman in Tech
Unlike the girl power movement of the 90’s, we’re not encountering an “anything you can do, I can do better” reaction to gender inequality in tech. Instead, we are seeing is a rise of groups designed to create a support and learning network for women. These are in theory great, but can contribute to gender segregation by limiting networks and reinforcing a gender division.
It takes more than talking about what it means to be a woman in tech and how to promote more women getting involved. It takes a whole lot of being a woman in tech, which means shaking more hands, doing more, doing things faster, and impressing more people than just the women in tech community. If you want to encourage more girls to go into tech, make more awe-inspiring products of the variety that changes lives and the way people interact with the world, not just “sugar water.” You’ll have people talking about what a tech force of nature you are, regardless of your gender.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Boys’ Club
One would think that women in tech would tell other women aspiring to enter the tech world to go for it with guns blazing, but they’re not. On the same token, we need to stop using gender as a crutch and an excuse for weakness. We need to stop blaming lack of involvement on being nurturing and risk-adverse because we’re women. We need to stop perpetuating this culture of thinking we should be intimidated by startups, all male events, and tech. A funny thing happens when you don’t think you should be intimidated; you’re not. You can walk into a room of founders, investors, and chief officers without fear and make connections, have great conversations, and feel like one of them – because you are one of them, or at least on your way to being one of them. You can start a company or make something new because you don’t see a reason not to. You also stop asking for permission and just start joining and doing.
Be More Techy
The women in tech events I have been to never demonstrated the hardcore techy-ness that I desired. The women there worked for PR firms in social media or adhered to a very MBA-style approach to starting companies, which were often pink-coated mommy communities and websites concerning love. The women in tech community needs more real tech. This means having real women in tech who contribute to the development of products and start companies, not just the HR and social media for tech companies. It also means creating products that can be taken seriously by other women and the tech world. It doesn’t mean that you can’t create mommy communities, but it does mean that there should be an innovative way to create values for these communities.
Maybe it’s because I grew up idolizing Gwen Stefani after “Just a Girl”, but I never really bought into the women in tech community. I never noticed being one of the few (or only) females in the room at tech events; I just enjoyed being in the company of other people who enjoyed the same things as me (and not having a line for the bathroom). I wasn’t aware that I was supposed to be intimidated by the auditorium full of talented, powerful men at a New York Tech Meetup. It wasn’t until I attended a tech event and was assumed to be a disinterested girlfriend rather than an active participant that I realized there was actually gender discrimination in technology.
In the end it comes down to personal choices and personalities for men and women. It’s possible to be a woman in tech who delivers great products and has a love life, family, and social life. In the end, it doesn’t matter what your gender is. If you have the skills and the passion, you’ll find a way to make your mark on the tech world.