Is the Lack of Women in Tech a Problem?

Photo cred: Dima Mirkin

There are a lot more men in the tech and startup space than there are women.  I think we need to ask…  is the ratio of men to women in the tech space a problem that needs fixing?

Are we seeking balance just for the sake of balance?  It’s ONLY a problem, if women aren’t given the same opportunities as men to thrive in the tech space.

In his post Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Blaming the Men, Michael Arrington makes the point that women actually have more opportunities than men in tech, they’re just not as interested in it. He writes:

The problem isn’t that Silicon Valley is keeping women down, or not doing enough to encourage female entrepreneurs. The opposite is true. No, the problem is that not enough women want to become entrepreneurs.

My friends Danny Brown and Geoff Livingston see it differently. In their post Why Tech Already Has Women (And Why They’re Better Than Arrington) they said:

In spite of the statistical advantages of women in tech, negative trends towards male speakers and executive leadership continue. Worse, reading this negative enforcement of sexism in tech has been a damn shame. Working with great women in tech — Susan MurphyBeth Kanter,  Kami HuyseAllyson KapinAmber MacArthurSarah PrevetteLisa Kalandjian and Cali Lewis to name a few this year — has been a phenomenal experience for both of us, and they demonstrate every day how brilliant and capable they are.

Danny and Geoff make some great points and cite some very interesting stats in their post, but I wish they didn’t put so much focus on Arrington. He’s not the issue here.  The stats they provide also don’t tell the whole story.

From my experience, there are clearly less women starting businesses in tech than there are men.

Arrington’s points weren’t attacking women, they were defending against those that say it’s men’s fault that women aren’t as present in the tech space.  It was actually in support of women doing great things and it made a call for more to rise to the opportunities.

I, like Danny and Geoff, have seen many women do amazing things in the tech space.

In the NYC tech scene, I see more and more women thriving. At New Work City, an amazing developer and entrepreneur named Sara Chipps runs [edited] Girl Develop It, a web development class that’s packed every week. Girls in Tech is growing rapidly, providing educational workshops, networking functions, conferences, social engagements, and recruitment events all for women.

Are there as many women as there are men at most NYC tech events?  No, but it’s getting closer.

So I go back to my question… is this really a problem?  If women were being prevented from getting involved in the startup and tech space, that’s one thing.  Clearly, as we have seen so many rise to do amazing things in the tech space, they’re not being held back.

The opportunities are there.  The only thing I see holding women back is this notion that “tech is for men”.  That’s no one’s fault, and it will change with time.  It’s dying as we speak.

To this point, it’s just been a space that tends to appeal more to males.  Teaching and PR tends to appeal more to females.  It happens.  Why does it happen?  Who knows…

In the end, the best person for the opportunity should be the one to get it, regardless of gender.  Just make sure you’re not overlooking the amazing women that are out there making shit happen.

22 comments
jasonarican
jasonarican

I would argue that, yes- the lack of women in this space is certainly a problem.

Diversity in any industry is important, but particularly in one that is at the forefront of growth and innovation. There needs to be an opportunity for women to bring a different perspective, a different set of experiences... much like the need for minorities in newsrooms or in head-coaching positions (just two examples).

Then there is the other side of it. The need for there to be positive role models for young women to aspire to. You point out that "teaching and PR tends to appeal more to females." Well, a lot of that is a self-fullfilling prophecy. A lot of this boils down to sociology... you look to role models and existing circumstances to relay your opportunities in life.

And lastly, I kind of reject the argument that there are women out there kicking ass in tech. Of course there are, but what are we saying? At least there is none? What I mean is that for every woman that is named above and in these comments, we could easily rattle off 3...4...5 other men who have kicked ass in tech.

I think this is an important discussion so thanks, David, for keeping the conversation going.

alexisgoldstein
alexisgoldstein

David:

A correction: Girldeveloper is Sara Chipps' personal site. Girl Develop It is the group that Sara co-founded with Vanessa Hurst (@DBness) and is run by five board members, myself included. Girl Develop It is the group that provides low-cost, non-intimidating programming classes that you've seen at New Work City.

And Girl Develop It teaches everyone! Men are welcome, too.We have an HTML/CSS and a JavaScript class coming up the second week in Jan, space is still open!

The site is http://girldevelopit.com.

Alexis

vanillabean45
vanillabean45

I think there's a big difference between working in tech and owning your own business-it's a huge undertaking and a 24/7 job. As a woman in tech and in the startup space doing *gasp* web analytics. Wwelcome to the gentlemen's club. It's like Mad Men with iPhones around the office. It takes a powerful personality to work in a startup environment-man or woman.

There's a lot of ambiguity in the tech space, it's fast-paced, roles are ever-changing and relatively undefined and the salary to hours worked ratio flat out sucks-my intern makes more per hour when you break down my salary vs hours worked. Would I change it? No. Do i love that the startup environment I work in is backed by a parent company, providing me with benefits, a 401k, and paid time off? Absolutely.

I have never felt disadvantaged in a career setting because of my gender. If a woman in tech feels out of place, it may just not be the right company fit, but no need to abandon the industry as a whole. As a web educator, career counselor at a local university, and the manager of our internship program, I encourage everyone (mostly females) to learn about the space.

jacysmith
jacysmith

I think that more of the issue is getting women to understand their potential of working in any sort of technological setting. One of my old roommates did an engineering program in water systems because she wanted to work in developing countries to install plumbing in villages. She said she wanted to be an engineer for humanitarian reasons, which I think is a great way to get young women and girls more interested in STEM careers.
I just graduated with a BS in Science, Technology and Society with a minor in women and gender studies from Arizona State. I am the first (of two people) to graduate from the program. I would love to work for an organization that changes the way women see jobs in science and technology. I think there would be more of a potential for success if they really understood what they could be doing. I don't think there is a lack of opportunity but there's not really an interest in picking up a job in a field that's male dominated. I think that's also an issue with why there aren't more women in technology.

jennalanger
jennalanger moderator

I see the point you are trying to make, but I have a problem with this statement: "It’s ONLY a problem, if women aren’t given the same opportunities as men to thrive in the tech space." Even if women are given the same opportunities as men, it doesn't mean women in tech will be more respected or less overlooked. As a women in tech I really look up to people like Sheryl Sandberg and @marissamayer. Everyone agrees that these women are intelligent, powerful, and damn good and their jobs. But how many women get to that level? How hard is it to get there? I am by no means blaming men for the lack of women at the top, but I do see it as a problem.

I keep going back to Sheryl Sandberg's TED Talk, "Why we have too few women leaders." I'm planning on writing a series of posts about this talk - it's well worth the time to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18uDutylDa4

The main thing that needs to happen is working directly with girls and women to encourage and educate them about tech. When I was in middle school I went to a girls tech event at Autodesk. They made engineering fun and I was excited when I heard the female CEO's salary had "a lot of zeros." I was lucky enough to attend these events when I was young, and combine that with my tomboy tendencies I never let any man stand in my way of what I can do. So is being a woman a problem for me? Not so much, besides getting funny looks when I walked around my university's engineering building. Other young girls and women may need that extra boost and attention so they can feel confident welcome in the tech industry, and this is a problem I'm willing to help solve.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

If it was because women didn't have an interest in tech, then no, it wouldn't be a problem. Same as if women didn't have an interest in truck driving, or lumberjacking, or any other industry that's been "traditionally male".

But it's (sadly) not as simple as that. Women are being discouraged from taking the stage; from entering a career; from writing a thesis; because of gender and attitudes that were old-fashioned the day they were thought of.

Why does a career or a passion have to be suited to one sex over the other? And why should the old boys in that industry actively keep women from becoming involved?

I met one of the panel-pickers at SxSW, and he admitted that men often get preferential treatment because "that's the audience". Really? And why is it the audience? Because dicks like him and his cronies exist.

Sorry you feel we focused on Arrington a bit too much, but as someone who's the editor of perhaps the biggest tech resource around (and one where his boss is a women), he should be leading the way, not putting obstacles down instead.

geoffliving
geoffliving

I have to disagree with you on the Arrington post, it was an act of misogyny, defense and ignorance, which triggered a cascade of similar acts. It was unfortunate, and a big step backwards, in my opinion. But if we all felt the same about this issue, there would be no debate. And thus it’s healthy to have these conversations publicly.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@alexisgoldstein Hey Alexis, thanks for the correction. I updated the post.

Out of curiosity, do men ever attend the events? Aside from me sneaking by for 5 minutes here and there? ^_^

It does seem like a great group. The non-intimidating factor is definitely there from what I've seen, and I think is really important for a program like this one.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@jacysmith I think that's a great point. It really is case by case today, because there are A LOT of companies where women are accomplishing a great deal in leadership positions. Maybe this isn't the norm yet, but as I said...it seems to be getting better.

jacysmith
jacysmith

@DavidSpinks Like most things in technology, the environment is rapidly changing. I think this also incudes the attitudes towards women working in STEM careers. I used to compare women in technology to the women's rights movements in the early 1900's. It's not just women fighting for rights but also having men that also support the movement. That's the key to any sort of social movement or desire for gender equality in anything; support and open minds from everyone.
I have definitely seen more women getting involved but not in leading roles. I'm guessing that will take time. I think the environment is a case to case basis depending on the workplace. If women tell me they are discouraged because of the way they are being treated I encourage them to look for other opportunities instead of leaving the industry.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@jacysmith Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts here Jacy.

Have you seen an improvement in the tech space the same way I have? Have you seen more women getting involved? Does it still feel like an uncomfortable environment for them?

jennalanger
jennalanger moderator

@DavidSpinks I think it's more about encouraging girls that they can get involved with tech beyond just being users. Carnegie Melon created http://www.alice.org/ to teach programming in a fun way to young girls. I worked with a group of middle school kids that loved watching videos on YouTube and surfing the web. They didn't know anything about programming or what it even meant, but they made amazing stories using Alice! It's more about showing them what they can create, and that you don't have to be a boy building with Legos to be interested in engineering.

While I really want people to watch that video, I *may* have done posted it to show you the new awesome Livefyre feature ;)

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@jennalanger Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts here Jenna.

Just to clarify, when I said "It’s ONLY a problem, if women aren’t given the same opportunities as men to thrive in the tech space", that means that women ARE being respected and that they're not being overlooked...that's why they have equal opportunity. If they're not shown that respect, and they're not given ample consideration, then they're not getting the same opportunities.

I have a question about your point, "The main thing that needs to happen is working directly with girls and women to encourage and educate them about tech".

I absolutely agree that education should be available for all women who are interested. When you say that it should be encouraged though, does that mean we should try to influence women to join the tech space?

I guess that really gets to the core of what I mean when I ask "is it a problem?" Is it an issue where we need to provide more education and opportunity? Or are we saying that we should encourage women to join the tech space?

If it's the latter, should this not be something that occurs naturally? (It seems to be happening already)

P.S. That's the first time that I saw a link to a video posted in livefyre. That's awesome how the video appears there ^_^

jennalanger
jennalanger moderator

@DavidSpinks @jacysmith @LFJeremy @Danny Brown The more I think about this I think it is more generational. Since I was young I've had women role models and people telling me that I can do anything that the boys can do. I'm sure that's one reason I'm so passionate about this topic and I want more girls to get involved. But maybe that's just it - my generation grew up with people tell us we could do anything, no matter our gender, race, or age. It will be exciting to see who the big C's are 20 years from now :)

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@LFJeremy As someone who's had the opportunity to work with amazing women doing great things in the tech space, like @jennalanger , do you feel that we've made a lot of progress in eliminating this bias already?

Sometimes I drag my girlfriend to tech events. After reading this post she actually commented that there are always a lot of women at the events, even more than men sometimes. I think overall, there are still more men, but it's getting closer.

Another interesting point is this intersection of PR and tech that we've seen through social media. I think it's bringing a lot more women to the tech space.

jacysmith
jacysmith

@LFJeremy @Danny Brown @jennalanger @dannybrown I think you hit it right on with the lack of encouragement and overall attitudes of women in technology. In the 1970's we saw a surge of women with CS degrees but now it's declining. That's only a 30 year (roughly) period of women working in computer science, which is not really long enough to change attitudes towards the idea (in my own opinion). Don't get me wrong... I have worked in jobs where I have been the only female in the department and I really enjoyed it. I could see, however, how some women might not respond well to the environment. I don't think there's really anyone to blame either. But it's guys like the ones I worked with that are willing to change the mindset so that gender doesn't really become an issue. It's something that I have really learned to appreciate over the past few years.
I also credit my first web development teacher for initiating my interest in HTML. She really pushed for me to become more involved and it's not something I regret.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@Danny Brown Of course, actions always speak louder than words. If women are treated with respect and given fair opportunity, then we'll know that the worst of this issue is behind us.

When I look around me today, with the people I work next to and interact with daily, I think the worst really is.

There are women all around me doing amazing things in tech. Developing, starting businesses, graphic design, and more... It really doesn't even occur to me that there's a bias in most cases. Hopefully that's not just me.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@DavidSpinks It could well be a generational thing - hopefully it is, as it's definitely a dated mindset.

Then again, I see a few Gen Y's online (and offline) still saying, "That's a guy thing." So, maybe not? Either way, fngers crossed it's a past-its-sell-by-date footnote in history sooner rather than later. :)

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@Danny Brown I agree with you 100%. Maybe it's a generational thing, but I just don't see that kind of sexism in our generation. I think the bias that existed with those "old-fashioned" people will die with them for the most part.

And from what I've seen in the tech scene in Philly, in NYC, and more, women aren't being discouraged. There are plenty of women doing amazing things, with the same exact opportunities as the men.

Maybe it's something to do specifically with speaking? In which case, I have no experience or knowledge with this issue.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@geoffliving Defense? Yes. Ignorance? Maybe. Misogyny? I don't see where he said anything that reflected hatred for women. What I got from his post was that he's pointing out that there aren't as many women doing great things in the space as there are men and that it's no one's fault. That may not be what you got out of it.

Either way, whether Arrington is right or wrong doesn't matter in the end. Why are there less women in tech, and is it a problem that needs action in order to be fixed is what's important.

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