A response to the articles on women in tech

The conversations about women in tech are getting crazier. It’s always good to have conversations about important things, but right now all I see is a certain perspective being touted as ultimate truth, wrapped in gross generalizations. Even saying “women in tech” and making generalizations doesn’t make sense since the group is large and very, very heterogeneous.

The tone of these “conversations” is such that I want to distance myself from all these groups. The whining and playing the victim card are really galling to me. The “women want” lines thrown around with such confidence give me a lot of pause. I think some of these conversations are actually hurting the rockstar women in tech rather than helping them. And hence my post.

A woman who enters the technology world can do it any number of ways – in a large company, medium company, small company, as a founder, as a product manager, marketer, strategist, etc. To generalize across all these groups is silly.

A woman has different points of view in each stage of life. And those points of view are also particular to each person. Some may not want kids, some may. Some may want to stay home, some may not. Some may want to stay home initially and go back to work later – things change, life changes, perspective change. To generalize across all these age ranges and individuals is silly.

But the conversations doing are exactly that – generalizations from one point of view based on the poster.

There’s one group that complains that VCs won’t fund women. The solution offered is a woman-only fund. To this group I say – great, if you want a women-specific VC fund, that’s your choice, make it happen. But I never want to be funded because I am a woman. I want to be funded because I have an amazing company/idea (or now, film).

Are there VCs obsessed with the young male 20-something college dropout who is going to be the next big thing? I am sure there are. But do you really want to take money from them if their judgment is so questionable? I know this must be really hard to deal with as a founder, but it is probably best not to take money from such close-minded VCs.

And given that there aren’t that many women founders, I worry that a woman-only fund would actually be a bad idea for LPs. Doing things that are bad for other constituents with the purported goal of helping women actually ends up hurting women much, much more.

One very tangible way to help women (single, married, divorced, parents, grandparents) in tech is for the current women in tech to just execute and execute brilliantly. Prove yourself, earn a seat at the table – that is a step forward for all women.

So much time, effort and whining about women not having the exact same opportunities? Who has the time if one has a full time job in tech? When I was in product, I could barely go to the dentist every 18 months much less participate on blogs1. I was having lunch a month ago with an *awesome* woman in tech. We couldn’t fathom how people with line responsibility spend so much time blogging and commenting on blogs. This woman could raise $ any day of the week, from any VC, if her idea was solid.

I bet Paul Graham would fund a mother with  young children if she fits the other criteria and if she can execute. Y-Cominbator is one fund with a certain set of criteria – you either fit or you don’t. If Y-Combinator doesn’t work for you, it’s either your loss or their loss, I don’t know, but get over it. Go to the next person who is interested and who’s criteria you fulfill. This happens in *every* industry. Sundance labs requires participants attend on location. I don’t see anyone saying – well, that’s just unfair to women. It is how it is. Deal with it, work around it, make things happen.

And yes,  biologically women have to have the children. Figure out a way to make it work. Is it harder? Yes, but whining never got anyone anywhere. If you are the CEO, go home, get the kids in bed and then get back to work. Women do it in tech *all* the time – I’ve seen them do it, I’ve worked with them, I’ve had them on my teams, I’ve been amazed by them. I can’t believe a VC won’t fund you because of that.

If you have a good idea and  you know how to execute, you *will* get funded. As I posted on Fred’s blog

I know lots of women in their thirties who are leading startups – some chose to get angel funding, some did not. None of them faced the issue that they were women. And yes, some are mothers. But all of these women worked in the tech industry and learned the ropes. They know how to make stuff work.

If you are a man or a woman and don’t know how to build a tech company – whether code or product, it’s going to be hard to get funded.

It is only now that the over-40-women-in-tech crowd is reaching the numbers where it is statistically significant. I have a feeling that this issue is one of timing rather than gender bias. Let’s see what happens in the next 10 years with this “class”.

At the end of the day, the problem has to be solved earlier than the funding stage. More women need to be comfortable with math and science and encouraged by their parents as children2. More women need to think about tech as an option. Unlike consulting or banking, there isn’t a real “career path” in technology. It more amorphous and it can seem scarier from the outside. This may also deter women (or men) – but once you understand tech and fall in love with it and are good at it, the lack of a real career path is actually to your advantage.

I’m not in tech anymore. If possible I’m in an industry where it is even harder for women than tech. But blogging about how terrible it is will get me nowhere.

Now, to the group that says women don’t do startups because they want to have kids – yes, some women want this and it’s their choice. It’s personal. It’s great for them. Some women though, will want children and will want to come back to the work force. And some women may not want kids.

If you are talking about your perspective, fabulous. But please, let’s make it clear that’s what it is.

What I’ve seen in tech is that if you work your ass off and are good at what you do, you get the respect. Maybe women have to work harder, but then.. work harder. If you think of yourself as an awesome product manager, ceo, marketer, fill-in-the-blank, you’re much better off and much more likely to succeed than thinking of yourself as an awesome woman product manager. If the world sees you as an awesome product manager instead of an awesome woman product manager, by that alone, you are helping women in tech.

Maybe I’m too pragmatic and therefore won’t change the world… but I think it’s better to earn respect by what you do. Not because of who you are.

___

Thanks to Emily Hickey for reading a draft of this and sharing her thoughts.


  1. It’s true that the online world has evolved a bit and one’s social presence is much more important now, but still… 

  2. I have to add here, however, that I know lots of women in tech who are not engineers or CS majors. To be in product or marketing you need to understand things and not fear it, but you don’t have to be able to code. And product people make great founders. 

  • http://www.justoutsourcing.com/wp Just Outsourcing

    Well said!!

  • http://www.justoutsourcing.com/wp Just Outsourcing

    Well said!!

  • http://twitter.com/christinelu Christine Lu

    +1 thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/christinelu christinelu

    +1 thank you.

  • http://www.atelieradvisors.com Lili Balfour

    Thanks for writing what so many women are thinking, but are too polite to say.

    This is the most amazing time to be female in America, yet so many women want to focus on perceived discrimination. There is no discrimination. Running a company is tough. Working on a trading floor is tough. There is a reason why women don’t gravitate toward these two roles. It’s social conditioning.

    If you want to succeed in [insert role] figure out which character traits are needed. Does the role require you to be aggressive and take huge risks? If you were not raised to be aggressive and take huge risks, you will need to adapt for the role. It can be done.

    Take small risks every day. Speak up in meetings. Cold call someone you would never expect to take a meeting with you. And most importantly, let go of fear.

    It may take you months or years, but you can rewire your conditioning. Nobody is stopping you.

  • http://www.atelieradvisors.com/ Lili Balfour

    Thanks for writing what so many women are thinking, but are too polite to say.

    This is the most amazing time to be female in America, yet so many women want to focus on perceived discrimination. There is no discrimination. Running a company is tough. Working on a trading floor is tough. There is a reason why women don’t gravitate toward these two roles. It’s social conditioning.

    If you want to succeed in [insert role] figure out which character traits are needed. Does the role require you to be aggressive and take huge risks? If you were not raised to be aggressive and take huge risks, you will need to adapt for the role. It can be done.

    Take small risks every day. Speak up in meetings. Cold call someone you would never expect to take a meeting with you. And most importantly, let go of fear.

    It may take you months or years, but you can rewire your conditioning. Nobody is stopping you.

  • Anonymous

    This is a really well written post and I agree with most of it. I used to be 100% on board with you until I saw actual discrimination and misogyny; and I think we are doing ourselves a disservice if we pretend discrimination and misogyny don’t exist, or if we ignore it when we see it. That’s a recipe for banging one’s head against a wall and giving up. That is why I believe so many women do opt out. They think it’s hopeless and worst of all, they think it’s THEIR FAULT. Hey we’re women, we’re prone to that kind of thinking anyway, which makes it all the more insidious.

    The % of women graduating from medical and law schools is now over 50%, but the % of women grads from top b schools has not changed from 30% which is where it was in the early 1970s. I never used to be a feminist until I left the entertainment industry and went into business. (I went the opposite direction from you). But I am appalled that we allow, for example, sexist attacks on politicians such as Hillary Clinton (and in some cases Sarah Palin, though it pains me to say it) in a way we’d never tolerate if it were racial or even homophobic! Yes, women have to be tough, and we have to work hard and assess realities and expect no free rides. But we *also* have to make sure that real discrimination and real gender stereotyping is beaten back with a stick, too.

    Let’s get specific: How does this interview question fit into your model: “Who will take care of your childen?” Assume it’s asked by a VC only of female entrepreneurs. Should I not be offended if asked because I’m being a “victim?”

  • melindabyerley

    This is a really well written post and I agree with most of it. I used to be 100% on board with you until I saw actual discrimination and misogyny; and I think we are doing ourselves a disservice if we pretend discrimination and misogyny don’t exist, or if we ignore it when we see it. That’s a recipe for banging one’s head against a wall and giving up. That is why I believe so many women do opt out. They think it’s hopeless and worst of all, they think it’s THEIR FAULT. Hey we’re women, we’re prone to that kind of thinking anyway, which makes it all the more insidious.

    The % of women graduating from medical and law schools is now over 50%, but the % of women grads from top b schools has not changed from 30% which is where it was in the early 1970s. I never used to be a feminist until I left the entertainment industry and went into business. (I went the opposite direction from you). But I am appalled that we allow, for example, sexist attacks on politicians such as Hillary Clinton (and in some cases Sarah Palin, though it pains me to say it) in a way we’d never tolerate if it were racial or even homophobic! Yes, women have to be tough, and we have to work hard and assess realities and expect no free rides. But we *also* have to make sure that real discrimination and real gender stereotyping is beaten back with a stick, too.

    Let’s get specific: How does this interview question fit into your model: “Who will take care of your childen?” Assume it’s asked by a VC only of female entrepreneurs. Should I not be offended if asked because I’m being a “victim?”

  • http://shripriya.com/blog Shripriya

    I don’t know the most recent data on all b-schools, but when I went, it was 25% women. I think the latest class at HBS is at 36%. Not close to 50%, but improving. In my MFA, it is 50% (these are people who want to be writer/directors). So, there’s progress.I think misogyny does exist. But my way of fighting it is to call it when I see it and do such a kick-ass job that it shames them. To your specific question, I think the interview question is inappropriate (it may also be illegal, but I’m not sure). My answer would be (with a smile) “If I can start a company, I think I have the child care covered…” and let it go. I understand the reason that question is asked – even with stay at home dads, the mother is more often the primary care giver. However, that definitely does not make it acceptable.Personally, I wouldn’t be offended. I would just feel the VC has a ways to go in his own mental growth. Pity the fool. Hopefully more exposure to capable working women in technology will show him it’s a silly question to ask.

  • http://tatvam.com/ Shripriya

    I don’t know the most recent data on all b-schools, but when I went, it was 25% women. I think the latest class at HBS is at 36%. Not close to 50%, but improving. In my MFA, it is 50% (these are people who want to be writer/directors). So, there’s progress.I think misogyny does exist. But my way of fighting it is to call it when I see it and do such a kick-ass job that it shames them. To your specific question, I think the interview question is inappropriate (it may also be illegal, but I’m not sure). My answer would be (with a smile) “If I can start a company, I think I have the child care covered…” and let it go. I understand the reason that question is asked – even with stay at home dads, the mother is more often the primary care giver. However, that definitely does not make it acceptable.Personally, I wouldn’t be offended. I would just feel the VC has a ways to go in his own mental growth. Pity the fool. Hopefully more exposure to capable working women in technology will show him it’s a silly question to ask.

  • Anonymous

    a strong response, and I expect nothing less from a kick ass woman like you. There is however, still misogyny and discrimination, and encouraging women to think it’s their fault if they don’t like it is actually going to hurt more women than it helps.

    True, the tactful response is needed when faced with my hypothetical Neanderthal, in order for women to get that funding and prove worth; my fear is however that the question is actually never asked, and the assumption is made and the funding not given. Suffering in silence didn’t work for the civil rights movement, and I don’t think it will work for women either.

    A refreshing dialogue, I’m sorry we didn’t get to interact much at eBay. Long time fan, first time caller. 🙂

  • melindabyerley

    a strong response, and I expect nothing less from a kick ass woman like you. There is however, still misogyny and discrimination, and encouraging women to think it’s their fault if they don’t like it is actually going to hurt more women than it helps.

    True, the tactful response is needed when faced with my hypothetical Neanderthal, in order for women to get that funding and prove worth; my fear is however that the question is actually never asked, and the assumption is made and the funding not given. Suffering in silence didn’t work for the civil rights movement, and I don’t think it will work for women either.

    A refreshing dialogue, I’m sorry we didn’t get to interact much at eBay. Long time fan, first time caller. 🙂

  • http://shripriya.com/blog Shripriya

    I don’t think anything I’ve said would make women think it is their fault. I don’t see how being tactful or how giving the neanderthal a polite and firm response is in any way endorsing misogyny. If the question is never asked, how do you propose to deal with the hypothetical neanderthal? You can’t accuse them of something they haven’t verbalized. And what if the issue was actually the idea, or their investment thesis didn’t cover the area, or something totally innocuous? Assuming the worst and assuming discrimination is as bad as the discrimination itself.Ah, the conversations that could have gone on at eBay if only we had had time to blog… 🙂

  • http://tatvam.com/ Shripriya

    I don’t think anything I’ve said would make women think it is their fault. I don’t see how being tactful or how giving the neanderthal a polite and firm response is in any way endorsing misogyny. If the question is never asked, how do you propose to deal with the hypothetical neanderthal? You can’t accuse them of something they haven’t verbalized. And what if the issue was actually the idea, or their investment thesis didn’t cover the area, or something totally innocuous? Assuming the worst and assuming discrimination is as bad as the discrimination itself.Ah, the conversations that could have gone on at eBay if only we had had time to blog… 🙂

  • http://twitter.com/whiztechy Ruchi Parikh

    Excellent post. I don’t understand that why gender even comes when we talk about tech or any other startups. Women do have responsibilities and it’s their choice what they prefer to do in life. I am a married women but tech blogging is my passion. I know how to handle family and work separately and I came across many CEOs, founders who are women and doing well. It is really sad to know that even successful bloggers and enterprises discriminate genders.

  • http://twitter.com/whiztechy Ruchi Parikh

    Excellent post. I don’t understand that why gender even comes when we talk about tech or any other startups. Women do have responsibilities and it’s their choice what they prefer to do in life. I am a married women but tech blogging is my passion. I know how to handle family and work separately and I came across many CEOs, founders who are women and doing well. It is really sad to know that even successful bloggers and enterprises discriminate genders.

  • http://www.krishworld.com/ krishnan

    Shripriya, Brilliant post.

  • http://www.krishworld.com/ krishnan

    Shripriya, Brilliant post.

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  • http://hashable.com Emily Hickey

    Shripriya – it’s so awesome to hear you weigh in on this one – the one voice I see missing in the PR-sphere debate is the ‘pragmatic’ voice of v successful women in tech – i do think pragmatism is the way fwd – just get to work and add value and create the reality of powerful women in tech vs. engaging in self-defeating debates. Thanks for saying this stuff!

  • http://hashable.com Emily Hickey

    Shripriya – it’s so awesome to hear you weigh in on this one – the one voice I see missing in the PR-sphere debate is the ‘pragmatic’ voice of v successful women in tech – i do think pragmatism is the way fwd – just get to work and add value and create the reality of powerful women in tech vs. engaging in self-defeating debates. Thanks for saying this stuff!

  • http://www.hilarymason.com Hilary Mason

    I believe the sentiment here is “stop whining and spend your energy becoming more awesome”. I love it!

    Thank you for articulating it so well.

  • http://www.hilarymason.com Hilary Mason

    I believe the sentiment here is “stop whining and spend your energy becoming more awesome”. I love it!

    Thank you for articulating it so well.

  • Anonymous

    Well said…Your article has given me pointers to issues that need to be discussed @ startupsaturday.headstart.in @headstarters

  • venkatg

    Well said…Your article has given me pointers to issues that need to be discussed @ startupsaturday.headstart.in @headstarters

  • http://blog.mahjabeenumar.com mayG

    attagirl! very well said 🙂

  • http://blog.mahjabeenumar.com mayG

    attagirl! very well said 🙂