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.