I don’t particularly like writing about women and tech. It’s uncomfortable. And it makes me uncomfortable. It means sometimes critiquing people that have been nice to me. It also means critiquing an industry that people like. It’s companies like Facebook, after all, not BP.
It also means that because I know and have experienced exactly how the tech industry is covert – and not in a Chuck Bartowski kind of way – that I should somehow know how to navigate the mines. That I should somehow be farther ahead than I am. But I don’t. And I’m not.
I don’t think it’s just me. It’s other women too. They feel uncomfortable. The simple act of writing about women in tech means I’m asking them to define their relationship with tech as more than their roles in PR, human resources, marketing and community management. It’s insinuating that those roles aren’t good enough. That women need to code. That they need to be the founders and visionaries and C-level execs. There is a sense that women don’t want these roles, but really, there is not even an inch – not even a centimeter! – of a clear path to get there.
So, women in tech are stuck on a career roundabout when men logically take the next exits to code, found, and invest. Pseudo-equality exists, but only to satiate the cries for respect and inclusion, not to actually address or eliminate sexism. For instance, the typical response to the lack of women in tech is to form pockets of women, which just adds more turbulence to the discussion: tech blogs publish posts from women about a woman’s role in tech; a tech meet-up features presentations from female-only founders; women form mailing lists for other women to discuss the problem of more women in tech.
In reality, guest posts from women on tech blogs need to be about topics other than themselves. When women are invited to blog on Tech Crunch, they write about women. They don’t write about tech. Last time I checked, however, our knowledge extends far beyond that of ourselves. And, just because a woman is speaking doesn’t mean she speaks for me. I don’t particularly like talking about shoes and I certainly don’t believe that because women love to shop that we control the Internet. And yet, that’s the message so far, twice-over this year, when women take the pen on Tech Crunch.
Without a voice in these places and without access to leadership in others, it seems women are keen to start women-only groups and mailing lists to promote new leadership and get ourselves heard. But while that’s an easy route, it’s not the most effective. Particularly because existing leaders and power-brokers will never attend your meetups and will never join your conversations. We all just end up talking to people like ourselves.
Too many women-only groups exist now to stop them, but really, I don’t disagree with them in theory, just in execution. So here’s a simple solution now: co-plan and co-sponsor your next event. Bring both audiences and decisions-makers together. Invite a man to your Google Group in exchange for a seat at his CEO breakfast. Separate interests are well and good, but not when you silo dialogue and interaction.
And that’s doubly and triply true at tech events. The segregation of women and men on stage needs to stop. So, if you organize an event an like the DC Tech Meetup and you get complaints about the persistence of your all-male panels, your response should not be to create an all-female panel.
There are no make-up tests for equality. You can’t just show up with all the available women in one room and expect a gold star. It is far less important to see all the women in tech at once than it is to see all the women in tech as speakers over time consistently and often. There are a minority of women in tech (for reasons we’ve talked so far about here and here), but that doesn’t beget special gloves. Such an event is unavoidably condescending, and it also means you won’t have any women for your next event; the cycle of men on stage continues.
(Case in point, of the seventeen speakers and panelists scheduled at yesterday’s DC Tech Meetup, the event following their all-female panel, only one was a woman. That’s not good enough.)
I don’t think that the majority of men, or women for that matter, are intentionally holding women back and fencing them out of the tech industry. But no one is being particularly smart about the issue either. It seems everyone is throwing spaghetti on the cupboard to see what sticks. But we can do better. This is start-up land, after all. We know how to test and evaluate, to solve problems and find solutions. And we already know, the only way to have enough people working on the big problems, is to solve this little one.