Gender Diversity in Tech: The Challenges
The nature of startups, and the various startup ecosystems that support them, has always been about challenging norms and remaking existing thinking. Whether through introducing incremental changes to a market and fine tuning a defined lead or through total disruption and the creation of a whole new standard.
With that kind of thinking so wired into the very DNA of a startups’ existence, it makes it more than a little peculiar to look around many conferences and “Meet-The-VC” oriented gatherings only to see the kind of homogenous population that would be better suited to a Mad Men episode.
(see more at: Techcrunch)
The Big Question
Any rational, questioning person who is invested in thinking about the future, especially in tech, must wonder: why isn’t half the population represented in closer to half the crowd? And what are the obstacles keeping them from being there?
Diversity Benefits Growth
The reasons to consider this query aren’t just rooted in ideas of equality and idealism. Besides issues of fairness there are tangible, bottom line motives for being concerned about gender diversity. There has been substantial research showing that companies with greater diversity deliver not only better than average performance but that the inverse holds true as well, less diversity translates into an underperforming company. Gender diversity has been shown to have enhancing effects on key metrics such as: overall team productivity, decision-making, innovation and general workplace satisfaction levels.
(see more at: https://www.morganstanley.com)
We talked with our female colleagues and leaders in the field to get a better idea of what it is like to walk in their shoes and what blocks are being encountered. They took the time and painted a picture of what it looks like from the beginning stages in high school and college tech programs, through the launching of a business itself and even into the funding stages. Here is a collection of some of the more poignant anecdotes.
“I specialized in computing as part of my degree in cognitive science at UCLA and I was one of three women in a course of 30-40 people. I took 8-10 courses such as Java, C++, PERL, all that stuff and within the computer lab it was really difficult to get anyone to (collaborate) on proofreading my code. I would have the computer tell me I had a bug in line 52 but it is really hard to read your own code and edit it. It would be just crickets when I’d ask for anyone to work with me.”
Impenetrable Culture Clashes
“In some companies where they do have that bro culture, where a woman just has to take the back seat or kind of keep her mouth shut where things are going to be said that are offensive or not really appropriate, there isn’t space to say, “hey that’s really offensive”.
Often, you’re met with “if you don’t like it leave”. Well even if you do then that becomes an issue at the next place as you have to explain why you left. That puts a burden of restarting on you. Is that fair to make a culture of antagonism, one that’s alienating?”
(see more at: Fast Company)
Starting Truly Solo
I think the way I have always approached these things is to say I want to do this, so I am going to do it. I feel like I never let that (sexism) hold me back.
When I started in Australia (several years ago) I was the only female founder of a tech company and that was challenging, I really wanted a mentor. I really wanted someone to look up to that was like me, but there wasn’t anyone. Coming over here (San Francisco) it seemed like there were a lot more (like myself) in the Silicon Valley.
On a personal level, and this was a couple years ago, it would just particularly be that I was the CEO of my company and every time there was anything to do with anything that was technical, or financial, or any big decisions that had numbers to do with it the people in the room would always look to my male co-founder for those decisions. So that was interesting to me, and he would say “no it’s not me, you need to talk to her. There’s still a way to go in that sense.”
Our next piece on gender diversity in tech will look at some of the movers and shakers creating opportunities to change this. There are some amazing initiatives taking place to address this issue. They range from occurring at the grassroots individually organized level to the big players within funding. We at Early Growth Financial Services Firm are committed to doing our part to keep this discussion on the table and support diversity in the startup ecosystem.