I’ve been talking about this issue for a while, I’m writing about it now because at SXSW I had some very interesting conversations with both men and women on the subject that finally led me to some conclusions.
I get it, the male population, specially those driving funds, events or local communities are fed up with rants, articles and blog posts that go on and on about how they do nothing to bring women in. Michael Arrington from Tech Crunch wrote this once he had enough of it. Honestly it makes sense, blaming the men for not attracting enough women just derails the debate to a point in which it generates no value. We need to have the tough conversations, but we do not need to keep pointing fingers at each other, simply because it serves no purpose.
And the above goes to the women in particular; I pushed some buttons with one of Flickr’s merchandise execs when I said I didn’t really mind if they called us girls or women (I’m Mexican, so my political correctness is not something I have to worry about, we’re far less sensitive than Americans), I also said I didn’t mind the half-naked girls handing out brochures or app propaganda during Interactive week, they were clearly hitting the broader market, and they were nice to me, so they’re presence didn’t make me feel any less empowered. These kinds of discussions, I believe, are the wrong ones. Getting everyone to call us “women” or prohibiting the use of hot promotional girls is not going to pull the gender ratio up.
I know tech and entrepreneurship communities in both Mexico and the US are aware of the complete disparity, and not only this, they’re keeping it in mind; even though I was the first to start ranting and clamoring the lack of females in my community, in time I came face to face with a tough fact: it’s not that they’re biased, there’s simply not as many women interested in tech or entrepreneurship as there is men. Period. Going into the reasons behind this is irrelevant, because I don’t necessarily think of it as a problem, since the ones that ARE coming in, are taking it by storm. It makes sense: they’re a minority, the ambiance is quite hostile (which proves they’re feisty) and they’re getting a lot more attention than men (just because they’re different and very few). Besides, this phenomenon happens the other way around in other industries: education, fashion and social sciences tend to be dominated by women. At the end of the day it seems like it has a lot more to do with preferences, than with sexism.
If we look at the big numbers, tech entrepreneurship sounds like male-driven sexist sphere, but looking at impact there tends to be a flip. Yes, the big startups were not founded by women, boohoo, but still the amount of them in power is nothing to be shy about: CEOs, Directors, Executives. They keep popping up left and right, and I think it has to do with the fact that women do not tend to be entrepreneurs as much as men, however they can bring a lot of value into projects once they’re off the ground (I’m sure statistics to back this up are out there). Men know this: during my time at SXSW I learned that 500 startups is the fund that gives most money to women, they also have a female co-founder and a woman running their Brazilian ventures. Going back to Tech Crunch their CEO is a woman and so are two of four senior editors, Ebay’s CEO, a heap of Sandbox (a network of under-30 entrepreneurs worldwide) ambassadors, the list goes on and on. And yes, there is a considerable number of founders and hackers beginning to assemble (the NYC Startup Bus had ten females in it, mostly hackers). So there has been a trickle down effect, that we seem to be missing, while we focus on discussing the obvious: how there are more men.
However, there is some things that men can improve in their events to make them easier on females; it’s all about the little things:
- Better bathroom facilities at hacker spaces (I’m talking to you Austin Caravan) or work venues.
- No sexist comments; I had to sit and listen to some of the Startup Bus crowd going on and on about how female led or female majority teams didn’t work… I’m sure a lot of male ones don’t work either… actually 90% of the teams end up failing, I can see how it’s easy to focus on the minority, but we all need to knock it off with the gender thing, unless it can be backed up (meaning, unless there is a clear causation, between women and failure). Women need to cut the sexist jokes out too, if it wouldn’t be funny coming from a man: leave it out (I learned this one the hard way).
- Better food; fruit, salads, sparkling water and diet sodas can go a long way.
- Tolerance and empathy, women take things in different ways, so keeping this in mind when giving feedback or even when having arguments matters. It’s not about “not making the girl cry”, it’s about being aware and sensitive to the fact that she’s not a man and should not be expected to react like one, our surplus comes from being different. Know it, embrace it, value it.
But really when it comes down to it, I think we need to stop bitching and moaning and start building stuff, creating companies and celebrating what we’ve achieved this far. Moving the debate from where we’re at, to where we WILL BE.
As a female founder I can tell you: if you generate value, you’ll get press-coverage, support and a lot of really cool invitations.