Tommy, our Girls in Tech COO, passed along an article to me, “Women and Tech: Focus On Female Consumers and the Founders Will Follow” (20 Feb), that looks like it’s gotten a bit of attention in the past few days. It’s written by Christina Brodbeck from ThelceBreak in San Francisco. I’d like to add a few quick notes to the discussion.
Please note, I’m not a fist-pounder when it comes to demanding women rights, boohooing our position in technology, etc (Yes, I know I’m the CMO of Girls in Tech, but keep reading). I find it equally as unproductive as the author. I’m not what you would call “a feminist” in the oft-thought angry sort of way. I’m a doer, and hopefully in the process, an empowerer.
I, like the author, have also been fairly lucky in my life in terms of having a supportive and encouraging upbringing, a good schooling, and the confidence to, as I say, Kick Butt. I also know many fantastic women who have likewise done the same.
However, I feel Christina’s argument is flawed in a few respects, and I would still argue that issue needs to be looked at. Allow me a moment.
Firstly, concerning her argument:
- I find it misplaced and disjointed. Being a consumer of technology and being a professional in the field (start-up or not) are two very different things. I’m unclear how this connection comes to “…and the Founders will Follow”…. Everyone, male or female, would love to get their hands on purse percentage of the female consumer, but the article didn’t make a strong enough connection in my mind (or hardly any connection) to how that draws more people into founding positions or increases the strength or number of women in technology. I’m happy to have a further conversation about this (leave any insights in the comments please!).
- All of the examples noted are not what I would consider a use of technology for most parts of the US. I’m still buying clothes off GiltGroupe, dinners off Groupon, and talking to other women… I’m just now doing it online. In most parts of the US, knowing how to hop on the internet and buy stuff and talk to people doesn’t exactly constitute “adding to the technology landscape.” There are so many other examples here that could have been used.
Beyond this, I want to make a few comments on the larger picture:
- On the start-up side and especially the investing side, there is still a disparity between women-run companies getting funding and women funders. Why? I would so love to see more women as Angels, and especially VCs. I don’t think the answer is just “hey, if you don’t have the chops, don’t come to the table,” is it?
- As I mentioned, I come from a lucky background. All too often, the people that jump in these arguments saying we’ve got to stop talking about women in tech come from just as lucky of positions, such as the author or myself. So I guess we just assume that everyone has those opportunities, right?
Nope. In my opinion, a better way to look at this is understand where to focus. Several women (and men) in the comments of the article said “just do it” because you all are or know women who have. Perhaps using that knowledge and reaching out and teaching other women who find that difficult for a multitude of reasons is a more constructive way to look at the issue, recognizing that you were probably nurtured and encouraged in positive ways growing up, had access to the tools you needed to excel in technology, you knew how to take charge and feel confident, yadda yadda yadda. Just because you were perhaps lucky in that respect (and I was too, don’t get me wrong) doesn’t mean everyone was.
For instance, if you take a look at K-12 (specifically middle school age) in the US, there are far fewer girls being brought up to excel in the sciences and maths. Almost every single state has a special program within the STEM initiatives that tackles this issue. Those initiatives are probably there for a reason.
And if you take examples outside the walls of our country, which is where this “women and tech” banter always resides for us, I don’t even need to begin listing the disparities of education and access that women face, even when you look at the numbers indicating that when women DO excel in these fields, they generally add significantly more to their communities than men do. That could be fixed, no?
Some people are, in fact Secretary Clinton has started a specific effort to reach more global women in these fields (there’s currently a delegation of top US women in tech in Sierra Leone and Liberia as we speak) and increasing global mentorship opportunities through the TechWomen program.
My point is this: From your position of success and accomplishment (and an awesome one it is!) I would love to see you not dismiss the issue as done, it’s a tired argument, let’s focus on people who are buying stuff (as they always were).
Take what you’ve learned and pass it along to others, or help me better understand what your suggestions (a seed fund for the consumer??) does for the big picture…. once you’ve done that I’m happy to listen further.
- Pink Infographics Aren’t Fun, They’re Irritating (revenews.com)