One of These Things Is Not Like The Other
In recent weeks, “women in tech” has become a hot button issue and taken over the blogosphere. One camp has raised hell over the lack of women founding startups, being in top positions at said startups, getting access to VC funding, and speaking at conferences. Others argue that women who feel this way should spend more time trying to start a company than complaining about not being able to.
Having worked in tech for almost a decade, I’ve become accustomed to working primarily alongside men. On nearly every product team I worked on, I often found myself in the minority - not just as the only female, but also one of the few that were of East Asian descent. Double whammy! ;) Did being the sole woman on the team hurt me? Have I felt discriminated against as a woman in a primarily male-dominated industry? How serious is this issue of gender equality in tech? My take below:
(1) Did being the sole woman on the team hurt me?
As far as I could tell, I was treated with the same respect as my male counterparts. I never felt out of place and, for the most part, loved my coworkers. However, I hesitate to answer this question with a resounding “No”. See why in my answer to (2) below.
(2) Have I felt discriminated against as a woman in a primarily male-dominated industry?
No, I don’t believe I’ve ever been subject to blatant, malicious discrimination. And as I mentioned above, I’ve never felt out of place or unwelcome. That said, there are times I wonder whether I’m at any sort of disadvantage because I’m in the minority as the only woman. Any woman who claims they never wonder the same thing is lying through their teeth. It pains me to admit it, but sometimes I wonder if I won’t get as far because I’m not in the boys club. On the flip side, I’ve seen departments where the leadership is predominantly women and the men suffer. So men aren’t always the “bad guys”. To quote a recent article, ”Data show that people are more trusting and comfortable working with people of their own sex, says Toby Stuart, a Harvard Business School professor who studies the topic.” By nature, we humans tend to be drawn to those that are similar to us. It’s just how we’re wired, and it’s not restricted to gender. It applies to similarities in socioeconomic status, age, sexual preference, race, religion, etc.
(3) How serious is this issue of gender equality in tech?
Sometimes I think it is serious, especially when I hear about the lack of women in tech. Or more recently, read an article about male-founded startups being “unwelcoming” to women hires. But then sometimes I think it’s blown out of proportion because I see more and more strong, successful women in tech that are VCs, founders, keynoting events, etc. Equality (or the lack thereof) is part of the human condition. It isn’t something isolated to tech nor is it isolated to gender. It’s difficult to say whether the dearth of women in tech is due to discrimination, the way girls are raised vs boys, or something else. Regardless, we’re still left to deal with the current situation.
My take is that life isn’t fair. Sometimes you have to make do with what you’re given in life and realize that even though there are some things you can’t change, there are a great deal of things you CAN change. I deign to think of being female in a male-dominated industry as an impediment or use it as a crutch. I’d hate to impose limits on myself that way, and I certainly hope that other women don’t. You do yourself a disservice to think that you won’t or can’t be as good as someone else just because you’re the only woman. Or the only Asian American. Or the only African American. Or otherwise not part of the majority.
It’s easy to point fingers at men and place blame on them. But rather than laments about the dearth of women in tech, I’d like to see more celebration of the women who ARE in tech doing amazing things. Hearing about how sucky it is for women trying to start companies or trying to become VCs will just scare women away. There are many amazing, brilliant women AND men working hard to encourage women to pursue tech. We need to shine the spotlight on them. I fundamentally believe that this is what will fuel more women to take action.
I’d love to hear what others think. Please feel free to leave a comment.
On a final note (call it a shameless plug for 500 Startups if you will, but I’ll say it anyways) - I’m fortunate and happy to work w/ Dave, Enrique, Kay, Melissa, and Christen. Our fund is different in many ways, and I’m proud of the fact that we have so much diversity in our team, our startups, our mentors and our advisers.