What are the solutions?
Having the conversation is a start
A female founder of a trendy New York startup, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that she’s willing to be blunt about all the inglorious aspects of entrepreneurship — with one exception. She is reluctant to discuss her experiences as a female founder.
Why? She doesn’t want to be held up as some kind of example. “I feel this pressure to be hyper-successful or somehow I’d be letting down all women in the industry,” she said.
“I talk about women in tech online for the sake of my daughters. I want them to have the opportunity to grow and be great — not encounter the discouragement and discrimination I did.”
Ana Redmond, a software developer building educational apps.
The conversation may be uncomfortable for myriad reasons, but most entrepreneurs (men and women) agree that it is worth having.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing to talk about women in tech,” said Padnos, who commissioned a white paper to highlight female success in the tech field. She urged that women collaborate with men — many of whom are more than willing to discuss how to make entrepreneurship a viable option for anyone, regardless of race or gender.
“The women in tech conversation is getting airplay for good reason,” Richardson agreed, adding that the growing number of women in junior-level VC positions and starting tech companies will eventually make their way to the top. “In the meantime, let’s keep a steady drumbeat,” she said.
Let’s make entrepreneurship ‘sexy’
Padnos fears that not enough young women view entrepreneurship as a potential career path. “When I talk to friends of mine who have young daughters at college, many of them don’t see it as attractive,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is portrayed as a young man’s sport.”
Her solution? More women role models and investors that are willing to think outside the box “in terms of what an entrepreneur looks like and sounds like,” she said. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, and Xerox’s chief Ursula Burns are all good examples of inspiring role models for young women, and they often make public appearances at tech conferences and on television.
Women need to band together
Wadhwa has come to the conclusion that groups like Women 2.0 have led to women banding together to solve the problems they see in their midst. This prompted Women 2.0 founder Shaherose Charania to remark in a recent interview with USA Today that the tech ecosystem has “flattened.”
Organizations like Hackbright Academy are taking advantage of two trends: the “learn to code” craze, and the rapid emergence of these women in tech community groups. Hackbright’s classes are for women-only; students learn basic programming skills in 10 weeks (and typically land a job offer afterward).
Hackbright’s founders told VentureBeat that the mission is to spell the death of the “brogramming” culture that is locking women out of the industry.
Organizations like these are a quick fix to get more women in tech but aren’t tackling the underlying problem. As VentureBeat’s Jolie O’Dell put it: “If women developers are ever to be an unquestioned norm of the technology workforce, we have to keep plugging away at our earliest education of young girls — and even more importantly, at our own secret biases, fears, and expectations.”
Gender is a double-edged sword: The women I spoke with want it to be irrelevant, but on the other hand, they are still blazing trails in the second decade of the 21st century.