I was first turned on to the controversy around women in tech by a Wall Street Journal Venture Capital blog post, which notes that only about 11 percent of U.S. firms with venture-capital backing in 2009 had female CEOs or founders.
The post’s author, Shira Ovide, goes on to discuss the different ways that women in the tech industry are trying to rectify the disparity between this gender gap.
For example, media entrepreneur Rachel Sklar has been actively lobbying to bring more attention to the issue with her Change the Ratio campaign, while technology conference TED has created a female-centric offshoot called TEDWomen.
Style Coalition founder Yuli Ziv says she prefers to encourage women to make use of the already existing, male-dominated forums out there; while blogger Claire Willet has called for the whole discussion to be rendered obsolete.
As one commentator on her blog put it, the concept of “women in tech” should be as unremarkable as “women who vote.”
Which means that you have those who believe the problem is best handled by having more women-centered activities, those who feel the solution lies in encouraging women to actively engage in existing opportunities, and those who don’t believe there is any problem at all.
Don’t blame it on the player
Which brings me to yet another view, expressed by TechCrunch founder and co-editor Michael Arrington.
In a response to the WSJ blog post, Arrington lashes out at the finger-pointing and accusations of sexism directed toward him and his peers and suggests that the shortage of women in the tech industry is due to a lack of initiative among women to become entrepreneurs.
One only has to look at recent statistics to see that this controversial suggestion just ain’t true. (Though to be fair, Arrington wrote his missive prior to the release of most of the statistics showing women entrepreneurship is on the rise.) But I agree with his point that placing the blame on men doesn’t do anything to improve the situation.
Blame it on the game
So why the dearth of women in technology?
Claire Willett believes the problem starts at the elementary school level, where girls who may or may not show a proclivity towards math and science are discouraged from working at it.
A study by the research firm Campos backs this up, and goes further in saying that this discouragement lasts well into university. College women are steered away from more demanding Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) curricula, most likely due to the stereotype that women are inferior in “male”-dominated disciplines like math.
Leslie Poston, a mentor with the Strong Women in Tech initiative, believes that mentorship needs to start early. In her view, girls should be encouraged to excel in computer and science classes from elementary school right through university.
Another possible culprit is the lack of meaningful educational plans to help promote STEM curricula among girls. Lack of adequate funding, especially in schools in poorer districts, contributes to the problem, as does a shortage of STEM-qualified teachers.
Girls, just do it
The best way for women to change the gender balance in tech is for more of us to take matters into our own hands. That’s essentially what angel investor Eileen Burbidge says in her TechCrunch post on the topic.
“I don’t think most men in tech are adverse to working with more women (quite the contrary),” Burbidge writes, “but I don’t see enough women putting themselves forward or taking advantage of opportunities available.”
Reach out, get to know people, and do not take no for an answer. There is no use in waiting for opportunities to appear. Make it happen yourself.