Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men.

Posted on August 29th, 2010. Written by Blancer.

Success in Silicon Valley, most would agree, is more merit driven than almost any other place in the world. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what sex you are, what politics you support or what color you are. If your idea rocks and you can execute, you can change the world and/or get really, stinking rich.

For the most part I’ve sat on the sidelines over the years during the endless debates about how we need to do more to encourage more women to start companies. What I mean by “sat on the sidelines” is this – until today I haven’t really said what I felt. Now I’m going to.

Here’s why. Yet another article, this time in the Wall Street Journal, takes a shot at us and others for not doing enough to help women in tech. Says Rachel Sklar, a perennial TechCrunch critic:

“Part of changing the ratio is just changing awareness, so that the next time Techcrunch is planning a Techcrunch Disrupt, they won’t be able to not see the overwhelming maleness of it,” said Ms. Sklar, referring to the influential tech conference.

Yeah ok, whatever Rachel. Every damn time we have a conference we fret over how we can find women to fill speaking slots. We ask our friends and contacts for suggestions. We beg women to come and speak. Where do we end up? With about 10% of our speakers as women.

We won’t put women on stage just because they’re women – that’s not fair to the audience who’ve paid thousands of dollars each to be there. But we do spend an extraordinary amount of time finding those qualified women and asking them to speak.

And you know what? A lot of the time they say no. Because they are literally hounded to speak at every single tech event in the world because they are all trying so hard to find qualified women to speak at their conference.

What’s The Real Problem?

I could, like others (see all the links in that Fred Wilson post too), write pandering but meaningless posts agonizing over the problem and suggesting creative ways that we (men) could do more to help women. I could point out that the CEO of TechCrunch is a woman, as are two of our four senior editors (I’m one of the four). And how we seek out women focused events and startups and cover them to death.

But I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to tell it like it is. And what it is is this: statistically speaking women have a huge advantage as entrepreneurs, because the press is dying to write about them, and venture capitalists are dying to fund them. Just so no one will point the accusing finger of discrimination at them.

That WSJ article also criticizes Y Combinator for having just 14 female founders out of their 208 startups to date. But I know that Y Combinator wants – really, really wants – female founders and that there just aren’t very many of them. I know this because Y Combinator cofounder Jessica Livingston has told me how excited they are to get applications from women, and that they want to do everything they can to get more female applicants. What they probably won’t admit, but I suspect is true anyway, is that the rate of acceptance for female applicants is far higher than for male applicants.

The problem isn’t that Silicon Valley is keeping women down, or not doing enough to encourage female entrepreneurs. The opposite is true. No, the problem is that not enough women want to become entrepreneurs.

Why? I was asked that question as part of a New York Times interview earlier this year. I dodged it completely, and referred them to Cyan Banister, the founder of Zivity, instead:

Q. Do you anticipate that there will be more companies led by women at the TC50 and Disrupt this year?

A. Women are really tough. I have no idea why. We invited a team founded by a woman to Disrupt. But they canceled. There just aren’t a lot of female tech entrepreneurs out there relative to the number of men, I think. We celebrate the ones we find whenever we find them. There’s a chance we’ll write about what they’re doing, simply because they’re a fairly rare thing in our world. But it is really hard to find female entrepreneurs in tech, in my experience. I really think this is an industry-wide problem.

Q. How do the female tech entrepreneurs and investors in your community feel about this situation?

A. There’s a fascinating company, Zivity, it’s a venture-funded, adult photography community — yes, they put up pictures of naked women online — it was co-founded and is run by a woman, Cyan Banister. She wrote me in response to a post about women who are entrepreneurs, saying, basically, though these are not her exact words, women [stink] as entrepreneurs a lot of the time because they are nurturing and not risk-taking enough by nature. She also said when men roll the dice and take risks, that society doesn’t punish them at all, and it’s in their nature to take stupid risks.

I didn’t respond to that. I didn’t want to jump into that debate. And I guess I still don’t.

Is Cyan right? I don’t know, I’m from Mars, not Venus and I cannot speak intelligently about the nurturing and risk tolerance needs of women. But I will say this. The next time you women want to start pointing the finger at me when discussing the problem of too few women in tech, just stop. Look in the mirror. And realize this – there are women like Sklar who complain about how there are too few women in tech, and then there are women just who go out and start companies (like this one). Let’s have less of the former and more of the latter, please. And when you do start your company, we’ll cover it. Promise.

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