Yesterday was the incredibly brilliant event from TechCrunch Europe called Geek 'n Rolla. A day jam-packed with incredibly interesting presentations from entrepreneurs and techie geniuses such as Andy McLoughlin from Huddle and Leisa Reichelt. It was one of the few events I have walked away from feeling like I actually learned something, and that it was immensely productive.
I was asked by TechCrunch Europe's editor, Mike Butcher, to moderate a panel about women in tech start-ups, that aimed to find solutions on how we can get more women involved in said start-ups.
Stupidly, I forgot that we don't need to try and get more women involved in technology, and that speaking about it is not only "demeaning to the many brilliant chicks out there with sparkling careers built on merit" but "do little to help" as "they’re
likely to do more harm than good by devaluing the females already in
With me on the panel were four talented, incredibly articulate women:
- Lisa Reichelt, a brilliant User Experience Consultant
- Nacera Benfedda, Director of Product for Viadeo.
- Sophie Cox, co-founder of Worldeka,
- Zuzanna Pasierbinska-Wilson, the Head of Marketing Communications of Huddle, and the creator of Silicon Stilettos - a networking group for women in IT, social media, PR and anything else that falls under the tech sector.
We were also meant to have Paul Walsh, entrepreneur and CEO of Segala, on our panel, but just hours after writing a post about the "Manufactured Anger of the Lack of Women in Tech" Walsh suddenly came down with viral tonsillitis and was sadly unable to attend.
(I do mean that, I had some really good questions for you, Paul!)
I admit that the beginning our panel was a bit slow. I think had we been at a BlogHer event or the She's Geeky un-conference it would have gone down a little better, but since our audience was a predominately male group of techies and creators of start-ups, I can see how they would be
incredibly a little uninterested.
(I was told that the first part of it "sucked" by someone at the after-party.)
Thankfully, I was told that we had a guy who wanted to hop on the panel and speak, so we immediately brought him up on stage as I wanted a male opinion on the panel - as well as someone to ask my questions I had for Paul Walsh.
("Do you think that, ultimately, men are to blame for the lack of women in technology?", etc)
The Daily Telegraph blogger, Milo Yiannopoulos happily hopped on stage to "bring some common sense" to the panel. I'm thankful that Milo did volunteer to join the panel because he really did kick it up a notch - it was like having Sarah Palin on stage at a Women's Rights rally.
"I find this discussion patronising to women. There are reasons which
have nothing to do with prejudice why women are not more involved in
the tech scene. Do we need to change the game? [...] No! We shouldn't
be apologising for having fewer women in a sector in which men
naturally perform better [...] We need a serious, systematic study that
looks at the actual reason why women are not in tech, rather than
tiptoeing around each other with anecdotal evidence."
Instead of discussing how we could get more women involved in tech start-ups on a panel at a tech start-up conference, yeah, we should have someone do a "serious, systematic study" into the actual reasons why there are less women in technology.
Not like the pretend, "anecdotal evidence" that Zuzanna found after conducting a survey about women in technology that found some made-up figures like 33% of women said they had "none or only one female colleague on staff" and that 65% admitted women were "underrepresented in their firms".
I mean what does the Harvard Business Review or Gartner or The National Science Foundation or MIT know about the number of and decline of women in IT?
Harvard really need to stop being so emotional.
But to be honest, sitting there rattling off numbers isn't the answer. It's absolutley ridiculous.
Maybe instead of talking about the pay gap we should just assume that women just want to be paid less. Or maybe get one of those feminists types to do a research project to find out of this said "pay gap" even exists.
Paul Walsh says that the women who want to be in tech, are in tech.
Which, I think is true.
I also think that there are women who would be in tech if they knew more about it. I think we wouldn't be having this panel if ten years ago, the government and schools thought to encourage more women to get involved in computer sciences, and encouraged those who were good at mathematics to pursue careers outside of typical female industries such as education. (And having a hot dinner waiting for you on the table by the time you get home.)
I think our tech culture, how it is now, isn't exactly a comfortable place for women to be all the time. I don't like having to pick up a gadget magazine with a half-naked woman on the cover. I don't like going to conferences where women with expensive tits and tiny skirts hand me fliers.
It gets boring to be the only woman at events for entrepreneurs - especially when your product or website is aimed at other women.(And the only women who are there are uninterested in talking to you because they have a room full of attention.)
Our tech culture just blatantly ignores more than half of its audience and consumers. 51% of women say that what they read in blogs influences their purchasing decisions and in the UK alone there are over 2.18 million women online aged 25-34 online. They account for 55% of the time spent on the internet. Women online are powerful. Never mind all the blogging they're doing - they're you're users. They're your unique visitors. They're buying your products.
They're also your colleagues.
Towards the end of the panel someone stood up and said, "Why do we even need more women in tech?"
You need more women in tech because:
a) Do you really think that you understand what those 2.18 million women online are looking for? What they want to read? What they'll buy?
b) Having a predominantly male company doesn't exactly seem like a very diverse place to work. I'm not saying you have to have your office be exactly 50/50 or that you should start hiring women simply because they have a vagina and know enough code - I'm suggesting that as an industry we would all benefit from having more diverse teams.
Women and men think differently, they just do. Maybe men have a predisposition to be better in math and science. Maybe there will always be more male developers and coders than there are female ones. But this doesn't mean that you should all just be lazy about it. Stop hiring clones of yourself and your buddies.
There is power in numbers, and there is power in diversity. If your audience and your consumers are diverse - shouldn't your team be as well?
Should you hire a female developer over a male developer simply because she is a woman?
Should you start inviting more women to your events just because they're women?
Should you ask someone to speak on a panel at your tech conference because you think you need more female speakers?
I suppose the answer to that lies within your intentions.
Should you start hiring mediocre developers and boring, unqualified speakers at your events just because they're the only women you can find? NO.
If you're actively trying to find qualified female candidates and are finding none that are interesting enough, qualified enough, or willing enough - fuck it. You tried.
Having more women in tech is just as much women's responsibility and a "problem" as it is men's.
We are our own worst enemy.
We get sick of going to all-male "Sausage Fest" tech events, so we stop going.
We grow tired of being the only woman at tech conferences, so we stop attending.
There's a job at a new start-up that you'd be prefect for, but why bother. Do you really want to work in an office of all men?
We need to stop sitting around complaining and DO something about it. Start your own company that has a diverse, gender balanced team. Start up your own networking event - ever heard of Girl Geek Dinners? Silicon Stilettos? Girls in Tech?
Gather up all your girly geek friends and go together to the next Open
SausageSoho event. Sick of not seeing enough female techies speaking at events like LeWeb? Contact Loic Le Meur and let him know - pitch an idea of a talk you'd like to give.
And stop being such a bitch to the other women in tech you know. Unless you have an actual reason to dislike a fellow geek girl, get over it. It's hard enough without you running your mouth, spreading gossip, and blatantly ignoring other women when they're standing next to you at the bar.
Bottom line, as I said in my panel, we can't come up with solutions if we can't even agree that there is a problem.
Men like Milo and Paul and some of the men in the audience at Geek 'n Rolla don't think there's a problem.
As Milo explained today:
...here's my appeal to technology conference organisers: let's not
waste any more time on patronising panel discussions about a problem
that simply doesn't exist.
There are also "very powerful, very influential and very talented" women who agree with Paul Walsh and say that there are less women in tech simply because women don't want to be there.
Folks like Paul and Milo and those women who are more powerful and talented than you think we don't need more women in tech, and think that suggesting that we do is shitting all over the women who are already in technology.
There are women who will proudly say that they have never been treated differently because they are a girl.
If you feel this way, great. That's fantastic that you have never felt held back because of your gender.
My only request would be that you don't treat the women who do feel like they have been and aren't exactly pleased with how other women in tech are treated, like idiots. Or hop on the "ugh, these women really need to get over it and shut up" bandwagon.
I respect your opinion, please respect mine.
There are also men out there - many of whom I met yesterday - that do acknowledge that this is a problem, and are willing to speak up about it.
I have to tell you, being in a room filled with geeky men who were even acknowledging that, hell yes, we do need more women in tech was fucking amazing. I hit some sort of Geek-Guy-Tech-High. Having guys take the microphone and stand up for women in tech had me so blissed out I didn't even know what to do with myself.
And, the fact that Mike Butcher would even organize and have a panel of this nature at a major start-up TechCrunch event says a lot in itself.
(Huge fucking high-five to Mike and TechCrunch Europe!)
At the end of the day, I'm thankful that Paul Walsh and then Milo Yiannopoulos agreed to be on this panel, and that they both took the time to blog about it. I mean, your views on women in tech are heinous and are exactly why things in tech for women suck sometimes - but at least you get people talking about it.
We had a room full of people talking about getting more women in tech start-ups. People were debating about it on Twitter. The blogosphere has boomed with pieces about our panel and about women in technology.
This is a great step. Even if we can't all agree - the conversation is what's important. It's putting the spotlight on these issues, whether you even think it's an *issue* or not.
We're getting coverage, we're getting people thinking about it, and that is exactly what needs to happen.
Huge thank you from BitchBuzz to Milo, all our panellists, Mike Butcher, Petra Johanssen, Rassami Hok Ljungberg and the entire TechCrunch Europe team.
Image via Geek Girl Finds