@Geeknrolla: Just a girl – how do we get more women into the tech sector?

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Balancing Tech Culture: Getting more women involved in tech startups

A panel discussion featuring

Cate Sevilla, founding editor at BitchBuzz
Sophie Cox, co-founder of
Zuzanna Pasierbinska-Wilson, head of marketing communications at
Leisa Reichelt, User experience consultant at Disambiguity
Nacera Benfedda, director of product, Viadeo


LIVE BLOG: Cate asks, does the game need changing? Is it possible that the reason we see less women than men at tech conferences because there are simply fewer women who want to be in tech?

Sophie: It’s more systemic than just wondering about just this tech conference – we need to look at education, and marketing, disseminating information. We have more women at Geeknrolla than you usually see at events, though it’s not 50/50, shows that it is to do with how conferences are sold/pitched.

Zuzanna: Did some research, asked a few hundred people in tech. It comes down to one thing – choice. Women don’t get involved because they simply don’t want to. Hardly anyone blames education – but there’s more to the choice. It always comes down to the ultimate choice – do I want a career or do I want a family? Tech startups often require very long working days, can I balance it all? When it comes to hiring/recruitment, you come up against the existing stereotypes of men being more aggressive, then there’s the issue of the old boys’ hiring network, and they’re hiring in their image. Which is why there are always more men than women in the industry.

Sophie: It’s ironic, because that data doesn’t reflect the liberal, inclusive values of the tech startup scene. It’s not as aggressive as the City, there’s the benefit of the flexibility; Worldeka’s chief developer (a man) goes home early to eat dinner with his kids and put them to bed before carrying on work.

Cate asks what’s driven Sophie to work in a tech startup.

Sophie: Love risk, hate working for other people.

Zuz: If men could get pregnant and share the burden of child-bearing with women, we’d instantly see more women in tech, business, government, etc.

Leisa: It’s a problem of identification and definition. Cites the example of PRs who even though they work mainly in technology PR, still wouldn’t go to an event that was plugged as tech – because they see themselves as being in the PR industry.

Sophie: Girls in schools often say they don’t want to go into tech because they want to do something more creative — that’s bad PR for the tech industry because there’s so much creativity involved in creating software. “There’s something really fucking sexy about it.”

Nacera: Women don’t say they’re ‘computer scientists’, they say they’re in computing. Men immediately identify themselves as computer scientists. The main problem is a lack of knowledge about the tech sector. The challenge for everyone here today is to talk more about the tech startup scene.
[At this point Daily Telegraph blogger Milo Yiannopoulos takes it upon himself to fill the absent Paul Walsh’s shoes.]

Milo: Finds 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? Good god, no! We shouldn’t be apologising for having fewer women in a sector in which men naturally perform better (did he just say that?). 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.

Sophie: The research you’re describing would be more about the difference between men and women, rather than the reason that there are fewer women into the tech sector.

Comment from the floor: Setting up a tech company is the same as setting up any business – Leisa made a very important point: if you don’t count yourself as being in teh tech sector, how are you going to be visible? Many men in tech startups don’t have a tech background – they have strategy and leadership.

Leisa to Milo: I think you’re implying that the reason there are more men in tech demonstrates that they’re the best people for the job. What about people who are as talented but can’t make the same commitment because of family commitments?

Milo: It’s not fair to suggest that men don’t make sacrifices when they choose to work 20-hour days.

Comment from the floor: From The Next Web – there are more women than men starting up companies in the UK and the US; the difference is that women are not going after high growth industry and don’t get the VC funds that the tech scene does.

Comment from the floor: We did some research that shows there are more women on social networks, but the coding is done by men.  Wonder how the product would change if we had more women coding – would it make the product more useful to a female audience?

Sophie: On the issue of positive discrimination: I don’t think anyone wants fewer men starting up tech companies, it’s more about a cultural shift – how do we make it more obvious to other women that the tech startup scene is a cool place to be?

Comment from the floor: A woman in tech with two kids chooses to be in this industry because it’s more accepting and more flexible. It’s about explaining to younger women that it’s an interesting industry, and about women believing they can raise money, etc – I think women often hold themselves back more than men do.

Comment from the floor: A father with a son and daughter who both have good maths skills is concerned; the environment around his 9 year old daughter isn’t supportive of her natural abilities; her school is good but still doesn’t actively encourage achievement in the more masculine perceived subjects.

Comment from the floor: Hermione Way says tech still has a very uncool stigma in schools; we need to show girls what cool/fun/exciting things can be achieved when you work in this industry.

Comment from the floor: An Indian man says the IT sector has boomed there, but you wouldn’t be having this discussion there today. The teams are generally always 50/50 split, thanks to education placing a strong focus on sciences.

Comment from the floor: Startups seems to be hiring more women in the round 2 stage of hiring. It’s a real testosterone-fuelled team that gets the companies up and then when more balance is required, that’s when women are hired.

Comment from the floor: Bindi Karia from Microsoft reckons its down to the women in the tech startup industry actively mentoring the younger generation.

Comment from the floor: We’re in the tech startup scene, we’re disruptive, we make the rules – so why don’t we just do it? Why don’t we just hire more women?

  • GreenValleyranchNV

    yes we need more women in this area!!!

  • Andy Skipper

    The question is not whether we need more women in the industry – it’s how we can make the industry more attractive to women, such that the talent pool is enlarged by the additional numbers. My feeling is that there’s such an ingrained social stigma around technology that’s being perpetuated by the media, where information workers are portrayed as grimy, unfashionable and invariably male. This needs to change if we want all that extra talent in the pool!

  • Tod

    Looking at this topic via the start-up lens only misses a big point: The S&P500 / Global 1000 corporates have SVP/VP/Directors of e-Commerce, e-Business, interactive or new media and now we have a plethora of excellent leadership by women in these roles, and many will have annual budget responsibility that would be the envy to 90% of this community.
    I was at this conference and watched amused at such lively debate and nobody looking higher up the corporate food-chain. Next year let’s debate why we don’t have many women drummers in Rock bands. Mike can keep the same music play-list intro’s…!

    • Iain B

      But the panel wasn’t “How do we get more women into management”.

      And leadership skills arn’t a requirement that women (or men) need to get into the tech sector.

  • Cary Marsh

    Cate asked ‘is it possible that the reason we see less women than men at tech conferences is because there are simply fewer women who want to be in tech?’ Of course that’s the reason why !! – so let’s change that. I couldn’t agree more with Andy Skinner’s comment – we must increase the number of women in the tech talent pool. So our issue here is how to make the industry more attractive to women so that this happens naturally. I think there are two ways we can do this:

    1) As the IT sector in India demonstrates – a stronger focus on science and technology in education across both sexes is needed. In conjunction with this, as Hermione Way rightly points out, we need to work to dispel the bad image tech still has (geeks, nerds, white coats, hard hats) that puts younger girls off choosing science and tech at GCSE, A-level and above.

    2) We must create role models and mentors (as Bindi from Microsoft points out) – people girls will aspire to be like. Right now it’s usually a model, a pop star, an actress – why not a tech entrepreneur? Entrepreneurship is the new rock n roll at the moment with programs like Dragons Den making it mainstream. Let’s use this window of opportunity to attract more girls into the tech sector!

    The first of these will need government funding of course – perhaps even a paradigm shift in curriculum that’s too much to ask. But we’ve only got to look to at other economies where there is a stronger cultural tech focus and corresponding better gender representation to realise something will need to change here in the UK if we want to be competitive on the global stage.

    And let’s not underestimate the importance of 2. Everyone of us can think of a person we wanted to be like when we were young. For me in my teens it was my mum – a successful business woman and a great role model. Then in my twenties it was Martha Lane Fox – running a dot com tech startup, getting rich and being on the cover of magazines – how cool was that!

    Fundamental to all this is the issue of choice – we need to give girls more science and technology choices at GCSE and A-level and we need to make those choices more attractive. Later on down the line – and I have to disagree with Zuzanna on this one – I don’t think there needs to be a choice between career or family. Newsflash – you can have both!!!! In fact, a technology career is going to give a woman more flexibility than almost any other sector. Sophie mentions Worldeka’s chief developer being home to have dinner and put the kids to bed – I’m the CEO and I do exactly the same thing.

    One of the wonderful things about the tech sector is everyone is judged on their own merits without a thought given to gender, race or age. This is nothing like City culture and I’m proud to be part of it! It’s a wonderful sector to work in and if more younger girls knew that we’d eventually see more women at tech conferences.

    I’m sorry I wasn’t at geeknrolla yesterday – I would have loved to have contributed to the debate first hand. The reason wasn’t that I happen to be pregnant with my 3rd, but that I was busy with the deployment of the new Mydeo m3 site J

  • Milo Yiannopoulos
  • » Blog Archive » Men perform better in many technology jobs. Must we apologise for that?

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  • Men perform better in many technology jobs. Must we apologise for that? | News in brief

    […] what a lot of fuss my impromptu appearance on the Just A Girl panel at yesterday’s Geek’n Rolla caused. Whinging about what a […]

  • Mikko Honkakorpi

    As an owner or stakeholder in several start up tech companies, I feel I’m missing out. How can I get more job applications from women? I’d love to do my part in leveling the difference.

    • Leigh Honeywell

      Hey Mikko,

      Actively seek them out. Recruit at campus organizations for women in tech, invite specific women you meet in the community to apply. Once you have the resumes judge them by the same criteria as men, obviously – but there’s nothing wrong with actively seeking female applicants.

      Hope that helps :)


    • Iain B

      If you go through recruiters, I would mention to them that you would like to see some female applicants & Make those recruiters work for their 20% commission!

  • Why I took part in Ada Lovelace Day « - Matt Edgar

    […] this post from Paul Walsh, trailing a Techcrunch Europe panel on the subject of women and start-ups, prompted me to speak up more directly. In Paul’s […]

  • Paul Walsh

    Excellent points Carry. BTW, do you still have my jacket? It’ll be outta fashion soon.

    For the record, I was too sick to take part on the panel. People are still asking if I was really sick. Yes, I was! I hate it when speakers lets moderators/oranisers down so I’d never do that purposely.

    Milo and I have a very similar opinion on the matter anyway.

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  • Cary Marsh

    The ‘Man at C&A’ one? Yes it’s here…

  • Jumping Through Hoops

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  • Noreen Mastellon

    I never knew there was a glass ceiling in the technology sector.

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