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 Worldeka.com
Zuzanna Pasierbinska-Wilson, head of marketing communications at Huddle.net
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?