When we were raising our angel round, I had a phone conversation with a prominent Silicon Valley investor who did not have time to meet me face-to-face but was interested in investing in MyLikes because I was a female entrepreneur—aka the “diversity candidate.”
While it is difficult to say no to money, especially when someone is giving it to you without even listening to what it is that you are doing, I felt insulted and unhappy. I felt that I was competent enough to raise money and build a successful business regardless of my gender, not because of it.
In all fairness, this angel and many other supporters of women in technology have good intentions. However, they don’t realize that by calling out someone’s gender they make the system less meritocratic.
Coming from India, I have a personal perspective on the unintended consequences of such policies. My alma mater (the Indian Institute of Technology) is a highly meritocratic institution—admission is based on a completely objective criteria: stack ranking in a single entrance examination taken by students all across the country.
However, there is one exception: a certain number of seats are reserved for students from castes who have been historically discriminated against. It helps in some cases by providing opportunities to people who could really use them, but in most instances it simply does not work. It undermines the really good people who would have been admitted without the quota and causes a lot of insecurity and stress amongst people who don’t have the ability to cope in a highly competitive environment. There is also a lot of anger and resentment from others who just missed getting admission as well.
Stepping back, at a more fundamental level, I am not really sure we should worry about the lack of women in tech any more than worrying about why there are not more female truck drivers or more male nurses.
Women and men are different. Even in an ideal world, where women and men have the freedom to choose what they want to do, without any prejudices or social bias, we will continue to have male and female dominated professions.
Fundamentally, people will gravitate towards professions and careers that they are good at or have an innate advantage at.
That said, we are still far from that perfect world. Women tend to get paid less than men even if they perform equally well and there is no denying that there are still many biases against women even in professions that they are likely to be better at. While I do think we should do what we can to foster gender equality, I don’t believe preferential treatment or having diversity quotas is the answer.
Quotas always tend to be bad for everyone concerned in the long run—the female candidate who got the job because she was a woman, the hiring manager who may have compromised with a B player and the rest of the team who will always harbor the thought—“she is where she is, because she is a woman.” Worst of all it does a real disservice to the women who are simply better at their jobs.