Want more women in tech? Girls, just do it. And everyone, quit the patronizing

This is a guest post by Eileen Burbidge (@eileentso) , an early-stage tech angel/investor and advisor. This is part one of a three part series she is writing on her blog. Currently establishing White Bear Yard in London for technology innovation and startups, she is also an advisor to Ambient Sound Investments. Burbidge has held senior leadership roles in business, product, and market development at Yahoo!, Skype, PalmSource, Openwave, Sun Microsystems, Apple and Verizon Wireless. She holds a BS in Engineering Computer Science degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

There have been recent calls to give more women a chance within tech; there are calls [presumably to men] to take women more seriously and to work harder at recruiting and attracting women into tech in order to overcome systemic bias in the “system”. I take issue with these approaches and perspectives firstly because I find them patronizing and secondly because I think the call to action is directed at the wrong place.

Don’t patronize me

On the first point, I don’t want someone to cut me some slack or “give me a chance” just because I’m a woman. I don’t want a hand-out, I don’t want to be patronized. I want to be recognized and respected because of what I’m capable of doing and achieving. If someone wants me on their team strictly because I’m a woman, then there’s probably something amiss in that intention. So don’t patronize me, please.

It works both ways — It’s not pleasant (or wise) if someone shuts a door on me strictly because I’m a woman, but I also don’t want the door opened only because I am.

Women need to get rid of the crutch and step it up

On the second point, I don’t think we should just ask men for more opportunities. I think instead we need to get more women to step it up and if they are seeking opportunities in tech (and not getting them), I think they should speak up or look harder. I have a computer science degree and have worked in technology companies my whole career, so I’ve worked mostly with men. I currently work in the @whitebearyard office space with a lot of men over 2 floors. I’m quite certain that each one of them (or at least most of them) are acutely aware whenever there is a woman in the office. Full stop. They know if a woman enters the office, steps into the floor or is here for a meeting. In this setting, women get a lot more attention than “just another guy”. And if a woman in this setting cannot make a positive impression or assert her value as a prospective vendor, partner, employee/consultant, then maybe she’s actually not qualified or capable enough – or not wanting it. All of these guys (and others that I know and work with) would love to work with more women. Most of them talk about the value and advantage to their team which would come from added diversity for product design, team dynamics, communication and emotional intelligence. They’re not opposed to hiring women and some would prefer evenly-qualified female candidates to male ones, but they (and I) don’t often see enough to choose from.

Evidence of lack of supply, but not demand

Here are just some recent data points as to why I believe it’s more of a “supply side” issue rather than a demand one. As noted above, I don’t think most men in tech are averse to working with more women (quite the contrary), but I don’t see enough women putting themselves forward or taking advantage of opportunities available.

  • We recently co-hosted First Round Capital Volcano office hours in our offices @whitebearyard. While you could argue the sample size was quite small (it was held with only 1 day’s notice on a weekend), it was widely publicized via First Round’s network and on TechCrunch. Still, out of the nearly 60 people who turned up to meet with a promiment US VC, only 4 of them were women (just under 7%).
  • I asked Mike Butcher about the submissions he received for the recent TechCrunch Europe GeekNRolla startup competition. #gknr was obviously widely publicized by TechCrunch and on Twitter and throughout the European tech community. The startup competition was promoted as an opportunity to launch a new company or product at a major event. Based on the stats Mike shared with me, out of 83 initial entries received by the first deadline, only 2 were led by women (2.4%).
  • Out of our deal flow data base (tracking the number of teams/companies we’ve met with who were seeking financing or introductions over the last 9 months), there are 492 teams/projects/companies, 9 of which were led or co-led by women (less than 2%).
    • Recently one of the most well known early stage VCs in the US, Union Square Ventures, started recruiting for 2 new job positions – an analyst and a General Manager. They received over 600 applications/expressions of interest but only 10% from women.

    Within tech, I don’t think we need to give more women a chance; I think we need to tell more women to go for it — if they want it.

    Mike Butcher, editor of TechCrunch Europe goes out of his way to feature women in his events. Of the 50 total number of speakers who took the stage during #gknr, 9 were female, which is nearly 20%. Take away the startup presenters (low number of women-led applicants already noted above) and women represented 25% — 1 out of every 4 – of Mike’s invited speakers. Mike is clearly a supporter of “women in tech” and more conscious of gender im/balances than most, but even generally from what I see tech companies, investors, event organizers and ecosystem catalysts want to see, promote and feature more women.

    Go for it, but make sure you want it and deserve it

    Are there really women out there who want access and think they do not get it because they’re a woman? If so, I would encourage that you should look at other factors that might be contributing such as your CV, skills background, working style, references, or communication/presentation skills. It might just be too easy to say “oh it’s because I’m a woman”, and that will actually hinder you from improving areas in need of development. Stop making excuses and get on with it. All the men I know are looking out for women to join their teams. But if you’re not good enough, you might just not be good enough. Stop using the woman thing as a crutch and work on what needs to be done in order to break-through. I want to change the call to action from asking men to give us a chance to asking women to step it up and make sure you’re making it known if you want to be in tech/business — and will be successful in it.