YC Co-Founder Jessica Livingston On The Dearth Of Women In Tech (And Some Steps To Fix It)

Last August our own Michael Arrington wrote a post addressing a topic that’s as important as it is sensitive: the lack of women who are running startups. In short, his point was that there simply aren’t enough women who are setting out to become entrepreneurs — and it’s not because the issue is being swept under the rug or because the industry is heavily weighted against them.

Now Y Combinator co-founder Jessica Livingston has written an insightful article discussing her own experience with this. Livingston is as qualified as anyone to analyze the problem — she wrote Founders at Work and has also interviewed hundreds (perhaps thousands) of founders for Y Combinator. And her conclusion is similar to Michael’s:

So why don’t women want to start startups? I wonder if it’s not that not enough women want to start startups, but that not enough women even consider it as an option.

Livingston’s post is well worth reading in its entirety. She chronicles the things that were on her mind during her mid 20’s (entrepreneurship wasn’t among them, because she wasn’t exposed to it) and discusses the advice she would have given herself at that age had she wanted to start her own company. Here’s one of her tips, on what is one of the most difficult challenges: finding a cofounder.

Finding a technical cofounder would have been difficult for me. I was an English major and didn’t know any computer programmers.

The best advice here is to get out and network. If someone in your IT department is actually good, befriend them. Ask friends of friends if they know talented programmers. Read Hacker News. Go to meetups or other similar events. This may feel uncomfortable but it won’t be the first uncomfortable thing you have to do if you want to start a startup.

Finding a programmer to work with if you don’t already know one will be a challenge. Merely judging if a programmer is exceptional vs. competent will be very hard if you are not one yourself. When you do find someone, work together informally for a while to test your compatibility. Cofounders will endure so much together that their relationship is often compared to a marriage.

And while Livingston says that there is probably some degree of discrimination against women from investors (which I suspect is true, even if it isn’t deliberate on their part), she believes the bigger problem is that not enough women are involved with these companies in the first place.

Fortunately Livingston isn’t just talking about the issue — she’s taking some steps to address it. Next month she will be working with Grubwithus (a YC company) to organize a series of dinners where women thinking of starting a company, or curious about the process, can interact with herself and YC alumni. If you’re interested (and female) you can sign up for the dinners right here.