In The World Of Tech, Women Can Have It All

Editor’s note: Michal Tsur is a serial tech entrepreneur, having co-founded online security firm Cyota and open-source video platform Kaltura, where she is currently president. Leah Belsky is a fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, where she contributes on online collaboration and technology policy, and is currently SVP of Kaltura.

The blossoming tech startup generation, and the new wave of professional women seeking success in the workplace and at home don’t always cross paths. Tech industries suffer from a noticeable lack of strong female leadership at the top, while powerful women have mostly flocked to traditional industries. Although the concept of “having it all” might itself be elusive, it’s time that women who value both a rich home life and a fulfilling career explore the tech startup world.

In July/August 2012 the Atlantic Monthly featured an article that soon became the publication’s most popular piece of all time. “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former advisor to President Obama, makes the controversial argument that unless a woman is “rich, an entrepreneur, or a super-woman,” it’s impossible to have it all in both work and family life. According to Slaughter, the competing demands of being a top professional and a good mother are too great — women must inevitably make trade-offs.

Within hours the piece went viral, as leading bloggers argued whether women can — or should, for their own well-being — overcome these challenges through ambition alone.

And as we followed the ensuing debates, we were struck by one thought: If there is one place where women have the greatest chance to carve new paths toward a fulfilling life and career, it’s in tech.

Indeed, this proposition runs counter to the state of women in tech today: The majority of funded tech startups are led by men, while women languish in mostly supporting roles. It’s an issue acknowledged by professional icons such as Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and one of the most powerful women in tech.

Why then do we believe that the tech sector is where women have the best shot at having it all?

Here are a few key reasons:

  1. The tech startup world values flexibility and thinking out-of-the-box. It’s a place where new ideas and approaches to work are more easily embraced. And it’s an industry with a 24-7 work culture, which means it’s easier to accommodate different types of schedules  — whether that means going home to families early in order to work later at night.
  2. Working remotely is more accepted. The tech world understands spending time in the office is not the only means of success — employees often collaborate through messages, email, phone and online meetings instead.
  3. Though empirically most startups today are still led by men, many of these startup leaders belong to a newer generation — a generation mostly raised by working moms and married to educated spouses, giving them awareness of the need for flexibility in the workplace and a recognition that their female co-founders and employees are essential to success.
  4. Many women today opt out of tech because they believe a formal engineering degree is a prerequisite. The reality is that successful tech companies require a variety of skillsets – from design and community management to operations and business development-  both at the entry level and in leadership positions. Significant technical skills can also be learned both on the job and outside of traditional academic education. Take Marissa Mayer vs. Sheryl Sandberg. While Mayer, the current CEO of Yahoo may have graduated Stanford with a CS degree, Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, rose through the business ranks at Google, gaining enough product knowledge on the job to become one of the leading operators and innovators in the space.

Today, women are a small percentage of our industry. And yes, tech is currently powered by a male-dominated engineering and VC culture, which will remain a challenge. But these gender obstacles haven’t stopped women’s ascent in the larger professional world. Ambition, hard work, sacrifice. and dedication are still requirements for success in tech — but a decision to prioritize achievement over family is not.

So, to women of the tech world and advocates everywhere: It’s time to tweak our advertising and share this secret. Having it all may still not be possible in traditional career paths — but we can certainly find new avenues altogether. The tech world has limitless opportunities for success, flexibility, and fulfillment. Let’s make it the next frontier for women to conquer.