Paul Graham Responds To Critics, Says Y Combinator Is Planning An Event For Female Founders

Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham just published a blog post about what he did and didn’t say during a widely-discussed interview with The Information (if you don’t have a subscription, you can read the relevant quotes in Valleywag). He also makes an announcement, of sorts, that the incubator is planning an event for female founders later this year.

As many of you have probably read, Graham attracted lots of controversy for his remarks about getting women interested in programming and hacking. (TechCrunch’s Colleen Taylor weighed in here.) However, Graham claimed in a tweet, and reiterated in the post, that his meaning had been distorted.

Specifically, while he was quoted as saying, “We can’t make women look at the world through hacker eyes and start Facebook because they haven’t been hacking for the past 10 years,” Graham said there was a crucial word that had been edited out, and it should have read: “We can’t make these women look at the world through hacker eyes …” In other words, he said he wasn’t talking about all women, but rather the ones who “who aren’t programmers.”

To be honest, the language in the new post can still be a bit confusing to parse (for example: “I didn’t say women haven’t been programming for 10 years. I said women who aren’t programmers haven’t been programming for 10 years.”), but Graham’s position, whether or not you agree with it, becomes a little clearer once you see the question he was answering. It was about whether YC should be more “proactive” about recruiting women by “lowering standards or something like that” (I’m not sure that’s the most helpful way to frame the issue, but moving on …).

If I’m reading Graham correctly, his basic argument is that Y Combinator is happy to admit female “hackers,” but he’s resistant to the idea that it should accept women who aren’t hackers and “then somehow make up the difference ourselves during YC.”

At the end of the post, he also says that YC has reached “a quorum of female founders who are doing well,” so it’s been planning to hold a Startup School-style event focused on female founders. (Startup School is a popular event with big-name speakers like Jack Dorsey talking about their experiences and offering advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.) It sounds like this new event is in the very early stages of planning, but Graham said he felt obligated to announce it now because otherwise it might seem “that we’re only doing it for PR reasons.”

I asked YC co-founder Jessica Livingston for more details about the event, and she said she doesn’t have a firm date yet, nor has she invited any speakers:

The rough plan is to have female YC founders give quick talks (a la Startup School) sharing their stories, giving advice and talking about what they’d wish they’d known when they were getting started. I imagine it will be focused mostly on practical startup advice (and inspirational stories) for women who are interested in starting a startup or have already started one.

By the way, if you’re wondering about which female founders are part of the aforementioned “quorum,” Graham’s post cites Adora Cheung of Homejoy, Elizabeth Iorns of Science Exchange, Kathryn Minshew of the Muse, Elli Sharef of HireArt, and Vanessa Torrivilla of Goldbely. (He also mentions an “Ann”, but when I asked who that was, Livingston said she’s from a startup that has yet to be announced as part of YC.)

Anyway, you should probably just read Graham’s post for yourself.

Update: In her response to the response, The Information founder Jessica Lessin confirmed that the word “these” had been removed from the transcript during the editing process, because it “didn’t refer to anything”: “Mr. Graham has since said the ‘these’ referred to women who aren’t programmers. In our opinion, he didn’t say that to us. We’re happy for him to have clarified to the public.”