By Clara Sceery
A big thank you to Jess Erickson for organizing Monday night’s Berlin Geekettes event at Google. I’m glad that the Geekettes had the opportunity to begin discussing a topic that I feel is core not only to a women in tech and entrepreneurship group, but more essentially to tech startups as an industry. Why is it so often the case that women find themselves as the sole, or gross minority, female founder or employee in tech startups?
Quite simply, I don’t want to hear excuses anymore. We must instigate change. Why? Who cares if there are more women in tech startups? On a macro level, tech startups will be richer ventures by diversifying the brainpower that fuels them by including women. Who would deny that anymore? Women as a population are no longer willing to give their proxy to their husbands and fathers to run the world’s tech startups. And the problem is not that women don’t want to be doing tech. This argument is simplified, but once the point is boiled down to its core, it’s harder to make excuses, and urgent to make changes.
I understand the complexity of diversifying organizations, universities and businesses. Startups want to hire the best and the brightest. Schools want to accept the smartest students. Different cultures tackle this issue and conceive of equality differently. I’m half-French half-American so I’ve had these conversations ad nauseam from different angles. While a good dose of real debate and endless navel gazing can flesh out the problem, let’s be practical and stop the denial. It is ridiculous that so few women find jobs in tech startups or indeed are successful in founding them. We can discuss the reasons, but let’s also forge ahead to make a difference. Let’s cut the bullshit. We’re at a point where even incremental change will be a big win for startups. The thornier issues might be tougher to work out, but we’re at a deplorable state where there’s an undebatable need for more women in startups.
Don’t worry, entrepreneurs, women don’t want to be hired just because they’re women (although that can be a damn good attribute in the overall candidate package). We want to contribute to your business because we’re amazing, motivated damn smart people. Sometimes, though, some of us don’t have the experience, social context or support system to knock on your door. Getting help for that is not a sign of weakness. Asking for help is a sign of intelligence and drive. One you might not have seen before.
This is not a finger-pointing rant, although I’ll happily accept the rant part. Yes, I’m ranting. Because I’m sick and tired of the excuses for such a simple issue. But finger-pointing? No. There are always reasons why things happen in the specific, micro level at individual companies.
Whatever women want to do once they’re in tech startup positions is their business. How do they identify as a woman in a tech startup? They’ll decide as adults. But we all, women and men who aim to build successful tech startups, need to get more women into the industry.
Women in leadership is one way to overcome barriers to entry for women. Women leaders are role models and also decision makers, both of which are instrumental in opening up employment gates. So why are so many startups with women founders still lacking women employees? Many women on Monday explained that they weren’t receiving CV’s from women. How exactly is it that you run your recruitment? Not passively I’m sure. So what do you think? That all-men’s universities had tons of applications from women coming through formal channels? And yet, women have fought and are fighting to get in to roles that haven’t historically been open to them. Ones that our grandmothers might not even have dreamed of pursuing.
We can’t wait around for things to happen. You’re not getting more CV’s from women? Go find them. You make an effort to find good developers. So go out and find good women. Hiring wisely is often cited as key to building a successful startup. It’s not easy. Founders are overwhelmed with responsibilities. And yet, they know that making smart hires is necessary, not optional. Well, you have one more thing to do now, but it’s a key move to building a successful company. Hire women. And probably sooner rather than later. Recently, I had an interview with a startup and was shocked to hear that they employ only one woman out of a dozen founders/employees. My gut reaction was to wonder what’s wrong with you that you’re not employing more women? Why would I want to work for such a company? So the problem gets worse if you wait.
There’s plenty more to talk about regarding women in tech startups. But can’t we all agree that the present system for getting women into tech startups is not working? Current routes are either inexistent or broken. So let’s get our heads out of the sand, stop bemoaning the sad facts and connect women with startups. If you care about this issue, please use the Berlin Geekettes to discuss how we can help startups find the amazing women who are out there. We’re not all going to agree on what the best method is – mentorship, support groups like Berlin Geekettes, formalized networking systems, etc. – but let’s agree we want to do it. I can’t believe that I’m writing this in 2012.