Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Too Few Women In Tech? How We Can Improve Diversity.

Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch just came out with an article about women in Silicon Valley with a fairly controversial headline: Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Blaming the Men. He argues that women really don’t want to be entrepreneurs, there aren’t very many women entrepreneurs, and therefore it is unfair to blame him for not having more women speakers at his conferences. Basically he states that he tries very hard to have women speakers and venture capitalists try very hard to fund women entrepreneurs, but they cannot find them.

Now, I can tell you that in my 17 years of working in Silicon Valley, I have never talked to a venture capitalist that has said they are looking for female entrepreneurs to fund. But I have spoken to conference organizers looking for female speakers. I actually agree that they are probably unfairly criticized, but I don’t think it is because there aren’t enough female potential speakers. I think that woman might be much more selective about where they go speak. If you are a female entrepreneur, and a mom, and you are asked to speak at a conference, a balancing act occurs in your head. Is this conference worthwhile? Is it worthwhile enough to give up an evening with my children? Or a few days with my kids if it requires travel? Perhaps this balancing act means that women are less likely to say “yes” to a boondoggle, or a conference that might be fun but is unlikely to bring them more clients or additional funding. I don’t know if this is the reason it is hard to find speakers, but I suspect that it is one part of the equation.

I asked my friend Robbie, a Silicon Valley marketing whiz/consultant, for her thoughts on Michael’s column and here was her response. What do you think?

I think the reason Tech Crunch and the other event organizers have a hard time getting women entrepreneurs to participate in their programs is that there is a relatively small number of big name women entrepreneurs and they are in high demand. The real issue is why there are so few successful women entrepreneurs.

While most VCs would love to invest in more qualified woman-run companies, they tend to work the networks of people they already know, who are mostly male, and rely in great part on personal references to identify and qualify companies. In addition, the timing for founding companies is tricky for women, who often find themselves choosing between starting a family or starting a company. While men are increasingly involved in childrearing and household management, the reality is that the bulk of these responsibilities still falls with women—even those who are highly qualified engineers and MBAs.

What can we do about this discrepancy?

Men in power positions such as Mr. Arrington need to continue to keep the doors open, and look hard for entrepreneurs who don’t look like everyone else. Women need to be more thoughtful about their career aspirations earlier on, and braver about taking risks. And couples need to share the responsibilities at home, so both men and women can have equal opportunities to create the new businesses, jobs and technologies that make Silicon Valley such an exciting place to be.

-Joanna Strober

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