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Women Who (Do) Tech: Moving Forward, Seizing the Future

by Cathy Brooks (@CathyBrooks, CathyBrooks.com)

This is not another post about the “issue” of why there are fewer women in business and technology. This is a post about doing something about it.

You would think based on coverage, like this article last April in the New York Times and this more recent post in the Wall Street Journal that women had made little to no progress in Silicon Valley.

Hogwash.

To be fair, if we’re talking raw numbers women are still at a disadvantage. There are fewer of us, especially if we’re talking about hands-on, up to your elbows in code technologist work. The numbers on the business side are better, but there still isn’t anything really resembling parity.

My question is: Why on earth should that be a problem? It shouldn’t.

My bigger question is: Can we PLEASE stop complaining and just start doing the work? From the response I’ve heard in the last week to the Wall Street Journal post it would seem the answer to that may well finally be YES!

Sparked by a post penned by Michael Arrington, a litany of women stamped down their collective foot. The time has come to grab the glasscutters and storm the ceiling. Is there chauvenism? Yep. Is there misogyny? You bet. In continually talking about these things, we’re wasting time. I for one am done wasting mine and on Wednesday, September 15 I’ll be joining about 800 other women who feel the same way. The gathering is the third annual WomenWhoTech Telesummit.

Started in 2007 by Allyson Kapin of RadCampaign in response to the lack of opportunities for qualified female speakers, WomenWhoTech takes a decidedly proactive tone in its content. Rather than commiserating about how challenging it is to be a woman, this one-day virtual conference tackles topics like launching start-ups, diversifying founding teams, best practices in open source development and female ferocity as a business asset.*

Speaking about the premise of this Telesummit, Kapin notes that if you wait for the challenges to go away, you’re wasting time. She said, “Sexism … racism … all the ‘ism’s. Are they going to disappear any time soon? Probably not, but if we band together we can address the issues. Instead of being reactive, it’s time to be proactive and productive and become part of the solution.”

Some additional related articles on this subject:

  • The perspective from a “real” geek, Leah Culver
  • Jon Pincus gathered a great set of links stemming from the recent Arrington/WSJ debate.
  • The Geek Feminism blog (penned by a collection of great female and male geeks) offers some reading materials

*Disclosure: Cathy Brooks is moderating the WomenWhoTech panel discussion on female ferocity.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

70 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Women Who (Do) Tech: Moving Forward, Seizing the Future”

  1. Cathy, couldn't agree with you more– I'm glad to see that you're contributing to the solution and not feeding into to the cycle of dispair. While gender/race/class disparities exist in just about any profession, it's important to work together and find solutions, or the cycle will never be broken. I think it's time to roll up our sleeves and get ferocious. Brian, thanks for posting 🙂

    • cathybrooks says:

      Thanks Krista … to be fair, I do understand that discrimination is alive and well … not just for women but racial, ethnic, religious and sexuality orientation “minority” groups. Thing is, as minorities the only way to succeed and excel is to engage the support of those who are “other than” the minority in which you exist. By definition, being a minority means you have a numbers disadvantage … and in the vein of “you get more flies with honey than vinegar” in order for women (and other minorities) to address the disparity is to step forward with conviction, thoughtful engagement and driving forward in a positive way.

      No one likes a whiner 🙂

  2. michellegreer says:

    I can't speak for any of the others, but I took issue in the TechCrunch comments not with Arrington, but with other commenters who claimed that women are biologically not as good at math or science. For doing so, my inbox was pummeled with comments calling me the c-word, illogical, and even one suggestion that I euthanize myself for hating my female body.

    I understand that most people do not feel this way, but please note that many areas of the world are not as open minded when it comes to gender equality as the Bay Area, and that pointing it out is not a bad thing as long as those words are followed up with action.

    I am not a victim and despise being painted as such. I just don't suffer fools gladly. Now back to work.

    • cathybrooks says:

      Hey Michelle … oddly I had replied to this comment earlier but my response seems to have fallen out of the thread, so wanted to chime in again.

      First, I'm sorry you had those experiences. I've had my fair share of attacks and know how that feels. For whatever it's worth, I try to remember that when folks respond that way it's not about me. It's about their insecurity and low sense of self that they must strike out. I'm guessing that those comments were also largely anonymous or so posted in a way that you couldn't identify the source … nothing worse than a coward.

      To your point about gender equality in the Bay Area – make no mistake even in this bastion of seeming liberal openness there is a distinctly parochial feel about many things and also a hefty dose of misogyny. It exists everywhere … and from where I sit, the thing to keep in mind is that while we cannot stamp out all of those people, leveraging the magnificently transparent world of social media we *can* bring those perpetrators to public accountability … forcing them into the open, shining a bright light on their behavior.

      While there may be a slight rose-hued tint to my lens, I do firmly believe that (at least in business) by forcing such people into public view that the general perception will be that they are in the wrong and in the end they will be ostracized.

      In the mean time, supporting each other and making sure to remember that, as Eleanor Roosevelt said (this isn't the perfect version of her quote but a solid paraphrase): “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

      Your strong closing sentence leads me to believe you are precisely the kind of strong woman who can withstand those slings and arrows … and toss 'em back when need be. May you continue to roar!

    • michellegreer says:

      That is unfortunate about misogyny in the Bay Area. When are these guys going to figure out that women are the big influencers online, AND we spend more money? I think having a woman's perspective would rock in a lot of cases.

      All I can say is, keep on keeping on, Cathy. 😉

  3. Bravo Cathy… I'm with Krista… I couldn't agree with you more.

    Michelle, mean comments never surprise me… some folks have a lot of time on their hands.

    I get frustrated every time I hear someone ask “where are the women in tech?”

    Hello! We're right here!

    I think the reason people assume there are so few women in tech is because we're busy working rather than pursuing the PR limelight.

    Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for success in the tech world is what I consider “perceived success” — akin to a modern day version of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” Perception often trumps reality, and the reality is that women are succeeding in the tech biz. What we need now is to better communicate our success.

    • cathybrooks says:

      Great points Babette – and when folks ask about where are the women business leaders, you are one of the folks to whom I point 🙂

      One point I'd like to posit related to your comment … as Jolie O'Dell noted in the post of hers that led me to the link I shared in the post above, is that there's a *big* difference between women in technology and women as technologists. I work in technology. I'm not a technologist. I don't code. And the number of women who *do* is decidedly low … something for us to fix 🙂

    • Thanks! 🙂
      Good point regarding the difference. Very true –

  4. Anna says:

    Being a woman has NEVER been an issue for me, whether as a project manager for web companies or as the owner of my consulting firm. The reason: I don't see myself as a woman; I'm just a person. I am a person with certain skills that other people lack. Therefore, they need my services to help them succeed. They, in turn, have skills and can provide services for me that I cannot provide for myself. The point I'm making is that the minute we stop labeling ourselves, then others will too. And if they don't, then that's their problem and their loss. By the way, I'm also Hispanic, but that, too, has never stopped me from succeeding in anything I've attempted to accomplish. I ignore those who choose to label me and I never feel sorry for myself when I don't get what I want. My career path is paved by my own hands.

    • cathybrooks says:

      A-men … or shall I jokingly offer A(wo)-men? 🙂 Joking aside … I hate labels too … Let's of course admit that stereotypes exist for a reason (being both Jewish and gay I'll cop to sometimes nodding my head at things I hear) … but at the same time those are not defining factors for all … nor should they be the guiding force … especially in business.

      Brava to you for such strong conviction and sense of self … what I would posit to you is, do you think there are ways you might reach out to those whose esteem may not be so strongly forged? Not suggesting you lead a support group but perhaps be a role model for others as just your brief post leaves me thinking you'd be splendid for that!

  5. Carla Schlemminger says:

    Cathy, thought-provoking post, thank you. I believe much of the progress will also come from mentoring <in addition=”” moving=”” past=”” the=”” to=”” whining=””>. Sure, a new generation will have more role models and glass ceilings broken from which to refer. But one of the single greatest actions each of us can do — right now — is encourage the young professional women in our circles to reach high, and even break new ground if it hasn't been already. Sans limits. @carlainsf</in>

    • cathybrooks says:

      I couldn't agree more … and let's talk about that mentoring thing … what actions do you take to help on that front? Speak at schools? Belong to list servs and such? What suggestions might you have for folks. If we're going to forge some solutions let's share some ideas!

  6. Renee says:

    FINALLY! A post that firmly puts its foot down and points out that while we're at a disadvantage now, we're not going to gain anything by sitting around complaining about it. We're going to do something about it by continuing to perform at the highest possible levels, by proving over and over again that it doesn't matter whether we're a woman or not, and by teaching our daughters the exact same thing so that when they get out there, that glass ceiling will shatter just a little more.

    • cathybrooks says:

      So glad this resonated with you, Renee! As for that ceiling, I say invest in a glass cutter and keep it in one's back pocket (or well accessorized bag) 🙂

  7. Allyson says:

    Great post Cathy! Love the discussion in the comments section too. Some great points being raised. I hope we can continue these conversations tomorrow 9/15 at the Women Who Tech TeleStummit – http://www.womenwhotech.com

  8. I love this post and the comments. I received an invite to a business seminar a couple of months ago titled “how to be assertive in business without being a b*tch” or something of that nature geared towards women. I thought to myself “WOW” hmmmm….I have never noticed a seminar titled “how to do business or how to be assertive in business without being an a-hole or complete jacka**” for men. So yeah, I definitely agree. Lets get down to business and stop worrying so much about what people think because we are women.

    As for me, I'm still waiting for the seminar titled, “I'm a woman, I'm serious about what I do, I don't care what you think and yes, I can get the damn job done better than anyone else”. Let me know when and where because I want VIP tickets!

    • cathybrooks says:

      Thank you for chiming in, Angela. Sounds like you'll want to read the book on which I've just embarked writing … it's all about female ferocity as a business asset 🙂
      Stay tuned! And in the mean time … keep being badass as from your brief comment I get a sense that's a category into which you fit!

    • Thanks Cathy, Let me know when you finish. I would love to read it!

  9. Bobette says:

    I don't really understand the issue. Should more men become kindergarten teachers because there are more women doing the job? Should men band together and form groups to battle against a perceived enemy? If you want to work in tech, super. If you don't don't. It just seems silly to me to think this is somehow an issue when it's not. Men are dominating the Waste Management field! Gather your torches ladies and get in there and make a difference!

    Sorry, but it's completely absurd to me. One of my (female) friends is a programmer. Has been for years. So what? She's actually started branching out into olives, because tech is soulless and exhausting. She's 100 times happier working outside.

  10. iamkhayyam says:

    Strange that no men are commenting on this post. I find that quite odd in comparison to the other articles cited above. However, something resonated in me when I read this article, in particular, the quote from Allyson Kapin, “Instead of being reactive, it’s time to be proactive and productive and become part of the solution.” Now the part that resonated deeply was not to be reactive. When we learn to respond instead of react, the solution stares us straight in the face, it's called a challenge and an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity to rise up gather momentum and move toward a solution.

    Reading Anna's comments are exactly how I feel. It doesn't matter to me if you're a man or a woman. It also doesn't matter if you're beige, white or taupe. As soon as we can recognize that our differences make us all the same, then we're on to something. And as long as you're are the best at what you do and I'm the best at what I do and we do good things with our collective talents… then a good day has been had.

    Cathy, you're on to something here. And if I may say… you #growgirl 🙂

  11. Misty Lackie says:

    I stopped wasting my time 8 years ago when I started my own tech business. I think Anna’s comment is spot on. I also think Bobette has some good points. I have many female friends that no matter how hard I try to convince them wouldn’t come near tech because they would rather be working in other jobs that they deem more rewarding. Is it truly an issue of fewer women in tech because of stereotypes or is it an issue of this industry not being appealing or rewarding for many women?

    Being a women in tech has never stopped me from getting work or customers. I truly feel if you are good at what you do and you are able to offer something of value, at the end of the day your sex won’t matter.

    Now being a women in politics is an entirely different story 🙂

  12. Vinko says:

    I am a man so I add my 2 cents worth.

    I don't understand all the so call people who complain that there are no women or not enough women in tech. I personally do not see an issue. I know many women in Hong Kong and in North America who are in tech. I admit of the people I know in the tech industry, the ratio of women to men low, but I don't see an issue.

    As long as there are equal opportunities for both genders in the tech industry, who cares how many of each are in the industry.

    • cathybrooks says:

      Vinko – had posted an extensive response to you but the system seems to have eaten it. Will pen another a bit later as right now am prepping to moderate a panel discussion about … female ferocity in business 🙂

    • cathybrooks says:

      First, thanks for commenting, Vinko! Appreciate your perspective. So the question I have for you is what kind of women you are counting in that number. Are you counting admins? Are you talking about women in junior/mid level roles or C-suite? Are you talking about engineers or sales/marketing/business side?

      What this discussion really is about is women in positions of leadership – founding/running companies, coding and building technology etc… That latter category is definitely lacking on diversity as noted by the article to which I link above. The former category is definitely getting better.

      As far as why it matters that there be more balance and diversity I'll posit this … recently I was speaking with a friend who works at a small start up. They have about 15 people. Of that number only 1 was a woman. That woman left the company (maternity leave) and my friend said something very interesting happened. He said that her departure marked a decided change in the business – that having her around – just a different “energy” … different way of approaching challenges … different way of communicating … had been vital in the company's culture and overall business. They're not sure that she's returning after maternity leave, but as i understand it they were in the process of doing hiring and were set on finding top females for the jobs.

      Any organization that has no diversity, no balance, is missing out, IMO … so when you ask “who cares” I would reply that we all should.

  13. cathybrooks says:

    Note to Misty & Iamkhayyam – a thank you for your comments and a note that I will respond to them a bit later this AM … right now rushing to a meeting but am eager to extend the points you raised!

  14. Sherry Chris says:

    Cathy I read your post with interest, in my industry which happens to be real estate many of the technology leaders happen to be women. For the most part these women are not developing new apps and that type of thing, but they are early adopters of technology and are effectively using it to drive sales. They are well versed in how to establish and optimize a sophisticated blog, develop and nuture on-line communities, and openly share at conferences andevents. So my question would be – is the perceived problem industry specific?

    • cathybrooks says:

      A good question, Sherry … I think that there's definitely a substantive dearth in some industries like tech that have been traditionally male dominated … mostly because of the flow of candidates from the educational system. Generally the number of women (young girls) going into the sciences, math etc… has been lower. One of the links in my post shows the trends on that. There was a spike in the 90s, but it's dropped off again. To be clear, though, that refers to woman “technologists” the ones who code, build the stuff etc… as opposed to women who work in the tech industry (I'd fall into that category). Overall the number of women at higher level positions is lower – though better than it used to be. The other lack as the WSJ article points out is the shortage of females running VC funded companies – though many folks have pointed out to me there are MANY woman business owners but they tend to start/run businesses that don't take the VC route.

  15. LisaRau says:

    I'm so glad to hear you echoing Arrington's sentiments, because complaining only further validates the idea of oppression. Thanks, for this. 🙂

  16. Seiji Kato says:

    I am not much of a speaker, but I would just like to wish you the best of luck. It is much easier to sit down and complain about a situation, I can admit that as I have done it a number of times rather than be pro-active, something I regret deeply. I do hope that you are able to make a difference.
    It is still rather embarrassing how unfair things are still. When I was in Japan and looking for work, the number of times i found (in tech related jobs) that the companies had a nearly 4:1 or 5:1 ratio of male employees to female employees…still rather sad how things are in this day and age.

  17. Arvind Panwar says:

    Women do really great if you are an internet user and know about some unique things like twitter youtube collecta and most important slideshare which is unique in itself ( no doubt now there are many site like that) was also output of a great WOMAN -Rashmi Sinha.

  18. USB 3G says:

    Nice, that’s helpful for me!

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