Women in Tech (or more precisely, the lack thereof) has always been an issue. And most recently, with the Twitter IPO, it’s become a hot topic again. I like it because it’s made me think about why this phenomenon exists. There’s a lot of people who are weighing in on this topic- most of whom, ironically, are not really women in technology.
So being a woman who is running a technology startup, I started questioning why I was doing what I was doing. I can’t speak for everyone, I can only speak for myself (so this is one datapoint) but the fact of the matter is that I could care less about most tech startups out there. I’m making the newest chat tool that erases pictures within 5 seconds of opening it (except oh crap, we didn’t realize you can hack it and come up with an iPhone app that actually save all the sexts that you’ve sent- our bad). I’m sorry, that just doesn’t make me want to jump for joy here. If I’m spending most of the waking hours of my day working on something, I’d like it to have meaning.
So now, lets look at the non profit and social enterprise space. How many women are running organizations there? I think you’d see quite a few. And if you look at the most famous ones in the Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) space, guess what, they are run (or co-run/founded) by, yes, women. Frontline SMS and Ushahidi great examples.
Which gets me to my main point: maybe the real question is, why aren’t more tech startups from Silicon Valley doing cool things that solve actual problems? (And no, I’m not the only one who thinks so). Now don’t get me wrong, I have personally experienced times when I think wow, now I know why being a woman in tech is so hard- no wonder more women don’t do it. And when I read things online, I think jesus, you actually thought it was ok to put this in print? Max Levchin, for example, straight up says he thinks that early startups should strive for “non-diversity“-
“PayPal also had a hard time hiring women. An outsider might think that the PayPal guys bought into the stereotype that women don’t do CS. But that’s not true at all. The truth is that PayPal had trouble hiring women because PayPal was just a bunch of nerds! They never talked to women. So how were they supposed to interact with and hire them?”
So basically, his argument was that since they never learned to talk to women in college, lets use the same logic in the real world. Lets never grow up because really, we don’t think this is going to be a big deal ever. AWESOME. I mean, can you imagine if I said the same thing? Well, I never learned to talk to boys in college so really I don’t think I should hire any men for my startup because I don’t think they will bring any value at all whatsoever. (Wow, now that I mention it, I should try it sometime- maybe my next startup!) Point is, it sounds utterly ridiculous, absurd and not to mention downright immature. And I think we’ve talked a lot about the structural reasons why there aren’t more women in technology (i.e the education system in general)- but it looks like some top universities are trying to rectify the problem- Carnegie Mellon is a prime example. (Kudos to them- I really hope more universities adopt this strategy. )
But I want to focus on those few women that say hey, I’m willing to deal with all of this crap and I’ve made it. I’m here. But really, here to do what? Am I going to deal with the constant struggle (because yes, it’s still awkward and painful for women in a male dominated world) in order to make an app that changes the face of mobile gaming for 7-15 year olds? Is that REALLY what I am going to struggle for here?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, even in hindsight, if I went to Harvard and Marc Zuckerberg were to come to me and ask me to start Facebook (EVEN knowing what I do now), I would probably pass. I’d STILL start NextDrop. Because by God, this thing is going to make people’s lives significantly better than it was before. If we live out our vision and fundamentally change the face of citizenship and democracy around the world like I think we are, I don’t know if I can say that Facebook will even come close to the positive impact we will create.
Maybe startups, and business in general, should think about how they can actually do good for the world. Over the past 2 years, I’ve come to believe that the status quo is just plain unsustainable, and I think that the future of Silicon Valley, the tech industry, and business as we know it, is going to change. And I think that future is going to have a lot more women in tech.
More on that in future posts.