There have been recent calls to give more women a chance within tech; there are calls [presumably to men] to take women more seriously and to work harder at recruiting and attracting women into tech in order to overcome systemic bias in the “system”.  I take issue with these approaches and perspectives firstly because I find them patronizing and secondly because I think the call to action is directed at the wrong place.

Don’t patronize me

On the first point, I don’t want someone to cut me some slack or “give me a chance” just because I’m a woman. I don’t want a hand-out, I don’t want to be patronized. I want to be recognized and respected because of what I’m capable of doing and achieving. If someone wants me on their team strictly because I’m a woman, then there’s probably something amiss in that intention. So don’t patronize me, please.

It works both ways — It’s not pleasant (or wise) if someone shuts a door on me strictly because I’m a woman, but I also don’t want the door opened only because I am.

Women need to get rid of the crutch and step it up

On the second point, I don’t think we should just ask men for more opportunities. I think instead we need to get more women to step it up and if they are seeking opportunities in tech (and not getting them), I think they should speak up or look harder. I have a computer science degree and have worked in technology companies my whole career, so I’ve worked mostly with men. I currently work in the @whitebearyard office space with a lot of men over 2 floors. I’m quite certain that each one of them (or at least most of them) are acutely aware whenever there is a woman in the office. Full stop. They know if a woman enters the office, steps into the floor or is here for a meeting. In this setting, women get a lot more attention than “just another guy”. And if a woman in this setting cannot make a positive impression or assert her value as a prospective vendor, partner, employee/consultant, then maybe she’s actually not qualified or capable enough – or not wanting it. All of these guys (and others that I know and work with) would love to work with more women. Most of them talk about the value and advantage to their team which would come from added diversity for product design, team dynamics, communication and emotional intelligence. They’re not opposed to hiring women and some would prefer evenly-qualified female candidates to male ones, but they (and I) don’t often see enough to choose from.

Evidence of lack of supply, but not demand

Here are just some recent data points as to why I believe it’s more of a “supply side” issue rather than a demand one.  As noted above, I don’t think most men in tech are averse to working with more women (quite the contrary), but I don’t see enough women putting themselves forward or taking advantage of opportunities available.

  • We recently co-hosted First Round Capital Volcano office hours in our offices @whitebearyard. While you could argue the sample size was quite small (it was held with only 1 day’s notice on a weekend), it was widely publicized via First Round’s network and on TechCrunch.  Still, out of the nearly 60 people who turned up to meet with a promiment US VC, only 4 of them were women (just under 7%).
  • I asked Mike Butcher about the submissions he received for the recent TechCrunch Europe GeekNRolla startup competition. #gknr was obviously widely publicized by TechCrunch and on Twitter and throughout the European tech community. The startup competition was promoted as an opportunity to launch a new company or product at a major event. Based on the stats Mike shared with me, out of 83 initial entries received by the first deadline, only 2 were led by women (2.4%).
  • Out of our deal flow data base (tracking the number of teams/companies we’ve met with who were seeking financing or introductions over the last 9 months), there are 492 teams/projects/companies, 9 of which were led or co-led by women (less than 2%).
    • Recently one of the most well known early stage VCs in the US, Union Square Ventures, started recruiting for 2 new job positions – an analyst and a General Manager. They received over 600 applications/expressions of interest but only 10% from women.

    Within tech, I don’t think we need to give more women a chance; I think we need to tell more women to go for it — if they want it.

    Mike Butcher, editor of TechCrunch Europe goes out of his way to feature women in his events. Of the 50 total number of speakers who took the stage during #gknr, 9 were female, which is nearly 20%. Take away the startup presenters (low number of women-led applicants already noted above) and women represented 25% — 1 out of every 4 – of Mike’s invited speakers. Mike is clearly a supporter of “women in tech” and more conscious of gender im/balances than most, but even generally from what I see tech companies, investors, event organizers and ecosystem catalysts want to see, promote and feature more women.

    Go for it, but make sure you want it and deserve it

    Are there really women out there who want access and think they do not get it because they’re a woman? If so, I would encourage that you should look at other factors that might be contributing such as your CV, skills background, working style, references, or communication/presentation skills. It might just be too easy to say “oh it’s because I’m a woman”, and that will actually hinder you from improving areas in need of development. Stop making excuses and get on with it. All the men I know are looking out for women to join their teams. But if you’re not good enough, you might just not be good enough. Stop using the woman thing as a crutch and work on what needs to be done in order to break-through. I want to change the call to action from asking men to give us a chance to asking women to step it up and make sure you’re making it known if you want to be in tech/business — and will be successful in it. 

    Coming up next (hopefully within this week): Part II: How “tech” compares to other industries…


    16 thoughts on ““The Woman Thing” Part I: Don’t Just Beg Men To Give Us A Chance

    1. Very well written. There will be a big disruption when the female population in the realm of tech evolution takes place. Women are simply better at multi-tasking than men and know sooner in life that the simple truth is best, as your response to that fellow saying what you should hide.

      Yes, you are right on the side of stopping the flattery.

      Well written.

      Dave Baldwin

    2. Eileen – Thank you for stepping up and stating the obvious. I’m a woman and I don’t believe it is a disability. For most of the women who have the freedom, education and opportunity to even consider this discussion relevant, wake up and smell the coffee.

      We all have biases and those biases do effect our judgment and decisions. But in the context of this discussion, those deciding who gets funded, hired, etc. are focused on making the selection with the best potential ROI.

      Studies have shown that tall blued individuals are perceived more favorably. Yet I don’t hear about short brown eyed people saying “give us a chance”. We can’t control how tall we are, the color of our eyes or skin, or our gender, so let’s focus on what we can control

    3. Although you don’t seek nor need a man’s “blessing” simply ’cause you’re a woman—hard beans: the words of Eileen Burbidge are what more women should read before struggling with sleep deprivation.
      You proffer simple, concise yet powerful principles which, if adopted by more Venusians, would lead to an increase in sincere welcoming by smarter Martians whatever the society.
      fwiw your evolution in Twitter Think (and action) was/is pretty much my own. lol

    4. Thanks to all of you for stopping by and commenting here…

      @Dave, Appreciate your comments re the writing style (I’m mostly too long-winded!)

      @Grace: I’ve heard those anecdotal tales as well (re blond/blue-eyed) any pointers? I’d like to follow-up/include them… same with ethnicity/race of course

      @wayne: Funny re Twitter evolution; and I hope/plan to write and emphasize more posts re tech/trends in the future — ironically I don’t want to be known as the woman who writes about “women in tech” (multi-part series aside) since I don’t think we should obsess about it… 😉

      Thanks again!

    5. Hi Eileen,

      Thank you for this thoughtful assessment. As someone who works with a non-profit group aimed at encouraging girls to consider IT careers, it’s disheartening to hear we’re making so little progress within our existing ranks. I entered IT in 1981 and have found it to be a fabulous industry loaded with opportunity for men and women. I never once felt like I was held back because of my gender. I find the whole “give women a chance” attitude patronizing, as well. I’m eager to stand toe-to-toe with anyone and won’t be happy with the result if I haven’t been judged on a level playing field.

      I have encountered plenty of women in IT, however, who aspire to nothing more than a comfortable job with modest responsibility. I appreciate that sentiment but when it’s a widespread occurrence, the consequence is an industry where the female voice gets muffled.

      I look forward to your next two installments.

    6. Excellent post Eileen!

      I have been in IT for over 20 years and have never experienced resistance due to my gender. You mirror my sentiments exactly. I hear stories from those who have experienced gender-bias in IT, however, they are usually the kind of people that look for it (ie. if you believe it to be true, you’ll create it!).

      FYI, the “blue-eyes versus brown-eyes” experiment was conducted by Jane Elliot in the late ’60s.


      This is the video I remember seeing a long time ago.


    7. Oh, I have the same problem. Looking at the posts over at TechCrunch, many just miss the point and are of no use. I’m 47, so the whole Coed Gym thing started with me…the mistake was, “Guys, you cannot come this close to the basket..and blah, blah.” Eventually that changed and the female is excelling in sports.

      In school, girls pay more attention while guys move into the sloth scenario. The key is to get the middle grades where the girls will move upward, for that matter the boys too.

      I have something you would be interested in that involves AI and working with Ben Goertzel…let me know if you would like to communicate.


      Dave Baldwin

    8. Eileen you rock! You may not remember me but we met when you were in the Valley and working at Sun and you were heading up the early incarnations of J2ME and Jini! All I can say is that Eileen is awesome and this blog post of hers just goes to show that she hasn’t lost one step since her days in the Valley in the mid-90s (besides, she’s a fellow Chicago metropolitan and some good people come out of Chicago despite all the attention and focus of Silicon Valley)! Cheers!

    9. Pingback: Woman Tells Women to Stop Making Excuses | Talented And Gifted

    10. It’s funny how the Internet works. You write a blog post about how there’s not a problem in an industry, and it still somehow makes you an authority on the subject you say doesn’t exist.

      I am part of a project where we try to connect people in information technology with mentorships. Your article spawned a healthy debate about whether or not it was appropriate to consider if there were special needs that women may have in such a program. As a woman in tech myself, I saw it as perhaps a bit of favoritism at worst, but certainly not something damaging to womenkind or the community.

      What do you think? Is it ok to recognize the possibility that women react positively to mentoring as a way to engage the community, or is that just engendering the issue? In my experience, women in tech feel the “imposter syndrome” more than men with the same qualifications. A mentor is a great way to shortcircuit that negative self-doubt by showing acceptance. A mentor is also a social construct, as opposed to a technical one, which women are known to respond better to.

      So what do you think? Am I doing more harm than good by targeting women with this program?


    11. “It works both ways — It’s not pleasant (or wise) if someone shuts a door on me strictly because I’m a woman, but I also don’t want the door opened only because I am.”

      brilliant. my thoughts exactly.

      my husband and i have discussed this recently- probably because of all the media buzz about the topic- and i’m curious if you’ve seen any numbers for interest from the female population in tech jobs. “tech” still seems to have a geeky, masculine, basement dwelling reputation. maybe, socially, women are still driven away a by that.

      sometimes i wonder if we do more damage to ourselves and our own careers than we think.

    12. In show biz, you have the guy who is a complete loner who has all the right connections….or you have the gal who is geeky and they make her shallow (NCIS and the other one, don’t remember the name).

      Just have to give it time, and these different characters will gain more depth.

      Otherwise, just push the ladies. I use the, “we can guarantee free downloads of games for the rest of your life!” to the guys and the then tell them they will have to step thru that door and be out of the way. I then mention the cute ladies out on the running/bike trails who are in shape and have it together….why would one of them keep you around if all you do is play games and make less money?

      Other instructers like that one, anyway ;D


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