I need to let you into a little secret. I am a woman in tech and I don’t see it as a bad thing… not at all. Not one bit.
The thing is, I could. I could see all the negatives and focus on all the barriers but I don’t. In fact, I see these barriers as hurdles that push me to jump higher and run faster.
A couple of months ago I awoke to a flurry of twitter activity. Bemused at why I had a party on my notifications, I scrolled down to see Marc Andreessen had retweeted some of my tweets. It had started when I wrote some #StartupFallacy tweets and concluded with ten points which I felt summed up the startup landscape. Marc had kindly retweeted those final ten points which had led to some agreement, disagreement and discussion.
The point of disagreement came from me saying not all women in tech were carbon copies of Shanley Kane. Someone pointed out that that was a shame as she was intelligent and bold which I vigorously agreed with but, naturally, 140 characters do not give context. The original premise for my tweet was that we’re all different, as humans, as women, as advocates, as activists. And that’s the beauty of human nature.
However, a few weeks later, I came under fire again for sharing a positive post about Vivek Wadhwa, written by a woman who used to work for him. Whilst there may always be disagreements, one thing we all agree on is that it would be great to have more more women in tech. So how do we do it? I get asked this a lot so I decided to publish some suggestions:-
1. Stop talking, start doing
To those who choose to spend their time seeking out people on Twitter, like me, defending Vivek Wadhwa in order to dispute, I instead urge you stop talking and start doing — every second spent fighting people on Twitter could be spent building an empire filled with awesome women or sharing stories of great female entrepreneurs, organising a conference which celebrates women in tech or writing a book or article on the subject.
2. Fight for what is right
Fight whichever way you deem fit but understand the nuances of others (something I must learn as well). I might think aggressive, expletive filled tweets are not the best delivery but that is my opinion only. I am entitled to it but that doesn’t mean it is right. The same is true in reverse.
Just because someone does not agree with my opinion on Vivek Wadhwa, it does not mean I am wrong. My opinion is based on research which led me to believe that Vivek had done more good than harm. (Besides, I find there is nothing more toxic than a mob mentality “attacking” any individual online.)
3. Stay away from the haters
I have recently, and regrettably, unfollowed a fantastic female engineer who works at one of the most uniquely diverse tech teams that exists today. Whilst she is in a wonderful position to sing the praises of her company and her job, she chooses instead to send tweet after tweet about the negatives of working in tech and, I don’t get it. Will it help get more women into tech or encourage more young girls to study Computer Science? Put it another way, would you join an industry or study a subject where visible role models focus so much of their public efforts on saying how bad it was? Personally, I wouldn’t. In fact, I don’t think there is anything that would put me off more than seeing one of the best continuously magnifying the issues.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that these are important issues and should be discussed but, when you are in the revered position of being a role model, especially to the notable diversity groups you openly work with, you must understand that you will attract followers which include young girls and females fresh to the industry. If you then slam the industry repeatedly, what message are you giving them? Will it attract or repel more women into tech?
Looking at it another way, if for every tweet where you highlighted those that give the industry a bad name, you instead tweeted a story of success; of fellow female engineers and founders, from different backgrounds, who are making it, despite the setbacks — would that not contribute better to your goal of making the tech industry more diverse? The discussions about issues can and should still take place but in an environment which promotes action. Being the foghorn for negativity on Twitter seems does not seem the appropriate position of someone held up as a justifiable role model.
4. Be the difference
Following on from the previous point, if you believe there should be more women in tech, what are you doing to recruit more? We often feel we are unable to do anything but announce the problems yet there is a lot we can all do. Here are just some: write articles, do talks, make yourself and other female founders visible, set up your own businesses, hire your own teams, write books on the awesome women who are killing it in this industry.
I am a huge believer in the fact that there is almost nothing to stop anyone anywhere in a civilised environment to start their own business. What if more awesome women started their own business, started their own VC fund, started their own accelerators? My recommendation would be to save the energy used to harangue others and, instead, use it for positive action. Examples of great women doing this are endless but some of my favourites are included at the end of this post.
5. Visibility is key
Like I said in my previous post on the subject, visibility is the single, most important, factor in encouraging more women into tech, and keeping them there. That is why services such as Glassbreakers is so crucial. As I, and others, have said many times over, “You can’t be what you can’t see” so talking and writing about great women in tech is a great start. Being on Twitter, writing on Medium, being a mentor to other women or hosting events and awards aimed at celebrating women in tech is even better. Those already doing this include Women 2.0, Ada’s List, Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Tech.
The same issue also lies with other industries. Tech is by no means the only industry where we need more visible female role models.
6. Fight the good fight with the right weapons
If you believe the best way to promote diversity in tech is to attack those in “power” then understand what is best going to make them listen and target them that way. If your natural tendency is to blow the place up with expletives, think about how effective that might be considering the audience you are targeting. This is not me saying that only the people who talk softly and curtsy at the feet of the people of power will make a change — not at all. But if you want people to listen, sometimes it can be worth adopting the approach most likely to be listened to by that particular audience.
7. Judge a tree from its fruit, not from its leaves ~ Euripides
There is a sad irony in the fact some women judge certain males in tech in the same way they detest to be judged — by simply their gender. Being white and male does not make an enemy. As I said on my recent tweetstorm, “Don’t assume all VCs are old, white, misogynistic a***holes who will make a pass if you try to raise capital from them.” For every man who brings the industry down, there are plenty doing good and they’re not always shouting it from the rooftops.
It genuinely hurts me when I see good people getting judged when often, the person “judging” might not truly know the person’s efforts to encourage more diversity in the industry. I have continual dialogues with investors, event organisers, founders and accelerator management — many of whom I actually reached out to after they asked on Twitter (and other channels) how they could do more. If I see effort, I will 100% do my best to help anyone find a great woman speaker, recommend a fantastic female engineer or equally, introduce an amazing female founder who is looking for funding.
Sure you can argue that we shouldn’t have to — but why not help? I believe that in doing so, I am helping to increase the visibility of women in tech and therefore I do not hesitate, and I am always grateful when others do the same for me.
8. The responsibility lies with all of us
And by this, I mean journalists and Human Resources teams, event organisers and those representing women and diversity in tech. We need to create a culture within organisations which allows HR to do their jobs without fear of management. Their duty is to serve staff, not the MD, which means welcoming staff to discuss issues of harassment or wrongdoing without fear of reprimand or shame.
Similarly, we need to encourage the press to focus on what is meaningful and helpful to the industry — and that includes writing more pieces which focus on the success of women in tech, not just the discrimination cases. I believe in balance and the press has a massive part to play in this.
9. Successful change takes time
In September 2014, England became the first country in the world to mandate computer programming in primary and secondary schools. Whilst I was initially against a rush for the government to “jump on the bandwagon” (my words), I am, in fact, not against programming becoming a core subject.
My issue was more a concern that you cannot make such an important subject mandatory without both the teachers and governing bodies being prepared and educated. For any child to be truly interested in any subject, you need teachers who are both informed and inspiring — therefore for this new scheme to be successful, the same applies.
Ill-prepared teachers won’t make it work. I therefore hope that we also prepare and equip the teachers so that they can both inspire and perhaps even teach about both female and male role models which exist in the field. All the better if they get the role model in to speak at the school — Founders4Schools can help in UK.
10. CELEBRATE women in tech
“When women support each other, incredible things can happen.” It would be great to see more women supporting fellow women in tech, more press focusing on female founder success stories and mothers and teachers encouraging daughters and students to study the subject and enter the field.
There is often the complaint that men aren’t doing enough but we can all take a stand. Programs in the UK like Apps for Good are always asking for more women in tech to join their expert database, event organisers are crying out for more women to put themselves forward for speaker lists (I always send them to Articulate) and there are now countless groups and events we can take part in.
Every industry has its issues but if we want to get more women into tech and keep us here, we can’t focus on the problem without providing a cure. I believe we should be focusing all efforts on pushing forward, and pushing the minority of misogynistic a***holes out the way. The quickest way to get what we want is to do it ourselves and, as believers in equality, why are we actually looking to men to sort the problem when we can do perfectly well ourselves?
I have included a list of some of the great people, services and sites which I think go a long way to supporting women in tech (directly/indirectly) ~ please feel free to add yours - the more, the better.
Ada’s List UK
Anita Borg Institute
Apps for Good
Black Girls Code
CODE ~ Debugging The Gender Gap (forthcoming film)
Code Club and Code Club World
Female Founders Conference
GeekGirl MeetUp UK
Girl Develop It
Girls in Tech UK
Girls Who Code
The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing
NASA Women of STEM
She Started It (forthcoming documentary)
Martha Lane Fox (and her Twitter list of women in tech)
Dr Sam Collins
Dr Sue Black
Thank you and please feel free to direct any comments to me on Twitter, or share this post if you found it useful.