Breaking Into the Boys Club

Over the course of this semester, I have been struck by how incredible innovation and technology are, and have envisioned how impactful the digitization of so many industries can be to the efficiency of our society. It’s so easy for me to get on board with disruptive tech, to see all the benefits that innovation has. However, as last week’s topic brought to my attention a a potentially negative societal impact, I’ve been thinking about the shortcomings of the tech/innovation space and what we as a society can do about it.

Last academic year I had the opportunity to take PULSE, one of the core classes BC offers that combines Philosophy, Theology, and a weekly 10 hour commitment to community service. One of the biggest themes I took away from my experience in this class was, in an oversimplified explanation, that success comes from the fact that society finds value in what you do, so it only makes sense to give back to the society that allows for your success. The nature of the tech space has curated an environment in which the Teds rule the world (please refer back to last week’s McAfee video). The shrinking middle class and the increasingly difficult life of the Bills is tough to grapple with, and the Silicon Valley/Cambridge world should be consistently discussing how to mitigate for such societal implications. While I completely agree that the Bills should be advocated for and ensured a high quality of life, I couldn’t help but wonder at the end of the discussion is where to the women fit into this – in the hypothetical world of Teds and Bills, there is not a single mention of women or where women fit.

In addition to the lack of women in the Ted Talk, the lack of women in the tech world has struck me since participating in TechTrek. Out of all of the executives we met with, an incredibly small percentage were women. This reality can be showcased even in the satirical “Silicon Valley” were all of the main characters are men. In a recent Business Insider Article, Alec Berg, one of the writers for the show, spoke on the backlash that the show has gotten from not highlighting many women. (http://www.businessinsider.com/silicon-valley-show-women-alec-berg-hbo-2017-4)

Berg stated, “The idea that we should somehow portray the tech business as it should be as opposed to how it is, I think is horses—. What good do we serve? If the show was just 50% women, what good are we doing? We’re just masking. Part of the point of satire is to point out the flaws in reality.”7032_1458680567.0.jpg

 

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What is incredibly disheartening is that the trend of having a lack of women in such a prominent, growing field is that it does not seem to be getting much better. In a business insider article from earlier this year, it was stated that startups are seeing fewer and fewer women in leadership positions.The increase in the prominence of males in the tech industry reduces diversity of opinions and provides obstacles for women innovators have to face in order for their products, especially if targeted towards women, need to over come in order to get their ideas out in

two1.pngsociety – Last year, companies with all women founders only received 2% of venture capital funding, and companies with at least one woman founder only received 15% – and this statistic is not for a lack of women innovators.  Many point to the fact that 93% of partners at top venture firms are men as the reason for why the number of women being funded in the start up world is so minuscule compared to their male counterparts. (Gizmodo).

 

I #D tweeted this week a video that highlights 3 women innovators and they spoke to their difficulty in communicating the value of their products and services to the “boys club” in Silicon Valley. They talked to their experience of being asked different questions than they would have been asked if they were men. A trend in the VC world is that women get asked questions more along the lines of how their venture could fail, whereas men get asked questions with the perspective of how their venture could succeed. The lack of women and, more importantly, the lack of opportunities for women in the Silicon Valley driven world is fundamentally detrimental for society in its inability to provide platforms for impactful ideas, diversity of opinion in powerful positions, and opportunities for more people than merely the Teds.

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I want to leave my blog on an optimistic note – people are talking about this issue. There are firms coming to fruition that dedicate themselves to the mitigation of the gender inequality that the tech world sees today. One in particular that I have learned about is X factor. Chip Hazard, a general partner at the venture firm Flybridge, has dedicated some of his time and expertise to creating a fund that is dedicated to the sole purpose of funding women. Chip states “As one of the 93% of VC partners who is male, a statistic that has actually gotten worse in my 23 years of investing, it was time to make a difference and try to bend the needle in the right direction.”

Talking about it is the first step! Lets hope the innovation and digitization we have learned so much about over the course of the semester can lead its way into having a more positive societal impact.

8 comments

  1. This is an awesome post! I am so glad you raised this point– it is something I have thought a lot about as I have interviewed this semester. Even just as an interviewee, I saw a noticeable difference in the cultures of companies where I had a roughly even number of male and female interviewers vs. a company where 15 out of 16 of my interviewers were male. I like your conclusion that at least it’s being talked about, but it is frustrating when companies constantly acknowledge the issue without actually demonstrating a commitment to making a significant change. I am curious how the “boys club” differs between industries. Because tech is a relatively newer industry which has grown during a time when Feminism has been a more focused on issue, I would have expected that it is a deeper seeded issue in other industries. Considering this, I am always surprised (and disappointed) that it’s such a major problem in the industry. However, if the issue is stemming from the finance industry, where funding decisions are made, it makes sense that women have a more difficult time breaking in.

  2. I loved this post Meredith and I commend you for writing about it so eloquently as I think this is a clear issue that should be addressed! Although it can be uncomfortable to talk about – the more people are forced to become aware of it, the greater the possibility there is for change in my opinion. Keeping with your ending optimism, I found this article that actually outlines some of the female-founde companies that have received funding this past year.
    https://pitchbook.com/news/articles/female-founded-vc-funded-the-numbers-behind-venture-investment-in-women-datagraphic
    Like you said, its a start but we still have a long long way to go!

  3. Important topic to discuss! Even in my classes in the business school, I find, to no fault of my classmates, that I am surrounded by a majority of men. Study after study concludes that greater success comes with diversity of employees, including the presence of women. It is important to encourage girls at a young age that they too, can and should become the founders and CEOs of the greatest innovation of the future, especially in the technology and more broadly STEM space. Having this conversation, and then also seeing companies have a focus on inclusion and diversity, are steps in the right direction.

  4. Awesome post! I really appreciate you bringing this topic to the table in the context of digital business. I know in previous discussions in the business school about gender inequality among executives and in the workplace, an argument is often made that the lack of women is natural because traditionally more mothers stay at home, etc. I think this notion is becoming more and more outdated and while it may take time for more women to move into executive positions, I think it definitely starts with conversations and with the push to change people’s attitudes about the capabilities of women. It was shocking to me to read that startups with not all male founders received a huge disparity of percentage of funding from VCs compared to startups with at least one female founder. Again, I think this all comes back to an overall change of attitude.

  5. Really well written post! Being a woman in the tech industry is extremely intimidating. There has been many time I am in a class or at an event for work and I am the only woman. Not only do I stick out like a sore thumb I often feel as though the men in the room treat me differently as well. Although, we (as woman) have come a long way socially I think there is still some of those out-dated perceptions sticking around. Like Sarah mentioned in the previous comment, the claim that the lack of woman is natural is made a lot. I think that this attitude contributes to the lack of woman. Without any encouragement and the expectation of leaving: women are discouraged to even begin a career in these industries.

  6. Really glad @lwennbie #D this post! I agree with @mariellemarcus1 in thinking that the tech industry would have more women in the workplace because it developed during a time where women’s rights and equality are actually being acknowledged. More disturbing is the statistics that startups are seeing fewer women in leadership positions every year. Women’s equality and equal representation in the workplace is such a relevant topic in the news and art, its upsetting that industries are not shifting their perspectives enough make a change. I also agree that the lack of women in industries discourages other women from entering the industries. A way to combat this is to give women more opportunities in education to learn skills that are value in tech industries, especially at a younger age, so that they can gain the reinsurance that their gender is not a limitation. A nonprofit that does this really way is Girls Who Code.
    https://girlswhocode.com/

  7. Michaela, you’re raising a great point here. Diversity strengthens workplaces – helps people think more creatively, find new solutions, and provide better products/services. It’s a cycle that perpetuates, too, because people hire people that remind them of themselves, that they understand and can relate to – so you see more and more white men in leadership roles. Only with intentional efforts to combat this from across the sector (and especially from those leading men) will we see meaningful change.

  8. Thanks for talking about this! Let’s hope all the Girls-Only coding/tech events will have a lasting impact and empower future generations to change things. Just wish some men in the class would comment on it, as they’re responsible for changing this landscape, too.

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