Well-Behaved Women Rarely Ever Make Startups

Representation of women in tech is going down, not up

As a woman working in tech, I understand how it feels to be treated based on qualities unrelated to my talent. It’s no secret that technology is a male-dominated industry, but it may be surprising to learn that even as the field continues to expand, representation of women is going down, not up.

Emily Chang, in her 2018 book “Brotopia: Breaking up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley,” writes that despite Wall Street’s biggest banks employing men and women at approximately a 50-50 ratio, women make up only 25% of computing jobs, and receive only 2% of available venture capital to fund startups. According to Forbes, only 24 Fortune 500 companies were run by women in 2018, down from 32 in 2017.

“Bro culture” may be a hip term to describe chauvinism in startups and Silicon Valley, but it’s essentially a rebrand of the historical issues women at work have always faced, and it’s especially prominent in tech.

Faced with discriminatory hiring practices and the potential for sexual harassment, it’s no wonder that women aren’t crazy about pursuing a career in the tech industry. In our current cultural environment, it’s true that women are being encouraged to speak up about harassment or abusive treatment, but far too often “bros protect bros” in the workplace and change is slow in coming, if it comes at all. In multiple instances, tech executives have faced sexual assault allegations but are welcomed into a new company with open arms, sometimes only weeks or months after victims speak out.

Don’t get me wrong, I work with a lot of great men in this industry. Guys who take me seriously and treat me respectfully. But as a woman who wants to see more women in the field succeed and feel comfortable doing what they love, it’s important to call out this culture and advocate for solutions.

Chang suggests that such change “has to come from the top,” and she recommends CEOs communicate the value of diversity to everyone in their companies. I think this is a good start and necessary, but I also feel that young women dreaming of going into tech shouldn’t wait for the culture to change, they should transform it themselves.

How do we do this? Inspiring our daughters, granddaughters, nieces and little sisters, and giving them the confidence to excel in any field, starts with having thoughtful conversations with them. Amazon board member and former Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi recalls her mother asking her at the dinner table how she would manage various political and social events in India if she were the prime minister. Nooyi credits those conversations for inspiring her to think like a leader.

As someone who’s started a handful of tech companies, I think another, more direct way forward is for women to blaze our own trail. We should feel empowered and capable to build companies of our own. I’ve been coding since I was 8 and have always pictured myself in this industry, so I’m not going to ask for permission to work in the field of my dreams.

And I know I’m not alone.

It may not be a fair fight to level the playing field, the home team has a significant historical advantage, but if we wait for men in the industry to give us what we deserve instead of taking it for ourselves, we’re going to be waiting a long time.

Or, to paraphrase a well-known bit of wisdom: “Good things come to those who wait, better things come to those who work for it.”

Cynthia Del’Aria is the CEO and founder of Raika Technologies, a Denver-based startup incubator with clients across a range of industries. Raika works with entrepreneurs to evaluate the viability of their product and business models, and develops apps, business plans and identifies target markets to ensure success.

Categories: Company Perspectives, Women in Biz