There’s No Ambition Gap: Truth About Women in Tech

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“Diversity isn’t defined as having more women, diversity is defined as having more voices at the table.”

By Jazmin Hupp (Director of Marketing, Tekserve)

Jessica Lawrence spoke about There’s No Ambition Gap: Truth About Women in Tech at SXSW Interactive today. The first question poised is why do we still need to have this “feminist” conversation when women are more than half of college graduates and so on. But when you look at tech conferences, company boards, and most of the c-suites, it’s obvious that our HR masquerade for diversity hasn’t been effective.

Jessica currently manages the largest meet-up in the world (New York Tech Meetup). She sells out 800 tickets to their monthly meeting in about 36 seconds. She formally worked at The Girls Scouts of America and has brought her work with girls to women technologists. At one of her workshops with the Girls Scouts looking at product design, one participant realized that mini vans don’t come with a place to store your purse. It’s pretty obvious in retrospect that male car designers wouldn’t design a place to put a women’s purse.

74% of high school girls ARE interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) according to the Girl Scout Research Institute. If that is true in high school, why are our STEM workforces devoid of women? Only 18% of computer science degrees are awarded to women and make up only 11% of working engineers. Studies vary, but something like 3% of technology companies are founded by women.

Jessica went to get more applicants for New York Tech Meetup and was met with mostly silence. When she did get female applicants, if she rejected them, they rarely contacted her again. Whereas many of the men borderline harassed her to get in if they were rejected. Another TED conference organizer commented that women declined speaking requests more often than men. Jessica found that the hurdles for women in tech were ambition, visibility, and comfort.

Ambition

Part of the definition of ambition is “an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power.” This doesn’t resonate with women. It seems too self-serving. Many of the women she spoke to redefined ambition to accomplish a goal to better the community.

Visibility: Why does every tech conference feature almost all white men?

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Many of the Girl Scouts that Jessica taught didn’t know what an engineer was. Girls are not taught to tinker or experiment as children. When they go to college, they don’t see female STEM teachers. When they go to technology conferences, all of the speakers are white men. This is a reciprocating circle. Jessica is an event producer and knows that most event producers reach out to the same speakers that other conferences already have. If you’re a white man who wants to stop this trend, tell conference organizers you’ll only speak if half the speakers are NOT white men.

Confidence: Why do women fear that they will be called out for not being “expert enough”?

Jessica created a Women’s Demo Night, which was very different than the large New York Tech demo night. This was a smaller venue with professional coaches who gave private critiques to the women who demo. Suddenly she’s receiving more female applications for one event than years of New York Tech Meetup applicants.

Jessica was able to diagnose why these women weren’t applying to New York Tech’s big events before, she heard:

  • “I’m not expert enough.”
  • “We’re not ready.”
  • “That stage is too big for me.”
  • “My company isn’t techie enough.”
  • “I just had a baby, I don’t feel good about my body, and I don’t want to be judged.”

A whole slew of reasons that have nothing to do with the viability of their demo. Women feel that not only they are being judge but that they are being judge for the entire female population. If you survey comments on talks given by men and women, you’ll see something very different. Comments about women tend to be about how they’re dressed or how much they weigh. The tech industry features booth babes and hiring women to balance the gender gap at their tech parties.

When you compare men and women who would like to run for President,women won’t run because they’re missing one out of five qualifications. Men will look at the same list of qualifications, see they have two of the qualifications, and go for it. Entrepreneurs need to find a problem that has not been satisfactorily solved yet and that they are THE right person to solve. Women and men find problems just as easily but few women are willing to nominate themselves as THE person to solve it.

Comfort: Why is sexism still ok?

Right now it is unfairly uncomfortable for women to enter into tech careers. At least 30% of women surveyed chose NOT to go into engineering because they thought the organization was not welcoming or flexible. In networking with female founders, Jessica was stunned by stories:

  • One female founder was asked to make coffee for the meeting.
  • Another female founder was asked who was going to take care of the kids while the company was being launched.
  • One tech saleswomen was propositioned by a client for sex when trying to close a sale.

Who Can Fix This?

Some think that women need to be more aggressive while others think this is society’s problem to fix. Jessica thinks its both women and everyone’s job to fix this gap.

Etsy increased its number of female programmers by 500% in just one year. They offered full-ride scholarships to women going to Hacker School and increased female applicants from 7 to hundreds. They didn’t lower the requirements; they just made it visible that they supported diverse programmers. Etsy put out guidelines making it clear as a company they didn’t tolerate subtle sexism.

Here’s What We All Can Do To Get More Women in Tech

  1. Be flexible! Girls aren’t born wanting dolls more than robots. We steer girls away from making.
  2. Get visible! Women need to be willing to speak at conferences, women need to proactively seek conferences without female speakers, and they need to say yes to publishing and press. Be supportive to women who are timid about presenting.
  3. Be clear! If you don’t want booth babes at your events, tell your sponsors so.
  4. Be respectful! Realize that both men and women may have to change their conversation topics to make both genders comfortable. Just like some dudes may have to curb the trash talk, women may not want to talk about their periods in the lunch room.
  5. Don’t judge! Women are harder on each other than other men. Just because another women is choosing to step out of the workforce, that is her choice and we should all fight for women to have those choices.
  6. Support women in tech opportunities! Check out Women Who Code and Girl Develop It that allow women and girls to experience tech.
  7. Build a great culture! Every company’s culture is manufactured by its employees, we all have the power to change those cultures.

Women 2.0 readers: What are you doing to bring more women into tech?

About the guest blogger: Jazmin Hupp is the Director of Marketing at Tekserve, the independent Apple computer store in New York City that specializes in Apple solutions for business. She is launching a new competition or startups creating the next great consumer tech product called The Tekstuff Prize. Follow her on Twitter at @jazminhupp