Why Should Startups Try To Hire Women

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By Jean Hsu (Android developer, Pulse) This gem of an article showed up in my Twitter stream this morning...and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Basically, Penelope Trunk explains why male founders shouldn't hire/work with women in startups. Diversity, she says, is a luxury that is great for large companies, but distracts from the focus that a small startup should have.

At first, I thought the article would be just a brain dump with a sensationalist title, like this other article about Why Women Shouldn't Attend Tech Conferences. But it wasn't. She attributes the troubles and tensions she's had with her previous male co-founders completely to the fact that she is a female, (and of course, all females are emotional and throw fits and cry at work), and they found that too difficult to work with.

What infuriates me the most about posts like these is that people have the nerve to make blanket statements about gender based on their own experience. So you've found startup life and family hard to juggle? Write about that, but don't say that all women don't want to work at startups because they just want children. You've had troubles with your male co-founders? Write about that, and I won't judge you publicly even if your blog posts make it seem like you might be hard to work with. But make blanket statements about gender -- my gender -- that just aren't true about everyone (are any?) and I will not be nice about it.

I've kept my distance from writing about gender for awhile now, because honestly, it's getting a bit old. At first, I thought it was everyone agreeing that "we need more women in tech!" but no one really knowing what to do. But then I realized, there are a lot of people saying "Why on earth would we need more women in tech?? There's no problem here..." And it is the most appalling to me when these comments come from women themselves. I had an email conversation with a woman about a previous blog post, and at some point she said,

"Now could we perhaps change that in childhood, get women to think logically? I don't know. We still need loving, nurturing mommies, and I'm not sure you can pack too many male characteristics into a female body and still get a mommy."

That conversation was a major wtf moment for me.

I work at a startup where I am the only female engineer, but we're only at 13 full-timers right now. For awhile, we had a 1:2 ratio, with two females and four males, but now the male part of the ratio has grown quite a bit. And that's fine. We've built an amazing team that I'm incredibly proud to work with everyday. And I am so uncomfortable with the idea of "lowering the bar" for the sake of diversity. But spending some extra time and effort to network with women in the area to try to find extremely qualified women, and shaping the interview process so that it's more indicative of how you would perform at the company and less of a macho programming competition? That I'm ok with.

The core group of people you have working at a startup affects everything -- who sends you resumes, the reputation of the startup (engineers talk...), the office culture... everything. Having diversity among these early employees is of utmost importance, because the end result is that you come up with better solutions because you have a 360 view of the problem at hand. I haven't seen that it has been a distraction either, as we have a fairly diverse team and are also able to execute quickly.

Honestly, there comes a point where if you have only 40 (or even 10) engineering guys working at a startup, it develops a certain type of culture, and it's really hard to change that and make it an appealing place for someone who isn't like them. Sure, sometimes it's difficult to work with people who are different. It's probably human nature to like people who are like you, but learning to work with people with different personalities, genders, and backgrounds makes for a stronger team, not a distracted one.

This post was originally published on Jean Hsu's blog.

About the guest blogger: Jean Hsu co-leads Android development for Pulse News, a mobile news reading app. Before she entered the startup world, she worked at Google as a software engineer for two years. Jean holds a Bachelor's of Engineering in Computer Science from Princeton University. She blogs about her startup adventures and experiences as a software engineer at www.jeanhsu.com. Follow her on Twitter at @jyhsu.