Why Aren’t There More Tech Women?

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Join Poornima Vijayashanker of BizeeBee and Alexa Andrzejewski of Foodspotting on Thursday, May 10 for a Startup Triad event on "Fearless Female Founders" at AirBnB in San Francisco! By Poornima Vijayashanker (Founder & CEO, BizeeBee)

I usually don’t like to debate issues of gender or race, but the with the tech community buzzing about the dearth of women entrepreneurs and women in tech I decided it was time to throw in my two cents, after all I am a femgineer. The community overall is conflating two issues into one: the lack of a group does not automatically fault the presence or abundance of another.

People in general complain too much instead of taking action and fixate on negatives instead of finding paths to success. It boils down to awareness, motivation, and priorities. I’ll save the claims of meritocracy for a later post.

Awareness

My younger brother and I talk a lot about how we were raised from a very young age to think like engineers. Our entire family is composed of engineers aside from my mom who is an accountant. And even though I thought I was going to be a lawyer I somehow managed to come back to my roots. No one pressured me into being an engineer, my dad did gently nudge me towards taking a computer science class, and even after I dropped out of my freshman year programming class my dad didn’t revisit the topic. It was I, who out of a sense of failure decided to return and prove to myself that I could hack it (pun intended).

The reason I chose a path of technologist is because I believe it improves human life. Since the industrial revolution people have been benefiting from technological advances and living happier and longer lives that don’t require back breaking labor. Hence, my choice to pursue an engineering degree was based on upbringing, a curiosity to discover the space, and a desire to improve human life including my own.

I also had clear role models growing up, which I don’t think a lot of kids have. I knew what a fab looked like by the time I was 10, and my family’s dinnertime conversation revolved around a fascination with Wall Street and high tech.

Priorities

While most girls grow up playing with Barbies and dreaming about their wedding day, my dad banned Barbies, and I fixated on my career goals of being a lawyer, writer, and professor.

To this day I’ve thought about having a family, but it directly conflicts with the vision I have for my life for the next 5-10 years, which is one of freedom, freedom to pursue my own interests whether that’s a career, travel, or even hobbies. To most people, men or women working at a startup is a huge time commitment. It takes away time spent with their loved ones. And for women who want to have a family they see their twenties as a time to find a partner and settle down, not to be working 40+ hours a week, which is the Valley norm whether you’re at a tech company or a startup.

There just aren’t many 9-5 gigs for talented engineers, but realize the compensation is commensurate. You can’t deny mother nature and the fact that women have a shorter runway than men. So if children and family are a priority then everything else including being an engineer must take a backseat to that dream.

Motivation

What motivates me is having a purpose and building something of value, which is why I’m in the startup scene. I initially began as a startup engineer because I wanted to become a better engineer and I also wanted to learn how companies were created. Next, as a startup founder, I want to learn what it takes to build a business.

Truth be told, the only thing I obsess about aside from my startup is food and staying healthy. Everything else this year has taken a backseat to my business including dating, friends, and family. But I knew that going in and I’m capable of staying focused for the long run, because I’m motivated to succeed.

So when people ask why there aren’t more women tech entrepreneurs they need to first ask the question, what does it take to be an tech entrepreneur? And who is it right for?

Honestly, I wouldn’t have been capable of starting a business when I was 22. It took me time to build up the courage, confidence, and competence. And I’m one who enjoys being in uncomfortable situations (working at a startup, opposing arranged marriage, Bikram yoga, the list goes on…), I’m a bit of a masochist. But that’s not true of all people men and women alike, which is why a large number of people drop out of things whether is engineering or med school and pursue easier paths in life. It’s also the reason people give into social pressure or settle for things in life instead of trying to push the edge.

At the end of the day people can complain all they want about there not being enough support, funding, resources or peers in any community or scene. Its up to you to create a vision for your future and amass the resources to reach that vision and it requires giving up some comforts to achieve it. If there’s one thing that I learned from engineering school its about learning to make trade-offs!

This post was originally posted at Femgineer.

About the guest blogger: Poornima Vijayashanker is Founder and CEO of BizeeBee. Prior to that, she was at Mint where she began as employee #3 in 2006, and stayed through the startup's acquisition by Intuit for $170M in 2010. Prior to Mint, she was in the Master's degree program for computer science at Stanford University but dropped out to join Mint. Poornima holds a double degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University. Poornima blogs on Femgineer.com and is a competitive yoga. Follow her on Twitter at @poornima.