Why aren’t there more female tech CEOs? That debate has been building for a while. Stories revealing the “real reason there aren’t more powerful women in tech” or the “top 10 reasons tech CEOs are male” are followed up with stories lauding successful women in tech like Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman.
These CEOs are part a growing pack of female power players in the technology industry. But they’re all at C-suite. Where are the female developers? The female tech entrepreneurs starting young companies? In 20 years, will there be a Jobs-style movie featuring the heroic rise of a female tech entrepreneur? Based on the cross-section of tech entrepreneurs attending this summer’s International Startup Festival, I’d say not likely. There had to have been at least 100 male tech entrepreneurs to every female. Even the reporters covering that beat were overwhelmingly male (I was the lone woman in most crowds).
At technology companies and in the tech industry as a whole, there’s not just a lack of powerful women, there’s a lack of female voices, period. And the male voices we hear instead aren’t always pro-lady.
Just this week, Pax Dickinson was asked to resign as chief technology officer at news outlet Business Insider following what New York Magazine calls “an online firestorm” over years of sexist tweets. The magazine reported that the “tech bro” was finally ousted after a recent round of tweets about “feminism, misogyny and women in tech.”
Ironically, Business Insider just featured an op-ed by Glimpse Labs’ CEO Elissa Shevinsky on why she’s fed up with sexism in tech. Shevinsky had just attended Techcrunch Disrupt Hackathon, where the first app to be pitched was Titstare, “an app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits.”
Shevinsky, who never cared about the gender of developers before, suddenly found herself wishing for an end to all the “brogramming and its inherent sexism.”
Dickinson feels that people are overreacting to his tweets. Where’s he’s right, people (especially people online) tend to get their backs up unnecessarily about most everything. Where he’s wrong, well, I’ll let Shevinsky break it down for you: “Reasonable, professional, and non-sexist behavior should be an industry standard. Nine year old Alexandra Jordan presented the hack superfunkidtime.com on stage and our biggest take-away from the Disrupt Hackathon is that some jackasses presented an app about boobs? Sexism is such a big distraction that it’s worth taking head on, and dismantling.”
The disproportionate number of female CEOs isn’t limited to the tech world. Only 14% of this year’s PROFIT 500 CEOs or co-CEOs are women. The more realistic change—if you believe that a change is needed—should come at the culture level.
As an example: the premise of popular Toronto not-for-profit Ladies Learning Code is to encourage more women to become developers or land other digital jobs. While the classes are open to both men and women, the aim is to get girls and women comfortable coding. But separating women from men makes them seem a little… special needs. Our columnists have lamented the negative effects of the Pink Ghetto before. (Read: Why “Mompreneur” Is a Dirty Word and Pink and Business Don’t Mix)
While they may be problematic, I have to admit that organizations like Ladies Learning Code also make a certain amount of sense. They make an otherwise intimidating prospect—cracking the all-male code party—accessible. My gripe, I suppose, is that they keep the male-female divide firmly in place by emphasizing this is for ladies. If the women in tech are ever going to be the founders and developers, not just the execs, they need to focus on their good ideas, not how alienating it is to be a lady playing a man’s game.
What do you think? Does it matter if tech companies are male dominated?