Not All Women Know How to Represent “Women in Tech”

November 4, 2014

11:00 am

The increasing sensitivity about women in tech has led to a strange new phenomenon: all women entrepreneurs get asked about it. Women get invited to speak at conferences, and they know it’s just to “change the ratio.” And we journalists are guilty too: it’s hard to interview a female CEO without asking some vague question about what it’s like to be a woman in a leadership role.

While many women in tech are vocal leaders on this topic, ready to respond or turn your panel discussion upside down, others feel confused and out of place.

I never know what to say. I never know what guidance to give. My response often resembles a jumble of personal stories and random analogies. Just because I am a woman in tech doesn’t mean I’m a topic expert,” wrote Sandi MacPherson, editor-in-chief of Quibb, in a Medium post called “I don’t know how to be a woman in tech.”

MacPherson feels she could be doing more to help women but she doesn’t know where to start. Her first funding round only had one female investor out of 25; fewer than 50% of her users are women; and not all her blog posts have a gender-balanced mix of quotes. Is she doing something wrong?

“I worry that I’m part of the problem,” she wrote. “My silence isn’t meant to show my complacence nor satisfaction with the current situation, but my inability to identify what I should or could be doing. Should I embarrass the men who assume I’m ‘the marketing lady’? Should I name the VC Partner who incessantly asked me to dinner after our first meeting, under the guise of ‘tech talk’? Should I refuse to attend events once I realize I’m the token woman? Should I change my title to CEO, even though I feel that for a company with one employee it’s a bit silly?”

Now that every woman in tech is seen as a representative of Women in Tech, maybe we need some kind of How-To Guide for Concerned But Confused Women in Tech. It could feature a helpful mix of phrases to use, resources to consult, and equalities to aim for. Or better yet, a How-To Guide for People in Tech Who Support More Gender Equality. Many men find themselves in the same situation – wanting to create an inclusive company or community, yet unsure how to do so (except they don’t usually get asked to speak on panels about it).

There’s a continuum of people in the tech scene, ranging from active contributors to discrimination to passive supporters of the status quo all the way to strong activists. But it’s the people in the middle like MacPherson, who want to help but don’t know how, who need some guidance – and could end up making a big difference.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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