Walk into a startup on any given day and you see a similar scene: jeans, headphones, beer in the fridge, and a bunch of dudes playing foosball. The startup scene, like the tech industry in general, is not diverse. In addition to people of color, women are grossly underrepresented, holding roughly 10-20% of jobs in tech companies. This is nothing new and this is not the first it has been written about. But just 4 months after a career change, this is notable to me. As a woman new to both the tech industry and the startup scene, I was intrigued by an article I read in BetaBoston, published at the end of 2014. It claimed that 2015 would be the year that women would take back the tech industry.
After the sexist ramblings of rich white men and death threats from anonymous gamers, 2014 was seemingly a bad year for women in technology. Of course, it's hard to take back something that we never had. Still, I found myself empowered by the idea of a year for women in tech. I wanted to stand on the fancy roof deck of a startup-turned-public-company shouting, "You can't hold us down!," and burn my bra while chugging an IPA.
But then it hit me -- we shouldn't need a year for women in tech. I'm not suggesting we aren't underrepresented -- we are -- or that we aren't worthy of a year dedicated to our kicking butt and taking names. Simply, women shouldn't need to distinguish themselves from men because of gender inequality. This isn't some slouchy-socked romantic comedy about a secretary in the 80s. This is 2015 -- an era of iPhones, and drones and hoverboards.[bctt tweet="We shouldn't need a year for women in tech @sassyinsequins http://goo.gl/uDpr5R"]
As Senator Barbara Mikulski put it over 20 years ago:
"Calling 1992 the Year of the Woman makes it sound like the Year of the Caribou or the Year of the Asparagus. We’re not a fad, a fancy, or a year."
Where do women fit in?
Technology grows exponentially while the human brain lags behind. But it seems to be catching up. The emergence of female-focused companies and organizations like Women's Coding Collective and the Women's iLab is helping women gain a stronger foothold in the tech and startup industries.
Startup schools are fulfilling a need for diverse talent in the industry as well. Many purposely stock their cohorts with qualified women and people of color who are underrepresented in tech. Since it's inaugural class, 41% of Startup Institute's cohorts have been female, making it a veritable fish farm of qualified talent.
But the best part about these initiatives isn't so much the existence of them, but what comes out of them. The National Center for Women & Information Technology provides resources and education for over 1,000 girls each year. Graduates immediately become part of a network of women connected in the information technology fields. The same is true for startup schools. I liken it to being part of a sorority or, you know, any other professional organization. The most important part about it is the connection that you make. The tight-knit network that you become a member of, because you've experienced it.
What's it really like?
I can't speak for everyone, but my experience as a woman in technology has thus far been vastly different from the horror stories I've read. I knew when I was transitioning into the startup scene that I would be outnumbered. Some might find it unnerving, but as a marketer, I saw it as a good thing -- and still do.
In a sea of white dudes in t-shirts, I am usually the woman wearing something bright. If you can't see me, you can hear my loud, distinctive voice, telling funny stories or schooling people with my beer knowledge. Like any good marketer, I use this differentiator (my status as a woman in tech) to my advantage. When you're the odd-man (or woman) out in a room, people remember you. And in the small tech industry, it's good to be remembered.[bctt tweet="Women in tech can use underrepresentation to their advantage @sassyinsequins http://goo.gl/uDpr5R"]
I haven't experienced the downside of being a woman outnumbered in a tech startup. In fact, I've found it empowering. When I meet other women in tech, there's almost an immediate bond between us. I have a group of female friends in the industry who I've met through Startup Institute and at other events where, like me, they were a woman standing out in a room of mostly men. Connections are quickly formed when you're in the minority together. We thrive on helping each other out with professional guidance, sales leads, and marketing ourselves not just as women, but as valuable members of the tech community.[bctt tweet="Women in tech can thrive by helping each other out @sassyinsequins http://goo.gl/uDpr5R"]
We might not need a year for women to take back the tech industry, but as we welcome more women into it, perhaps we are taking back tech, after all.