It seems appropriate as we approach International Women’s Day, that we discuss the importance of female role models in our industry. After all, there appears to be daily conversations on the subject of how few women there are in tech, and drawn out debates are taking place on social networks as to why this is (a “brogrammer” culture is often, flippantly, blamed).
If female tech founders aren’t visible, how do we know they exist?
If you read snippets from Paul Graham’s edited interview with The Information at the end of last year, you may think there are so few women founders in tech because they were simply too late to the party i.e. the best tech founders, according to Graham, are those who started programming and hacking in their teens, and apparently women weren’t doing that. The fact is this perception is neither wrong nor right. This belief isn’t the truth because it’s reality, but rather it’s a perceived reality — if female tech founders, and staff, aren’t visible, how do we know they exist? (Graham’s response to the aforementioned article is published here, and Graham’s Y Combinator hosted a Female Founders conference last weekend — interestingly, both got far less coverage than the original, misquoted article.)
I am more of the opinion, like TechCrunch Co-Editor Alexis Tsotsis, that the problem lies in visibility, and I think by having more female role models to look up to, is the best way to encourage a new generation of women into learning to code and/or starting their own tech company.
Whilst researching for my book on female founders in tech, I have found there are lots of great role models, (some of my personal favourites include Judith Klein, Susan Wu, Ramona Pierson, Rana el Kaliouby, Kathryn Parsons, and Ayah Bdeir), but they are definitely harder to find in the first place. So, on a day which is about celebrating women and their achievements, I wanted to publish a few thoughts on how I think all of us can raise our profiles in the industry, not just on one day a year, but all year round. Whilst these five points may seem pretty straightforward, they are often overlooked.
Five small steps
- Celebrate. Why wait for IWD to celebrate what you’re doing? It’s important to share our stories. Let’s openly celebrate what we are learning and achieving, be it through speaking up at work, going into schools and colleges, or at networking events. If there isn’t a professional networking group in your area which celebrates women in tech, why not set one up and put on your own talks — LinkedIn is a great tool for that.
- PR isn’t a dirty word. Journalists won’t come knocking on your door but there is nothing stopping you from contacting them or even writing for platforms such as this. Similarly, with events, rather than bemoan the fact that most are male dominated, put yourself forward for talks, conferences, and panels. Many event organizers I talk to are crying out for female voices in this industry, with a lot even offering discounts just to get more female attendees. If you run a group of female speakers — make sure event organisers and journalists know about it.
- Pay it forward. As an ever growing bunch of great women infiltrate the industry, it’s important to keep more coming in. Offer your services as a mentor or join initiatives where you can offer expert advice to those just starting out or at school, such as Apps for Good. Also, put your female colleagues, and contemporaries, forward for awards and panels — the more light we can shine on women in this industry, the better.
- Little and often. We definitely have it harder, I make no bones about it. Being a woman, and for some, a mother, in a male dominated industry isn’t easy but it’s down to us to try and make it easier for each other, and those entering the industry. A lack of time is the biggest issue for most of us but doing something little and often is better than nothing; whether it’s tweeting, speaking at an event, writing an article, or hosting talks at work over breakfast or lunch; all can help raise your profile, as well as others.
- Use Your Networks. The power of social is being able to grow a network that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to reach in everyday life, so use it. You’ll be surprised how many new friends you can make, staff you can employ, and even new business you can win, just from interacting regularly on platforms such as Twitter.
Be your own advocate
Above are just five small steps which I believe, if we all committed to, could help us change the face of an industry, and make it more female friendly. So why don’t we start today by tweeting the names of inspiring industry role models, and groups that we follow, with hashtags #5smallsteps #IWD so that others can find them too?
Like I said, I think every step helps. And it has to start with us. So, as per Jaime Robinson’s eloquent advice in her article about females in advertising, “Be your own advocate.” This industry, like advertising, is crying out for more great females, so don’t sit back…
Never has there been a better time for us to stand up and, finally, be counted.