The South’s Cultural Dilemma: Women Technical Founders
Reading a TechCrunch article by Zoe Berry, “Now Is the Perfect Time To Be A Female Entrepreneur,” made me think about women entrepreneurs in the South and specifically Atlanta. While many women have started successful companies here, very few have started tech companies. I wasn’t able to find the exact numbers but my guess is that you can count them on one or two hands. Even in Silicon Valley, women starting technical companies hovers at 3%. It’s a shockingly low number but certainly better than zero!
Growing up in the deep south of Savannah, Georgia, I didn’t know one girl who went to college to pursue math or science. I had one computer class during high school and computer programing wasn’t offered at my liberal arts college. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had never even heard of the term start-up, much less really knew what an entrepreneur did until I was in my 20's.
It’s certainly not surprising that there are so few female tech entrepreneurs in Atlanta and the Southeast. If they grew up like me, there was an expectation that we would marry, have kids, raise them and stay at home to become the family caretaker. It’s incredibility hard to change this mindset after so many years of believing it. Science and math were for the male geeks and if women had jobs, someone else would have to raise their kids. I was never encouraged to create a fulfilling career or challenged to invent or solve difficult problems. I went to college to find a job, not create one. I know there are countless other girls and women who were raised in a similar mentality.
This is a deeply ingrained cultural problem that needs to change it. Not only does it need to change, but it needs to change at a much earlier age. I’m seeing more and more coding classes for girls which is awesome but It’s not just the mindset of kids that requires a shift, it’s the parents as well. The one piece of advice (based on my very limited knowledge about children!) that I give to all my friends who are parents is to start them coding as soon as possible! It’s amazing to me what kids can do with iPhones and various other electronics. While their brains are soaking up information, it make sense to introduce them early.
Atlanta is definitely going in the right direction to break the gender molds and encourage more STEM programs and female entrepreneurs but there’s certainly room to do more. We have StartupChicks, a community for entrepreneurial-minded women, and the Women’s Entrepreneurial Initiative, an incubator for existing female business owners. Additionally, there are several coding courses geared specifically towards kids and specifically, girls. While we have a long way to go, it’s the small steps that get us there. However, it’s going to take a lot more than coding classes to convince young girls that you can be cool and techy at the same time. #GirlsWhoCode
Originally published at www.sarahbrooks.com on June 1, 2015.