The male-only version of the Female Founders Conference

Jessica Livingston, Y-Combinator, and Hacker News

Today, Jessica Livingston and Y-Combinator announced the Female Founders Conference, a conference designed to help female founders be better prepared to build successful startups. This is is presumably somewhat a response to some of the bad press (misleading though it may have been) Paul Graham recently got in response to some statements he made about female hackers, although I would not be surprised if this is something Jessica and Paul have considered doing for a while now.

Predictably, people on Hacker News immediately started in on the same argument one hears every single time a "women only" event is introduced. "This is gender discrimination," they say, "if we had a Male Founders Conference, would THAT be acceptable?" The presumption is of course, that the male version of the "Female Founders Conference" would be the "Male Founders Conference" - a conference focused on improving the lives and odds of success for male founders and male founders alone. This is wrong - the analogous male-only version of the "Female Founders Conference" would be something like a male-only conference where men learn to identify, combat, and avoid gender bias.

The mistake people are making is assuming that the "Female Founders Conference" is a conference to help women for the sake of helping women - that the goal, isolated from any other factors, is women helping women because they themselves are women. That is not the goal - the goal is a gender-specific conference (in this case for females) aimed at closing the gender gap in startups. The problem is that women face a unique set of issues when entering a field that is currently dominated by men, no matter how much that field believes itself to be a meritocracy. So conferences, events, and groups like the FFC aim to give women some tools and knowledge for navigating the issues they will face in a comfortable environment that makes a repeat of Donglegate unlikely (no matter who you believe was at fault in Donglegate, it's unlikely to have a repeat incident at the FFC).

A gender-specific MALE-only conference that is analogous to the FFC would have to have the same goal, to close the gender gap in startups. This could take many forms, but my suggestion would be helping men, especially men who believe they are in no way sexist, identify some of the biases they have and some of the things they do that make women uncomfortable. We could talk pretty openly, get some of the horrible things we believe off our chest because we'd be explicitly there to identify and combat them, and generally make some progress toward a better and more open startup community. It seems likely that no one would go to this conference and, since it would be run by men and about gender issues, it would probably be cringe-worthy and awful - which is why nobody is having it. But if you want the male version of the FFC, there's your answer.

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