The Problem with Women in Tech isn’t the Women — it’s the Men

I was dismayed and bewildered to read John Greathouse’s recent Wall Street Journal article “Why Women in Tech Might Consider Just Using Their Initials Online.” As a VC, I am well aware of the rampant sexism that affects the startup and VC world, but I was frankly pretty surprised to see the women themselves being blamed for their lack of representation in the boardrooms and executive suites of Silicon Valley. The article, which was written as a kind of advice column for women in tech, basically seemed to suggest that women would do better in tech if only they would be less… woman-y. But the problem with women in tech isn’t the women- it’s the men.

The issue of gender diversity in tech, which Greathouse was so clumsily attempting to address, is a very real and present problem. You’re probably aware of some of these rough numbers, but as a reminder, recent reports from TechCrunch, the WSJ, and others found that:

  • 7% of venture investors in the top 100 VC firms are women
  • 38% of the top 100 firms have one or more woman partner (but out of those 38 firms, 28 just have one woman partner)
  • For those of you who are bad at math, that means 62% of the top 100 VC firms are 100% dudes, and 90% are almost 100% dudes
  • 3 of the 100 top VC firms were founded by women
  • Only 8% of Silicon Valley companies that received Series A funding last year were helmed by women
  • I just started writing this article and I am depressed already

Do we want more women in tech? If we’re smart, we do. Research from Freada Kapor-Klein and many others has found that a better male-female balance in a company is correlated with better financial success and happier, more satisfied employees.

So how can we reduce our gender biases in the male-dominated world of VC and startups? Well, it probably won’t surprise you to know that folks have done a lot of research on this very thing — and literally none of it involves masking your gender so nobody knows you’re a woman. I could cite about a million different experts on this, but I believe that the basic gist of what we, as men in VC, need to do more, is:

  • Vouch for, advocate for, include, and support women leaders
  • Confront our own biases, and teach ourselves to recognize and refute them
  • Educate our employees, companies, and colleagues about implicit gender bias and guide them to proven strategies for combatting them
  • Watch out for coded gender-biased language or attributions, and call them out when others use them
  • Be proactive in our attention to gender bias — not reactive or defensive

In the reporting about the outraged responses to Greathouse’s article, I noticed something else troubling. The headlines from Forbes, CNN, etc. were all about how women in tech were outraged by Greathouse’s article. Again, what about the men? Everyone in tech should be outraged by it, because promoting sexist and old-fashioned double standards for women in tech is bad for entrepreneurship, for innovation, and for success.

I should note that after a day of being skewered for his article as only the Internet knows how to do, Greathouse issued an apology on Twitter. But let’s be clear: this wasn’t one person writing one ill-conceived article; it had the support and promotion of the editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal. Meaning a whole bunch of people thought it was a good idea to write it. That tells me we have even more work to do than I had imagined.

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