The “Women in Tech” convo needs more men

Ugh. That title! I wrote it and it makes me see red. Like we’re damsels in distress, waiting for our knight in shining armor to arrive and save us.

Alas, it’s true.

Here’s the deal: Things aren’t changing fast enough. Simply put, there aren’t enough women at the top to create a meaningful change. We’re not moving past the 30% mark; there’s even indication we’re regressing. The conversation is everywhere, but the change is not.

http://www.cnet.com/news/women-in-tech-the-numbers-dont-add-up/

I distinctly remember being in a meeting with a CEO once who came straight from a Women in Tech event, and he sat down and said “You know what the problem is with women in tech? There aren’t any men in the conversation. I went to this event, there were 3 men to 100 women.”

My external reaction was nod politely so I didn’t lose my job.

My internal reaction looked like this:

God damn it, he was right.

Men: We need your help. We need you to understand. We need you to care. We need you to take action and create the change that we can’t; fast enough.

I’ve been to so many events. The Massachusetts Conference for Women is phenomenal, I’ve spoken at Women In Tech Story Slams, done workshops on creating family friendly tech, I’ve written for VentureBeat, I’m writing about policy on Medium, I’m mentoring three girls teams for the Technovation challenge.

Bros, I need you to step up. I have the luxury of working at a tech company with founders who are really focused on this, but most women do not.

I’m draining myself trying to keep visibility on the issues plaguing women from moving up, and staying in tech. It is starting to feel futile.

My plea for the ladies

I’ve been part of women’s groups where no men are allowed to attend. Ladies — this is not helping. You may have a safe space to talk about things without fear of being manterrupted, but it’s just a place to vent. It’s not a place to create change. Go out to dinners to vent, pull men into organized groups.

Bring men into the fold as often as you possibly can. Ask them to speak up — because you know what? When they enter a room full of women and become the minority, they’ll get shy. Make it safe for them to ask questions and contribute ideas. I know so many men who are so interested in helping, but don’t know how to tap into the conversation, or are afraid women don’t want them there.

I came across a sad story of a man who committed a good portion of his career to helping women in tech. Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University.

Vivek contributed tremendously to supporting women in tech — through raising the visibility of the issue as early as 2006 via research and public speaking, which made him pretty unpopular with a lot of men. He continued to research and write and speak.

Until he was unceremoniously torn down by women in a podcast in early 2016.

Now, he’s out. He wrote “Why I am stepping out of the debate on women in technology” for VentureBeat. He’s no longer part of the conversation. I reached out to him and asked him to reconsider. He won’t, and I get it.

We can lead this conversation alongside the men. We don’t need to cut them out. And in fact, we’ll hang tight at 30% if we do men out.

My advice for the men

I know you may want to help but aren’t sure how to. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Understand this isn’t just about policies. Take some time to educate yourself. There’s no shortage of articles available (I put my favorites at the bottom of the post). These explain the issues ranging from blatant sexism through gender bias and many other subtleties. If you heighten your awareness of the subtleties and biases, you’ll operate differently.
  2. Help out more at home if your wife works, too. If you have children, split pickup/dropoff. Split dr’s appointments. It doesn’t matter who’s the higher earner — split the parenting. If you free her from having to do 100% of child administrative work, she can be more present at work. And you’ll be part of the societal change we need to see which is more men participating and taking time outs for parenting.
  3. Get involved with women at your company. Errgh. Not that way. Shame! What I mean is stop just building friendships with men. You can go to coffee with women, or grab lunch, and build friendships. Ask them if they struggle, why and how. Get to know it from a personal/individual level which is a lot more impactful than reading an article. It’ll hit home, and you’ll feel more personally invested in helping.
  4. Tell your (male) friends. When you find yourselves in one of the many male-only scenarios — whether it’s golfing, catching up over beers, meetings, whatever- talk about it. Do you think there’s a challenge at your company? What do you think you should do about it?

I urge you to tap into the conversation, make an effort to understand, and propose change. Your wives, sisters, and daughters need you.

Thanks for reading. Want to chat? Email me. jess@drift.com

PS. If you enjoyed this post, you should check out what we’re doing over at Drift.

Here’s my “Greatest hits” of women & work research and news:

Women in Business:

This Sheryl Sandberg/Adam Grant New York Times series:

  • When talking about biases backfires at work: Discusses the existence of gender biases, but also how tight the tightrope walk of fighting for necessary change and being perceived as crying foul at every turn is.
  • Speaking while female: Addresses the double-bind of not speaking up vs. speaking up too aggressively and turning off male superiors.
  • Madam C.E.O., Get me a coffee: Talks about how women are always looked to for non-strategic necessary tasks — coffee runs, office party planning, etc. (They call it “Office housework”)

Women in Leadership:

  • A better world, run by women: Breaks down the cultural, upbringing, and biological differences women have which allow us to have different skills and approaches that are becoming more and more valuable.

Pregnancy/Motherhood + Work:

  • Maternity leave policies in America are hurting working women: Showcases the pretty abysmal reality of the average maternity policy in America — 88% of women don’t get any compensation at all. I’m lucky to work for a company that has an extremely solid policy and benefits like dedicated nursing rooms.
  • An unusual new maternity policy: I’ll go ahead and call this “Revolutionary” — 4 months paid, 2 months to transition back at part-time, earning a full-time salary. The impossible dreamboat of US-based maternity policies.
  • Female company president: I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with: Talks about a common misconception that working mothers are not as dedicated and don’t have a strong work ethic, which in turn creates unfair treatment and biases towards non-moms based on the misconception.

Practical advice on changing behaviors:

  • 5 things to say instead of sorry: Let’s face it, women say “Sorry” all the time… and men rarely do. It perpetuates the belief that we’re subservient.
  • How not to be “Manterrupted” in meetings. The confidence gap is wide, and when many women try and express their ideas, they’re met with interruption from male counterparts, or generally dismissed. Although I have experienced this many times and my natural response is to be pissed, re-trench, and come back stronger with my idea next time, many women can’t recover from being dismissed and fail to try again.