Tech-Life Fails The Bechdel Test

Nick Crocker
Jul 22, 2015 · 5 min read

(I’m writing something every day for #100days. This is post 68/100.)

Growing up, my Mum not only ran our house, but as a Doctor, she provided the majority of our family income.

As it was, I grew up surrounded by women in similar positions — Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers — who’d married men who earned less as teachers, woodworkers, and carpenters.

As well as working, the Dads I knew growing up took a major role in parenting, cooking, cleaning and everything else it takes to run a family.

When I was a baby, my Dad was featured with one of his mates in the Newcastle Herald in an article highlighting this new ‘trend’ of men taking a more active role in family life.

There was a big photo of me and my Dad hiking together on a weekday morning. In it, I was trying to eat a piece of grass.

That was the world I was born in to. It seemed normal to me that families worked like that. It was always a shock when I stayed over at friend’s houses and saw their fathers not help with the meal or the dishes.

I graduated Law School in a year that women outnumbered men.

I got a degree in Political Science with a minor in Spanish, and there too, I graduated with more women than men.

Up until recently, those were the experience that had most formed my views about the role of women in the world.

In some ways, that non-traditional upbringing blinded me to the struggle that women can face — in the workplace, on the street, in sport, in movies, in just about everywhere, really.

A movie passes the Bechdel Test where:

  • It has at least two women in it;
  • who talk to each other;
  • about something besides a man.

We just finished watched ‘Get Hard’. It did not pass.

On a recent plane flight to Australia, I watched ‘Horrible Bosses 2’.

It did not pass.

On the way back from Australia, I watched ‘We’re The Millers’.

Did not pass.

‘22 Jump Street’.

Did not pass.

‘American Sniper’. ‘Draft Day’. ‘Hall Pass’.

Did. not. pass.

The thing is, the Bechdel Test does not place a high bar on a movie. It’s not demanding strong female leads or even an equal ratio of men to women.

It’s just asking for two women to talk to each other about something besides a man.

The Bechdel Test is just a fractional sliver of a much greater issue.

Forget the world at large, the developing world, or even the mainstream Western workforce.

Let’s just look at one of the most progressive, fast-growing, innovative areas of the economy — technology companies.

When you work in technology, even in the companies where there is a huge emphasis on gender diversity, there just aren’t very many women in leadership roles.

Technology companies are driven by Product, Engineering and Sales teams whose members are predominantly male.

I don’t think there’s a single example in the Valley of a large Product, Sales and Engineering organisation comprised of more than 50% women.

Think about that for a second. It’s crazy.

And it’s not just large companies. In every accelerator, venture fund portfolio, and venture fund management team — where new, great companies sprout from each day — it is just dude ranches as far as the eye can see.

I’m not offering any solutions. And I don’t claim to understand all of the issues here. I just want to point out the things that seem glaring to me:

  • The most valuable companies in the world are increasingly technology companies. Those companies are predominantly male-led.
  • The reality of a technology company is that even where there is something approaching gender balance, if the majority of women are in marketing, HR, and customer service roles, then the leadership balance will be in number only.
  • Women, on average, are paid less for the same work. More than that, within technology companies, women tend to occupy lower-paid positions.
  • Women in technology are almost always outnumbered in every room they’re in. And it’s not just the numbers that matter. It’s that so often the hierarchy in those meetings is dominated by men.
  • The speed of operation in technology companies, especially startups, is incongruent with the kind of paternity and maternity leave policies that make for healthy, happy parenting. The impact of this is that women who choose to have children take a hit in terms of career progression, even in the scenario where they take just a few months leave. Not to mention that for most women, supportive parental leave schemes are a rarity.
  • The near non-existence of paternity leave ends up not being a male problem, but a family one. And that structural imbalance plays out in a way that almost always lands the responsibility on the woman.
  • None of any of this is changing fast. Even if it starts changing now, it will be decades before we see real, true equality.

Apply your own test to the next meeting you’re in. A meeting passes the Techdel Test where:

  • It has at least two women in it;
  • who talk to each other;
  • about Sales, Product or Engineering.

I grew up surrounded by women who earned more than their husbands and shared the responsibilities of family-raising evenly.

I graduated with two degrees that were female-dominant.

I was very optimistic.

It is 2015. Technology dominates and will continue to do so.

There are not enough women in Product, Engineering and Sales.

Software is still being built without women in mind. Young, female CTOs are still having to defend themselves.

There is still not enough structural support in the workplace for childbirth, resulting in worse career outcomes for women.

There is still too much incongruence between the culture of tech companies and the role of the growing families within them.

There are still no women in ‘Get Hard’ talking to each other about something other than a man.

Times are changing.

But not nearly fast enough.

Thanks to Jules & Glennis for your feedback on drafts of this post.

Nick Crocker

Things I’ve Written

    Nick Crocker

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    General Partner @BlackbirdVC. Supporting Australian startups @Startmate. Sequencing the journey to build strength along the way.

    Nick Crocker

    Things I’ve Written