It’s Not About Being A Woman (Or A Man)

Startup Culture Has Gotten Too Focused on Gender

There’s a lot of talk about the gender disparity in tech startups these days. Everyone can cite a study or two about how few female CEO’s there are, how little they get invested, so on and so forth. Everyone and their sister writes an article about “How we need more women in tech” and “we need more women in startups.”

The thing is, nobody is on the other side of this argument. Nobody needs to be convinced of this. Nobody is saying “bah! there are enough ladies around.” By writing an article about how we need that, you’re merely soliciting agreement and nods from your fellow coworkers. 

Congratulations, you brave, brave soul. 

In reality, I agree; there’s definitely a problem somewhere. The startup gap seems much wider than what the gap would naturally be (based on life choices, e.t.c.). But standing around writing soulful blog articles isn’t the solution.

We’re not going to fix this problem if we continue to focus on the gender of it all. The answer is not to obsessively focus on women in entrepreneurship just because they’re women, to the exclusion of more qualified men. The answer is not to create communities of women in tech that are characterized only by what’s between their legs; where we all get together and sit around and talk about what it’s like to have lady parts under our pants at work.

These communities can be important in limited doses, but too much of it and you have a whole group of people who are focusing on the negative in their life and belatedly sighing about how hard they have it — instead of actually getting up, going out, and doing stuff. 

I wasn’t even aware I faced any struggles as a woman with a tech startup career until I was invited to speak at one of these events — and that’s exactly what I said. “Perhaps it’s because of my generation, or my age, but I’ve never faced any extra difficulty or prejudice because I am a woman with a tech startup…

…if anything, I’ve been disproportionately rewarded for it. Many scholarships, awards, competitions, and other opportunities were afforded me that were not afforded my male peers.”

When we focus on gender with these gender-based career rewards, we’re saying that the equality of the outcome — ’having an equal amount of men and women in entrepreneurship’— is more important than equality of opportunity. In other words, we think that a 50/50 split is more important than rewarding the best and most motivated people.

I don’t know about you, but I want the people who worked hardest for something to get the reward — even if that person is a white, upper class male in San Francisco. 

“But Megan, that won’t fix the problem! If we get rid of those things, there will be less women!”

You’re right. That alone clearly wouldn’t fix the problem at all. But what is currently being proposed is a painkiller, treating the symptoms and not the disease.

When I go to the doctor for a broken arm I don’t want him to treat me with a lot of painkillers, I want him to fix my arm.

So how do we fix this? Why aren’t there more women in tech and startups – why are they turning away?

We have to ask women why they did or didn’t choose the startup life. Then, we sift through those answers. Some women will say “it’s not what I wanted for myself,” and we have to accept their personal choices. What we’re looking for is people who said “I wanted to, but — ” and then find out what stopped them.

This doesn’t occur in late high school or early college, where most of the earliest female-startup efforts are being targeted. Entrepreneurs seem to know by that age that that’s what they want to do at some point in life.

Any entrepreneur knows that being an entrepreneurial sort of person is partially a question of personality, so we have to discover why these personalities are being turned away so early in life – in early high school or even before.

The answer is not to make entrepreneurship disproportionately easier for women who are already there, but to get more women interested in the first place. Women-based awards, competitions, e.t.c. only reward women already decided on entrepreneurship, not women who were chased away before they even had a chance.

In the recent past I have seen some groups like this start; CoolTechGirls being one of them. They are few and far between but much appreciated.

I can be found on Twitter and my personal website, among other places.

Megan Holstein is a junior in the fisher school of business at The Ohio State University, the CEO of Pufferfish Software, and the Global High School Entrepreneur of 2013.

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