Blame Men - And Women: A response to TechCrunch's article on women in tech

Michale Arrington unleashed a fury of attacks - pro-women, anti-women, pro-Arrington, anti-Arrington - this week with his post "Too few women in tech? Stop blaming the men. Or at least stop blaming me."  The assumption, of course, is that you should blame the women. The gist of Arrington's post is this: Stop blaming us for the lack of women as speakers / subjects of articles.  We try, but there's just not as many women.  And don't blame the men either.  Silicon Valley is a true meritocracy, and women have a ton of advantages in tech / entrepreneurship.  Women are not pursuing this field, and it's probably something innate.

He's partially right, and I can understand his frustration.  TechCrunch probably tries to attract female speakers, and it must be frustrating that, despite all that effort, people are criticizing them for not having enough women.  I get that.

The rest of the article is where Arrington goes wrong.

1. Silicon Valley is a not a full meritocracy.

Your network is incredibly important in getting press, attracting employees, getting funding, etc. Can people assume you're less technical, less credible because you're female? If you're female, do you have to do more to prove your credibility? Absolutely.

2. Women have many disadvantages as entrepreneurs.

He states that "statistically speaking women have a huge advantage as entrepreneurs". He makes a common mistake here. Yes, women have some advantages. Are there disadvantages to being female? Of course. I've had so many people comment on my desire to start a company and ask, "what will you do when you have children?" If people are directly asking me that, I can only assume that VCs, potential partners, etc, will be wondering the same thing. And somehow I don't think my fiancé John would get the same questions. I can tell you countless stories from business school, tech environments, etc about people making assumptions. I do get some advantages from being female, but I also have to work harder in some respects. And I, unlike Arrington, would not be so presumptuous to assume that it falls so heavily on one side or the other.

3. When you say "women have it easier," you're also usually saying "I assume women are worse."

Here's a conversation I've had many times with different people:

Person: "Oh no, I'm not sexist, but come on, women have a lot of advantages getting a tech job or doing other stuff. There's so much pro-women stuff."

Me: "So you're saying that it's easier to get into, say, Google if you're female?"

Person: "Of course. Look at what they do to recruit women."

Me: "I see. So then if it's easier getting into Google as a woman, then you must believe that the average woman is less qualified?"

Person: "Well, right, that's true."

Me: "So when you see a woman in tech, you assume she's worse than the average man? Even though you know that she's at Google, she would probably have to more to prove her credibility?

This is the point where the person usually stutters.   (The "person" can be either male or female. Men are not necessarily any more sexist than women.)  Arrington introduces this conversation with a comment about how he assumes that the acceptance rate for women-founded businesses in Y-Combinator is higher than that of men-founded businesses.  Does the rest of this conversation follow?  Most likely.

4. Early sexism is relevant.

There's everything that happens before people become entrepreneurs. All the implicit sexism. The high school teachers who think maybe you want to be careful before taking that college level calculus class over the summer - it's really hard, you know. The people who aren't surprised when you struggle in math and science - who don't expect as much of you. Young girls looking around and seeing the people like them working "normal jobs" rather than having super-successful careers. Arrington suggests that women are just inherently less inclined to be entrepreneurs, and completely ignores that maybe someone's childhood affects their goals and values.

5. Women are genetically less and more inclined to be entrepreneurs.

Ok, Arrington doesn't directly say this, but he certainly suggests it as a theory.  People have been asserting things like "oh women are just inherently less inclined to do X," only to have it equalize later on in life. I also know that there are just as many female math majors as male in the US, suggesting that it's maybe not that women are inherently less quantitative.

Virtually every time people introduce some study to show why things are just as they should naturally be, the reasoning is flawed.  It usually goes something like: "A study showed that men are better than women at X.  X is a component of Y.  Therefore, men are just inherently better at Y than women."  That only follows if X is the only component of Y.  Let's find some reasons why women should be naturally more inclined to be entrepreneurs, shall we?

  • Women are better multitaskers.  [study]
  • Women make better managers. [study]
  • Women, more often than men, have a secondary source of income (yes, their spouses).  Thus, a women pursuing entrepreneurship is less likely to be gambling their child's education, family well-being, etc.

Now, those top two are according to just one study / article.  There may be studies that contradict it.  That's part of the problem, after all.  People bring one study to suggest that women are inherently less inclined in one aspect of entrepreneurship, and use it as a comprehensive explanation of a very complex problem.  It doesn't work like that.

I don't know why there aren't more women in tech or more women entrepreneurs.  But I do know that it's a really, really complex problem, and there's a lot men and women can do to help solve it.