Changing the Culture of the Tech World

Saturday afternoon Fred and I went up to the Javits Center to see NYC First's Robotic Competition.  Total geekdom.  Fred had a serious smile on his face the entire time.  It was as if he had just been transported back in time forty years.  

When we got there we made our way downstairs first to the restrooms.  I found myself listening to a group of young girls who were wearing purple capes with paint on their faces talking about what they had built.  It was awesome.  Fred saw them too and he expressed his frustration with USV's desire to hire a woman analyst yet very few applied.  They really did outreach.  I was actually enthusiastic about the percentage of women that had applied for the job and do believe that by taking a look around the event that over time more women will enter the tech field and the engineering side will change.  Also USV is a venture firm vs a tech company and I have found that one of the reason women are such great entrepreneurs and CEO's is because they are great at building and being part of teams.  Investors are not teams, they are loan guns who get together as a team once a week and although they know the partnership is there for support and advice each person runs their own deal flow.  

Sunday there was an article in the NYTimes called Technology's Man Problem.  The article is about the frustration, intimidation and disrespect to women who are engineers and developers inside tech companies. It focuses on a few women and their experiences.  There was a TechCrunch show where a group of men presented their app called Titshare.  An app where you take a photo of yourself staring at tits.  First of all I can't imagine that it is a worthy business but more important is the lack of professionalism to present something so dismissive to woman in the tech industry at the conference was actually allowed or even applauded.  

So how do we change this culture?  Certainly having more events like the Robotics Competition that brings out the inner geek in anyone.  At that age everyone is rooting for each other regardless of gender. Continuing to work in groups mixed with boys and girls throughout high school and college with better STEM curriculum creates respect for each others engineering intellect.  

I know it is hard for many women to stand up and say this is not ok but it would have been pretty powerful if a woman or/and a man stood up at the TechCrunch event and said to the audience watching this presentation that this is not ok.  What would their mothers think of their juvenile disrespectful behavior?  I am sure those guffaws would have changed to pure embarrassment.  

Women are slowly making inroads into the engineering end of the tech industry.  Those barriers must melt away because women who have engineering brains should be embraced not demeaned.  It is just as much up to the men who are supporters of women to stand up and say no more as it is for women to push back on men who harrass them in the developer world of technology.  It paves the way for the next generation. Just think back to fifty years ago and where we were.  Truth is those men are probably intimated and insecure which is why they demean women engineers.  Women should remember that next time. Instead of deciding to opt out just call it as you see it and if anything feel sorry for them instead of angry.  

At the Robotics event everyone cheered each other on regardless of being a boy or a girl.  It was great to see.  I hope these kids continue that cheer well into their adult years.  It is the only way that culture change will come.

Comments (Archived):

  1. AG

    Love the new design, though I miss your pic. Maybe an avatar or something?On the experience of women in tech, I think part of it speaks to how groups of men (especially alpha males) act when they are in groups “bro-ing out” and being boys, and then sometimes it so clearly crosses the line (titshare). In either case, I agree with you that women should not be fighting this battle alone. Grown men have a responsibility to take ownership of their actions and the way those actions make women around them feel. In the same way that we’re taught to be sensitive to people’s cultural and religious beliefs, men need to be more aware of a woman’s experience. Period. More men taking a stand and setting an example for other men are needed.Btw, I’m curious about your thoughts on single sex vs. co-ed education. Maybe a post?

    1. Gotham Gal

      Will add that post to the listA pic. Hmm

      1. Brandon Burns

        You can take the red circle pattern up top, set it to like 70% opacity, and drop a photo behind it.I took a really low res photo from Google Images, and don’t have the original files so the “Gotham Gal” text is faded, but the mock up below should get the point across… should you want to play with the idea…

      2. AG

        Looking forward.

  2. Dave W Baldwin

    I’m so glad you and Fred attended.

  3. sigmaalgebra

    Your post has a lot of good, appropriate, and correct insight, sympathy, wisdom, maturity, etc. As a geek, nerd boy, it took me a while to understand such things.Still, however, while some of the progress you have in mind is appropriate and doable and should happen, from all I’ve been able to see, experience, learn, and understand, broadly your goal won’t work. And if for a major fraction of girls the goal is not good, then encouraging girls in that direction is also not good.One simple view is, girls who could be so easily distracted were eliminated from the gene pool long ago. Yes, a response is, the girls can look so interested! Be careful: What are they really interested in? The technology, the things, the code, the electronics, the robots? Or, I would say, almost exclusively, getting membership in a group of other girls, getting acceptance and approval in such a group, getting praise and approval from parents, mentors, teachers, leaders, and the audience. Get written up in the NYT. Etc. The technology? Nope! And a dog can walk on two legs, too; what is amazing is not that he does it well but that he can do it at all. Same for girls in STEM fields.There is a recent research paper that concluded that already in the crib, girls are paying attention to people — faces, tone of voice, eye contact.The boys? They are paying attention to things. Maybe they were trying to remove the screws from the latch on the crib, find how to use a toy in the crib to reach between the bars and pull over the toy fire truck, etc. Net, girls are really good with people, and boys, with things. Robots, computers, electronics, software, etc. are mostly just things. Any boy with any insight and experience at all knows that they have no hope at all competing with girls at what girls are good at — pleasing the teachers, working cooperatively, learning to read and write, having good penmanship, having good clerical accuracy, memorizing poetry, understanding fiction, drawing little pictures of trees and flowers, making decorations from colored construction paper, working with colors. Colors? Heck, 25% of human males are partially red-green color blind! The school work where the girls excel is often heavily about people and their emotions, and there the boys have no chance of competing with the girls. E.g., connecting with your example of the software for looking at the ‘bust lines’ (I will try to be discreet) of the girls, girls are really good at thinking about effects on others, and boys go a long time before even trying to do such a thing. So, the boys who got up on their hind legs over the program were ignoring what effect their actions would have on others — that’s what boys tend to do, starting in the crib.I’m not a girl. I don’t have even one molecule of girl in me. But I like girls, and I hate to see girls hurt. My education and career are both solidly in the STEM fields, actually all four, and business. Net, I believe that girls should stay away from the STEM fields and related businesses. Sorry ’bout that. Did I mention that I don’t want to see girls hurt? I’m sure you don’t either.When I was 14, one day at lunch I saw a girl, 12, being treated very badly by a boy, guessed that she might like a boyfriend who would be nice to her, and started coming to see her. I was very, very nice to her. To me she was a dream, an angel. And she was the prettiest human female I ever saw, in person or otherwise. She was 100% female without a single molecule of boy in her. But her mother’s vacuum cleaner wouldn’t run. Good grief. Trivial. Of course I had a screw driver with me, with four different blades, on my key chain. Don’t all boys? All REAL boys do! :-)! So, I used the screw driver to take apart the electrical parts. Sadly I didn’t have my pocket knife with me so borrowed a kitchen knife. I removed the broken part of the power cord, removed insulation from what was left, rewired the connection, and put the parts back together. Piece of cake. Dad had had me doing much more for years. I could have done it with one eye closed and one hand behind my back. I was a boy, She was a girl. Her mother was a woman. Males and females deserve equal respect as persons but are not the same; the pressure to see males and females as much the same as possible with just a superficial view came to Western Civilization via the French Revolution, caused by three years of crop failures from The Little Ice Age, where any difference was seen as a threat of tyranny (E. Fromm, ‘The Art of Loving’, 1946).Things? Once when we were driving, Dad described an auto differential to me, just in words. I saw it clearly. When I first saw a real one, it was just the same. I can still see one, clearly. Such seeing is heavily about spacial relations, and that’s mostly a boy thing. I was born good with things; with people, that’s a girl thing!Mother Nature was there long, long before you were. Girls so easily distracted are not our ancestors. It’s not nice to try to fool Mother Nature. Be careful what you wish for because you might get it. A girl that gets badly hurt may be one you know. Hurt? Sure: Loneliness, self-esteem, pressure, stress, depression, clinical depression, death. Joking I’m not. Be careful.

  4. Joseph

    I think a crucial method to change this cultural imbalance is to avoid gender imbalance from the very start of companies, by focusing on recruitment of women.What seems to happen is that men, since they are currently the vast majority of the tech industry, typically start tech companies, and the majority of the tech people they know are men, so they hire more men, cause it’s the easiest thing to do. Then, once you even have even 9 guys and maybe 1 woman, the culture is basically cemented. It is very hard to attract women to join a company so overloaded with men. Even if the atmosphere is totally professional, it’s just not fun being a minority.So they key thing, I believe, is to work very hard to recruit women very early on. And there’s a great reward for companies that successfully accomplish this. It gives them a huge recruiting advantage, since they can then much more easily recruit from twice the population as their competitors.That’s at least what I’m trying very hard to do with my own startup.

    1. Gotham Gal

      that is fantastic advice. culture starts day one.

      1. Joseph

        Thanks. BTW, can you recommend any good places to network with women in tech? A couple weeks back, to help break out of the usual pattern, I went to one of the Women 2.0 mixer events, which was quite good. Wondering what other things like that I can try. We’re located in SF, but will probably need a wing in NY sooner or later so I’m going to be out there this week.

        1. Gotham Gal

          The Flatiron School is doing a great job of teaching a new generation of programmers. Otherwise, I am not sure where to send you.

          1. Joseph

            Thanks! Will try it out. Seems like schools are a really good place to look, as the balance is finally reversing there: