Shira Ovide over at the Wall Street Journal’s Venture Capital Dispatch wrote a blog post on Friday that’s got a few people in a tizzy over the visibility of women in tech. Ovide’s piece is specifically about the lack of women in tech start ups, but at one point ranges into some criticism of male-heavy tech conferences. Mediaite’s Rachel Sklar namechecks Techcrunch Disrupt in this light, which Michael Arrington took exception to.
Don Dodge also called the slight an unfair one (because TechCrunch’s CEO is a woman! Enough said, right? Yeah, the mansplaining over there is pungent.), but his post accidentally reveals one of the major aspects of the problem Ovide is talking about. In his post he says: “All the top women in tech get more invitations to speak than they can possibly handle.”
All? Really? That’s surprising. It’s been my experience as a person with multiple intersections of minority that in situations like this, all of the individuals that belong to the underrepresented faction of a group are not in the spotlight so much. More often a sub-section of the minority that gets called upon over and over and over — to the point where they cannot possibly say yes to everything — while many other deserving and qualified people go unnoticed.
This is not always a purposeful repression, but the result is the same, nonetheless.
How does this stuff happen? I think it starts with lists. In Dodge’s post, he helpfully lists 30 Top Women in Tech, including Twitter lists. But his numbers are sad when compared to Engadget’s recent Who Should I Follow? focusing on women in tech, which includes over 70 women (including myself, I say proudly). There’s some crossover, and Engadget’s list includes many writers/journalists, but I still feel like Dodge doesn’t go deep enough.
Then there are lists that aren’t about gender but more about overall influence in the tech world, like this piece on the 25 Most Influential People in Mobile Tech at Laptop Magazine. Of the 25, there are just 2 women, which struck me as complete bollocks the moment I noticed it.
At this point you might be saying to yourself, “But K, didn’t you have something to do with…” and I would stop you and say: Yes, but for a lot of silly reasons I didn’t notice this until it was too late.
It’s not as if there wasn’t awareness that there should be women on that list, and perhaps that there should be more. But when measuring the nebulous concept of “influence” a lot of gut decisions are made that have more to do with personal perceptions than other factors.
I feel like that’s what’s happening on a larger scale in the continuing conversation around women in tech and getting more of them in the field. Yes, we need more, we always need more. But you know what else we need? Some extra acknowledgment for those of us already here.
Part of the solution is lists.
I see merit in having a TEDWomen conference, though I do understand why some people take exception to these types of events. I feel the same about lists. I’m glad that there are lists that highlight women specifically, but we need more balance in lists that have nothing to do with gender. It’ll be several months before Laptop Magazine puts together their Most Influential list again, but that’s no reason not to start building a list of women to include in it right now. Who would you suggest?
I’d love for the list to include some of the start-up stars we don’t hear much from, but who have great ideas nonetheless. Not just in this one instance, but across the media.