Jun 24

Re: Women in Tech, Don’t Apologize, Just Recognize

Almost a year ago, a flurry of TechCrunch commenters repeatedly called me the “C word”, insisted that my brain somehow was incapable of quantitative tasks, and one even told me if I didn’t like my female body, I could euthanize myself legally in the state of Oregon. Awesome.

Today Katrina Tolentino put out a brave post about what it is like to network in the heavily male dominated industry that is tech. Basically, some men can be really crass and think they are clever, when actually they are just gross. I know Katrina. She is a good person and really shouldn’t have to put up with that crap.

The typical response to these situations is apologies. Men lament that other men could be so lame and hope that future generations will not have to face such absurdity. As someone who gets this stuff as much as anyone, I’m asking you, stop apologizing. Women are not the only victims here. We all are.

According to studies conducted by Columbia University, McKinsey & Co., Goldman Sachs, and Pepperdine University, research documents a clear relationship between women in senior management and corporate financial success. Ernst & Young rounded up studies that show that women can make the difference between economic success and failure in the developing world, between good and bad decision-making in the industrialized world, and between profit and loss in the corporate world. Their conclusion: American companies would do well with more senior women. Economists at Davos even speculated that the presence of more women on Wall Street might have averted the downturn.

Why? Some speculate that women tend to be more risk averse and instead think of steady, attainable longterm goals. Women also think more along the lines of collaboration rather than competition. This balances out some of the “one-upsmanship” and competitive nature seen in their male counterparts.

I’m outspoken, intelligent, and have worked hard my entire life. When I express myself at work, I’m not challenging you to make you look bad and I’m not just scheming to get ahead. I’m challenging you because I have a perspective you might not have considered that can actually help you. When men see women as victims, they fail to see what invaluable assets different perspectives can bring to any group. THIS is the attitude that needs to stop.

Don’t believe me? Ask Michael Arrington what Heather Harde has brought to TechCrunch, or Larry Page what Marissa Mayer means to Google. Ask Mark Zuckerberg what Sheryl Sandberg brings to Facebook. It’s great to think you can be Super Man, but you aren’t. We just do our best to make sure you don’t fall of a ledge thinking you can suddenly fly.

And the next time you say something crude to a woman at a happy hour, remember that one day, someone could wise up and hire that woman in a senior management position. She won’t be a piece of meat then–she’ll be your boss.

  • kiyoto

    “According to studies conducted by Columbia University, McKinsey & Co., Goldman Sachs, and Pepperdine University, research that document a clear relationship between women in senior management and corporate financial success.” You might want to revise that (non) sentence.

    You are writing about an important topic (I agree with your general line of argument how unjustified and ridiculous chauvinism/perceptions of male superiority are in tech). You should make every sentence count.

  • Guest

    She’ll always be a piece of meat

  • http://twitter.com/iconmaster John Marstall

    Y’know, I’d like the U.S. to elect a female president for some of these same economic reasons (more cautious about overspending).

    Katrina’s examples are creepy. But the trick is that women — even professional women — often enjoy a small degree of flirting. Everyone enjoys attention, especially from “desirable” people. And I wonder if men who swear off flirting altogether might actually put themselves at a career disadvantage.

    • Anonymous

      Good point about the flirting.  As I mentioned on Katrina’s post, I’m totally guilty of this.  People do meet others in work situations and you can’t expect men and women to be robots.  

      There’s just healthy flirting and then there is point blank treating a woman like some sort of sexual object.  While I dislike when men treat women this way, I also don’t like when women exploit their sexuality to get things they don’t deserve.

      I can’t say I know the solution offhand.  I just know that working with smart empowered women really kicks ass.  I’d like to see more of it.  

      You are 1000% correct about the spending too. Unless she were a QVC or FarmVille addict, I don’t see a female president overspending either.

  • http://www.ChrisNorstrom.com Chris Norström

    Check out this as well >>> http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/19/neuroeconomics-women-city-financial-crash. Every year it seems more of these articles come out and they all point in the same direction. Something men have known for a long time but are completely in denial of.

    Women know what they’re doing.

    Just comparing my mother’s financial decision making to my fathers alone, I can tell you right now that I will be hiring women for my companies one day. Both men and women can take risks, the difference is women KNOW they are taking a huge risk and they understand the consequences while men seem to take risks because their hormones tell them to. 
    Also, the last thing I need is a CEO who can’t control his balls and gets caught with an illegitimate baby or numerous mistresses (which seems to be happening a lot lately). I haven’t been on this planet for a long time but so far I’ve got to say I’ve developed a bias against men. Over and over the majority of men, at least the ones I cross paths with in my life, prove themselves to be violent, angry, undisciplined, adolescents (no matter what the age) who are horny as fuck and will sacrifice anything for sex or power. Yet they claim that women are too emotional.

    Not all men are like this of course, the majority of life saving and life changing inventions come from men. It’s just that wars, killing sprees, violent crimes, theft, and genocides seem to be exclusively attributed to men as well. Men seem more likely to be in one of the extremes of passive good guy and aggressive villain where as women are more towards the balanced and stable middle.

    Call me unfair and sexist against my own gender but when choosing someone to run a company I’d like stable executives who plan for the long term not reckless, risk takers who are in it for the adrenaline rush. And I’m more likely to find those characteristics in women, I think. Sorry for generalizing so much. Being male myself I wouldn’t like it if someone attached the “violent, wreckless” label to me because of my gender but at the end of the day, testosterone is a hell of a hormone, I’ve felt it, I know what it does, and I don’t trust it one bit.

  • Anonymous

    I think there is probably a lot of validity to your thoughts on this subject. However, the comment ‘We just do our best to make sure you don’t fall of a ledge thinking you can suddenly fly.’ paints with way too broad (no pun intended, but I did smile when I realized what I was typing…) brush.  Certainly not all women posess the qualities you reference.

    On a related note; I apologize for all of the idiots that say crude things to women in bars. I can honestly say I have never done so.

  • http://twitter.com/mandoescamilla Mando Escamilla

    Last week a very good friend of mine called me in tears and told me a story of how some technical sales guy towered over her and yelled at her.  At an bar.  During a tech event.  Surrounded by at least 100 people.

    That guy was an asshole and deserved to get his ass kicked.  And I’m sure there were a lot of guys that saw what happened and share my opinion.  But not one of them did a damn thing.

    Everyone that stood there and did nothing contributed to the problem.

    This should be a call to arms for every decent guy out there – do not let this aggression stand, man.  If you see something untoward, say something about it.  Back up your words with actions if necessary.

    And assholes?  Consider yourself on notice.

    • Guest

      Wait, should only the men there have said something? Why didn’t any women say anything? And you’re saying one of those men should have started a bar-fight? On behalf of a defenseless woman?

      There’s a couple of other comments condemning the violent nature and recklessness of men, here you’re appealing for it. Assholes of either sex shouldn’t be taught by violence. And it’s a bit patronising to suggest every woman needs a man to come rescue her from a verbal onslaught.

      I doubt you’re helping.

      A man.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed on speaking up.  It is pretty lame and sometimes.  

      While I appreciate your offer to beat dudes up, I generally prefer “the third way”.  The third way isn’t fighting and it isn’t just fleeing the situation.  No, the third way is standing up for what you believe in in a non-violent way.  Sure, we won’t hurt you, but we won’t stand for bullshit, basically.

      The best way to counterbalance this stuff is to just be awesome and supportive to your friend, so that she realizes that dude just didn’t get enough hugs from his mom or something.  The best way to fight fear is to realize that at the end of the day, it means nothing.  

    • DeceiverByAmbition

      How do you know she was telling the truth? Women are far more better liars than men, you’ll find out the truth some day I promise :)

  • http://ionrock.org Eric Larson

    Great post! My wife has had similar experiences as a musician. She wants to be seen as a guitarist, not a “girl” guitarist. For whatever reason, fans feel compelled to discuss her sounds and gear as though she asked for suggestions. I play in the same band and have never once been told “you should do $foo with your pedal”. 

    I agree the solution isn’t to apologize. People should recognize that in certain circumstances, things like race / gender / sexual orientation are not a part of the conversation. That doesn’t mean people need to hide who they are, but rather people don’t need to consider that information when making decisions or discussing ideas.

    Thanks for making this post and starting the conversation! 

  • http://empoprise-bi.blogspot.com/ John E. Bredehoft (Empoprises)

    Another possible explanation for the success of companies with women in the executive ranks is that they’re hiring from a larger talent pool, since the pool of women and men is larger than the pool of men alone. Compare this to baseball before and after Jackie Robinson (and many others).

    • Anonymous

      Good point.  This would also enforce the idea that women should feel respected in the workplace because it increases the number of qualified candidates.  It’s hard to deny that baseball is better off because Jackie Robinson overcame the hate he had to endure at that time.

      My friend works at IBM and apparently there are many female engineers and senior management there.  That’s because if you are a jerk, you basically get blackballed for life there.  While men shouldn’t have to be robots at work, I don’t think it’s that much to ask that both men and women keep things professional at work.

  • thomasR

    It’s got very little to do with being a woman: groups of men are just as harsh on the *men* that don’t play along, as are groups of women on individual women.

    So: men, be more like women! Women, be more like men! Emulate the best of both. Ignore peer pressure. Renounce victimhood.

    Be sensitive, strong, nerdy, intellectual, kind and and courageous individuals.

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