What It's Like for Women In Tech

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

High School girls participate in Chick Tech, one of a growing handful of program designed to get more women interested in studying and creating technology. (ChickTech/flickr)

There's lots of talk about getting more young girls to code, but what's life like in Silicon Valley for women right now? And what do consumers miss out on because of tech's diversity problem? Rachel Sklar, author and founder of "Change the Ratio" and The Li.St, discusses misogyny in tech, whether it's worse than in other industries, and how to change it.


Rachel Sklar

Comments [18]

to chip from nyc, who asked,
> What data shows that diversity is beneficial in the tech industry?

It should be self-evident, regardless of industry, that if you reject the best candidate because he or she is not a young white male you will hurt your prospects for success.

Aug. 06 2014 05:21 AM

kinda a weird convo -- women arguably don't need more seats at the table, i would like to see them with their own tables. for example, the tech products & svs these nerdy dudes are selling -- meh! bring on the female angles to the marketplace -- emphasize those differences... lean... in...

Aug. 05 2014 06:36 PM

There is yet another diversity elephant in the room, and I am glad Rachel called it out. The ratio is skewed towards *men* who are *Caucasian.* (And *young.*)

As a Boomer who works on the editorial side of tech, who sent her first email in 1981, has worked on the Internet since 1994, I think it's just as unfair to stereotype Millennials (who often grew up with working mothers) as it is to stereotype Boomers. I have worked with a number of young male developers, and at least three of them would happy to take the patriarchy apart right now. I am also a member of a local hackerspace, where I have learned to solder and program in Python. We have worked hard to make the space welcome for everybody.

And I have worked with jerks. And I am stunned that the number of women studying computer science has decreased since the 1980s. And at the very small number of African-Americans working in tech. And the LGBTQ community nearly never gets addressed.

I happen to feel that books such as "Lean In" and "The Confidence Code" are part of the problem, making women feel bad (once again) that they aren't doing enough to push themselves forward on /an individual basis/, as if they weren't civil rights issues. Happily, I see more and more folks who aren't brogrammers making amazing stuff and starting amazing companies, despite the environment. But sexism and racism are stubborn--look at the movie business, which has similar hideous numbers, and where every successful woman-driven film is supposed to be a sign of a change.

Except that it isn't. The wheel gets reinvented, and then busted.

Sadly, I think the tech industry will learn its lesson when it gets sued enough (see the Tinder founders who tried to make the "marketing lady" --who was instrumental in disappear from their origin story).

Unless or until they realize that there's money in diversity. I am putting my money on greed. I really, really, really hope Silicon Valley and Alley are more greedy than dumb.

So make awesome stuff, folks, and make money so you can back it. Put it on Kickstarter and IndieGogo and Patreon, and GET IT OUT THERE. Join Girl Develop IT, and Women Who Code, and Change the Ratio. Start your own coding group, your own company. We desperately need the most creative people making things and changing the world.

Aug. 05 2014 02:46 PM
Liz from Hempstead, N.Y.

October 14, 2014 is Ada Lovelace Day around the world. See Hofstra University will have its first Ada Lovelace Day celebration this fall.

Aug. 05 2014 12:17 PM
Elliott from Brooklyn

Elliott here to clarify that I was not being sarcastic. I prefaced my comments by noting that I'm a huge Riot Grrl fan and Kathleen Hanna to note that my views may be biased in favor of women. My comment about Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin was in response to the host's comment about sending music to clients. Frankly, everyone should listen to anything Kathleen Hanna has to say or does, my feminist interests are in line with hers - ending violence and sexual abuse against women, and against one and all. And, if you haven't yet bought The Punk Singer - buy it and watch it today. So, sarcastic? Not at all. Quite the contrary.

Aug. 05 2014 11:54 AM
Mary from Clinton Hill

Right on, caller Melissa! It's great that Elliot called in with his take on things, but I found him subtly condescending. Minouche's saying he's basically a nice guy was way too nice of her.

Aug. 05 2014 11:36 AM

Agreed: Elliot's smarm was obvious, and what is ultimately his enabling behavior is no small part of the "nice-guy" problem. Also, Rachel Sklar's points are valid but unfortunately she did a very good job reinforcing the female stereotype of being way too talkative. Slow down, invoke the Inner Editor, avoid the Oversell: some good advice for all genders.

Aug. 05 2014 11:35 AM
Martha from Brooklyn

I love how strong and aggressive all the women in this conversation were. It's taken me a while to get used to Manoush over the last few months I've been hearing her - but I like that she's a little bit pushy!

Aug. 05 2014 11:31 AM
Emmanuel from Wantagh

I'm a Boomer working for a high-tech start-up in Boston from home on Long Island. We have a lot of very talented women in our company, probably close to half. It may be because we're all a little older and have more experience in the tech world. Probably mostly because we're a group of people who have come together to build a company with the best people we knew or could find for our particular product and industry. My own experience before this was as a programmer in the interface between business and tech, working with highly-paid consultants who mostly had a business background. Many of them were women. But my experience is my experience and not necessarily indicative of wider trends or attitudes in the industry as a whole, including the age thing, which hasn't held me back. Recruiters need to push the best people for the job forward, regardless or gender or age.

Aug. 05 2014 11:26 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

One thing this conversation is lacking is a strategy that women might employ to gain entry TO the boys club. I am 45. When I started working, I was one of the few women in my field; what this meant was playing up more of my masculine qualities, trying to ingratiate myself with the men, and toning done on my more feminine clothes. Guess what, it worked - I gained the respect of my peers, and then let more of my female self out.

This may not be ideal, but it's the reality - especially with dorky tech guys who have little social experience with attractive women. It's necessary to bend in order to get into the door, and then once work places are more balanced, THEN the tone and environment can be more "feminine."

Aug. 05 2014 11:24 AM
Susan from Manhattan

Totally agree - Don't give Elliot a pass. He sounded smart - smart enough to realize that he's actually not helping, even though he's a realist.

Just knowing what women are up against is a huge step - acknowledging it. But, changing it takes a little more effort.

I loved what the guest said about informing clients that they are actually missing out on a worthwhile talent - a profitable talent that will help their businesses. Stop making it about women, and make it about profitability and talent.

Aug. 05 2014 11:23 AM
seth from nyc

It sounded like Eliot was being sarcastic in regards to the music that the last caller just jumped on him about. He was replying to your comment about music. She obviously missed that.

Aug. 05 2014 11:22 AM
Barbara Hoffmann from pa

Rachele Sklar's work is great. But, she doesn't shut up long enough to hear a question.

Aug. 05 2014 11:21 AM
TaBuHax from New Jersey.

I've been in the tech industry since 1984 - as a systems engineer and moved into technology sales for both enterprise and retail. As an SE in 1989 I had a man tell me at IBM training that the only reason that I was successful was because I was attractive despite all the certifications for Token Ring and Ethernet network design. Now, as a 50 year old woman, most contemporaries could be selling houses for all they know of IT and computers.

Thankfully women HAVE created the old girls network and through CE Women, Linked In, women are better at keeping contacts and reach out more often. Those that have stayed in the industry (after children, layoffs) are influential and like to network. I encourage young women to be technical, entrepreneurial, and excited about a ever changing industry. It has been rewarding to be part of "what hasn't been invented yet".

Aug. 05 2014 11:20 AM
chip from nyc

What data shows that diversity is beneficial in the tech industry?

Aug. 05 2014 11:17 AM
Anne from New York

I have been in tech for many years, long before the commercial internet became ubiquitous. I've witnessed and been the recipient of countless slurs, insults, sexist comments, come-ons, etc. I worked at a successful startup during the dotcom boom, and the head of Sales routinely took his team to strip clubs after work. I don't know how much things have improved since then.

Last night, I was at the NY Tech Meetup monthly gathering last night at the Skirball Center at NYU. During the presentations by the featured startups I was astonished at some of the comments made by some of the founders. The founder of an apartment rental search service noted that one of the service's features was a listing of the number of closets in the apartment so that women could know how much space they would have for their shoes. Pretty tame, but it was said to a packed auditorium of hundreds of people, many of whom were women. I can't imagine what he says in private and how he treats the women working on his team.

Aug. 05 2014 11:15 AM
BK from Hoboken

I graduated from an excellent engineering school in the mid 90s. While I was not in computer engineering, the engineering school as a whole was probably 75-80% male! and many of those guys were not the best communicators, not the best socially, etc. The stereotype exists because most of these tech guys are just that- guys- and because even more of them are socially awkward and don't understand the professional real world very well either.

Aug. 05 2014 11:14 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I knew a handful of women who were good programmers as well as engineers in Israel where I did work as a tech writer for a number of years back in the '80s. But definitely engineering and computer programming was a boys club for the most part and probably still is - for the most part. However, the first computer programmer in history was a women, Ada Lovelace after a computer langauge, Ada, was named:

"Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852), born Augusta Ada Byron and now commonly known as Ada Lovelace, was an English mathematician and writer chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Because of this, she is often described as the world's first computer programmer.[1][2][3]"

Aug. 05 2014 10:55 AM

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