Last week I moderated a panel of female investors and entrepreneurs at a tech event in Minneapolis. I was excited to be involved and am thankful for the opportunity. I learned a lot from the women in the panel and I also learned more about myself.
The tool I got to use for gathering questions was pretty neat. Anyone in the audience could submit a question online and it was directly fed onto the iPad I held. It kept the flow moving along quite nicely by not having to vocally solicit questions from the audience. It also gave me the ability to vet questions and as the moderator, that was my duty.
As the questions started rolling in, I noticed a certain theme among some of them. Lean In came up, as did being a working woman with a family. I deeply considered whether to bring up these topics and ultimately I decided against it. I believe that when we are discussing women in technology it needs to be a different conversation than discussing women as professionals.
I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In when it came out about a year ago. I thoroughly enjoyed its message. It really resonated with me considering my ambitions to become an executive officer at a large company while also wanting a family. I felt it clearly addressed the issues that separate men and women, both acknowledging that we are different, and calling for greater equality. This discussion needs to continue until women are treated and compensated as equals in all industries and is not specific to technology.
Insinuating that fewer women are in technology because of these inequality issues ignores some of the outright sexism that exists in tech. Society does a terrible job of teaching kids that both boys and girls are smart and that girls are as capable within STEM fields, just as boys are as capable within historically female-dominated industries.
Online and in conference rooms, women are often seen as inferior to their male counterparts. I’ve gotten weird looks introducing myself as the technical consultant and my male coworker as being from marketing. Phrases like “who can we talk to about the technical stuff” and “will you be taking the notes?”/“can you grab us all coffee” undermine both our intelligence and our earned right to be there. Assumptions about a lack of technical skills means women have to prove harder that they are competent. Additionally, as Amanda Hess explains, women encounter situations online that no one should have to deal with, making for a larger barrier to entry for women.
Neither battle can be won in a silo, but I think acknowledging the differences is an important step. As we continue the dialog on gender equality, keep in mind there are additional hurdles for women to jump when entering technology and similar industries. The Minneapolis tech community is extremely supportive of women and is a place where I truly believe we are equal. I hope this spreads to more places and we grow towards a more gender balanced industry.