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This article was published on November 10, 2009

What is keeping women out of technology?

What is keeping women out of technology?
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

Grace Murray Hopper Grace Murray Hopper, Pioneer Computer Scientist and inventor of the ‘Computer Bug”.

Madeleine Albright once remarked that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. She didn’t make that up but was quoting Abba Eban, a former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, but I heard it from her first. I’m starting to think the same quote applies to women. Seriously. The longer I work in our industry the more I’m starting to think that most women never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong. I love women and think they are smarter, faster and more organized than men. Unfortunately I don’t see too many women taking advantage of their skills and the opportunities presented to them. No, this is not just an observation by a male macho geek. I have some pretty impressive data to back this up. Of course, with lies, damn lies and statistics as the basis of my assumptions, I could be wrong. So consider this a RFC.

First of all I want to get started with women in technology. Why aren’t you dominant in our space? No really, why not? On the web, nobody knows whether you’re are a pony, a geek or a women. The reason why so many web entrepreneurs are geeks with pimples is that they can be. Nobody judges them on their body odor, pimples, glasses or stutter. All they are judged on is their work. Or as Jessica Livingston explains:

By nature, startups are very non-discriminatory. As a founder, your success is directly tied to the success of your product. You must please the market, not your boss or other executives. The market doesn’t care how old, what race, religion or what gender you are. It cares if the product is actually good.

Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman
, President and Chief Executive Officer of eBay from March 1998 to March 2008

More women than ever are starting companies these days. But hardly any of them are in technology (I know the exceptions, so spare me those) and I just don’t understand why. What is holding you back?

Ah, it might be our geeky attitude that keeps you out? Blog posts with titles such as “What is keeping women out of technology?” make you feel ‘not at home’ in our industry? Well excuse me sister. Want an invitation? Want me to hold the door open for you? Want me to make it easy for you? Get the hell outta here. Women unfriendly environment? I just don’t buy that as the reason you are not in this space. What kind of lame excuse is that? “yes I would like to build the next Google but I just don’t feel welcome in this space”.

Take this blog as an example. 44% of our readers are female. Impressive right? But somehow you don’t notice it. I’d say one in 20 comments here is from a women. Maybe even less. Unless I violate your rights by posting an image that is “sexualizing women in a business context“. Then you are all here commenting about the rights I supposedly violated. The fact that you haven’t exactly been taking advantage of those same rights before doesn’t seem to bother anyone. It bothers me.

When I’m at a conference, any conference really, and there is time for questions, 9 times out of 10 the person asking a question will be a male. It seems part of being a women. Is it really?

More data: Nokia did a study recently and found out that of women miss a lot more phonecalls than man. You can’t seem to find your damn phones in your damn purses! I have been asking women about that the last few months and asking their opinion on it. They all agree with and confirm the study. And they are fine with it. The reply I get is “You know how hard it is to find anything in a purse?”. That might be a reason but isn’t an excuse. How can anyone function in a business context if they miss important phonecalls?

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer
, Vice President of Search Product and User Experience at the search engine company Google

Every year we organize The Next Web Conference and every year we get shit about not putting enough women on stage. The reality is that we invite as many women as men to our events. Most men we invite are happy to be invited and thrilled at the prospect of speaking to 1000 of their peers. Most women don’t reply at all, say they are too busy or ask me to explain to them what they would get out of talking to a 1000 of their peers. They don’t seem to consider it work. In the end, we end up with maybe one or two women on stage.

Two women might not seem a lot next to 18 guys but that is actually more than the industry average. As Jessica Livingston writes there seem to be less than 10% women (she funded 7 women out of 102 start-ups) in the start-ups she funded at YCombinator.

The reason I started this post is something that happened at a networking event last week. Just before the break a female comedian entered the stage to entertain the room and get us in the mood for networking. She asked everybody to stand up and then started to ask us the first of 10 questions. The goal was to filter out the people who were REALLY interested in networking. Her third question was “Who didn’t bring their businesscards with them today”. I was in the front row and saw her jaw drop, so I looked around. All the women in the room (it was a 50/50 male/female audience) were sitting down. None of them had brought businesscards to a networking event. The comedian said “I guess you all thought that if you show your breasts he will remember you?”.

I don’t think that was it, but I do wonder what was going through these women’s minds.

After the meeting I went up to the comedian and asked her if she knew that all those women would forget their cards. She said she had no idea and it was just a lucky guess. I told her I thought it was shocking and that I wanted to write something about it on our blog and if I could have her card so I could mention her name.

Unfortunately she forgot her cards…

P.S. just in case anyone wants to dismiss this as just another macho, anti feminine, male chauvinist post here are a few facts: We have been all been raised by strong and independent women (my mother’s blog) here at The Next Web, my girlfriend has her own company (but I can never reach her on her phone), I helped set-up The Next Women and I have two daughters and I’m teaching them PHP as soon as they learn how to read and write.
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