Why So Few Women in Tech? Your Answer Depends on Your Gender
Why do you think there are so few women working in the tech industry? If you’re a man reading this column you’re likely to have a very different opinion than if you’re a woman.
First Round, a venture capital firm, has released its annual report on the state of startups in the US. It interviewed more than 700 founders, 83% of whom were male, and found that diversity is still huge problem within the technology sector. So great, in fact, that 61% of companies are either all male or mostly male and just 8% of companies are either all or mostly female. When First Round asked founders to explain this lack of diversity they found a very serious split between men and women.
Nearly 50% of men thought the main reason was too few women and minorities entering the tech sector. Only 23% of women agreed with them. The biggest reason for the lack of diversity in tech, in female founders’ eyes, was unconscious bias. Only 12% of male founders thought this was the main driver behind male and pale dominance.
Why did so few male founders think unconscious bias was to blame? There are probably lots of reasons but two of them have to be: a lack of understanding about what unconscious bias actually is; and a fear that if it really is the reason behind the lack of diversity in tech, then it might not be the women’s fault that there are so few of them -- it might be the men’s.
I have yet to meet anyone who is comfortable with the idea that they might be unconsciously biased. We all want to believe the best of ourselves. With a few exceptions, I’ve yet to meet a successful tech founder who was an out-and-out misogynist or racist. Most of them are good people who want to hire the best people they possibly can to help them build their business. But none of them like the idea that their decision on who is the “best person for the job” might actually be deeply biased.
There’s also the fact that for a vast majority of people, the term “unconscious bias” is something they simply haven’t come across. If you’re young, you haven’t been through any particular management or people training, and you’ve never experienced it yourself, it’s entirely possibly that you might have no idea what influences your decision-making and why. Most founders just want to bring together the best people as quickly as possible. If you went to university with someone you think would be great for the job and they can start now and you know they’ll be a perfect culture fit, then how could hiring them be a bad decision?
But it’s exactly this sort of thought process that has led to an industry which now looks deeply elitist and doesn’t know how to fix the problem. What it really needs to do is take a deep breath, put it’s big boy trousers on, and accept that deep down tech founders, like the rest of us, hold their own unconscious biases. Unfortunately, that’s the easy part: the harder part is hearing what those biases are and acting to change your organization’s culture so it doesn’t reflect them.
Hearing that you’re biased and the effect those biases have had on those around you can be hard, but it’s the most important thing a CEO can do for their business. So here is my tip for founders who really want to create a different technology industry: shut up. Stop talking and, instead, ask anyone who’s in a minority in your workforce what they’d like to see happen. Have an open attitude as you go into the conversation, don’t shut down their suggestions and, most importantly, listen.
Because here’s the thing that we need male founders, directors, board members and investors to get if we’re ever to have more diversity in the technology industry: this really isn’t about you. It’s not about whether you are a good person, a smart boss or an unbiased human, it’s about the people around you and how they experience the world you’ve created. It will be different to how you experience it. Accept that, and use it to build a business that is more versatile, more creative and, yes, more diverse.
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