February 24, 2012

"Technical women" and "Women in tech"

My latest article for my biweekly column in The Daily Muse addresses an issue that's been bugging me for a while. I can sum it up this way: Just because you have a blog doesn't mean you're a "woman in tech."

Read on to learn about how only a third of the top women in tech are actually technical and why that needs to change...

Why We Need to Rethink "Women in Tech"

To a Silicon Valley outsider, it may seem like everyone out here is “technical.” Internet giants dominate the job market, and online start-ups are a dime a dozen. But when industry insiders describe someone as “technical” (e.g., “I’m looking for a technical co-founder”), it has a very specific meaning: that person can write code.

It’s in this context that the debate about women in tech gets interesting. On one side are those who complain that there aren’t really any women in tech; on the other are those who seek to prove that there are. Fast Company and The Huffington Post can be counted in the latter group—both published lists last year to honor the tech industry’s top women. HuffPo’s “18 Female Founders In Tech To Watch” and Fast Company’s “30 Most Influential Women in Technology” drew attention to talented and powerful women who are taking the tech industry by storm.

But if you look closely at the lists, an interesting fact emerges: Only about a third of the women on either list can code.

Conversely, nearly all of the top men in tech have software engineering backgrounds. Forbes’ 2011 list of “The World’s Most Powerful People” included tech industry leaders like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Baidu’s Robin Li—all men, all founders, all computer scientists.

Imagine your disappointment if only a third of the “Top Women in Music” were musicians. Similarly, it would be a little weird if an overwhelming majority of the leading women in medicine had never studied science. There are lots of ways to lead and shape an industry, but shouldn’t mastering the core of the craft rank near the top?

I bring this up not to disparage... [click here to read the rest of the article at The Daily Muse for free]

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