Book: Innovating Women

Suddenly, there’s a lot of constructive conversation about women in technology and entrepreneurship. I’m glad, as there is a continuous mess of sexism, misogyny, hatred, anger, specious assertions, and general weirdness. This mess is from men to women, from women to women, from men to men, and from women to men. Basically, there’s gender equality in the awful parts of this.

As chair of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, I’ve seen all sides of this, including plenty aimed at me. I’m an enormous believer in the power of being a male advocate so I’ll continue to be outspoken, supportive, and thoughtful on the issues and engagement of women in technology.

I was very excited to get a chance to read the book Innovating Women by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya. It’s an excellent combination of stories from powerful female innovators, along with analysis and research supporting the context. I enjoyed the book a lot, heard some new stories, and got a few new ideas.

As I read through some of the Amazon reviews and threads that spiraled out from them, I once again saw a continuous mess of sexism, misogyny, hatred, anger, specious assertions, and general weirdness. This mess is from men to women, from women to women, from men to men, and from women to men. Basically, there’s gender equality in the awful parts of this.

In my fantasy, humans would learn how to be constructive participants in a conversation. I recognize this is a fantasy, but I’ll keep trying, especially around this issue.

  • I like your philosophical ending.

    Political correctdness is such a hot potato on that topic. You could be saying something and meaning well, but someone will find a word in what you said that rubbed them the wrong way and they pounce on it.

    • Yeah – I expect that …

      • Here’s an example of how a well intentioned “women in tech” related conversation degenerated into some good, bad and ugly shots taken. But the at the end, a lot more goodness came out of it.
        https://www.facebook.com/groups/startupnorth/permalink/10152823452702840/

        • KeptOut

          That thread also shows how lame social forces can ruin any discussion. Eg Finally, everybody agreed that making a new list of female speakers was good idea, maybe google doc that everyone can access (list creator can remove spam), etc. Then suddenly, it was decided that only a few people should access the list? Many who followed up did not even get update. So rubbish but typical Toronto: fragmented and cliquey.

          • I don’t appreciate your generalized attack on Toronto. It is your comment that is rubbish and cliquey.

          • KeptOut

            Not a generalized attack. I have noticed this issue play out several times in the city and have heard similar complaints from others, just highlighting this particular example. So my comment stands: Toronto scene *is* fragmented and cliquey.

          • Are you in the Toronto area?

          • KeptOut

            Was up until this month.

          • Rick

            Can you give us the story behind your selection of “KeptOut” as your name?

    • Rick

      Right. That’s why you throw all that stuff out the window and use logic to decide how to help others. If you let anything mix in with that it becomes polluted and you as well as others become victims.
      .
      I value both your opinion and Brad’s. What do you guys think?
      .
      Helping people is straight forward. Building a business is straight forward. The biggest problem is getting people out of the way. Sometimes out of their own way.

  • heyehd

    There are some great resources developing around women in technology and entrepreneurship such as http://www.thinkglobalinstitute.org. As a father of 3 daughters I am all for it.

  • Rick

    More politics. What’s up with that?
    .
    Why not do this: Ask people what they are interested in doing. Then help them do that. Don’t worry about what others say. Don’t worry about what the person’s gender is. As long as someone doesn’t want to hurt other people just help them do what they are interested in.
    .
    If someone *wants* to go into the tech field help them. But don’t try to *influence* them to do that! If you do that then you are making them a victim.
    .
    Take me for instance. You should have asked me what I wanted to do when you received my most recent note. When I said I wanted to break the barriers and do a start up funded at idea stage. You should have done what you can to help. That’s how you help people!
    .
    If you try to influence people to do what others want them to do then you’re not helping them. You’re manipulating them.

  • I found the “male advocate” report that you linked to really important. I’ve been struggling with how to view and approach “women in the tech workforce” from the POV of a male. Helpful to read about that very thing.

  • Alex Wolf

    Right on Brad – the positive face to change the negative vibe!

    I LOVE
    being a woman entrepreneur,
    being a woman in STEAM (STEM + A for art +design),
    being a woman in tech,
    being a woman in business,
    being a woman in toys.

    Was just invited to the White House with 50 women to help make the above things easier for more women and encourage more girls on their way into biz, tech and science. Female numbers used to be higher, have dropped, and they can return to that and exceed them. Megan Smith the new WH CTO is cool beans and said how helpful it would be to have the media show more women in the above fields, accurately.

    Women themselves are so helpful in lifting up other women – I’m one of 30 women in biz featured by Eileen Fisher and Take Part Media series just coming out. http://bit.ly/InHer1020.

    I have a daughter as well. I will miss her school play to travel for a Toy Fair, and I missed something she did to go to the White House. I said sorry for missing these things and she said “don’t be sorry – I’m proud of you”.

    Being invited to women’s groups like the above is awesome: I get to share my excitement for how much I love what I do, and be a role model. I relish the chance to outspoken on why these things matter to me as a woman. to the men in my life, and to our kids. #changetheratio

  • Sim

    I’m very bloody happy this book has come out. Hopefully, it is the beginning of a whole rainbow of constructive dialogue – the power of positivity and constructive discussion sure trumps negative commentary and criticisms.

    Thanks for the insight Brad.

  • It’s not just in the technology sector, as you’d know. It’s across the whole society. People are often using old constructs in a world that has already moved forward.

    A lot of it will simply and literally die off, the same way you mention in Startup Communities that the old white dudes, the patriarch archetype, will die away.

    For example, I love my father dearly, but recently we were talking about a woman we both know and he said, “She’s making pretty good money for a woman”. Well WTF is that, right? But there’s no point getting in too deep with him on it, he’s stuck in his pre-70’s rural mentality, and he’s not shifting his views. So we talk about his garden.

    I have a lot of faith that the Gen Z will by and large not be holding prejudices against women, and other human rights, for that matter.

    Do you agree, or am I off here?

    • WTF indeed. I put racism in the same category. I’m hopeful that in 20 – 40 years a lot of this will be in the “tapered off” category.

      • I wonder. Tribalism runs very deep.

      • Mitzi Epstein

        Be careful. We want hate and bigotry to die out, but we must not expect it to happen without effort. Of course move on to talking about the garden with your 70 year old father, to keep a good relationship. But with everyone else, stop and point out when people say prejudiced things. If they don’t know their words and ideas are wrong, explain why and how. If they know their comments are offensive, call them out and let them know that you will not condone it. ….. Misogyny has been around for centuries. To end it takes these wonderfully open-minded GenZs PLUS ongoing activism.

  • I’ve not read the book yet but would echo the POV expressed in your blog. We’re working hard to encourage more women to participate in our accelerator programme in London. Certainly a more constructive conversation around women in technology is helping to pave the way for this to happen.
    Would love to hear from other tech support programmes on actions they’re taking to level the playing field.

    • We’ve put a huge amount of effort into this via NCWIT (www.ncwit.org) – take a look.

      • Thank you, looks like there are some interesting resources there. Do you happen to know if there’s been any evaluation of these interventions? Just wondering which have been most successful to date.

        • Sarah Braker

          Quick answer to your question from the NCWIT. Our resource materials are evaluated by our members and by other users. The interventions we propose are either evidence-based or research-based (generally not through research or evaluation we ourselves have done, but rather from the literature in the field).

          • I’ve been impressed thus far and drawn from / shared published reports.

  • LV

    As a woman who had nothing but great experiences working as an aerospace engineer 25 years ago, I have been dumbfounded by the incredible amount of misogyny that I’ve been observing lately in the computer science and game development industries. I have a daughter about to graduate with a game design/CS degree, and the more I pay attention, the more concerned I am for her. It’s not just the name calling and foul language on twitter and message boards aimed at women, but the death threats that concern me. It’s going to take everybody, including men, to condemn this behavior, and I’ll extend a huge thanks to Brad for leading the way.

    • My daughter too – about to graduate with MSc in CS. It’s not something to just ignore. This #gamergate episode is hideous.

      • #gamergate is appalling.

      • LV

        But how cool is it that we have daughters going into these areas? That alone should start making a difference.

        • It’s fantastic.

          • As someone who would have enjoyed exploring these subjects had they been available to me, I’d say exposure is a big part of getting girls interested. Also, recognizing and encouraging interest. The OCD side of me had to cool it when I was getting irritated with my daughter’s impulse to dip into liquids with anything she could get her hands on – paper, bread, other foods / liquids (I’ve taken gulps of coffee mixed with God-knows-what). Finally, I thought, “Hey, she might be a chemist one day.” Now, I’ve learned to be charmed by all the things she “engineers” around the house and her descriptive inventions.

    • Rick

      “As a woman who had nothing but great experiences working as an aerospace
      engineer 25 years ago, I have been dumbfounded by the incredible amount
      of misogyny that I’ve been observing lately in the computer science and
      game development industries.”
      .
      Is it getting worse the more people try to push at women to go into tech? No one wants to be pushed into things. Are their interests, desires, and feelings being ignored?
      .
      It’s great to have a “National Center”… “Information Technology”. But doesn’t the fact that you segregate it into “Women & Information Technology” make it reverse discrimination?
      .
      By segregating don’t you provide the example for bad things to follow? I just don’t get this stuff. When I was doing labor in tech I was glad to see females involved.

      • LV

        That’s a good question, Rick, and one I’ve often asked myself. First, as a parent of two girls, I can tell you that there is no such thing as “pushing” a woman to go into tech. You can influence, give advice, cajole, and do whatever else you want, but a girl that’s going to be a model is going to be a model, and a girl that wants to design games is probably going to design games. But what do you do with a girl who is equally good at creative writing and math and science? You can point out that the job market for writers might not be such that she could support her family, if she needed to, whereas a job in tech would much more likely provide a living wage.

        Something that NCWIT provides is much more than segregation – they provide role models for girls to see just what kinds of jobs in tech are out there and how easily accessible they are to girls, and they provide essential networking opportunities.

        • Rick

          “That’s a good question, Rick”
          .
          Thanks. Yes I have lots of questions it’s answer I need. 🙂

          • J.P.

            reverse sexism/racism/discrimination does not exist.

  • I have a question.

    The tech world is perhaps a little unusual in that it is very ready to embrace socially challenged individuals who are nonetheless highly functional technically. The nature of a good deal of the work allows people way out on the spectrum to make a good living. And casual empiricism suggests that in consequence tech has an unusually high percentage of such people.

    Does others feel that this bears upon the problem?

    • I don’t know, but I don’t feel like this should be an excuse / justification for the dynamics.

      • It is absolutely no excuse or course. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it is part of the underlying dynamic. There are a lot of socially incompetent men who are angry they can’t get a girlfriend and that anger comes out in very misogyny. They egg each other on with porn and hatred on crazy ant feminist theories on Reddit and it’s a devil’s brew. Backed up semen is a bad drug.

        • I’ve believe the dynamic you point to is accurate. Having worked with people with actual Tourettes Syndrome and other disorders as CalSTAR Asst. Coordinator – a program matching people with disabilities with volunteers to help them work out – I’ve observed some of the social challenges you refer to and heard personal stories from those who suffer with them. I also have incredibly patience / compassion for those issues. Unfortunately, unrealistic social exposures (e.g. porn, violent games) just worsens the implicit bias and adds fodder to the fire raging in a frustrated mind. It all explodes in negative engagements. Unfortunately, the men involved are alienating their prospective girlfriends / wives / friends and women get looped right in with retaliatory vengeance => downward spiral. We can all use more exposure and understanding.

  • Rick

    Since you’re involved with this stuff Brad can you help me a bit?
    .
    If you segregate women. Are you not providing an example of segregation for people to follow? If you want everyone to be equal why set any one group apart from the others? Why not lead by example and accept everyone in any group you support?
    .
    I just don’t get this stuff. I see more and more kids today hanging out with diverse groups – girls, boys, tall, short, etc. But then I see more and more adults focused on dividing people. I’m just at a loss here.

    • Rick

      Never mind… I got it.

  • I share in your fantasy. Thanks for being a male advocate 😉