As I continue my exploration of feminist literature, I’ve become much more aware of pronoun usage.
I realized my default pronoun for writing and speaking has been male gendered. If I thought about pronoun usage in advance, I could alternate and use female gendered pronouns, but when I wasn’t paying attention, my default went back to the male pronoun.
I also noticed that much of what I read used male-gendered pronouns as a default. When referring to a specific person, pronoun usage was linked to the person, but whenever the writing referenced a non-specific person, the pronouns were usually male.
I’ve given several talks in the past few months where I consciously decided to use only female-gendered pronouns, except when referring to a specific person (where I then matched the gender of the person.) After these talks, I regularly got positive notes about this, from both women and men, thanking me for doing this.
Some of these talks were about gender issues in tech, but others were about something entirely different, so the positive reactions were instructive to me. I started mentioning this approach, including to several women I respected a lot for their views on gender issues. I specifically asked if my behavior around this was useful. All gave me a resounding yes.
So I’ve decided to try to use female-gendered pronouns as my default in writing and talking for a while and see how it goes. I’ll still occasionally use male-gendered pronouns, but by having the female as the default, I hope to have “her” appear more frequently.
All of this notwithstanding, I think it’s important to recognize that there’s an entire generation that is moving quickly past binary pronouns to epicene (or gender-neutral) pronouns. I write this way also and in lots of situations, it works well. But I’m not ready to shift to it, especially since I have a massive deficit of female-gendered pronouns in my historical writing.
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” – Margaret Atwood
A few weeks ago, after reading the New York Times Sunday Review article The Book That Made Us Feminists, I asked Amy for several recommendations for books that were foundational to the feminist movement. I purchased all that she suggested and added them to my infinite list of books to read.
The past few days I read Susan Brownmiller’s book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. Written in 1975, it’s 480 pages of intense and powerful writing. After about a third of it, I turned to Amy and said, “That Margaret Atwood quote has a clear basis in history.”
Today, again in the New York Times (this time online), I read the article Push for Gender Equality in Tech? Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far. I was almost finished with Against Our Will so it didn’t take much to infuriate me about the article. There are several men quoted in the article and others referenced. The only one whose perspective makes any sense to me is Dick Costolo’s quote.
“In just the last 48 hours, I’ve spoken to a female tech executive who was grabbed by a male C.E.O. at a large event and another female executive who was asked to interview at a venture fund because they ‘feel like they need to hire a woman,’” said Dick Costolo, the former chief of Twitter, who now runs the fitness start-up Chorus. “We should worry about whether the women-in-tech movement has gone too far sometime after a couple of these aren’t regularly happening anymore.”
In many of the conversations I’ve had around sexual harassment and sexual assault, I’ve been discussing something I’ve been referring to as the “perpetrator / victim paradox.” In this situation, the perpetrator “assaults / harasses” the victim. When the perpetrator is discovered (or almost discovered), he becomes the victim and tries to manipulate the victim into “not destroying my life.” It alternates between threats (continued perpetrator behavior aimed at the victim) and pleas (where the perpetrator takes the role of the victim, often using guilt to try and keep the victim quiet.)
Now, this doesn’t only apply to sexual harassment and sexual assault, but to any power dynamic. Which leads to the well-discussed idea that rape is much more about power than about sex. Brownmiller’s book does an incredible job of linking power to sex, especially in the context of men using sex to assert their power over women. But there was another level that jumped out at me, which was the notion of women as property, where a first man asserts their power over second man by having unwanted sex (rape) with the woman who was “affiliated” (wife, child, sister) with the second man. While Brownmiller has an incredibly long and distressing chapter on rape as part of the spoils of war, this idea infiltrates much of the book.
When I read articles like Push for Gender Equality in Tech? Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far all I can think of is “these men are afraid of losing power to women.”
As a man, I wish other men would get over this. As our current president assembles the most male-dominated government in decades it’s clear that there is still a lot of work to do here.
Next up in my #GivingThanks series – in appreciation for people during Thanksgiving who have had a profound impact on me – is Lucy Sanders, the CEO of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). Unlike the last post about the Jason Mendelson Entrepreneurial Award Fund, I’m not going to bury the lede – go here if you’d like to make a financial gift to NCWIT as part of #GivingThanks.
I met Lucy in 2004. We were introduced by Terry Gold (I was on the board at Gold Systems). Terry has always been a great connector so without knowing anything about Lucy I said “sure” and we had a meeting in my old office in Superior above a liquor store and Old Chicago Pizza.
In the first few minutes, Lucy explained her plans for a new organization she had created called National Center for Women & Information Technology. Her goal was straightforward – get more girls and women involved in computer science. As someone who has been involved in the tech industry since 1987, there was an obvious gender issue – all you needed to do was walk around a software company and look at the engineers. But Lucy captured my attention when she went further than the issue of gender parity by saying in the first five minutes something like “It’s an issue of long term competitiveness and innovation. In the US, the demand for computer scientists and programmers is growing at a pace that will dramatically outstrip the supply of labor unless we get more women involved, starting now.”
NCWIT’s mission has evolved nicely over the years but has stayed true to that statement from Lucy a dozen years ago. Today, NCWIT formally describes itself as follows:
“The National Center for Women & Information Technology is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization chartered in 2004 by the National Science Foundation. NCWIT is a “collective impact” effort, a community of more than 700 prominent corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and non-profits working to increase girls’ and women’s participation in technology and computing. NCWIT helps organizations recruit, retain, and advance women from K-12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers by providing support, evidence, and action. NCWIT is the only national organization focused on women’s participation in computing across the entire ecosystem: K-12 through college education, and academic to corporate and entrepreneurial careers.”
Lucy asked me to be on the NCWIT board on the spot and a year later I agreed to be chair of the board, a role that I’ve cherished over the years.
I’m fortunate in that I was ready to engage in the problem. My views on gender are heavily influenced by two powerful women in my life – my mom (Cecelia Feld) and my wife (Amy Batchelor). I watched my parents act as completely equal partners in their relationship and, as a son to a woman I respect immensely, I never thought of gender inequality as a child. For the past 26 years, I’ve been in a relationship with an equal partner (Amy) and notice gender issues everywhere in our society. Amy and I talk about it regularly, take action on a number of fronts around it, and work together to address issues when we see or experience them.
So when I first met Lucy I had a prepared and receptive mind. But, I didn’t really know or understand things beyond an anecdotal state. Over the past dozen years, I’ve learned more about gender issues, unconscious bias, power dynamics in organizations, harassment, and long term solutions from Lucy and my work with NCWIT than I have from anything else. I’ve had a great partner in Amy to talk about many of the issues that I’ve learned about, as I go beyond just understanding to taking action. And, with Lucy, I’ve gotten to work on this with an outstanding partner leading an organization I’m incredibly proud of.
In the past few years, we’ve finally started to see the conversation around gender in computing as fact-based, instead of anecdote-based, discussion. Some awesome female leaders are taking things to the next level. We still have a long way to go, but I’m hopeful that in a decade we’ll look back and feel like gender issues in tech are no longer an issue.
Lucy – thank you for everything you do – every day – on this issue. If this is an important issue to you, and you want to join in on #GivingThanks, please make a donation to NCWIT to support their work.
One of my core values is diversity of everything.
I’ve been involved deeply in several organizations, such as National Center for Women and Information Technology, that have been focused on increasing gender diversity in computer science and entrepreneurship. More recently, I’ve expanded my lens a lot to include many other dimensions of diversity. The mission of the Techstars Foundation, which is improving diversity in tech entrepreneurship, is an example of that.
One thing that I learned from my work with NCWIT is the power of examples. So, Amy and I have been supporting independent filmmakers for a few years. The first film we helped fund was CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap. Then, following the leadership of Joanne Wilson, we helped fund Dream, Girl which you can watch for free on their website until November 14th.
Recently, a group of us have been helping a young filmmaker, Ashley Maria, who is on her own personal journey to find out why careers are much more complicated and difficult when a woman tries to have one.
Pioneers in Skirts focuses on cultural and personal setbacks women still face in our society when they pursue a career. The film focuses on hot social topics that women encounter – like the mommy penalty and unconscious biases we find in our culture, the need for mentorship, sponsors, and men to advocate for their female co-workers, and how to nip the problem in the bud during adolescence.
Pioneers in Skirts is currently in post-production aiming for an early 2017 premiere in festivals and then VOD, Streaming and Television. Ashley and team need a little more funding to get things done so if you are inclined to support an ambitious young female filmmaker working on what Amy and I think is an important film, go to her support page and make a donation to the effort.
I’ve now lived in Boulder for 19 years. It was an amazing place when I moved here and has evolved into an even more stupendous place over the past 19 years, notwithstanding the irrational and self-limiting struggle that the Boulder City Council seems to have with change.
Over the past decade, the Boulder Startup Community has had significant success and impact on the culture and dynamics of the city. I wrote about some of the history and impact in my book Startup Communities and the Boulder Thesis that I came up with has now been used as a template for creating startup communities all over the world.
Since being inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in the startup community” is the third principle of the Boulder Thesis, I get sad when I see phrases like the following in articles in the NY Times about Boulder such as:
“The locals say they don’t like the tech folks pouring into town to work at places like Google. They’re insular. They’re driving up housing prices. And they fear those newcomers are more like invaders than people trying to fit into their new community.”
Earlier this year, Macon Cowles, a member of our city council asserted that Boulder’s startup economy brought a lot of very highly paid white men to the city, and they were pricing out families and others. He then followed up with the statement “I don’t think that’s what people want.” If you know the Boulder Startup Community, you know that it’s actually bringing diversity to what is historically a very ethnically white town. A group of Boulder Startup Community leaders, including Nicole Glaros, Rajat Bhargava, and my partner Jason Mendelson wrote an OpEd titled A necessary education on Boulder’s startup community where they challenged Macon Cowles’ perspective.
“We are women and men. We are parents. We are veterans of the military. We are ultra marathoners. We are musicians and artists. We are foodies. We are sportspeople and environmentalists. We are philanthropists. We are educators. We are graduating students with entry-level jobs gaining valuable experience. We are techie nerds. We are clean energy inventors. We are natural food creators. We are of all races and ethnicities. We are young. We are old. We are straight. We are LBGTQ. We come from every religious background. We are the cross-section of our entire community. We are risk takers who have decided to create our own jobs and jobs for others.”
Cowles eventually apologized but couldn’t help but include a link to an article about Google’s diversity record in his tweet.
— Macon Cowles (@MaconCowles) August 31, 2014
I fear Cowles doesn’t realize that the National Center for Women & Information Technology, led by long time Boulderite Lucy Sanders, is on the front edge of the tech / diversity issue. I’ve been immersed in the gender side of the diversity issue as chair of NCWIT since 2006 and Google is a strong, positive participant in this. Ethnic diversity in tech, especially in the US, is a big struggle, but it’s a big struggle in Boulder as well, since the population here is over 90% white.
I wish the NY Times article titled A Google Gentrification Fight That Doesn’t Involve San Francisco had a broader, and more than one-sided perspective. It stood out in stark contrast to several other articles I read this morning, including From startup to $7 billion, Zayo encourages ideas, entrepreneurs and Nancy Phillips followed her passion to go ViaWest. These Denver Post articles do a great job of highlighting the positive impact Dan Caruso and his team at Zayo and Nancy Phillips and her team at Viawest have had on the Boulder (and Denver) Startup Communities. And, as a bonus, Nancy has been an incredible leader and advocate for NCWIT.
At this point, the Boulder Startup Community is deeply woven into the fabric of Boulder. There is an incredible positive feedback loop between everything going on here. For those who have so quickly forgotten the global financial crisis of 2008 – 2010, one of the main reasons Boulder was so minimally impacted was the strength of the startup community – not just for employment, but for discretionary spending as well.
But ultimately this isn’t really about economics. Or innovation. Or ethnicity. Or gender.
It’s about change. And evolution. The Boulder of 2015 is not the Boulder of 1970. It’s also not the Boulder of 1995. It’s the Boulder of 2015. And we need to keep being inclusive and working together to keep it great, and make it better.
I’m gearing up for a long series of posts about the various books I read on my month off on Bora Bora. In the mean time, I read a bunch of stuff online this morning (from Friday through today) and thought I’d give you a taste of some of it in case you feel like digging in.
I started with How Reading Transforms Us. It’s a good frame setting piece about some new research on the impact of reading – both fiction and non-fiction – on humans. There is a pleasant surprise in there about how non-fiction influences us.
As with many of you, I’m deeply intrigued by what’s going on around the movie The Interview. Fred Wilson wrote a post titled The Interview Mess in which he expresses some opinions. I’m not in opinion mode yet as each day reveals more information, including some true stupidity on the part of various participants. Instead, I’m still enjoying The Meta Interview, which is how the real world is reacting to The Interview.
Let’s start with the FBI’s Update on Sony Investigation followed by Obama Vow[ing] a Response to Cyberattack on Sony. 2600 weighs in with a deliciously ironic offer to help Sony get distribution for The Interview. Sony’s lawyers unmuffle their CEO Michael Lynton who fires back at President Obama.
Now it starts getting really interesting. North Korea says huh, what, wait, it wasn’t us and seeks a joint probe with US on Sony hack (yeah – like that is going to happen.) After everyone worrying about not being able to see The Interview (which might now be the most interesting movie of 2014 before we’ve even seen it), Sony says Nope, we didn’t chicken out – you will get to see The Interview.
Apparently, Obama isn’t finished. Instead, he’s just getting started. He’s decided that the North Korea hack on Sony Pictures was not an act of war but is now trying to decide if it’s terrorism so he can put North Korea on the terrorism sponsors list to join Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. No wait, maybe it’s to replace Cuba which Obama has decided to restore full relations with.
Thankfully, Dr. Evil weighs in on this whole thing and makes sense of it (starting at 0:40).
At the same time we are struggling over North Korean’s cyber attack terrorism censorship thing, we are struggling with our own internal efforts by some very powerful companies to figure out how the Internet should work in the US. Hmmm – irony?
Let’s start with the cable industry’s darkest fears if the Internet becomes a utility. According to the Washington Post, Congress now wants to legislate net neutrality. And Verizon tells the FCC that what they do doesn’t really matter to them.
The FCC situation is so fucked up at this point that I don’t think anyone knows which way is up. Fortunately, we have the Silicon Flatirons Digital Broadband Migration Conference happening in February which I’m speaking at to clear this all up. Well, or at least watch some entertaining, very bifurcated arguments about First Principles for a Twenty First Century Innovation Policy.
If you are a little bummed by now about how humans behave, check out this article where MIT Computer Scientists Demonstrate the Hard Way That Gender Still Matters. For a taste:
The interactions in the AMA itself showed that gender does still matter. Many of the comments and questions illustrated how women are often treated in male-dominated STEM fields. Commenters interacted with us in a way they would not have interacted with men, asking us about our bra sizes, how often we “copy male classmates’ answers,” and even demanding we show our contributions “or GTFO [Get The **** Out]”. One redditor helpfully called out the double standard, saying, “Don’t worry guys – when the male dog groomer did his AMA (where he specifically identified as male), there were also dozens of comments asking why his sex mattered. Oh no, wait, there weren’t.”
But the fun doesn’t end with cyberterrorism, censorship, incumbent control, or gender bias. Our good friends at Google are expanding their presence in our lovely little town of Boulder from 300 employees to over 1,500 employees. I think this is awesome, but not everyone in Boulder agrees that more Googlers are a good thing. I wonder if they still use Lycos or Ask Jeeves as their search engine. And for those in Boulder hoping we municipalize our Internet net, consider FERC’s smackdown of the City of Boulder’s Municipalization position.
Oh, and did you realize the US government actually made a $15 billion profit on TARP?
A few weeks ago we had a summit for the women execs in our portfolio. About 40 women attended. Overall we identified about 70 women in our portfolio in leadership positions, which I estimate is about 15% of the exec positions in our portfolio.
The event was organized by three of the women – Joanne Lord (until recently CMO at BigDoor, now at Porch), Nicole Glaros (Techstars Boulder Managing Director), and Terry Morreale (NCWIT Associate Director). Like many of our internal summits, the agenda was organically developed and the event was a lightly structured, high engagement day. It was an all female event until 4pm, when I joined for a 75 minute fireside chat followed by a nice dinner at Pizzeria Locale.
This morning I’m heading over the NCWIT annual employee retreat and participating in the first session, which is a retrospective on the past year and current state of NCWIT. I’ve been chair of NCWIT for nine years and am amazed and what Lucy Sanders and the organization has achieved. Personally, I’ve learned an incredible amount about the issues surrounding women in technology and have a handle on what I think are root causes of the challenges as well as long term solutions.
Last night I gave a talk at Galvanize on failure for Startup Summer, one of the Startup Colorado programs. About 10% of the people in the room were women. After almost 90 minutes of talk and Q&A, the last question was an awesome one about the women in the room and what we could do to encourage more engagement by and with women in the startup scene.
About a year ago, we realized that none of our active companies had a female CEO. Today, three of the 58 do: Moz (Sarah Bird), littleBits (Ayah Bdeir), and Nix Hydra (Lina Chen). If you are looking for a percentage on that, it’s 5%.
5%, 10%, and 15% are low numbers. But at least we are looking at them, measuring them, talking about gender dynamics in tech, and taking action around it.
The English language badly needs a gender neutral pronoun. The more I write, the more I feel the need for this. In my post yesterday, Does Your VP of HR Report To Your CEO? I felt this very acutely as I tried to be gender neutral to avoid the “CEO’s are male, VP of HR are female” bias. But I failed and just used “he” throughout the post.
Jason and I struggled a lot with this in our new book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. We finally gave up and used “he” throughout. But we felt compelled to discuss this in the Preface.
“In an early draft, we varied gender on pronouns, using “she” liberally throughout the book. However, as we edited the book, we found that the mixed gender was confusing and made the book less readable. So we decided to use male pronouns throughout as a “generic pronoun” for both genders. We are sensitive to gender issues in both computer science and entrepreneurship in general—Brad has worked for a number of years as chair of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (www.ncwit.org). We hope our female readers are okay with this approach and hope someday someone comes up with a true gender-neutral set of English pronouns.”
In general, I’ve adopted the “use the pronoun of the author” approach. I’ve tried (s)he but I don’t like it – I find it to be hard to read. I like “phe” or “per” but neither of these have had any consistent usage that I’m aware of.
For all the women out there reading this, when I say “he” I actually mean “he or she” or “she or he”. And for all the english scholars and style book writers out there, please push the use of “phe”, “per”, or some other gender neutral pronoun on the world.