encouraging words from a female tech-founder
Being a woman in tech can be difficult, especially when you’re just getting started. But let’s talk about three of the main challenges women face in tech, and some of my best advice for navigating your journey.
Lack of Diversity
Many companies pay lip service when it comes to gender diversity and inclusion, but when you look at the composition of company leadership and boards, they’re primarily made up of men. Looking at technical roles in particular, women encounter larger barriers to entry and systemic discouragement from pursuing STEM fields, resulting in fewer women in the space and a harder climb to the top for those who manage to break through. This is all despite girls and boys scoring similarly in math & science at younger ages, which has been well documented over the years.
Women aren’t given the same opportunities as their male counterparts when it comes to leadership and promotions, which is a huge contributing factor to why gender diversity is lagging. Men who lack experience may be given the opportunity to prove themselves if they exhibit a necessary skill set, but women generally aren’t given a chance unless they have directly relevant experience for a given role.
People say that there’s a glass ceiling and women need to shatter it (which is true), but I fear that the challenges faced by women in tech start far earlier — there’s a glass door… and we need to break it down.
Unconscious Biases & Sexism:
Beyond that, despite companies’ policies and efforts, many employees (male and female alike) have unconscious biases against women that can create disadvantageous and/or uncomfortable circumstances for women. For example, women are interrupted far more often than their male counterparts and are, given credit for their work far less frequently. Combating unconscious biases requires constant work — employees across the board should be encouraged to speak up when they notice women being spoken over, not credited, dismissed, or disregarded. It should come from the top and not just as part of diversity and inclusion discussions, but as part of day-to-day operations.
Casual sexism is the biggest challenge faced by women in tech and in the workforce more broadly. Women constantly need to disprove inherent assumptions (e.g. women aren’t as good at math, women aren’t scientists, women aren’t engineers, women are soft-spoken, women can’t be strong leaders). Simultaneously, they’re forced to prove themselves every moment of every day (e.g. convince people they are an expert in their field, fight for people to listen to their ideas, convince people they are committed to their job and career if and/or when starting a family). And while dancing on this fine line of proving and disproving others’ assumptions, women are criticized for exhibiting behaviors that aren’t traditionally associated with women that men are lauded for (e.g. being an opinionated and vocal advocate, asking for promotions or raises, challenging one’s manager). There is no margin for error, for learning, for imperfection. There is no forgiveness or understanding. There is, for the most part, only criticism.
Lack of Funding:
Finally, women founders receive an incredibly small portion of investor funding. According to TechCrunch, only 2.8% of venture capital across the entire US startup ecosystem was invested in all-female founding teams in 2019. That’s a dismally low number. That’s partly attributable to the fact that venture capital funds are dominated by men — TechCrunch reported that in 2019, fewer than 10% of decision-makers at US VC firms were women. Furthermore, male founders are more likely to receive funding because they “look the part” of a founder worth backing (unsurprisingly, considering that 97.2% of venture capital funding goes to men). This has to change.
VC firms need to employ more female executives and need to broaden the criteria for who “looks the part” of a successful founder. In many ways, VCs are the gatekeepers — and they need to open the gate and let more women through.
Things need to change… not only in the interest of gender diversity and inclusion, but also because it’s smart business — diverse teams and diverse leadership make companies better.
The first step towards overcoming these challenges is recognizing that they’re part of a system and that encountering them says nothing about us as founders. If you’re a woman in tech or a woman founder and have experienced these challenges, you are not alone. Despite these hurdles, I find empowerment through communities and connection. Joining groups that are specific to your industry and niche are a great way to stay informed and supported. I also recommend joining groups that aren’t women-centered, so that we can continue pushing the agenda of equality forward. Women deserve a seat at the table, and by acknowledging these hurdles and the work that needs to be done to overcome them, we take the next steps towards paving the way for others and shrinking the women-in-tech gap for generations to come.