Why TechCrunch Missed the Boat…and the Dock

September 16th, 2010

I realize that I am just now responding to a post that is over two weeks old, but I have rewritten this post so many times (a good portion of those in my head), and I wanted to make sure I got it to where I was satisfied with it. Oh, and also, I was trying to let go of some of my initial snark – I thought some of that might linger at first, until I realized I just have too many well-founded arguments to trivialize them with snark…this time.

In case you missed it, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch basically stated that the reason there aren’t more women in technology is because they’re not taking the initiative to create their own start-ups.

The problem isn’t that Silicon Valley is keeping women down, or not doing enough to encourage female entrepreneurs. The opposite is true. No, the problem is that not enough women want to become entrepreneurs.

I think the biggest problem with this post is not that it’s sexist (although yes, I do think it is). And if TechCrunch really is doing what they say they are in seeking out women entrepreneurs to present, then by all means, kudos to them.

The biggest problem with this post is that it totally misses the point. To say that the reason there aren’t more women in technology is because they’re not taking advantage of the opportunities available to female entrepreneurs makes the assumption that a career in technology starts only at that point and not long before, as is actually the case. Many careers in technology start as early as childhood – and this is where the real dearth of opportunities for women (girls at this point) exists. While boys are lured into technology with cool toys, gadgets, video games, etc., girls are told their main function with technology is to buy it…preferably for the boys in their lives. (For some great reading on this whole concept, check out Packaging Girlhood by Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown – a book I’d highly recommend to Arrington). Technology toys and gadgets primarily created and marketed by…you guessed it: men.

And look at a recent geek chic post on watches for the tech-savvy found on Mashable. Not a one for women (and yes, I am bitter – geeky or not, a USB drive on my watch would be fantastic, as I’m constantly losing mine – laugh at me after they start making these for women). Sure, being into technology goes beyond looking cool or having the popular toys, but don’t tell me that’s not the exact reason a number of men got interested in the first place. So you can only expect that we’re going to have fewer women in the field.

Or how about the fact that at Facebook’s first corporate headquarters they had suggestive art painted in the bathrooms not because no women currently worked there, but because there was never any thought that there might be (that little tidbit brought to you from The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick). Then tell me again it’s the fault of women that there aren’t more of us in technology.

Without ever creating an initial interest for females in technology, when we make the assumption that there won’t be that many women in technology, how do we expect to cultivate an entire legion of them in a few short years just by offering entrepreneurial opportunities?

All of this said, I might have been able to let Arrington’s original post go, or even his follow-up “I’m right, you’re wrong, bow to the male deity of technology” post, and just let the several other angry feminists deal with him. But then this week, another blogger, Sarah Lacy, from TechCrunch had to go and run another post that showed again how ignorant they can be when it comes to issues of gender in the workplace.

But suffice to say for all those people who jump up and down about the problem in the Valley: Statistically you are the envy of the world. Statistically, women have enough leadership roles at lower levels that you should be able to move up if you are talented and you want to. Maybe you’re at a disadvantage, but for most immigrants, women or other minorities being at a disadvantage has made them stronger.

Guess what? Statistically, there are far fewer women who suffer from sexual assault in the U.S. than in South Africa – gee, I guess that means we shouldn’t complain and shouldn’t work as hard on this issue – we have it so much better. Is this a harsh comparison? Absolutely – but an effective one, I think. Just because we have more women in positions ready to move up doesn’t mean they’ll be able to shoot up that ladder.

Lacy goes on to talk about the idea of “choice”:

A few women law partners in attendance said that they had challenges getting women up that ladder, because they’d usually chose to go part-time after their second child, despite having the resources to hire help. Here’s what we need: A serious study that looks at choice. Are more women not in management decisions by choice or because they chose not to be or because of a glass ceiling?

Here’s a question for all of these companies – how many men are having to make a choice when it comes to family versus work? This whole idea of choice just reaffirms the issue that our workplaces are set up in a traditional, male-dominated way – a way that requires so much time for someone to climb the ladder that they have to choose between work and family.

So do I think TechCrunch is sexist? Well, after the last couple of weeks, I have to admit, yeah, I kinda do. But mostly, I think they’re ignorant of the roots of the issue, and they should probably take the time to do a little more research before posting as authorities on the topic next time.

  • Brenda

    Sigh….when will folks stop framing this as an issue of "choice." Go read Joan Williams, people, and then we can talk. I've stopped reading TechCrunch entirely, this ticked me off so much. Nice piece from you, though!

  • Steph Wint

    I must say you posted this way more eloquently than I would have done. This is so true and one of the reasons why I'm joining the new Tech blog is because in college I didn't major in Computer Science because of all the males. I personally didn't want to sit in classes with all males and feel alienated all the time. The issues is much deeper than the superficiality of entrepreneurship, it starts way before entrepreneurship is even a possibility. Great post!