Why women in tech need to stop whining and start to nurture our own

I’m a woman in tech and I’m struggling.

I’m not struggling because of my kids, or juggling home and work, or even because I have boobs instead of another single swinging appendage.

I’m struggling, dear friend, with the fact that many women in tech are focused on having little girl temper tantrums about not being represented in the mainstream, and because many men seem to want to aim the discussion around that.

I’m struggling because I’m hearing men say they can’t find women in tech to employ, or to be co-founders with.

I’m struggling because the only people who get any attention in the conversations about women in tech are ‘influential’ men who really have no idea about the truly fantastic parts of being a woman in tech. They only rant about the ‘issues’.

I’m struggling because it’s never been better for women in tech, and the future is amazing – yet all up-coming girls hear is how whining women are ‘fighting’ for acceptance. It’s neither a true representation of what is open to them, nor does it demonstrate the incredible talent that exists out there already. The women who are just doing it.

Focusing on perceived problems does not make someone want to join your parade, or hear you out. So those who whine create silos of pity parties that don’t move us forward.

Grace Hopper Vs Barbie

I recently attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Tech. It was fantastic. Why? Because it was a technology conference. A technology conference – that happened to have over 2000 women at it. And the only thing focused on how you looked was the ridiculous Barbie with a pink computer that’s somehow supposed to be bridging the gap.

Carol Bartz at the 2010 Grace Hopper Conference. Pic: Yodel Anecdotal, Flickr Creative Commons.

Seriously? I know Barbie wants to be more like me, but keeping the plastic pert boobs and a pink laptop is not going to cut it. Sorry, Mattel – Barbie is about as believable a computer scientist as Ken would be. I am anti-Barbie, and giving her a laptop is not going to change my opinion. Barbie certainly doesn’t help the Women in Tech issue – I am no more going to turn into Barbie because I’m a computer scientist than she is going to turn into me because she has a laptop. Additionally, she is a commercial product – that a company is making money out of. To highlight her as an icon for Women in Tech is ugly on many fronts. Why don’t we have a Grace Hopper Doll instead? Non representation of Women in Tech is not fixed with misrepresentation.

At the Grace Hopper Conference, there were myriad companies actively interviewing and recruiting smart women. In booths allocated for it. Stacks of them. That’s something I’ve never run across at any other conference. It’s a shame NOBODY (including those so-called ‘male supporters of the cause’) talked about that on blogs or media at all.

Why is it a big deal that women were being recruited?

It’s a big deal because it’s something girls need to know. If you’re a girl and you go into tech, you’ll have myriad job opportunities. Because male computer scientists are, let’s face it, a dime a dozen. There is no doubt the females bring something a little different to the table. (And it’s not a pink computer.)

I’m not going to engage in the ridiculous circular debate on the difference between women and men and whether one sex is better than the other. That’s not the point. Instead, you’ll note I said they’re a little different – and in the interests of creating technology that is created through iterations with alternative, diverse inputs to its production, it’s vital to have a good mix of people on your team.

The companies interviewing women at Grace Hopper saw that. They wanted our resume’s. They sat down and spoke with women and girls looking at a future in tech. Women and girls who were actively pursuing education at higher education institutions, and who had internships and experience. Or who wanted them.

If you’re a girl considering a career in tech, let me tell you, it’s probably the best career move you’ll ever make. The second thing you should do is not only attend small women conferences where the focus on problems are the main subject. Instead, go to the general (yes, male dominated) conferences. Introduce yourself to the startup community. Start putting yourself out there. Find your field and develop your skills, and get vocal. It will be appreciated by almost everyone. And those who don’t like it don’t count.

And forget about Barbie, conferences that create echo chambers of whining, and men who want to lead the discussion instead of be part of the conversation.

Be the change you want to see

If you’re a woman in tech, find some women you’d love to see speak at conferences and recommend them to the organizers. Stop going to women conferences *instead of* general conferences – at the very least, do both. And my challenge to you is to find a woman in tech or up-and-coming girl, to nominate for an award. There are lots out there. Or you know, you should nominate yourself. Tell other women how inspiring you think they are. Reach out and email a woman who has influenced you to be in tech – even if you have never actually met them. Write a blog post, and link to it here on what is fantastic about being a woman in tech.

And get a clue: Yes, there are dickheads out there. But they’re dicks to everyone, all the time. Not just to women.

It’s time. </rant>


  • Inspiring post! Glad I saw a tweet about it (which I re-tweeted). I helped with a project sponsored by the Agile Alliance to celebrate women in agile software development, and if I can ever find the time I’d like to get involved in more projects such as Digigirls to help encourage more women and more diversity in general in s/w. Your bio says you’re at CU, I’m in the Denver area too, I hope I get to meet you sometime.

  • Hey Jo,

    Thanks for telling me to check out your post! I think it is a great one, and I was thinking about this (indirectly) as I drove home from CCWIC. I stopped to use the Starbucks restroom, and a girl saw my CU Women in Computing shirt. She said her little sister was interested in Computer Science, and was thinking of going to CU for undergrad in a couple years. I ended up talking to her, her sister, and their mom. I told them I had just come from the conference, and her mom asked why we were having a conference for women… are it hard for girls in computing. I said, “Oh, no!! It’s just fun to hang out with the girls” Or something to that effect.

    It was so great to hear how excited the young girl was. I don’t know about everyone else, but I never feel like I have it stacked against me as a lady. Though, I do think that we need to encourage girls who aren’t into gaming and hacking in their spare time to try out programming, especially in a class like Professor Main’s CSCI 1300 at CU. Many people don’t realize how fun computing is until they try it, because they are so used to how annoying it is to figure out how to fix a broken PC. I know that’s how it was for me 🙂

    Also, I’d love to talk to you about all that you’ve done! I have a feeling you have some great advice, especially since you seem to be combining start-ups with a PhD… I talked to Ravi Sterling a little bit at the conference about ATLAS. I had not heard about it until HCC class, and I feel like it might be a place where I could combine my inner artist with my inner scientist.

  • Thanks Scott. It does need to be said, and you know me… if it’s unpopular but needs voicing, you can count on me to be behind it 😉

  • Thanks Lisa! Thank you for furthering it on as well – there has been quite a bit of attention to it on Twitter and other places too… I’d love to meet you too! I’m in Boulder so any time you’re up this way, would love to show you around.

  • Hi Anne, thanks for stopping by! As I told you this afternoon, it was you who inspired this post, so I’m glad you enjoyed it too. What a great tale – of course it might seem to some that if we ‘need’ to have a conference for women, then maybe it’s hard for us. Plus her mother’s generation (ie mine) grew up expecting it to be difficult to find our feet in this male dominated world. Well, it’s been 20 or more years since I left high school (ahem) and there are plenty of examples of successful, innovative and brilliant women to look up to. I’d really love to see what classes in CSCI you’ve found most valuable as you start your CS career, and I’d love to tell you more about my stuff too. Let’s get coffee!

  • I’m really not too acquainted with this subject matter but I do like to check out blogs for layout suggestions and intriguing topics. You extremely described a topic that I in most cases don’t care a good deal about and produced it quite fascinating. That is a nice weblog that I’ll pay attention to. I by now bookmarked it for long term reference. Thank you

  • I’d love to get coffee! Maybe we can do it after this week… all my instructors have chosen to make things culminate this week, so it is super busy! I’ll see you in class tomorrow 🙂

  • “I’m struggling because I’m hearing men say they can’t find women in tech to employ, or to be co-founders with.”

    …What? If men were scrambling to hire or co-found with women, and there were few women available for those positions, that would NOT equate “struggling” for the few women who were in the field, since that would mean demand >>> supply for women tech workers. If you have anything other than a complete non-sequitur here, you need to flesh out that paragraph, because without explanation it doesn’t make sense.

    Secondly, it’s a complete contradiction to complain about the activist women in this discussion and how the discourse is focusing around them, then to complain that the only voices getting attention are the ones belonging to influential men.

    Thirdly, I love the false dichotomy you’re trying to make between women who work in tech and women who fight against discrimination in tech, when the latter is nearly a complete subset of the former. Or does women’s work only count if we STFU about it? How progressive, lol.

    Largely, the problem with women in tech gets worse as the field fades towards the more technical side. From the looks of your startup’s bio, you work in tech-related business/marketing more than you are working with the tech itself, which might explain your perspective a little bit.

  • Oh, and I also forgot — as for your title, the POINT of fighting discrimination is to nurture our own, so that hopefully one day, women in tech won’t have to worry about these things. And frankly, there is nothing “nurturing” about intentionally staying hush about the problems so we can trick girls into going into tech. They have a right to ALL the facts, good and bad, before they make a decision about their future career paths. If you don’t think they’re getting enough of the good side, then you should be writing posts about the good sides, instead of posting linkbait fluff. But hey, marketer.

  • Amy, the point of the article is definitely not linkbait. I simply feel that women in tech need to spend a good amount of time celebrating the opportunities and successes we have rather than focusing purely on the gaps and problems. I did point out the fantastic aspects of the Grace Hopper conference, and spoke to the many things that are brilliant about being a woman in tech – and invited other women to do the same. I agree that girls should see both sides of the coin when making a decision to enter tech as a career – but right now, I’m not convinced they’re seeing enough of the good side. Of course there’s still a way to go, but it’s a mistake to forget to celebrate the people already succeeding. I believe some great activism can be done simply by being seen.
    Our lab, for example, last week hosted a tour for local high school girls considering a tech career. We have nine female computer scientists in the lab – it’s fantastic, but I’m yet to see an article or blog post that focuses on successful female-led tech teams. In any case, the balance of coverage of Women in Tech is out of whack.
    I do personally know male startup men looking for women to add to their team. They say they can’t find them. I struggle with that because I know awesome women, and don’t believe these men know where to look. But then I wonder if the women are not making themselves easy enough to find? I’m sorry if that general statement wasn’t more clear.

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