A few days ago, Shira Ovide at the Wall Street Journal posted a WSJ blog article titled, “Addressing The Lack Of Women Lead Tech Start-Ups.” Of all the venture-backed firms of 2009, 11% had a current or former female CEO or founder. Apparently, this is a problem.
The “where-are-all-the-women” meme is a familiar one, and not confined to the technology world. But in start-up land, where the good idea is supposed to trump social status and everything else, the lack of women in positions of authority stands out.
Isn’t that, “where all da white women at?” The problem apparently is that there must either be a difference between men and women regarding aptitude or something sinister is at work here. Since we can’t ever acknowledge that women are ever in any way inferior to men, we have to assume the latter and must therefore do something about it.
Tech start-ups are not headed by ordinary people, and I’m convinced that women trend toward ordinary when it comes those qualities that allow and motivate a person to be a successful entrepreneur (very high intelligence, risk-taking, profit-motive). I know that when it comes to mathematical ability, male and female scores are very close on average, but a gap emerges as you get away from the average.
The difference in means is modest, but the male advantage increases as the focus shifts from means to extremes. In a large sample of mathematically gifted youths, for example, seven times as many males as females scored in the top percentile of the SAT mathematics test. We do not have good test data on the male-female ratio at the top one-hundredth or top one-thousandth of a percentile, where first-rate mathematicians are most likely to be found, but collateral evidence suggests that the male advantage there continues to increase, perhaps exponentially.
Part of the answer is that men consistently exhibit higher variance than women on all sorts of characteristics, including visuospatial abilities, meaning that there are proportionally more men than women at both ends of the bell curve.
It follows that if the traits that allow a person be a successful entrepreneur are rare and that men exhibit greater variance than women in all sorts of traits, then men are more likely to have those rare traits. Men are also more likely to have the traits that correlate highly with ending up in prison. Given that most men are not exceptional, and that some exceptional men fail at life (sociopaths), people should not at all be bothered that most exceptional people are, in fact, men. A major annoyance of the MRA community is women/feminists complaint that there are no/few women at the top, when it is of no benefit at all to most men that most of the people who are at the top were born with penises. It is not in their interest for these men to favor other men over women. The patriarchy, the feminist fantasy that all men conspire to keep women in their place, does not exist.
Back to the WSJ article:
There is no shortage of opinions about the cause [of the disparity], but regardless, some techie women are – in true start-up fashion – attacking the problem with meetups, money and social networking.
Start-up executive Dina Kaplan and Gilt Groupe CEO Susan Lyne and the Paley Center for Media CEO Pat Mitchell run a group – which they call the “Breakfast Club” — of young and established tech and digital media executives who meet for professional networking, social support and swapping practical advice about running young digital companies. Start-up incubator i/o Ventures this month teamed up with Arianna Huffington, designer Donna Karan and former U.K. first lady Sarah Brown to launch a $25,000 competition for the “next female tech trailblazing entrepreneur.” This December for the first time, the influential technology conference TED is holding a women-focused conference.
These women-power efforts aren’t without controversy. “I personally do not participate in any female tech organizations because they make more harm than good sometimes, because they [segregate] women,” said Yuli Ziv, founder of Style Coalition, a network of fashion and lifestyle digital publications. Instead, Ms. Ziv said she tries to encourage women to integrate more forcefully into male-dominated tech events such as the New York Tech Meetup.
“In our generation and in our community, I don’t believe there’s any issue or any disadvantage to women,” Ms. Ziv said. “I don’t think we have any excuses.”
No, women do not have any excuses, nor do they need any. It seems rather absurd to me that so much intelligent human labor could be devoted to such a foolish goal of getting more women to do something that hardly anyone at all attempts or even wants to do, when such effort could be devoted to something far more important and much more interesting. In their efforts to force the world to cooperate with their beliefs, these people are distorting the market and making it more difficult (if only slightly so) for male tech entrepreneurs to secure funding and succeed. The use of phrases like “male-dominated” refers to the propensity for these geek expos to have a nearly all-male attendance, but it also seems to imply that women aren’t welcome, which can’t possibly be true. I’ve never met a group of geeks that wouldn’t welcome more females.
Rachel Sklar, the writer and Mediaite founding editor, …recently co-founded a group called “Change the Ratio” to shine a light on women in entrepreneurial roles, and to address the dearth of women at start-ups.
“Part of changing the ratio is just changing awareness, so that the next time Techcrunch is planning a Techcrunch Disrupt, they won’t be able to not see the overwhelming maleness of it,” said Ms. Sklar, referring to the influential tech conference.
Before today, I’d never heard of Techcrunch. Apparently, it’s a company “dedicated to obsessively profiling startups”, and apparently they have a lot of conferences where tech geek entrepreneurs and investors can meet. Techcrunch founder, Michael Arrington, had this to say in response to the above quote:
Yeah ok, whatever Rachel. Every damn time we have a conference we fret over how we can find women to fill speaking slots. We ask our friends and contacts for suggestions. We beg women to come and speak. Where do we end up? With about 10% of our speakers as women.
We won’t put women on stage just because they’re women – that’s not fair to the audience who’ve paid thousands of dollars each to be there. But we do spend an extraordinary amount of time finding those qualified women and asking them to speak.
And you know what? A lot of the time they say no. Because they are literally hounded to speak at every single tech event in the world because they are all trying so hard to find qualified women to speak at their conference.
It’s kind of funny that Ms. Sklar just assumed that these folks had never noticed the lack of poon at their conferences, when the reality is entirely predictable considering today’s post-feminist climate.
I could, like others (see all the links in that Fred Wilson post too), write pandering but meaningless posts agonizing over the problem and suggesting creative ways that we (men) could do more to help women. I could point out that the CEO of TechCrunch is a woman, as are two of our four senior editors (I’m one of the four). And how we seek out women focused events and startups and cover them to death.
But I’m not going to do that.
I could point out that you did, in fact, just do that, but I’m not going to do that.
Instead I’m going to tell it like it is. And what it is is this: statistically speaking women have a huge advantage as entrepreneurs, because the press is dying to write about them, and venture capitalists are dying to fund them. Just so no one will point the accusing finger of discrimination at them.
Also because they’re pretty and they smell nice. I get the sense that he feels like he’s really taking the gloves off here. I wonder whether the response will be sufficiently vicious, and if he’s sufficiently weak that he’ll end up apollogizing for his insensitivity. I don’t expect so.
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.
Here, I have to disagree. The problem is that there isn’t a problem. Also, I don’t think it’s simply a matter of women not wanting to become entrepreneurs, but I think fewer women are cut out for such a life. Although, motivation and ability seem closely related. When it comes to risk-taking, a necessary trait for any entrepreneur, they’re basically the same thing.
He finishes with:
The next time you women want to start pointing the finger at me when discussing the problem of too few women in tech, just stop. Look in the mirror. And realize this – there are women like Sklar who complain about how there are too few women in tech, and then there are women just who go out and start companies (like this one). Let’s have less of the former and more of the latter, please. And when you do start your company, we’ll cover it. Promise.
There is some interesting stuff in the comments of that post.