Changing the ratio: part 2 of “TechCrunch, disrupted”

For part 1 of the series, please see
The third wave and the agenda of awesome

The tweet’s from J’aime Ohm, whose “black box for real life” WiseDame won the Hackathon over the weekend.  I embedded it in the post using Storify, my favorite of the startups who presented on the first day of TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco.  How cool is that?

Other than Storify and Japanese startup Gunzoo, the first day of the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco didn’t seem particularly disruptive to me.  Most of the speakers were white guys, and they said much what you’d expect.  Technology is great.  The companies we invest in and/or run are great.  So are the guys we work with.  Hooray!  The startups were interesting and I was generally impressed with their pitches but folks like Badgify and all the companies doing check-ins seem pretty darn incremental to me.

Today, though, Chamillionaire’s on the agenda, Montreal-based Shwowp is presenting, and there’s a panel on women in technology, with Rachel Sklar of Change the Ratio and Mediaite, web marketing strategist Michelle Greer, Lauren Leto of Bnter, Leila Chirayath Janah of Samasource, Sara Chipps of GirlDevelopIT, and Cyan Banister of Zivity.  If you can’t afford the $2000 to be there in person, it’s streamed live on the web.

So perhaps it’ll be a little more disruptive.

WWII image of a woman: We Can Do It!Over the last few weeks, I’ve been blogging about Rachel, Michelle, and Cyan in Fretting, asking, and begging isn’t a plan.     So now’s a great time to take a quick look back at the kerfuffle that leading to this panel — and look the the future as well.

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.

— Rachel Sklar, quoted in Shira Ovide’s Addressing the Lack of Women Running Tech Startups in the Wall Street Journal*

Michael responded with Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men.  Or at least stop blaming me, arguing that Silicon Valley was a meritocracy and your gender and race don’t matter in the high-tech world.  He also quoted Cyan as saying that “women [stink] as entrepreneurs a lot of the time because they are nurturing and not risk-taking enough by nature”.  Michelle and others responded in the comments, and the sexism and misogyny got ugly in a hurry. Quite a few bloggers weighed in.  Just as things were dying down, Sarah Lacy of TechCrunch poured some gasoline on the flames with Women in Tech: Look Around the World and Stop Complaining.

Putting this in context: Less than 20% of the speakers at Disrupt are women, rapper/CEO Chamillionaire is the only black, and there aren’t any Latin@s.  Just 8% of startup founders are women,** only 1% are African-American.  Blacks, Latinos and women have all lost ground at Silicon Valley tech companies, and Intel’s age discrimination is front-page news.  And it’s worse at the intersections; see for example Cyndi Gallop’s video on EZebis on challenges older women face.

Putting aside our differences in opinions about the complex causes, can we all just agree that it’s economically sub-optimal to disadvantage the majority of the population?

changin' the ratio just by showin' uptry harder, techcrunch

Even though it often feels like pulling teeth, and there’s still a long way to go, the ratios are changing.  Women, blacks, Latinas and Latinos, and other people who are tired of being systematically disadvantaged are storming the clubhouse.

It really would be great to see more acknowledgement of this throughout Disrupt.  As I said yesterday, white guys actually are allowed to discuss the issue.  Wouldn’t it be great if one of the designers in the session right before the women-in-tech panel discussed accessibility, or the techniques they use to get a diverse set of users in user experience research and usability testing?  Or if one of the fireside chats talked about how the current situation with 90% of the investment going to white guys isn’t sustainable, and here’s how a big VC or corporation is evolving their strategy?  I’m not holding my breath but it would be a helluva a lot more interesting than what we heard Monday.

More positively, though, the women in technology panel is a great chance to discuss the opportunities as well as the challenges.  In their brilliant Women Who Tech Telesummit lightning talk on diversity and innovation, Shireen Mitchell and Liza Sabater sketched the value of diversity for a company’s products and strategy; I’d bet dollars to donuts that most of the white guys at TechCrunch have never thought of it that way.  And while the panel is a good step, there’s a lot more that needs to be done to diversify Disrupt and TechCrunch’s coverage; it would be great to hear the panelists’ and audiences suggestions on that.

At any rate, thanks to all the women on the panel for being there, and to TechCrunch CEO Heather Harde and Michael Arrington for hosting it.  Here’s hoping it’s awesome.


* Although it didn’t attract as much attention as Rachel’s post, Maya Baratz’ The Silicon Ceiling from 2009 brought up the same issues.

** Caroline Simard’s Saying High-Tech is a Meritocracy Doesn’t Make it So, Janine de Nysschen’s Why Men Get VC Money and Women Don’t….and How that is Changing, and Vivek Wadhwa’s Silicon Valley: You and Some of Your VC’s have a Gender Problem have more.