Fretting, asking, and begging isn’t a plan: the Arrington kerfuffle and women in tech

also cross-posted on Feminism 2.0

WWII image of a woman: Yes we can!

Success in Silicon Valley, most would agree, is more merit driven than almost any other place in the world. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what sex you are, what politics you support or what color you are….  Statistically speaking women have a huge advantage as entrepreneurs.

Michael Arrington in TechCrunch

Privileged much? *

The lastest firestorm about women and entrepeneurship got kicked off by Shira Ovide’s excellent Wall Street Journal article Addressing the Lack of Women Running Tech Startups.   Shira’s article has some fine quotes from Dina Kaplan, Yuli Ziv, and Fred Wilson, and this from Rachel Sklar of Change the Ratio:

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.

I thought it was a great read.  But not everybody agreed.

TechCrunch: Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men. Or At Least Stop Blaming Me.

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.

Oh please.  Fretting, asking, and begging isn’t a plan.

Yes, it’s hard.  Stop whining.  Take some responsibility.

Allyson Kapin’s Stop Playing the Blame Game, Ja-Naé Duane’s 5 Simple Ways to Help Women as Tech Leaders, and Jessica Wakeman’s 18 Reasons Your Company Might Be a Sausagefest all have some specific suggestions for Michael and TechCrunch — or anybody else who’s working on diversity.  Here’s my perspective.

If you really want to make progress, treat it the way you would any other business problem you take seriously. Set goals, put a plan together, hire good people to help you, and do some real outreach.  Work with organizations like Change The Ratio, Women Who Tech, Anita Borg Institute, GeekFeminism, BlogHer, Fem2pt0, TechMavens, Women 2.0, ASTIA and so on.  Invite them to guest post regularly on TechCrunch.  Go to their events.  Pay a diversity consultant and invest in their recommendations.   Oh and while you’re at it please work on race, age, and other biases in TechCrunch and your other enterprises.

Or not.  It’s up to you, of course.  But if you ignore all this input and keep acting defensive, don’t expect people to see you as taking diversity seriously.

There’s plenty more privilege (along with some sexism and misogyny) in the comment thread.  More positively there’s some good stuff as well, including perspectives from Michelle Lee of Mamabread, Michelle Greer, LToTheWolf, Cindy Gallop of If We Ran the World, and many others.   Women and allies are underrepresented in the thread but more than holding their own 🙂   There’s also a brief appearance from Fred Wilson, and a great riposte by self-described angry feminist Millercan, who responds to a clueless comment about meritocracy with:

have been in tech (my guess) since before you were in kindergarten. i’ve been rewarded based on merit. but never as well as men who actually shipped shitty products, or took out 16 million organizations with narcissistic behavior.

There have been some excellent followup posts as well, including from  Cindy Gallop, Michelle Greer,  Jamelle Bouie, K. Tempest Bradford and Terri on Geek Feminism,  Eva Smith, Ivan Boothe, Laurie on, Alyson Shontel, Kay on Feministe, clarely on Mavenity, Helena Stone, Fred Wilson, and Irin Carmon’s What Do “Where are the Women” Sh*tstorms Achieve? in Jezebel.

Update, Sept 3: Two more excellent posts: Aliza Sherman’s We Aren’t Blaming Men and Sasha Pasulka’s Stop Telling People How They Should Feel About It (on Seattle 2.0!  Go Pacific Northwest!)
Sept 6: But wait there’s more!  Gayle Laakmann’s Blame Men — And Women, Audrey Watters “Ambient Un-belonging” Geoff Livingston’s Mindfulness is the Key to Finding Female Speakers and Mackenzie’s Finding more women to speak at Ohio LinuxFest are all well worth reading.
Sept 20: Links from the Arrington/TechCrunch women in tech kerfuffle has a lot more perspectives, as do the comments here

That said, Arrington’s position has gotten some support, too. Here’s what the all-male team at Charles River Ventures has to say on Twitter

charles river weighs in

charles river ventures team

I think of articles like this as a fascinating snapshot of how privilege, combined with the “guys talking to guys who talk about guys” cliquing behavior, leads to a remarkably convenient blind spot for Arrington — as well as a lot of his readers, and so many other privileged white guys.

At the same time, though, it’s also a great sign of the momentum that the women-in-technology networks and their allies are making.  The steady coverage in Fast Company, Mercury News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other high profile sites, along with the overwhelming evidence, increases the pressure on the “objective” defenders of the status quo.  It’s getting harder and harder to deny there’s a problem, and that the advantages moving ahead will go to those who address it most quickly.

So I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more “anxious masculinity under threat” blog posts.

Something to look forward to!


Update: See Links from the Arrington kerfuffle for much more discussion

* In fact, most don’t agree. Michael presumably knows the data that’s been published in TechCrunch and elsewhere about the superior performance of women-run startup. And yet less than 10% of the successes are by women. Unless you’re sexist enough to believe that women don’t want to run companies or are for some reason less qualified, there’s no way to reconcile this a belief that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy — let alone that women have systemic advantages.