Silicon Valley, Valley Girl, Web/Tech

Girls in Tech (Yes, They Exist)

Last night, I was on a really big panel (felt like half the size of the audience!) for a Girls in Tech event. No men were allowed, so you are on your honor to stop reading this now if you have a y-chromosome.

The focus was on entrepreneurship and there was a great turn out of 100 or so enthusiastic, driven girls who were building or thinking about building something big. Instead of talking about a lot of hackneyed topics like "work-life balance" we focused on a lot of big elephants in the room.

The theme: GASP! Women are actually different than men. And in a lot of ways, that makes us worse entrepreneurs. We're horrible at demanding money. We're bad at being self promotional. The crowd was asked to name their favorite site and only two people named the one they worked for. In a room of men you'd have to say "Name your favorite site, other than yours." We network in a very different way, generally struggling with the more obnoxious borderline-stalking method of cornering an entrepreneur or VC in an elevator and relentlessly pitching them on your vision. And, sometimes we cry.

My advice? Accept it and control it. Force yourself to do all the things that are so hard for women, and well, if you have to cry put it off until you get home and no one is around. (Want to see the mascara streaked pillow from the Austin Hilton?) Then, exploit the benefits of being a woman in business. We're better listeners, better negotiators and less threatening.

This is always tricky to write about. A lot of men think you are some crazed, ultra-feminist if you talk about the challenges women have in the Valley. And as I learned somewhat to my surprise this week, a few women get incensed if you say there are "very few" women in the Valley because somehow they take it as you saying you are the only one. (I won't name names. But seriously-- I was told this week that several women I've never met HATE me for that reason. Um, it's sort of a documented fact that there are few women? Just bizarre. There seem other much better reasons to hate me...) This is probably why most uber-successful Valley women like Carly Fiorina would never address the topic.

It's understandable not wanting to be treated as  a "token." But the way I look at it, if I've got disadvantages of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, why not take the advantages? If NPR wants to book me on a show to promote my book because they need a woman, who cares? All that matters is I do a good job. Carol Bartz, of Autodesk, put it much better in an article I wrote on her for BusinessWeek: "Let's face it, I don't believe the CEO of Autodesk would be invited to be on the President's Science & Technology Council if she wasn't wearing a skirt." Did Carol turn it down? Of course not!

And, as my inbox shows today, young women appreciate some straight talk. It does them no good to pretend my career has gone exactly as a man's would when they are struggling with getting credibility in the work place, equal pay, or general respect. Sometimes we just need to feel like other people have been there, and have our back. Until that's more common in the Valley, women will be the ones keeping it male dominated.

Besides, women are rad! Last night, a business card was slipped to me on the way out that read "I MUST know where you got those boots!" As a cooperative working woman I am happy to share my secrets: Delirious Shoes in Potrero. :)


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Can we stop with the "women are different from men"? Because the answer is not really. Not in their capacity for technology or business.
What is different is that women are punished and judged more severely for asking for more money, being more assertive, taking risks, etc., Its not that women are different than men, its that society judges them differently. Given how stacked against us the deck is, I absolutely embrace my token status. Bring it on.

I agree with Sandoz. Why must we be defined by our differences?

again, i'm aware it's controversial to talk about. i am not defining anyone by differences, but i think it's a huge advantage to accept them, and own them. because they exist. pretending they don't doesn't help younger women. They need advice and mentoring not denial that there are challenges.

and @sandoz: you are right we are not different in capacity for business or tech. no one is saying that. but being an entrepreneur is about way more than that. it's an all consuming way of life that's incredibly dictated by the *way* you do business, not intellect or capacity for it sneak in and takes a peek at article...

Why would you want to be the same a men? As a male gamer working in the tech industry, I'm really happy that women bring something different - a different perspective, different skill set, different points of views. We all know the gaming industry needs it badly, and the same goes for the tech industry.

I agree with Sarah. Then again, I'm just a man! =)

There are two things at play which are never properly defined:
Gender vs Biology

Women, as a biological entity have no destiny or inherent ability to do or not do something.

Females, as a socially-constructed gender, are certainly different from men because we live in a patriarchy.

It is useless and impossible to divide the two - no one is ever existing outside biology or outside society. Asking to focus on one or the other functions only to serve patriarchy and rationalize belief in gender as destiny and succumb to biological determinism.
Females struggle in tech because it is a male-dominated field within a male-dominated society. Race is certainly central to the entire picture as well.
Struggles for women in tech are for all women and men who are not served by a society that ascribes ability and interests from birth.
It sucks.
And until we define the problem clearly and stop dithering in arguments that serve to reproduce inequalities we will stay put, all of us.

I think that there is a definite link between risk-taking behavior and testosterone, and that risk-taking includes in social and business settings.

Since all the male and female marketing pundits, from Laura Ries and BL Ochman, to Tom Peters and Seth Godin, declare "business as usual is business as over"...

you proud beauties should rejoice!

The male patriarchal command and control regime is dead. Long live the unisexual degenderized non-phallocentric future!

What you say about female psyche also applies, gloriously and triumphantly, to creatives.

Musicians really hate marketing. Artists not so much. But almost no musician wants to do any advertising, or sales, or anything other than jamming on that synthesizer and guitar.

So appreciate viva la differance ala Derrida and read your Art Forum and Elle as you conquer this male-messed up world.

Disclaimer - I have a Y... and I kept reading anyway, we can't follow directions either! ;)

I don't think the idea was that we should be defined by our differences, but, rather, that we should not be afraid to acknowledge them. They do exist, why hide from it.

In any competition, which, make no mistake, the corporate world is, the participants take capitalize on whatever advantages they can find (well, the winning ones do anyway). Men have been doing it for centuries, I see no reason that women should't do so as well.

Recognizing and acknowledging this, it seems to me, can only serve to help everyone. I certainly benefit from reading and digesting this sort of post.

Kudos, and thanks! :)

As an older "woman-in-tech" my first thought at reading "girls in tech" was to cringe - because of the years of being faced with the term "girl" as a perjorative when used by guys in my field.

Getting over it quickly (a useful trait if one is going to be female and stay in a male-dominated field) I read on.

I agree with some of this post and disagree with other parts of it - which is only natural. There are generalizations here "women do X while men do Y" and those of us who fall outside the rule always want to point it out. "But I'm ruthless! I'm 20x as competitive as any guy I know..." But it's not the exceptions we're speaking about here, is it?

So I'll stick to the rules. There are a lot of women in the Valley. There are not a lot of high profile women in the Valley. Most just go to work, work twice as hard to prove they are as competent as their male counterparts, go home, and vent about it to friends or family.

Good that you are involved in a group of women promoting each other and pushing each other to strive harder and reach higher. That only means that the day is closer when no one thinks twice about the gender of someone in this field.

i think i need a special "frequent commenter" award for geekmommy!! so happy you are back!

interesting point about the generations and the use of the word "girl." i always use "girls" or "female" because "women" is somehow like "colored" to me. it was the polite word associated with all those stodgy 1970s "women in the workplace" movements. but somehow, "girl" or "chick" is like taking it back and making it ours. does that even make sense to anyone else? it goes in hand with my central point: Yeah, we're not men. and THAT'S the advantage. let's embrace it.

Thanks for the post, I wish I could have been at the meeting, I guess that's one con for moving to the mountains of Colorado. But I have been to similar meetings in San Diego so can imagine the energy in the room. And as a female entrepreneur I must say you hit the nail on the head about what most of us are not good at! But it doesn't mean the 'collective we' can't change because the first step to change is recognizing you have a problem.

My main issue is promoting myself, I always thought it was my culture because Norwegians tend to be consertive and less boastful, so it seems I got a double dose. Anyway, I've known this about myself and what I've found helpful is to practice with family and friends. For example brag, tell them what you do, why they might be interested, and encourage them to pass it along. Bragging is not a bad thing if it is true! And yes, asking for money is difficult at first, but it gets easier once you value yourself and/or your product! Don't ever undersell your product or yourself! Do the research, determine the fair market value of your product and or skills and know its worth it! Remember in the end everything is negotiable! Do the math!

Finally, remember the first step in always the most difficult! My favorite quote by Ursula LeGuin applies here: "It is good to have a goal to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end."

Sigh...I wish I had been interviewed for this article...I have 20+ years in high tech and was co-owner of the now very popular GoldMine Software...when we started it was a hole in the wall and making $200K/yr...we sold in 1999 for $60 mil...with no VC. Did I mention no VC? Two women on the board and three men...pretty even. But I'm not counting.

I like working with men because they're not women. Women care too much that you're not a man. Men don't care much about caring. Men don't care if you're GREEN, PINK or from ZWHOO-HOO or whatever. My experience has been if you can do the job and do it well...then great!

As a successful entrepreneur (notice I didn't say female entrepreneur) I can point to a concrete acknowledgement - National Entrepreneur of the Year. This means that not only have I been there, done that, others have acknowledged the same.

But that's not what counts...what counts is that I was in the game, I played and I played well. We all wear the same business uniform.

As my best friend who ran the BofA account for Unisys (and got her MBA at 21) once told me:

"All you have to remember is to show up and be ready to play."

Words to live by; words to do business by. NOW GET OUT THERE AND PLAY!

Great point Sarah... Honestly, it's generational...

Someone elsewhere just told me that she read this and preferred the sound of 'geekgirl' to 'geekwoman' and I'd have to agree.

I'm inclined to use 'geekgirl' or even 'geekgrrl' myself. But between 'girls in tech' and 'women in tech' my ear hears the second one better.

In the end, how sad that we have to include our gender in the description tho - it's kind of that 'dancing bear' thing.

We're just in tech - and gender-wise, we happen to have those X chromosomes and a different socialization than guys.

But I'm 100% behind you on the "it's not how you got your foot in the door - it's what you do once you get in the room" aspect of it all.

Yeah, so hire me so you think you look good quota-wise - who cares? I'll still be the best at what I do once I'm in the job. :)

Brenda, great points, how can you be reached for that interview? :)

I'm a woman in casual games, I've been in this industry for 8+ years now. Often I'm the only woman on the dev team or even in the studio. I love my work, I work hard, and my gender has never been a roadblock (as far as I can tell). In fact it's often helped, since the core demographic for casual games is 30-60 year old women, yet most game developers are 20-30 year old men.

Funny how so many men kept reading? But that's us - no honor.

Nice post. reading it I get the impression there's more to come?

"If NPR wants to book me on a show to promote my book because they need a woman, who cares? All that matters is I do a good job."

Pretty insightful comment. That's how I feel about getting "hand outs" for being Black. (and a military vet as well). If people want to give me a shot to fill some diversity requirement or whatever, I could care less -- if I'm qualified I'm qualified and I'll do a good job of it, no matter what the reason for getting the opportunity was.


thanks for the comment. i'm curious -- do you ever experience the talking dog thing? ie-- wow, you DO know what you are talking about? i used to get that all the time, particularly when i was younger. i always chose not to be insulted. it's a more powerful impression on someone when they expect nothing and you surprise them. and it's a waste of energy to be mad they didn't expect more just because i'm a woman.

reminds me of the whole "articulate" thing with obama. i laughed when i read that NYT article a year or so ago because people always describe women i know as "articulate" too!

and @y-and-proud: i knew if i said men couldn't read it they WOULD! ha ha. i grew up with three brothers and most of my friends are men, so i'm glad you are here even with your y! :)

I mentor and know a ton of women in tech. I have worked in the industry for a really long time, I've built and sold an internet company and am in the process of new projects. I know a ton of male VC, CEOs, entrepreneurs, investment bankers, developers, etc. in the industry, and can honestly say I didn't really experience any of the issues a lot of women talk about. I received nothing but support and encouragement, help, etc. But, I also never played into any stereotypes, never tried to make people think I'm hot or care if they thought I was, or try to be a geek. I just was myself, tried to be respectful and respectable, and did my thing.


thanks for commenting! on one hand, i think you are very lucky. on the other-- i think you were clearly savvy about it. one of the things i tell women is to dial down the sex appeal and flirtiness. it might be a near term gain, but it's way worse in the long run. and really if you are just friendly people will say you are flirty anyway. (at least in my case! curse of being raised in the south)

my post wasn't really about sexism imposed on us, more about the challenges we thrust on ourselves. but that said, you made one really really important point that i neglected to: most of the sexism i've experienced is from fan boys, readers, lower or mid level management, other reporters, maybe PR people-- but i have never, ever been treated any differently from a top level VC or entrepreneur. and these people have always been the first to rush to my defense.

there's something great about that. a sense that the people who get the farthest in the valley do seem to be gender-blind.

at any rate, thanks so much for the comment and sharing your experience!! congrats on what sounds like a great career!


I think that's why reading "girls in tech" makes me cringe. Because to many of the men among the rank and file (not necessarily the people at the very top, as you observed), a "girl" in tech is that 20-something cutie in a low-cut top who maybe knows her stuff but is mostly pretty to look at; in other words, the stereotype.

When it comes to professional women, using the term "girl" feels as wrong to me as referring to a professional man as a "boy."

last comment removed because it was crude. i warned you guys. keep it CLEAN.
these are not the youtube comments.

basically dandan's point was there was something seriously wrong with me personally if i would ever cry and it has nothing to do with being a woman. yeah, so that's basically the kind of female-on-female sexism i'm talking about. what year is this? we seriously have to act like REAL WOMEN DON'T CRY!? too bad i had to pull it down because it was a great example, but i'm not having sexual references on my blog. go elsewhere for that.

just to be clear-- i'm not saying every woman cries. duh. i'm not a big crier myself. i'd say once a year at most. but when you go through something incredibly traumatic and other women ask how you dealt with it without letting it get to you, i think you do that woman a disservice by pretending to be impenetrable. if that makes me "weak" or whatever to dandan or anyone else, that's up to them. i think it makes me strong to admit i'm human and vulnerable and not feel shame.

sorry sarah, another y-chromy here (i can't follow directions either ;). great post. my wife is an exec recruiter and i always encourage her to realize & focus on her advantages. by simple example, try seeing the reception difference a male cold caller gets to a female cold caller. very interesting to observe this. find your advantages and leverage those. i know where my weaknesses and strengths lie, so i de-emphasize the weaknesses and focus on my strengths. any woman can do the same as they have both too. sure some things are harder, but others are easier, so no whining, "just do it" getting funded, to running your own gig, to joining a founding team..."just do it"!

"thanks for the comment. i'm curious -- do you ever experience the talking dog thing? ie-- wow, you DO know what you are talking about? i used to get that all the time, particularly when i was younger. i always chose not to be insulted. it's a more powerful impression on someone when they expect nothing and you surprise them ..."

Yes! All the time. It helps to have some sort of validation, like if you've attended MIT, or something impressive. I just brush it off, can only change people by showing you are better than what they expected. Keep up the good work.

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