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How to Break Out of the 'Female Entrepreneur' Trap (inc.com)
51 points by itsybaev 1609 days ago | hide | past | web | 68 comments | favorite



Shelley Prevost has never been a startup operator. Her background is in psychological counseling, and she serves that role (in what looks like a team-coach or leadership-coach kind of role) at an incubator.

That doesn't disqualify her from having opinions about how women should handle gender-based bias, team dynamic, and motivational challenges in startups. But it doesn't automatically qualify her, either.

Meanwhile, I read this piece twice and it seems like it's full of platitudes. Maybe women leading startups face problems that are not best addressed by "Find other ways to get support, then keep moving" and "not living in the sting" and "amplifying your problems".


At this exact moment, I disagree with you. But this may be only because I'm feeling something of a pinch in my brain parts over social media feeding frenzies that keep popping up about booth babes and gender bias and blah blah blah... Every time I read a vitriolic blog post or some -ist group rocking the boat, it feels like a setback, for me, personally.

Every thought Shelly expresses here has gone through my mind countless times, only in far less kind phrases laced with many a shocking expletive. She says, "Excuses amplify problems." I see this. I also see it making problems where none may exist. I see it as making problems for me, too, in that loudly expressed excuses put many people on guard for criticism and generally result in creating a hostile political environment. That fixes nothing and helps no one.

The approaches that men and women have to solving problems (in the most general logical scope possible) may be completely due to cultural nurture. Women talk out loud about their problems. Men internalise them. Then when we have to sort stuff out, of course we look at each other through the filter of our own bias and flatten/marginalize other players for the sake of convenient argument. This also fixes nothing.

"Work harder than anyone else," is equivalent to "rise above." As with any experiment, it's not engineering when design refactoring stops at the first hurdle. And boy howdy is "there aren't enough women in $INDUSTRY" ever a hurdle.


It also commits the irony of talking about "women's issues" solely to badmouth the idea of doing just that, in essence. Count me as not a fan of the piece.


"Find other ways to get support, then keep moving"

As longs as those "other ways" don't including attending a women's symposium, and small talk. Sigh...


Actually, what she says makes total sense to me. I have an anecdote. After 9/11 (I look Eastern enough to face discrimination) a lot of my family and friends faced discrimination - some of them joined support groups, others campaigned, etc. I found that those that just focused on their work and vision, as opposed to the negativity, did far better than those who got sucked into amplifying their own problems. Time is so fleeting.


"Saying that an author lacks the authority to write about a topic is a variant of ad hominem—and a particularly useless sort, because good ideas often come from outsiders. The question is whether the author is correct or not. If his lack of authority caused him to make mistakes, point those out. And if it didn't, it's not a problem."[1]

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html


First: That is not what I asserted. What I said was subtly but importantly different: that her piece was full of platitudes and thus her prescriptions rely on her authority, which is worth examining. My point was substantive.

Second: There is no less compelling argument to make on HN than a citation to that post, particularly when the argument involves the word "ad hominem", which for some reason seems to be a particularly difficult concept for message board nerds like us to grok.


>Shelley Prevost has never been a startup operator. Her background is in psychological counseling, and she serves that role (in what looks like a team-coach or leadership-coach kind of role) at an incubator.

> That doesn't disqualify her from having opinions about how women should handle gender-based bias, team dynamic, and motivational challenges in startups. But it doesn't automatically qualify her, either.

These two paragraphs do exactly that. The third paragraph could have stood on its own. I was not arguing against you, I was simply pointing out that most of what you wrote was to dismiss what the author wrote without reason. If your point was indeed not so, then why not leave out the first two paragraphs? What do they add?


I feel like I'm repeating myself. My point was that she wrote a piece that effectively relies on the authority of the author, and that authority was dubious.

Think of it this way: if she was a reporter or science writer writing a sourced, reported piece --- or even if she was an essayist constructing a series of arguments for why women shouldn't be talking about their challenges publicly or attending symposia --- her authority would in fact probably be out of bounds. But this piece is neither of those two things.


>her authority would in fact probably be out of bounds.

This is exactly the question, why does her authority matter at all?


The point is that, in tptacek's estimation, she provides no evidence for her assertions, relying on us, the audience, to trust in her purported experience and authority.

Another way to look at it is that she's committing an appeal to (her own) authority fallacy. Pointing out fallacies is not ad hominem.


Thomas did no such thing. You are way out of line. I appreciated his observation because the piece in question gave me the impression "I can say this authoritatively because I am a very successful female founder." I mostly don't agree with the piece and was relieved to have it pointed out that she isn't any such thing.


Here's the key line from the article:

> Here's the profile of a female entrepreneur that I want to work with

Note the use of the word "I". When the author brings herself into the article like this, discussing the author is entirely relevant.


Oh look, an appeal to authority.


This sounds alarmingly close to the dangerous "women can only succeed in business by acting like men" attitude that is prevalent in much of more traditional businesses and particularly in more conservative cultures around the world.

There are real biases and subconscious prejudices against female entrepreneurs, female engineers, and female professionals in many industries in general that will most likely perpetuate if ignored (which imo is what this article suggests). While ignoring the possibility of potential pitfalls might work, it definitely doesn't seem like an elixir that will cure all ills.


Your post seems to imply that solving problems and focusing on goals are male-specific patterns of action. That's a rather more dangerous meme.


Let me be frank: I received a 1 page resume of a female computer scientist, where the word "women" was mentioned 8 times (organizations, etc). We did not interview that person, since frankly we were scared.


> Let me be frank: I received a 1 page resume of a female computer scientist, where the word "women" was mentioned 8 times (organizations, etc). We did not interview that person, since frankly we were scared.

I know this is usually verboten on Hacker News, but I find no other way to encode this thought...

Boy, you guys sure sound like assholes. Sounds like she dodged a bullet.

Y'know. Frankly.


I wrote "frank" because I frankly exposed the events that actually took place (receiving the resume, word counting in it, decision). What facts are you frank about? Would you like a resume where the word "men" appears 8 times? Or "whites"? Would you like to work with people who tout being white, Danilo Campos?


Wow. By all means – keep hanging yourself, this is fascinating.

Let's break down your profound false equivalence, here.

Men are an over-represented demographic in tech. Women are not. Women, in their under-representation, find comfort and camaraderie in the company of other women. The reasons for this are many but let's simplify to the most obvious one: women are the targets of sexism. By sharing company with other women, they can avoid hostility and discrimination based on their gender while still dealing with the subject of their passion: technology.

Further, the under-representation of women in technology is a problem. It limits the diversity of experience and opinions in this industry, which limits the scope of solutions that are discovered. It limits the pool of potential applicants for any given role.

Any individual who works to remedy these issues is a positive force.

Same goes for white people. The vast majority of powerful folks in any given western sphere of power are old white guys. They don't need any further help.

You've done a chilling job at justifying overt gender discrimination here. Those more classically trained in the academics of this villainy can do a much better job explaining it than I have, but boy – what a doozie.

And if you really thought you were in the right, you wouldn't be posting with a throwaway. If this were a truly defensible position, I'd encourage you to write up a hiring post on your company blog. "Why we don't hire women who care about advancing the cause of gender diversity in tech," you'd title it.

But we all know you're not going to do that.


This has nothing to do with over-representation. In our small company, we have several female employees, including programmers. We consider all applicants purely based on their merits, minus potential problems- fear of future litigation in this case.

The fact that we are afraid to post this on the company blog, etc is simply the evidence of the diversity circus, that will speeds up selling the competitive American industry to China.

In the USSR, Cuba and North Korea you could not publicly say many things, which made its economy less competitive.


I don't care about your small company – in the broader world of technology, lack of gender diversity is a problem. And you chose not to hire someone because she cared passionately about addressing that problem.

That's fucked up, man.

> We consider all applicants purely based on their merits, minus potential problems- fear of future litigation in this case.

So you believe that if this person were terminated they would not be rational enough to know that it was about performance and not about gender.

And what would be the source of the presumption of such irrationality, I do wonder. Maybe you can fill us in!

> This will not earn you credit here: this is a hackers forum, not a government tribune.

Making sure I convey to you that your actions make you look like a dick is much more important to me than receiving "credit." And you're so obviously over-the-top wrong that anything more than ad-hominem is really just gilding the lily.

But since you mention it – my karma's doing fine.


I don't care about your small company

You may not care about his company, but the hiring manager should. Small companys are vulnerable so they have to be extremely careful when hiring. A bad higher can quickly become both expensive and stressful.

Remember a small company have no professorial hr department and internal legal counsel that can help reduce this kinds of risk.

I am not saying that this necessary is right, but it is easy to get forced into an decision that is less then ideal.


You're granting a premise I do not accept: that someone who cares about the cause of diversity in tech is therefore litigious. At best this is cowardice – the fear of someone willing to speak up for themselves. At worst it is misogyny – the conviction that a woman willing to speak up for herself and educated on the subject of diversity is ipso facto trouble.

Alternatively, it is a tacit admission of a sexist work environment or sexist behavior/perceptions from management.


I probably would not want to work with someone like that but I wouldn't use that either of those as a justification for not hiring the person.

The decision must be based on other factors, i.e., other people were simply better qualified, or the particular candidate was unqualified.


I agree that more women need to quit "talking about being a female founder", but not interviewing someone based on the fact that they go to women's organizations/etc? That's wrong and very likely illegal.


Sorry, scared? Can you please elaborate? Were you concerned the candidate would be spending too much time at conferences? Or too much time... being a woman? I'm honestly not clear.


Scared of her being litigious (e.g. if she has performance problems and gets fired (like any other employee in our company), she would accuse us of discrimination)- stuff like that.


I'm not sure I understand the correlation between a person being passionate about their background and community, and that person being litigious.


I am pretty sure that is actually illegal


People who attend conferences about women aren't a protected class. So it wouldn't be illegal unless you could demonstrate that filtering out people who attend conferences about women systematically discriminated against women. This would be fairly difficult at best, and almost impossible unless it were a large organization with an obvious gender imbalance.


IANAL but I expect that if that specific women read this comment she'd now be in a position to sue for discrimination quite effectively.


I should think discriminating based on a proxy for a protected class is still a no-no.


Let me be frank: I received a 1 page resume of a female computer scientist, where the word "women" was mentioned 8 times (organizations, etc). We did not interview that person, since frankly we were scared.

You should delete your comment immediately. You have violated long-standing and well-enforced laws against gender-based discrimination on hiring. You openly admit that you did not hire a qualified female candidate primarily because of her gender. Your comment could, and if it comes to it, would be used in litigation.


Women are scary to computer nerds.


More precisely, it's the way women can wind other computer nerds around their finger. The sword of attention cuts both ways.


You have completely missed the point of the comment that you are responding to. It's not that she's a woman, but that she put so much of her efforts into that identity.

Or maybe you're joking, but jokes don't go well in discussions like this.


Women scare a lot of men. That is no doubt the real subtext of imagery of armed to the teeth, chain mail bikini clad women in certain types of fiction.

But I have found it is socially unacceptable to remark on that fact.


Wasn't aware the two were distinct.


Scared of what?


I believe they're referring to a fear of legal problems because the individual was obviously very passionate about the issue of women in tech. Not commenting on the legality of such a concern, just pointing out what they were likely concerned about.


Any idea whether or not you were right to be scared?


Why?


Being a woman entrepreneur, and having been part of an incubator for startups (ImagineK12), I have to agree with what she is saying in this article. Even though we were the ONLY women founder team in an incubator with more then 30 men, I never saw myself as different from my male co-founder peers.

Its important to focus on results. Driving product, customers, team, company requires similar skills whether you are a woman, man, white, black, gay, straight. Using your contraint as an excuse will not let you see your full potential.

I personally dont have anything against women organizations, but I try to not partake in them often because I dont feel the need to. I am happy to help other women succeed, but I am happy to help other men succeed too. If you stop looking at the world as 'us against them', there is a whole lot of new opportunity you will open up for yourself.


Title of article: "How to Break Out of the 'Female Entrepreneur' Trap"

First line of article: "As the lone female founder of a bustling incubator..." - or is that whooshing sound the joke going over my head?


Ignoring reality does not make it go away.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/02/05/171196714/the-jobs...


It has been mostly debunked - and is attributed to choices people make:

Here is Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, explaining that the portion of the gender wage gap due to bias and prejudice is about 25% of the total gap. That is 75% of the gap is due to various career choices and career preferences that differ between men and women, and the remaining 25% is due to bias and prejudice. So if the wage gap is 24 cents on the dollar, the wage gap due to bias and prejudice is 6 cents. Still something to think about and work on, but a whole lot less inflammatory than 24 cents.

http://www.freakonomics.com/2008/05/01/robert-reich-answers-...

“Q: I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the feminisation of poverty and the male-female wage differential. How much of that is due to career choice?

A: Rough estimate: About 50 percent of the differential has to do with different career choices made by women and men. Twenty-five percent involves greater time women spend on care-taking of children and elderly relatives. The other 25 percent is due to bias and prejudice in the labor market.”

(citation - this comment: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/philg/2012/12/17/profit-opportu...)


> Here is Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, explaining that the portion of the gender wage gap due to bias and prejudice is about 25% of the total gap. That is 75% of the gap is due to various career choices and career preferences that differ between men and women, and the remaining 25% is due to bias and prejudice. So if the wage gap is 24 cents on the dollar, the wage gap due to bias and prejudice is 6 cents. Still something to think about and work on, but a whole lot less inflammatory than 24 cents.

This analysis is incomplete and doesn't really debunk anything.

First of all, career choices and preferences don't exist in a vacuum. They are partially the result of familial and cultural influence. Women are expected to behave a certain way and like certain things - this undoubtedly has an influence on which career they chose. Second, the way wages are set for a particular career is not always a rational process. Certainly the market influences how much someone is paid to some extent, but cultural and historical factors play a role here too.

All this quote basically says is 25% of the wage gap is due to overt discrimination, 25% is due to child rearing, and 50% is due to unknown factors - including traditional gender roles and other more "covert" forms of discrimination as well as personal choices.

Maybe studies that cover that last 50% exist, I don't know I'm not a sociologist, but saying that you can just throw 50% of the disparity away because it's "personal choice" is completely neglecting parts of the issue.


You realize that to claim a gender gap, you have to compare apples to apples - same job, education level, hours worked between genders? And when all of this is tabulated, there is no gender gap.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-28246928/the-gender-p...

"Why the Gender Pay Gap is a Complete Myth

Men are far more likely to choose careers that are more dangerous, so they naturally pay more. Top 10 most dangerous jobs (from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics): Fishers, loggers, aircraft pilots, farmers and ranchers, roofers, iron and steel workers, refuse and recyclable material collectors, industrial machinery installation and repair, truck drivers, construction laborers. They're all male-dominated jobs.

Men are far more likely to work in higher-paying fields and occupations (by choice). According to the White House report, "In 2009, only 7 percent of female professionals were employed in the relatively high paying computer and engineering fields, compared with 38 percent of male professionals." Professional women, on the other hand, are far more prevalent "in the relatively low-paying education and health care occupations."

Men are far more likely to take work in uncomfortable, isolated, and undesirable locations that pay more.Men work longer hours than women do. The average fulltime working man works 6 hours per week or 15 percent longer than the average fulltime working woman.

Men are more likely to take jobs that require work on weekends and evenings and therefore pay more.

Even within the same career category, men are more likely to pursue high-stress and higher-paid areas of specialization. For example, within the medical profession, men gravitate to relatively high-stress and high-paying areas of specialization, like surgery, while women are more likely to pursue relatively lower-paid areas of specialization like pediatrician or dentist.

Despite all of the above, unmarried women who've never had a child actually earn more than unmarried men, according to Nemko and data compiled from the Census Bureau.

Women business owners make less than half of what male business owners make, which, since they have no boss, means it's independent of discrimination. The reason for the disparity, according to a Rochester Institute of Technology study, is that money is the primary motivator for 76% of men versus only 29% of women. Women place a higher premium on shorter work weeks, proximity to home, fulfillment, autonomy, and safety, according to Nemko."


I'm afraid none of this addresses my point and the question I implicitly raise - namely why do women choose the work they do?

I'm not saying that biology is not a factor - physically demanding jobs may always be the domain of men - but there's little apparent reason for so few women choosing computer and engineering fields besides socialization.

As for the business owner angle, I think another poster here had it right, women tend to be bad at negotiating but even that has confounding factors, e.g.: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07...

"Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more -- the perception was that women who asked for more were "less nice".

"What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not," Bowles said. "They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.""


Your second citation only cites your first, which is not a debunking but a comment in an interview - which says 75% of the gap is due to career choice - but the link I provided shows gaps by career, making that distinction moot.


Apologies - I included the citation because I just copied someone else's comment that I found appropriate. I felt bad not citing where it was from.

With regard to your article - it does not analyze difference in hours worked. Perhaps someone working 3 days a week after taking a few years off for maternity leave should earn less than someone working full-time with no experience gaps? Please see my other comment in this thread that cites more thorough research.


This happens because women are raised to be terrible negotiators. http://books.google.com/books?id=k6vd7PJUFmYC&printsec=f...

Its the way we (women) are brought up in the western world. Girls are pushed to be consensus driven from a young age; whereas, boys are encouraged to participate in conflicts. Its playing house vs. playing war analogy. This translates into women avoiding and being uncomfortable in conflict situations, even salary negotiations.

But it can be changed. Awareness amongst parents is the first thing. Growing up in India, my father told me I could achieve anything I wanted. My mother took me to markets to bargain at a young age. As a result, I am not afraid of conflicts. My mantra is: If you dont ask, you will never get it.


Unfortunately it's not just that simple. Women are also societally expected to be less aggressive and not haggle, and are often punished for breaking this expectation in a way that men aren't.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07...


I agree that its not that simple and the 'society' needs to get more comfortable with assertive women. But, having a women specific organization does not answer that challenge. If anything, it creates a further divide by driving the society away... the best way to change this vicious cycle is to assimilate into the society and changing it from within.


holla!


I very much agree with the premise but she's not a very clear writer. I think she assumes the reader already knows what the problem is.

My take is that the more people focus on identity ("female" "founder" "hacker" "HNer" whatever), the less they focus on results. Everything that happens in their lives gets viewed through this lens of identity. Unfortunately, that colors things in an unrealistic way:

"This guy trolled me because I am female" vs "this guy trolled me, and he trolls a lot of other people with penises too, because he's a dick".

It leaves you ridiculously vulnerable to identity attacks:

"Top 10 Traits of Entrepreneurs" "Are you entrepreneur enough?" "Hacker News is a wasteland" "Designers Suck At X"

Identity-involvement not only reduces your ability to see reality (you look for the first fit explanation to any occurrence, and identity is always with you), it also means you are really easy to troll and manipulate. Either by insulting or questioning YOUR identity, or massaging it and propping it up ("I have the traits of an entrepreneur! Yay!") ("Hackers will inherit the earth"), or attacking your lack of support for their identities ("Why doesn't your conference have 50% women?").

Finally, identity-involvement leads to a narrowing of experience -- "Do female founders do this? Can they? Will I be fulfilling a stereotype? Will I be letting people down?" "I'm a designer… designers don't x" "I'm a hacker, and hackers care about the hottest technologies…"

It becomes about grooming, enforcing, and defending an image, rather than results.

I see this a lot. It's a shame. I used to fall prey to it myself, wishing I wasn't a woman because of people thought "woman" meant -- something I had no interest in (hair, makeup, purses, women's magazines, women's meetups etc) -- and those other women "made me look bad".

But then I realized what an ego trip that was. "Woman," too, is just a label, and by denying it, I was implicitly buying into its legitimacy.

Now I just do whatever the fuck "Amy" does, which is my stereotyped identity sample size 1.

A friend of mine was concerned that her girly clothes and love of makeup make her less credible as a spokesperson for women's issues. One of these seems like a concern about sexism… but both hers and my worries are actually about the same issue (identity). Like me, my friend also has learned to simply embrace who she is and not worry that she's "letting other women down" by simply doing what she loves.

It sounds to me that this is what the author is getting at, she just doesn't lay it out that clearly. That's why she says things about women's symposiums, talking about femaleness, etc., stressing about / regretting (instead of using) the fact that you're the sole female in a thing[1], because those are identity involvements. These points of hers, I agree with.

To those who will say that she is saying "act like a man" -- she doesn't.

To those who will say "this is glossing over very real sexism" -- please see my example above about the troll. Often people assume that if something is (OR APPEARS to be) sexually related, it's sexism. They look at the first possible answer ("she's being trolled… she's a woman… it must be because she's a woman!"). But 9 times out of 10, the guy who insults a speaker for being a woman, insults another speaker for using JavaScript or being fat or wearing a suit, or looking like a hipster. That's not sexism, that's an equal opportunity dick, who simply seizes on the most vulnerable part of his victim's identity. Yes, identity.

Is there real sexism? Absolutely. But is there any proof that women's conferences and angry blog posts help?

Sure, it's annoying for some dude at a meetup to assume you're there with somebody else. It's also annoying for some woman on Twitter to loop me into "sexist technology" rants because I have breasts and therefore she expects I agree with her. But that's just life. You can't control what people think, not even of you. And the annoying people in both examples are just pattern matching, which usually works, and not making a value judgment about your person (aka sexism).

[1] (Aside: stressing about being "the only x" in an environment is often even more about identity-confirmation -- I need other people Who Look/Think/Act Like Me to validate my choices are okay -- as it is about exclusion. This is the same reason some people love being "the only x" -- it confirms their identity as a renegade. Also, "the only x" is often not about physical facts (sex) but also about viewpoints.)


I think the angry blog posts help. I think most of HN is not aware of how pervasive sexism and gender privilege assumptions are in Startuplandia. We're commenting on Hacker News, a site run by someone who's most famous essay says outright that he wouldn't want to work at an early-stage startup with a woman with small children. In other words, I think even the people pushing gender privilege aren't fully aware that they're doing it. The angry posts keep the conversation alive, and that's the only way the culture is going to change.

Women's conferences, no idea. I think the idea sounds silly, but then, I'm a guy.

My wife, also a developer, also a startup person, is probably more on your side than on my side. Ironically, we started out with the opposite conflict: I didn't buy that male privilege was a real issue, and trusted on meritocracy to sort all this shit out. Now that's become her spiel, and mine the opposite.

(Look, here's her disagreeing with me on this very thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5287829)


Angry blog posts keep the conversation alive to a degree. Then they troll, polarize and reinforce stereotypes. Sadly, thoughtful blog posts don't get nearly as much attention. That is the distinction I'd like to make: creating a hostile political environment only fuels more hostility.

The only women's conference I've ever wanted to go to is RollerCon, anyway.


What we think and what there's evidence for are diff things. Obviously everybody's entitled to their opinions.

There is research that suggests, however…

* priming people to remind them that they belong to a stereotyped group actually causes people to perform worse (stereotypically) -- this is called stereotype threat, lots available if you googles

* guilting people about their culture's bad behavior / their personal bad behavior actually causes them to dig in their heels, not to feel bad and then change (because feeling bad is an identity threat (irony)) -- the study I'm thinking of for this one took young Germans and primed them to think about the abuses perpetrated by nazis (before they were ever born) and then polled them on attitudes towards Jews and found that the people who were exposed to the priming were less sympathetic, not more; the researchers had reason to believe this was due to the emotional knee-jerk reaction to guilt

And on and on. The research suggests that the furor is probably paradoxically counter-productive.

Furthermore, people who speak about "women in x" presume to speak for everyone, but they sure don't speak for me or most of my female friends. But they are painting us with the same brush because we've got the same genitals. Bothersome.

As for pg's opinions about startup-women-with-young-kids, it fits well with his other writing (programmers aren't just programmers, they're hackers; hackers are artists; nerds are unpopular in high school because they're way too awesome, etc) which is all about reinforcing identity. And of course he runs a business which depends on extraordinary (I would say over-)involvement with, and (over-)commitment to work. He also says he won't work with people who won't or can't move, too -- a non-gendered but identical outcome based on "devotion," not body parts or reproductive status.


The people who consciously choose to believe that women are inferior to men in software development, either due to misguided beliefs about genetics or intractable upbringing issues, aren't going to be persuaded by angry blog posts or anything else. They're already dug in to their positions.

The people who benefit from alertness to privilege, culture, and bias issues are the ones running or helping influence the operation of development shop who don't understand the problem. They're the ones who think "avoid hiring women with small children in early startups" is an innocent enough statement --- after all, they won't have enough time to put in. They're the ones who ask women at interviews how they're going to handle picking up their children after school. They're the ones who think if you spend 8-10 of your 14-16 working hours a day at work, it's only natural that you'd try to find dating partners at work.

I believe you when you say that stereotype threat is a real problem with "angry blog posts". Personally, I think the overt bias problem is so bad right now that we can probably set stereotype threat aside until we cut back the active prejudice a bit. But it's also worth pointing out that the mitigation strategies for stereotype threat aren't "pretend the stereotype isn't a problem".


> Personally, I think the overt bias problem is so bad right now

See, that's where we disagree. I have watched many more men get torn down in violent fashion, neglected, and excluded, than women. I think the overall tech culture sucks period, I don't think it's got nearly so much to do with sexism as you do. Like my example about the guy who mocks women speakers for being women -- and turns around and mocks another speaker for writing Java. That's a sex-related expression of general douchenuggetry.

Remember that time Yehuda Katz interrupted a speaker at a meetup, said everything the speaker said was bullshit, and took over his talk? Yeah… nobody else does either. Cuz it was a man who was done wrong.

My husband actually is on the receiving end of way more vitriol than me even though I'm at least 300% as visible. And I know I've sometimes received extra consideration and protection because I'm a woman.

I'm not saying "Somebody pity the poor men." I'm also not saying women haven't suffered. Please don't think I am saying that. I'm questioning the root of the bad behavior, not how it feels to be on the receiving end.

Since bias is all in the interpretation of data, I'd love it if there was some hard data we could compare. I don't believe there is, though.

> after all, they won't have enough time to put in

The best way to solve this problem isn't by writing blog posts about how women with small kids can swim with the fishes, but by killing the culture of overwork. By starving it, of men and women, by showing them that A) it's harmful to them, and B) that it's unnecessary for their goals.

Laws would be nice, too.

I'd bet you any amount of money that this indirect approach is better, because nobody gets their hackles up OR STEREOTYPED if you tell them, "You can achieve what you want with 40 hours a week. Here's how." Instead of attacking bad behavior, you support good behavior. Instead of attacking identity and trying to change people, you show people who are already motivated (they want something) how to achieve their dreams. Nobody likes being lectured, but everybody wants to achieve something.

And, bonus, it's totally non-gendered… you help both men and women with the same stroke.

(The downside is it's not as sensationalistic. But I consider that an upside.)

If you've ever read my blog, you know that I practice what I preach here. I don't attack VCs or startups -- even though they richly "deserve" it -- I don't ever address anything to them, hoping they'll change. I go for their supply, the grist for their mill. Where I can actually hurt them… in the economics.

This is deliberate, not accidental. I've been doing the same thing since I started teaching marginalized visual thinkers how to code. Based on the emails I've received over the years, I probably helped more women get into Rails than any Rails For Women endeavor, not to mention non-neckbeard-types who were male, simply by delivering information in a way that supported a different learning style.

I don't think "shrink it and pink it" is a good way to sell products, and equally I don't believe that making general issues a women's issue is an effective way to create change.

EDIT: If you find the above approach interesting, consider reading Obliquity by John Kay. Here's an essay that sums up the book (the book is still worth reading): http://www.johnkay.com/2004/01/17/obliquity


Strong agree that addressing the overwork issues will go a long way towards mitigating the gender privilege issues as well.

However: very unlikely that we are ever going to resolve the overwork issues. Overwork is a part of Startuplandia's identity. In fact, overwork is a part of the American economic identity. Entrepreneurship is ostensibly easier in the US than most other places in the world because we don't push back on overwork until power imbalances start making the market break down.

Also, overwork mitigates gender bias and privilege issues, but doesn't resolve them. Yes, getting everyone home for dinner cuts back on the "do you have small children" questions. But it doesn't resolve the "where else am I going to find a date" problems, or the "you need to be less emotional" problems.


Is tearing people down at work an American thing?

I worked in Japan, and there was a culture of overwork, but it wasn't anything like Glengarry Glen Ross.


No, it's not an American thing, it's an ego thing, and America has lots of great people and also a lot of huge egos and not a lot of cultural taboos to reign them in. Some call this the "rockstar" or "brogrammer" problem, but you'll find it in any industry where people think they're hot shit.

No doubt many people in Japan have large egos, but Japan also has institutionalized politeness.


> but Japan also has institutionalized politeness.

Careful. They also have an institutionalized social hierarchy, baked into the language and pretty much everywhere. It's expected that when you start at a new school or a new company that you will be treated like dirt by your 'superiors' on an ongoing basis.

There's a much higher tolerance for hazing and bullying in general. This leaves me skeptical that Japanese culture fosters an environment where people are nicer to each other than anywhere else.

Foreigners tend to get a free pass by being 'out of the system', unless their Japanese(ness) passes a certain threshold of fluency.


And here I was, thinking my girlfriend was the "odd one" just because she was (genuinely) laughing when a male coworker made a sexy(ist?) joke at her expense just ten minutes ago and never felt threatened of her own worth as a person in our male-dominated school (maybe 50 girls for about 5000 students).

Though I do resent you a bit now, I was really thinking I had found "the one" but you've taken a part of what made her unique and made it appear mundane :(


Nobody is unique. If you only love her because she's unique, that's a… wait for it… identity problem.




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