Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Dressing Too Colorfully - Conversations Among Women In Tech

Posted by Tom Foremski - May 21, 2014

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Salon host Vanessa Camones reaches for the microphone...

Earlier this week the conversations at the SF Curators Media Salon focused on the topic of women in tech. Vanessa Camones and her team at theMIX Agency hosted the event and organized the speakers: Julie Ann Horvath of GitHub fame; Collen Taylor from Techcrunch, Leah Hunter from Fast Company, Sepideh Nasiri from Women 2.0, and Jennifer Lankford from Orchestrate.io.

SF Creators Salons are less about podiums and more about peers, so the conversation moved quickly around the room. It was great to hear women talking about these issues and to hear stories of workplace behaviors that should be cast into the history books of the twentieth century and not 2014 — well into the second decade of the twenty-first century.

I was astounded by some of the criticism male management had leveled against women: Too colorful, too passionate, too girly.

At times I felt like a fly on the wall and happy to be such a creature because I was hearing real things said openly and  passionately. It was a conversation that other men should hear because it was a real talk about workplace issues between women of many ages, there was about four decades of workplace experiences being shared. 

Foremski's Take

 I've worked in very male dominated workplaces and also in ones where it changed from very male to having more female bosses and it became a much better place, more cooperative and collegial. 

It's important to start startups off on the right track because culture is very difficult to change further along. Sometimes people are unaware that their behavior is making women co-workers uncomfortable and it's hard for new staff members to speak up, or stand up for themselves. 

I've noticed that there is a tipping point when there is a change in the group culture to a more egalitarian and gender respectful environment. It might be just 30% women or even less, but you can feel the change.

And when there are enough women around it makes it easier to stand up and not feel they are a lone female voice and self-consciously self-censoring themselves to avoid office stereotypes.

I'm confident Silicon Valley startups will have far more female co-founders and team members within the next two years simply because it makes very good business sense. Why compete with one hand tied behind your back? Companies with large gender and ethnic diversity are more successful. Original ideas come from original experiences. 

Don't lean in..stand up!

I encourage women in the workplace to stand up rather than lean-in or back. It's important to flag creepy behaviors or discriminatory practices in the workplace as soon as you see them. Tech company management isn't evil but it is autistic in character, it needs help in knowing what is acceptable social behavior and the workplace is where social behavior matters the most.

I know that many startup teams would love to have more women but they don't know that many in the first place and your network is where your team recruits. There's no conspiracy against women in tech but there is a lack of process or a collective goal in improving the gender ratio. There should be a Golden Ratio" of diversity for companies to aspire to, if someone can define such a thing.

There should certainly be a basic manifesto of work office conduct and conflict resolution that every startup could adopt from the beginning. Startup teams need off-the-shelf solutions, guidebooks for building happy and productive teams, they shouldn't have to try to figure it out themselves, hit-or-miss. 

Ladies, I encourage you to stand up! And speak up! And don't worry about being to colorful, too passionate, or too girly in the workplace  the gentlemen will respect you for it and the whole team will be the richer for it. 

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Let me know if you would like to host a future SF Creators Media Salon. A big thanks to present and prior hosts theMixAgency, InPowered, Impress Labs.

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James Au has posted a great account of the evening's conversations here: 

Julie Ann Horvath (a programmer with &yet but formerly with GitHub, which she left due to an atmosphere of sexism and intimidation), interviewed via live video byTechCrunch's Colleen Taylor:

 

Julie Ann Horvath on Leaving GitHub -- and What It Taught Her

 

Recapping her experience at GitHub, Julie says: "For a long time, I tried to avoid the Twitter/feminist conversation and just build things." But she quickly realized that she'd experienced sexism in tech and hadn't connected the dots -- "you get to the point where you can no longer ignore it." To the point where she couldn't even walk into the office: "I was kind of sick of the talk of hiring more women [at GitHub], yet refusing to provide the safe environments that women need."

 

Colleen notes that the conversation about the company revolved around the word "toxic", and Julie talks about that: "It's sort of Lord of the Flies... it's very high school.


Real Talk With Women in Tech - Highlights from theMIX agency's SF Creators Media Salon Panel — theMIX agency

Selena Larson at ReadWrite has an excellent report about the evening: 

At Tuesday evening’s “Real Talk With Women in Tech,” event in San Francisco, concerned women (and a handful of men) came together to discuss how both women and men can work together to empower female voices, and help balance the gender ratio in the technological workforce. 

At Last, Women In Technology Are Making Themselves Heard – ReadWrite

Here's some photos from the salon:

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Story link | Subscribe free | Categories: A Top Story, Women in Tech




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