The weekend of October 10th will see the first-ever Triangle Startup Weekend: Women. And it’s about time.
Liz Tracy is one of the organizers. She’s a friend of mine and someone I’ve gotten to know while she’s helped build the HQ Raleigh startup hub, which also happens to be founded by Brooks Bell, who also happens to be the founder of Brooks Bell.
“Immediately, I got a bunch of responses and a strong starting point to get this going,” she said.
I’ve always been a big proponent of finding more ways to get women involved in startup and tech. At the first startup I ever founded, my first hire was a woman. At the startup I most recently founded, my first hire was a woman.
What’s more is it just happened that way. But I know it rarely happens that way.
While I’ve been heartened by the progress, I’ve been disappointed at times with the approach. Calling out companies for the existing makeup of their workforce isn’t the right thing to do. Sure, it creates headlines, which one would hope puts pressure on those companies to be more inclusive in their recruiting processes. But that only addresses the symptom, not the cause.
To illustrate that point, yesterday’s release of Apple’s diversity report rightly points out the lack thereof at some of the major tech companies. And Tim Cook properly discusses the gap and Apple’s continuing commitment to addressing it:
“As CEO, I’m not satisfied with the numbers on this page. They’re not new to us, and we’ve been working hard for quite some time to improve them. We are making progress, and we’re committed to being as innovative in advancing diversity as we are in developing our products.”
But he says it himself: These numbers aren’t new. And what did he say the last time? And the time before that? And the time before that?
You know the definition of insanity, right?
Take a look at the flow of resumes into any tech/startup job posting. The vast majority of these are going to be from men. Qualifications notwithstanding, because a lot of these men aren’t going to be qualified for the job, there are just more men out there to choose from when hiring for a tech and/or startup position. Way more. And that isn’t a good thing. At all.
I’m the parent of twin daughters in elementary school, so I have a perspective on that end as well as in the workforce. At the earliest levels of education, there is no longer a distinction between boys and girls and math and science. STEM education may not be where we’d like it, especially at the elementary and middle school level, but the gains we’ve made have lifted boys and girls equally.
Education Week: U.S. Girls Perform Evenly With Boys in Math and Science
American Psychological Association: Girls Make Higher Grades than Boys in All School Subjects
ABC News/USA Today: Math class is tough no more: Girls’ skills now equal boys’
But as that last article points out, the gap is already there by the time they reach college:
“Women are now earning 48% of undergraduate college degrees in math; they still lag far behind in physics and engineering.”
It gets worse. According to the Triangle Startup Weekend site, only 7% of startup executives are women.
Not founders. Executives.
TSW also did the math, so to speak, noting that “most Startup Weekends attract only 20% female attendance.” Thus, they decided to tackle the issue by doing something simple, positive, and effective: Host a startup weekend themed for women.
Note that I didn’t say exclusively for women, or run by women, or a startup weekend for woman-related products, services, or issues.
Did that last one make you cringe? Because I kinda hope it did.
“This isn’t supposed to be isolated,” Liz said. “We want everyone to come. We just want to increase that 20% to 50%.”
They’re running the same exact startup weekend they would otherwise, but trying really hard, through the brand, through the leadership of the event, through speakers and mentors, and through the word-of-mouth campaign, to get more women involved.
See, in startup and tech, and for that matter anywhere else, women can do everything that men can do.
That’s what I tell my twin girls.
That’s why a Triangle Startup Weekend: Women is necessary, even if it looks, acts, and runs just like a regular startup weekend. In fact, ESPECIALLY if it looks, acts, and runs just like a regular startup weekend.
When I talk to women founders or entrepreneurs who are first timers at an ExitEvent Startup Social, they don’t say they haven’t been to a Social before because they thought it would be full of dudes, they hadn’t been before because they didn’t know the event existed.
The startup/tech network, the community, the ecosystem, whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t reach enough people to begin with, but it definitely doesn’t reach enough women.
That’s a disservice, not just to women, but to the startup and tech industries, and that’s what needs to change.