Women in Startups: Is There Room for Us & Our Mad Baby Fever?
Penelope Trunk, true to her “Brazen Careerist” brand, wrote an assertive – and annoying – guest post this week on TechCrunch called “Stop Telling Women to Do Startups.” It starts with a sentence that isn’t even grammatically correct:
We need to get more guys who are running tech startups instead decide to be stay-at-home dads.
She goes on to say that of course this statement sounds “stupid” – just as stupid as the reverse, or saying that more women should do startups instead of being stay-at-home moms. There are plenty of opportunities for women in startups, she claims – but women don’t want them, because women want babies.
As far as I can tell, her only evidence for the claim that women don’t want to do startups is that not many women do startups. Trunk is assuming that women can do whatever they want – but it’s not at all clear that that’s the case. Last time I checked, there’s still a wage gap – women in America are paid only 80% of what men are paid. I don’t take this to mean that women want to be paid less.
Laura Klein of the blog “Users Know” responded to Trunk’s article by saying “STFU about what women want”:
I’m not going to argue that most women don’t want to stay home with their children. Frankly, I don’t care what most women want to do.
I know what I want to do, and what I want to do is to work at startups. I don’t want to have children. I’ve never wanted children. I never will want children, and I certainly wouldn’t want to give up working at startups for them.
So, when a publication like TechCrunch spews some nonsense about what women want, it means that the next time I go into an interview with a male founder (and they are overwhelmingly male for some reason that I’m not going to address here, but that Penelope assures us has nothing to do with bias) who has read that nonsense, he may be thinking, consciously or subconsciously, “she doesn’t really want to work at this startup because she wants to have a baby.”
And frankly, that sucks for me and all the other women like me. Oh, did I mention that there are lots of other women like me? There are.
To me, Klein’s point is that telling women not to do startups is much more dangerous than telling them to do them. If women can do what they want (as Trunk claims), then career-oriented encouragement won’t harm them – they’ll just ignore it. But given, well, the history of the world, it seems much more likely that at least some women do need encouragement in this arena.
They may have been told, straight out, by a parent or teacher that they don’t belong in math or the sciences or the tech industry, because those are male-dominated fields for a reason. Or they may simply assume they don’t belong in those fields, because they don’t know any women who work in them. They may have been subtly guided away from those fields their entire lives, starting with the kinds of toys and games they were given as children – a doll, not a toolset or Lincoln Logs. They may actually need to be told or reminded – hey, if you’re a woman and you’re interested in tech and you’re ambitious, you’re not crazy or wrong or weird. But people may think you’re crazy or wrong or weird, so you may just have to work a little harder.
Klein points out that her father’s law school class in 1963 had three women in it, and probably “there were all sorts of blowhards opining that women didn’t go to law school because they were too busy having babies.” Now more than 50% of law school graduates are women. We could see the same thing happen in startups in the next 40 years – if we create opportunities for women. If we don’t ram it down their throats that what they’re supposed to want is babies, not a company.
For another great response to Trunk’s article, check out “Stop Telling Cats to Do Startups.”
Speaking of Women in Startups …
Check out Lisa Barone’s great TED talk about what stuttering taught her about running a business, and why you should embrace your weird.
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Have a great weekend.