Saturday afternoon Fred and I went up to the Javits Center to see NYC First's Robotic Competition. Total geekdom. Fred had a serious smile on his face the entire time. It was as if he had just been transported back in time forty years.
When we got there we made our way downstairs first to the restrooms. I found myself listening to a group of young girls who were wearing purple capes with paint on their faces talking about what they had built. It was awesome. Fred saw them too and he expressed his frustration with USV's desire to hire a woman analyst yet very few applied. They really did outreach. I was actually enthusiastic about the percentage of women that had applied for the job and do believe that by taking a look around the event that over time more women will enter the tech field and the engineering side will change. Also USV is a venture firm vs a tech company and I have found that one of the reason women are such great entrepreneurs and CEO's is because they are great at building and being part of teams. Investors are not teams, they are loan guns who get together as a team once a week and although they know the partnership is there for support and advice each person runs their own deal flow.
Sunday there was an article in the NYTimes called Technology's Man Problem. The article is about the frustration, intimidation and disrespect to women who are engineers and developers inside tech companies. It focuses on a few women and their experiences. There was a TechCrunch show where a group of men presented their app called Titshare. An app where you take a photo of yourself staring at tits. First of all I can't imagine that it is a worthy business but more important is the lack of professionalism to present something so dismissive to woman in the tech industry at the conference was actually allowed or even applauded.
So how do we change this culture? Certainly having more events like the Robotics Competition that brings out the inner geek in anyone. At that age everyone is rooting for each other regardless of gender. Continuing to work in groups mixed with boys and girls throughout high school and college with better STEM curriculum creates respect for each others engineering intellect.
I know it is hard for many women to stand up and say this is not ok but it would have been pretty powerful if a woman or/and a man stood up at the TechCrunch event and said to the audience watching this presentation that this is not ok. What would their mothers think of their juvenile disrespectful behavior? I am sure those guffaws would have changed to pure embarrassment.
Women are slowly making inroads into the engineering end of the tech industry. Those barriers must melt away because women who have engineering brains should be embraced not demeaned. It is just as much up to the men who are supporters of women to stand up and say no more as it is for women to push back on men who harrass them in the developer world of technology. It paves the way for the next generation. Just think back to fifty years ago and where we were. Truth is those men are probably intimated and insecure which is why they demean women engineers. Women should remember that next time. Instead of deciding to opt out just call it as you see it and if anything feel sorry for them instead of angry.
At the Robotics event everyone cheered each other on regardless of being a boy or a girl. It was great to see. I hope these kids continue that cheer well into their adult years. It is the only way that culture change will come.