Is there still bias against women in tech? Short answer: Yes.


Photo at the Cybergrrl, Inc. offices in the mid-90s. Note all the women in the background!

I was recently quoted in the article “5 Tips on Overcoming the Bias against Women in Tech” on CyberCoders. Overall, the piece is quite balanced with some solid tips and a positive outlook. I love that, and kudos to the writer, Ritika Trikha, for including different perspectives in the piece.

To give my quote  a little more context, I thought I’d post the pitch I sent in its entirety, particularly the last points where I noted exceptions. I didn’t realize I’d be quoted directly from my pitch – normally I like to provide solutions, not just point out a problem.

There is still a lot of “tokenism”…

[Start of Pitch]

I hate to say it, but I find that the dearth of women in tech has barely changed since the 1990s. Yes, there are women in tech, women coders, women launching tech startups, but they are often underfunded and under-promoted.

There is still a lot of “tokenism,” knee-jerk responses to someone realizing “oh oh, we don’t have any diversity on this ________” fill in the blank with panel, keynotes, class, investment portfolio, roster, etc.

[Note: I edited out some of my credentials here. This was a pitch to a journalist to be interviewed versus an actual interview so I included some of my background.] 

Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed or personally experienced the bias against women in tech – both subtle and overt – from the times in the 1990s when I was often mistaken for a secretary when I was president of my own tech company to more recently when I observed, once again, that the companies getting funded are all male-founded and helmed or the keynotes at major tech conferences were all or very predominantly male.

A few standout exceptions to funding include Eventbrite (a company co-founded by a woman and her husband and that also went on to purchase Lanyard, another company co-founded by a woman and her husband) that has managed to raise $60 million+. And conferences like New Media Expo that made concerted efforts to bring more women speakers to their tech conference.

[End of Pitch]

Back in the day…

One of my most vivid memories that introduced me to the bias against women in technology took place when I started my first Internet company, Cybergrrl, Inc., in 1995. I couldn’t afford to buy a laptop yet so would bring my desktop computer with monitor and CPU on my sales calls to places including the Museum of Modern Art. To manage the equipment, I asked my boyfriend at the time to help carry components in. Then I’d assemble my computer and give the entire presentation explaining what websites were and offering to build a website for the business or organization.

After my presentation at MOMA, I asked if the representatives in attendance had any questions. Everyone turned to my boyfriend who had been sitting in the corner of the room waiting to carry the equipment out. They posed their questions to him. Each time, he cleared his throat and said, “I think I’ll defer that question to Aliza.” Not once did they realize that I was actually  president of the company. Maybe they thought my boyfriend was awfully good at delegating and empowering his employees.

I wish I could say that was the end of this subtle but real bias against women in tech.  I can still hear those venture capitalists back in the 90s telling me that there was no business opportunity in a website for women (this was before and iVillage launched) or an organization to teach women about Internet technology. Why? Because their wives were not online so clearly women didn’t have use for or interested in the Internet. Yes, they actually said that.

Fast forward to 2014. I wish I could say that the bias against women in tech doesn’t exist, and yet the evidence is clear that while women have made great strides, they are still barely represented at the top of tech companies, on the boards of tech companies, at the helm of tech startups much less tech startups that have been funded, etc. I’m certainly not pointing fingers of blame at anyone in particular. I think it is systemic, an overall bias weaving through our society at large and the ways  by which people advance in tech curriculums, careers and industries.

But what do you think?

What have been your observations of the roles women play in the tech industry, their visibility, their companies getting funded, their presence on tech conference stages? 

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