Business Life: The Problem with Women


Image via TechCrunch

There is a problem with women in business. Symptoms are everywhere.

And where you expect it the least given the perceived meritocracy – high technology – it appears to be the most present.

Is the ‘Mommy Track’ Still Taboo?” blared a headline in the Wall Street Journal this week.

That piece follows the Journal’s post “Addressing The Lack of Women Leading Tech Start-Ups” that noted that only 11% of U.S. firms with VC backing had current or former CEOs or founders who were female.

Why Don’t Female Economists Blog?asked the Freakonomics blog – as if the world was divided into male and female economists and blogging was something that was an essential part of what made a good practitioner.

Michael Arrington’s piece Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Blaming the Menlast August in TechCrunch raised a number of issues about the dearth of female talent in tech.

So what’s the trouble with women?

Do men in tech just want to work – in an odd sort of way – just with other men?

While the number of women of CEOs who are women continue to climb – see The Corner Office; Where the Girls Aretech, where the smart people are presumed to work, is stalled.

Caroline Simard tags a list of barriers that women in technology face: “unwelcoming cultures, bias and stereotyping, work-family conflict, lack of access to influential social networks, and absence of role models, mentors, and sponsors.

What is odd about the paucity of women of the tech world is that parts of tech – finance & accounting, legal, HR, audit, sales, marketing, facilities and operations – aren’t necessarily exactly techy. Most anyone with smarts and the appropriate background can do them. In other words, it’s not all about  engineering.

You can even look at some companies in tech and see that women are very present. At Oracle, some 7 out of 23 headlined execs, including one of the two co-presidents, Safra Catz, are women. At Yahoo, where you might expect women to be present on the exec team since it’s headed by Carol Bartz, 3 out of the 14 headlined execs (12 if you subtract the two cofounders) are female. Adobe has 3 out of 20 executive spots held by women.

But Google? Only one executive officer at Google is female. Apple? No headlined execs who are female.  Twitter? No execs identified as female on the VentureBeat roster.

A recent question on Quora – “Who are some of the most inspiring young entrepreneurs?” – sheds light into the kernel of the problem; (some) people aren’t looking.

Keith Rabois, COO of Square, prominent angel investor (yelp, LinkedIn, Xoom, YouTube, yammer, Milo, AirBnB), and e-PayPal, LinkedIn, and Slide) named 15 people for his answer to that Quora question – all men. The rest of the assorted group of answerers – both men and women who appeared to be less influential and/or less experienced  – identified 12 other men and just 5 women.

If the folks who are savvy and experienced in the business such as Keith can’t or don’t routinely identify women, it’s no wonder that women aren’t on the rosters of firms.

And since women make up 46% of the workforce, a men-only strategy means you’re not exactly dealing with the full barrel of talent. And research shows that the type of skills that women bring to leadership are exactly the type of skills needed most in a business world where collaboration and surfacing diverse opinions to get to a best solution are most important.

The trouble may be, as Joseph Conrad noted, is that “Being a woman is a terribly difficult task since it consists principally dealing with men.

And while part of the solution rests with women (see Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s terrific TED talk on why we have too few women leaders) and the need for them to make their work visible (see Patty Azzarello here) , part of the answer rests with men.

Men who invest in, work in, and work with tech companies. Men like Keith.

The thing that men should do is ask one simple question; “Where are the talented women to go along with our talented men in this company?

Ask the question repeatedly, pointedly, and even mercilessly.

There are other thoughts out there. Caroline Sinard has written on some possibilities. Dan Pink (a male raising the issue, just like asking the question where are the talented women) recently highlighted the work of Erin Albert and her book Single. Women. Entrepreneurs. Pink has listed 14 smart tips from single entrepreneurs on his blog.

The trouble with women is that they need (our, speaking as a male) help. And we – as a male – desperately need their’s if our business ventures are to continue to be successful today, and in the future.

In the world economy, you need all the talent and help you can get. Leaving out 46% of the talent mix just won’t cut it.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, new role, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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  1. Pingback: Why are there so few African Americans working in the Internet startup space? - Quora

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