The Disconnect of Women and the Tech World

Connecting the Dots Between Women and Entrepreneurship

“Women start only around 3 percent of the nation’s technology companies. They are almost absent in high-level technology positions. [Although read the article about Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg in The New Yorker—really interesting.] They contribute to fewer than 5 percent of all I.T. patents and 1.2 percent of open-source software.”

This paragraph came from an article in The Washington Post a few months ago titled “5 Myths about entrepreneurs.” (The “5 Myths” is a weekly series.) It was written by Vivek Wadhwa, who is the director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University. Myth 4 is “Women can’t cut it in the tech world.” Wadhwa writes that girls match boys in math achievement, women enrollment in higher education is now 40 percent higher than men, and women earn around half the master’s and doctorate degrees.

So where’s the disconnect? “The problem is a broader one, as I learned through interviews with female entrepreneurs,” Wadhwa writes. “Few girls get encouragement from their parents to study engineering; they encounter negative stereotypes in the workforce; when they approach venture capitalists, they are asked demeaning questions such as, ‘How are you going to manage your company when you have children?’” The fact that many women-led companies prove more capital-efficient, and venture backed companies run by women have 12% higher revenue makes it even more of a conundrum.

I checked the SIPA IT listserve to see what traffic looks like there. Of the last 47 messages sent out, 38 were sent by men. So it’s not much different here, although women make up two of the four Board officers at SIPA—Secretary and Treasurer—and two of the three SIPF Board officers—president and Secretary/Treasurer. The messages on the marketing listserve are pretty gender split.

Like anything else of this sort, it’s complicated. I noticed that on a site called WOMENEntrepreneur, an article is headlined “Two Moms Build Buzz for a Boozy Spin on a Classic Drink” about a product called Adult Chocolate Milk. Why is the word “Moms” used instead of Women? Would it say Two Dads if it were men? Another article on the WOMENEntrepreneur site profiles the founders of Hanky Panky and its stretchy thongs—an incredible company that has made millions of dollars over 34 years. Gale Epstein and her business partner Lida Orzeck have a partnership that has surpassed Orzeck’s two marriages and Epstein’s two long-term relationships.

The pair offers three lessons about building a successful partnership:
1. Find a partner with complementary differences. Despite being close, Epstein and Orzeck have well-defined areas of responsibility….Yet both women collaborate to make decisions and guide company strategy.
2. Keep the lines of communication open. Though they work on opposite sides of their Manhattan office, Epstein and Orzeck stay in touch all day.
3. Build a management team to support you. No matter your talents, you can’t build a company alone. So there’s a “B team” to help manage sales, production, warehousing and other functions—and a strategy consultant to help guide future plans.

More of Wadhwa’s research shows that the majority of entrepreneurs are not born but made. While this fact should bolster the possibility of there being more women entrepreneurs, the examples he cites as first in their family to start a business are Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Russell Simmons. The other three myths that the article spouts are that “venture capital is a prerequisite for innovation”; “college dropouts make better entrepreneurs”; and “America’s typical tech entrepreneurs are in their 20s.”

In fact, “the average and median age of the [549 company founders surveyed] when they started their companies was 40. Twice as many were older than 50 as were younger than 25; twice as many were over 60 as under 20…Sixty percent had at least one child, and 43.5 percent had two or more children.” Those last two statistics may be fodder for another day’s article.

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lined up for its December webinar:
Anne Holland of Anne Holland Ventures and
Michele Givens from Editorial Projects in Education
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