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Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Playing the Blame Game

Women in TechWe have a rampant problem in the tech world. It's called the blame game. Here's how it works. You ask the question, "Why aren't there enough women in tech or launching startups?" From some you get answers like, "Because it's an exclusive white boys club." But others say, "Not true! It's because women don't promote their expertise enough and they are more risk averse." How can we truly address the lack of women in tech and startups and develop realistic solutions if we continue to play this silly blame game?

Yesterday, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch wrote a blog post saying, "It doesn't matter how old you are, what sex you are, what politics you support or what color you are. If your idea rocks and you can execute, you can change the world and/or get really, stinking rich."

That's a nice idea and if it were true then the amount of wealthy entrepreneurs would better match our population's racial and gender demographics. The fact remains that in 2009 angel investors dished out $17.6 billion to fund startups. Wonder how many funded startups were women-run? 9.4%, according to the 2009 angel investor report from Center for Venture Research at University of New Hampshire. And only 6% of investor money funded startups run by people of color.

Yet Arrington says it's because women just don't want it enough and that he is sick and tired of being blamed for it. He also says TechCrunch has "beg[ged] women to come and speak" and participate in their events and reached out to communities but many women still decline.

Since launching the Women Who Tech TeleSummit three years ago (which is coming up on September 15th featuring an all-star lineup of over 30 women in tech and social media like Rashmi Sinha of SlideShare, Kaliya Hamlin of Shes Geeky, Shireen Mitchell of Digital Sistas and who recently wrote about her experiences after being recognized by AlwaysOn, Mary Hodder who is working on her second startup, Irene Au of Google, Amy Jo Kim of ShuffleBrain, Heather Harde of Tech Crunch, and Lynne d. Johnson, formerly of Fast Company and now with the Advertising Research Foundation) I have heard the uproar from both sides and have written about it extensively. Want to know my secret for organizing thought-provoking, women-led panels discussing topics such as launching your own startup or women and open source and identity?

  • I'm actively involved in several communities and not just when I have open call for entries.
  • I have expanded my network and spend time listening as well as engaging and building relationships with diverse people.
  • I believe we squash innovation when we don't have diverse tech teams and I practice what I preach.
  • I'm a fighter. I advocate for what I believe in and don't easily give up when I don't succeed or meet a goal.

And that is exactly what people like Arrington and others who are in a position of power need to do too. The tech world has some of the most creative, tenacious and resourceful people who have profited from these very qualities. Giving up is not part of their nature when they really care about achieving a goal that is important to them. Instead of the playing the blame game, lets develop an action plan together to get more women launching startups and involved in tech.

Here's a Start:

  1. Build Meaningful Relationships with Organizations: Don't just approach women in tech organizations when you need suggestions. If you truly want to reach their memberships, you need to carve out time to get involved with the organization, attend their conferences and cultivate relationships. Here are few good organizations to connect with. Anita Borg Institute, She's Geeky, Women Who Tech, The National Center for Women and IT, National Women of Color Technology Conference, Women 2.0, Women In Technology International, Girls In Tech and BlogHer who have featured over 500 women speakers at their conferences over the past few years.
  2. Break Out of your Comfort Zone: "If you spend time in a homogeneous social network like Silicon Valley's VC community, then you will only get white, male ventured back candidates," said Geoff Livingston who has organized several conferences such as Blog Potomac. "It's your job to go beyond the comfort zone. Victimization maybe an easy out, but it won't stop the criticism of your inability to break out of limited social circles."
  3. It's a Numbers Game: Ask for Several Suggestions: If you're a conference organizer and someone declines a speaking invitation, ask for 3-4 suggestions of other women who would be a good fit. Likewise, if you're invited to speak at a conference, but aren't able to participate, recommend 3-4 good women speakers.
  4. Share the Spotlight: Diversify those top 10 lists. "Reach deeper and rotate fresh names through," said Cathy Brooks who hosts the Social Media Hour.
  5. Diversify Your Rolodex: Be proactive and follow and engage with more women in tech. There are several women in tech lists on Twitter, Fanpages, and LinkedIn groups.
  6. Start Organizing: Organize a series of Reverse-Pitch Parties for women entrepreneurs at SXSW and in different cities.

Have more ideas to add to the list? Comment below.

Allyson Kapin is the Founder of the Web firm Rad Campaign, Women Who Tech, and the Blogger-in-Chief for Care2's Frogloop blog. You can follow her on Twitter at @WomenWhoTech.