Where Are the Women in Tech, You Ask?

Once You Shift Your Frame of Reference, You'll See They're All Around Us

By Published on .

Judy Shapiro
Judy Shapiro

I watch with amusement when the best and brightest in our business attempt to answer the question, "Why are there so few women in tech?" I confess to a small amount of perverse pleasure at how, no matter what they say or don't say, titans like Robert Scoble (noted tech blogger) and Michael Arrington (of TechCrunch fame) get skewered in the process, always managing to piss off a large chunk of femininehood no matter what. Nor are women any better when talking about this topic as I witnessed with shock at a panel discussion featuring "women in tech" descended into a dissing fest that was utterly embarrassing all around.

Don't worry, folks. I won't list the well-worn myriad of reasons of why women are not in tech: gender, genetics, cultural bias, et al. Or lament what Maureen Farrell, staff writer for Forbes, correctly explains as women's reticence to get in the game. "The venture capital world is very much a men's club, and ... women are lacking the network of other female entrepreneurs. So the lack of a network is one problem, but venture capital investors also see few women walking through the door pitching them new-business ideas." All very true, but at the end of the day, while these factors are important -- I tell you frankly -- it still doesn't answer the question at all because I suggest that we are looking at the question in the wrong way.

In fact, when any brave soul attempts to answer this question publicly, they naturally tend to focus on women. For me, when thinking about tough questions, I like to reverse the question to see what shakes loose. In this case, I shifted my focus away from women and aimed it toward men -- actually those digital industries where men are at a disadvantage. I quickly realized that in many new media and digital companies like blogger networks or information/content companies, the balance is clearly in favor of women. In looking at these outlier situations, I note with amusement that we don't see panel discussions trying to puzzle out why there are so few men at blogger conferences and media forums. Nor do we see long posts about how the lack of men's POV in the newer media businesses compromises the objectivity of this emerging media.

It is in the silence of this reverse scenario -- we'll finally find the answer to our question (and save lots of people lots of time -- no need to thank me).

The trick is to recognize that in the tech world, we have developed a very narrow definition of a "tech CEO" to mean people leading companies that create new technology, usually software-based, with some amount of IP. That definition seems to be "hard coded" into the very essence of how we frame a "tech CEO." Yet, if one were to ask what's a "media or information CEO" looks like, we are likely to get a rather broad set of parameters that can include men, women -- in fact anyone that can get the job done.

That then, is where our answer is found by simply adjusting our filter to broaden the definition of a "tech CEO" to encompass wider parameters. IMO, a tech CEO, means anyone leading a company that creates new technologies (current definition) and/or companies that create new digital interactions using content and technology. This is what the newer media and information companies focus on and these companies tend to be dominated by women.

When we shift our frame of reference, we start to see that women in tech are all around us. There's Charlotte Rademaekers, founder and CEO of Call2Action, who created easier ways for a not-for profit to distribute content and create an action. Or take HUM News, created by Joy DiBenedetto, an information and media company developed to cover the geographic news gap (resulting from lack of coverage by the top four news services) using new compression and mobile technologies. A mom, Ellen Gray, is helping her son launch a video news-based news service for/by young adults called http://noahgray.com/ that lets anyone upload content. And we have Daphne Kwon, CEO of ExpoTV, who with her husband created a video-based testimonial/syndication engine and Stephanie Piche of MingleMedia TV who is "making TV social." And lastly, when using this definition, we realize that Arianna Huffington is a tech CEO of the highest order.

These are all "women in tech" and I barely scratched the surface once we apply this broader definition. These companies are creating new user experiences based on ingenious combination of technologies, content and community.

So why don't we know about these women in tech? Simple. Women are far less likely to be in love with the technology for its own sake vs. their male counterparts, so they tend to be low key in talking about the technology itself. You're not likely to hear a woman say that her technology is "sick," though I've heard that term used by not a few men CEOs . These women are not likely to be found in tech meet-ups as they are far more likely to be found helping their kid with homework. All of which is to say, women tech CEOs may not have the brash bravado of her male counterparts, but their relative silence should not be mistaken for absence.

So next time you are looking for a tech CEO, don't just look in TechCrunch or Mashable. Woman tech CEOs are quite likely to have started a not-for-profit community in their spare time or have signed up with Change.org (a site where individuals can select causes to support) or CSRCooperative (a group of marketing companies who donate their time to not-for- profit causes). If you are looking for women in the tech world, just check the local digital not- for- profit cause -- she's likely hanging there.

Judy Shapiro is chief brand strategist at CloudLinux and has held senior marketing positions at Paltalk, Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.
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