What it means to be a Woman in Tech

Barbie has gotten on board by introducing Computer Engineer Barbie by popular demandFirst, let’s define what it means to be a woman in tech. To be a woman in tech, you just need to answer Yes to the two questions in this simple test:

1. Do you identify as a woman?

Hopefully that’s an easy one.

2. Does your work go into creating technology?

If you write code or produce stuff that gets turned into code/product, like requirements or design (includes UI, UX, software architecture, critical product decisions), then you are a bona fide woman in tech!

Simply working in a technology company does not magically make you a woman in tech. Yes, that includes HR, marketing communications, finance, and booth babes. If you worked in the equivalent position at a restaurant chain, would that make you a restauranteur? No. If you report on the financial markets, would that make you “in finance”? No. So stop diluting the term.

Writing about technology does not make you a woman in tech.

Writing code does.

The reason I want to make this distinction is that we need more REAL women in tech.

I sat on a panel a few years ago that was meant to promote women in technology and entrepreneurship. The panel consisted of 6 people: 3 male and 3 female entrepreneurs. I was representing the women under 30 group. The other two women were a virtual CFO and an executive. There were around 60 attendees, with the majority being women.

During Q and A, someone asked whether it was necessary to have a technical background. The other two women replied no (neither came from technology backgrounds, they joined existing companies as executives in non-product related areas), and I replied with an emphatic yes. I went on to argue that the leaders of the greatest technology companies were the same founders that built version 1.0: Jobs, Bezos, Gates, … I’ll defer the rest of the list to Ben Horowitz’s excellent post on why he prefers funding founding CEOs.

My point was and is: if you don’t know how to build the product that your company will be based on, how will you start a company? While it’s great there are women that can help grow a company that’s already up and going, we need more women that can build the product and the company from the ground up.

You can’t market a product that doesn’t exist.

You can’t hire people for a company that doesn’t exist.

You can’t grow something 50x when there’s nothing there to start with.

My response didn’t sit well with the majority of the women there, who were mostly suits (the event was sponsored by a law firm). But the couple of women there that were engineers applauded my answer.

Women make up more than half of Internet users, yet there are painfully few female tech entrepreneurs. For example, of the 450 founders YC has funded to date, a paltry 14 are women*. That’s only 3%, which is in line with the ratio of applicants. Of those that are technical founders it’s even lower. Just think of all the opportunities that can be better identified and captured by women. Why is the founder of a fashion sharing app not a woman?

So, if you answered Yes to question 1 and No to question 2, stop talking about technology and start building something. Then you can be a true woman in tech, and we need you!