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Young women tech entrepreneurs explain the hurdles, subtle and not, to reaching the top
They say that behind every great man there's a great woman. It sounds like an outmoded sentiment of stodgy sexists, but even in the 21st-century tech world, it is still true.
At the biggest and most recognizable Internet companies -- Amazon,
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Not only are many women at the top of Internet startups adjacent to the powerful men; they are also "tech-adjacent." That is how
One key reason for the dearth of women is simple: education. According to the
Teasing out exactly why women aren't going into computers is difficult, but societal factors doubtless play a significant role.
"I had no idea what a career in programming would mean, but I really, really wish I had kept it up," says
"I feel like people were constantly giving my brother messages around computers and that world of possibility. For me, that message was about how I could save the world."
Whatever the reason for the disparity, a quick survey of the top of the heap suggests that computer know-how has led the way to fame and fortune on the Internet.
However, at the same time that women remain underrepresented in computers, they are making strides in business. According to the
That growth, as well as the ubiquity of technology as a tool, could lead to a new breed of Internet CEOs.
"I think the next wave is that you will see a lot of diverse people with great ideas, with ways that technology solves problems, who found companies and outsource [to] find engineering talents they need," she says.
Should that wave indeed boost more women to the top, though, the world that they will find may at times resemble a nerdy, 21st-century version of Mad Menin its sexist undertones. Bradshaw, for example, describes conferences like DjangoCon as places where the sexist atmosphere can be daunting.
"The dominant [element] next to the piece of technology is some woman who's scantily clad," says Bradshaw. "It creates a hostile environment, and it also doesn't reflect back onto the female audience that 'You can be a founder' -- but 'You can be an object.'"
It happens in more subtle ways, however, especially in networking situations. Minshew illustrates with what she calls the "two smart women phenomenon": "It's when some very well-meaning guy introduces two women he knows merely because they're smart and female, with no other overlap."
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Bradshaw agrees. "I also want to be considered someone you would introduce to your male network, because I believe men have more access and more power. And as long as you keep introducing me to women, we're going to keep reinforcing that."
It's not just about making a few friends in the tech sector, says Harris; networking is especially important in what she calls "the frenetic startup culture," where happy hours are often where an entrepreneur can meet her angel investor.
Getting funding from those investors can mean some particularly hard selling for a woman. "There's a pejorative term in venture capital: 'lifestyle business,' because the business supports a very nice lifestyle for a small group of people, but they'll never become the next