By Elizabeth Vargas
When it comes to closing the gender gap for women in technology, most reports paint a grim picture – indicating that no real progress has been made in the last five years. Even with increased conversations that put a harsh spotlight on equality, diversity and inclusion, women in the U.S. in particular are still noticeably absent from the C-suite and the boardroom. According to reports like the most recent Startup Outlook Survey from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), 57 percent of U.S. startups have no women in leadership roles while 71 percent have no women directors on their boards. While America trails behind China and Britain, SVB notes that increasing the number of women in tech and improving the gender ratio in leadership does weigh heavy on the minds of founders, investors, employees, industry watchers and influencers alike. Here is a quote from an SVB client who stated, “We can’t create the best technology solutions if the teams building them don’t represent the public using them. Diversity is both a social justice and a commonsense issue – especially in an increasingly global economy.” Yet, year after year, the same Silicon Valley that takes pride in its progressive views on cultural concerns such as global warming, same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization and transgender rights continues to sidestep the issue of giving women equal opportunities in the tech industry.
Nurture vs. Nature
Like automobile maintenance, mining, oil and gas extraction, transportation and construction, technology has traditionally been perceived as a field that leans more towards nature rather than nurture. In other words, the gender gap can be explained by way of biology – with some experts asserting that women are more interested in people as opposed to men – who are more interested in things and therefore avoid careers in technology, math, engineering and science. While it may be argued that greater numbers of men gravitate to careers that involve more risk, more muscle, more dirt and more things, there is no evidence to support a hypothesis that biology is to blame for the lack of female representation in tech. There is evidence to support the significant role confidence plays in regard to a woman’s ability to compete successfully with the opposite sex. In a controversial article published in the May 2014 issue of The Atlantic, an “acute lack of confidence” was identified as the key factor that stood between a woman’s career goals and reality.
The Evolution of Women and Technology
Even with the cloud of inequality hanging over America, there is good news: technology is changing, and women are, too. Motivated by the potential of more practical, intuitive, engaging and thoughtful platforms, applications and user experiences, women are pioneering breakthroughs in every industry and inspiring change that is positively impacting communities across the globe. Consider just some of the innovators who made TechCrunch’s list of 42 women who defied the odds in 2017:
- Jessica Matthews, founder of Uncharted Power, which makes embedded energy-generating technology for motion objects such as such as strollers and toys to provide a source of power in developing countries and anywhere without a reliable grid.
- Ayah Bdeir, founder of LittleBits Electronics, which manufactures award-winning electronics components used by educators, hobbyists, kids and companies prototyping new products—and are part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection in New York.
- Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot and founder of CyPhy Works, which makes small drones for consumer, industrial and military use and is currently testing the use of drones in disaster relief efforts.
- Limor Fried, advocate for open-source hardware and founder of Adafruit Industries, which designs and sells kits and electronics parts that empower people to become makers.
Then there’s Inc. magazine’s list celebrating the phenomenal achievements of female founders in 2017, which includes:
- Alice Zhang, founder of Verge Genomics, which uses machine learning and human genomic data to defeat neurodegeneration.
- Brittany Stich and Rachel Carlson, co-founders of Guild Education, which offers an education benefits platform that allows employers to offer tuition reimbursement and college degree programs to their employees.
- Kate Ryder, founder of Maven, a business connecting working women with doctors, nurse practitioners, nutritionists and mental health providers on-demand.
- Laurel Taylor, founder of Future Fuel, which offers student loan payment management services as an employee benefit.
In large part, it is predecessors like Lifehacker founder Gina Trapani, Houzz founder Adi Tatarko, Canva founder Melanie Perkins and Slideshare founder Rashmi Sinha who continue to pave the way and inspire women to venture into tech with confidence. In fact, in every sector – from music to medicine – women have emerged throughout history as catalysts in improving the human condition. Just consider the fact that Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), Jean Jennings Bartik (1924-2011) and Grace Hopper (1906-1992) were computer programming’s earliest yet forgotten pioneers, responsible for creating what is now considered modern technology. Though long gone, their immeasurable contributions to the world are still ever present, serving as a reminder that it is quality—not quantity—that matters most.
Perhaps it is time to discard the notion of gender parity calculated by numbers and instead measure gender parity by impact.
Elizabeth Vargas is the founder and CEO of Edge Music Network, a music video streaming service providing live and on-demand content through a gamified video syndication platform. For more information, follow Edge Music Network on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit www.edgemusic.com.