article

08.31.10

Is There a Gender Divide in Startups?

The blogosphere has renewed the debate about the gender disparity in the tech industry. Leah Culver, co-founder of a successful microblogging site, shares what it’s like on the frontlines of the startup sex wars.

This week TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington published a blog post, "Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Blaming the Men," in response to a Wall Street Journal article about the lack of women in tech startups. The topic is nothing new but Arrington's blog post stirred up another round of debate.

Arrington says,

"... there are women like [Rachel] Sklar who complain about how there are too few women in tech, and then there are women just who go out and start companies... Let’s have less of the former and more of the latter, please."

If you can look past his controversial tone, he's got a good point: Less words, more action.

I've been programming computers for the past eight years and have worked at startups for five. In 2007, I co-founded Pownce, a microblogging and social-networking website that was acquired by the blogging giant Six Apart in late 2008. Since then I've consulted for several startups, both writing code and advising on how to grow their business. I've published iPhone applications and spoken at dozens of conferences. And yes, I'm a woman in tech.

The situation for women in technology isn't ideal. When I show up to tech events, I worry about looking out of place. For every job I apply for and don't get, I wonder if I just didn't fit the interviewer's mental picture of the perfect candidate. When I'm invited to speak at a conference, I doubt that I'm qualified. When most of my coworkers are men, I can't help but wonder why.

But that's just my perception. In reality, once I show up at the tech event and start talking with people about tech innovations, I feel right at home. After landing a new job, I'm able to bond with my co-workers right away over code issues and lolcats. When the audience applauds my talk, the stress melts away.

Gallery: Powerful Women of the Web

Articles about how hard it is to be a woman in tech don't help me feel any better. It's when I've accomplished something challenging that I feel like I belong. Every article I read about a successful female entrepreneur also inspires me to keep going.

As women, in order to be part of the tech community, we need to criticize less. Blaming other members of the community (especially men) provokes a knee-jerk defense and doesn't help solve the problem. Instead we need to congratulate more women on their accomplishments and praise those who helped them along the way.

I could keep writing about the lack of women in tech, but starting a new company sounds like a lot more fun.

Leah Culver is a software engineer and entrepreneur in San Francisco. She co-founded Pownce, a blogging website that was acquired by Six Apart. Now she advises startups and plots her next company.