working women

The Tech Problem is NOT (just) a Pipeline Problem

We love organizations that support women.  Every one of these organizations does it a different way, emphasizing different aspects of the problems or simply trying to help women from different points of view.  There are men who support women, women who support women, women who support younger women, women who advocate for flexibility, women who are interested in women on boards (with or without quotas), and women who are interested in helping women who will never make it to a directorship but just are trying to pay the bills.

The on-going media attention that (the lack of) women in technology receive is often accompanied by a big red herring, however.  And that’s the idea that the numbers of women in technology are paltry because there is a “pipeline” problem, i.e. there are not enough women entering the STEM fields.  Lots of articles and observers point this out, and then end their comments with sanguine notes because there are in fact, a rising number of organizations that are working to get young women and girls interested in engineering.  In other words, the numbers might suck now but they will look better in the future.  The future is bright.

The problem with this argument is that its just not necessarily true.  Just because the pipeline gets better doesn’t mean the numbers will get better if there are any other reasons (e.g. unfriendly work environments, bad corporate policies, unconscious bias) for the scarcity of women wielding the most power and influence (and money) in technology: VCs, founders, and executives.  Rachel Sklar says it best:

The problem is not with the pipeline, it’s with the industry that the pipeline is piping into. The tech industry needs to stop pretending everything’s cool and start acknowledging that the system is broken. That’s not too hard, is it? Be smart, face facts, do better. It’s the least we can expect from a meritocracy.

We completely agree that we need to “face the facts” but the facts are often just numbers and numbers don’t always tell a story well.  Numbers can be massaged or explained in many different ways (hence the red herring about women engineers and the STEM pipeline) so you need stories, too.  Tell your story at Fairygodboss and help us create something that companies can face up to.

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