When Aliza Sherman started the first female-owned tech company in the early 90s, many people mistook her for a secretary.
Fast forward a couple decades, Sherman still sees both subtle and overt bias against women in her field.
"The companies getting funded are all male-founded and helmed or the keynotes at major tech conferences are all or very predominately male,” Sherman says.
Heddi Cundle, single, female founder of myTab, a social travel gift card startup, would certainly agree with Sherman. “If I had a male cofounder, then we’d have been funded by now,” she says, “And it’s been greatly insinuated that I get a tech cofounder, which everyone knows are predominately male.”
This is not to say that the tech sphere has no examples of brilliant female leaders. IBM Vice President Sandy Carter, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and our very own CyberCoders President Heidi Golledge are just a few women driving innovation today.
Still, it’s hard to deny that, “while women are beginning to take enormous strides in the entrepreneurial world, men clearly dominate the industry,” says Lori Cheek, founder of NYC’s startup Cheek’d, which has been lauded as the next generation of online dating.
To help women combat this gender disparity, we spoke with several successful women in tech about the best, most practical way to make it big in a male-dominated world:
Muster as much self-confidence as you can to fight for your ideas. They might not truly hear you the first time, but persistence pays off. “If you push for new technology that’s reasonable at the right time, and you’re successful, they will see you in a different light as someone who truly cares about the product,” says Elizabeth Nguyen, CyberCoders product manager.
Cheek would agree and finds that “the small network of women is extra supportive of one another – we stick together like a small army ready to conquer the world.”
There are so many great organizations out there specifically dedicated to helping women like you prosper. Check out Girls Who Code, Code.org and Tech Girlz to name a few.
Check out the full list of 10 Awesome Resources for Women in Tech.
In fact, she believes that since the sheer number of women in the industry is so low, what you might perceive as bias is actually a simple difference of opinion. “I think women often fall back on gender bias when they feel their viewpoints or input are not being given enough weight,” she says, “in reality, everyone encounters those situations at some point in their career.”
Likewise, Emma Moore, CEO of Fundamental, has been programming, designing and project managing for 14 years, and has rarely encountered gender inequality. “Sometimes, it would be initially perceived as such, but usually it’s a personality issue,” she says.
Plus, the Boys Club can be hypercompetitive. “Men don’t really see you as a big threat compared to their male colleagues,” Nguyen says. Being a woman, they’re willing to listen and help you more than their “true” competitors.
Likewise, Mimi Hoang, CyberCoders QA engineer, uses her soft spoken nature to her advantage. “Some guys appreciate the fact that we are willing to listen,” Hoang says. There’s an opportunity to build unique relationships men will value.
“Sometimes men want to solve issues on their own without collaborating,” Moore says. “That is a male characteristic at times and can hold up a project. Having a woman in the group programming can actually bridge that communication gap as she would be more likely to ask for another opinion.”
The bottom line: The fabulous news is that female tech communities and the “number of number of women investors,” are on the rise, says Jessica Jessup, cofounder of Giftovus. “But,” Jessup says, “there is a long way to go yet.”
The gender disparity is no reason for women to feel discouraged. If you’re a woman in tech, you’re part of a unique group of pioneers in your industry. We hope the words of wisdom in this article from women who successfully climbed the hurdle of gender disparity will encourage you to do amazing things!