Tech's Gender Gap: Real or Silicon (Valley) Made

In terms of the tech industry, many say this gender gap exists because not enough females are equipped to fill roles as engineers or developers. But they're wrong. The real gender gap in tech is much narrower than we may imagine.
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Gender stereotypes prevail, no matter how much we wish they didn't. Women are perceived as detail-oriented multi-taskers who communicate their needs, wants, and desires about life, work, play and anything in between on an "over-regular" basis. We see men as dominant, big picture types with visions of how to move mountains and change nations. Oh, and p.s., they can seemingly have it all: the wife, the kids, the fat job, and the private jet.

In terms of the tech industry, many say this gender gap exists because not enough females are equipped to fill roles as engineers or developers. You know, fixing bugs, navigating through code sprints, and spending their weekends at hackathons.

But they're wrong.

The real gender gap in tech is much narrower than we may imagine, because being in tech doesn't necessarily mean being a developer, technologist, or engineer.

So, what does "being in tech" actually mean? Does it mean you can code, does it mean you can speak several languages that aren't English (and most of them, computer-speak)? Does it mean you know how to "hack," or can develop a slick mobile application? And what does it mean for our tech women?

I would argue it certainly means all of those things, but if we restrict "women in tech" to mean only that, then we are missing a fairly sizable part of the equation.

In fact, there are five types of game-changing women in tech that are making this ecosystem operate.

The technology industry is quickly setting the pace for female pioneers and leaders while simultaneously offering a new perspective around gender roles within the newly forming economy.

Five non-technical roles where women are making their mark

Entrepreneurs - Making it visionary.

In the U.S. more startups are hitting the scene that are co-founded or run by women. A few examples include West Coast darlings Silver Tail, One King's Lane, and CloudFlare. The East Coast, known as a media mecca and fashion hub, is seeing an emerging tech scene with female-led startups including Birchbox, Kollabora, iRobot, and Blip.

While a handful of these startups are certainly rooted in building primary technology (think CloudFare), the trend in startups founded by females skew toward using tech as the platform for delivering community-driven content and consumer-driven products.

A great example of the latter is New York-based Vixely. According to Co-founder and CEO Jen Eident:

"I was inspired to launch Vixely, a new media company, to fill the void for content that resonates with Gen Y women and is designed to fit our digital lives. I saw the underrepresentation of the female user in the consumer technology space, given that most products are built by men and therefore (subconsciously or not) designed with the male consumer in mind."

But the technology-related aspects of the product are visibly as important as the actual content delivered through Vixely's iPad app.

"We wanted to build something that reflected the unique qualities of a female consumer, such as a simple and beautiful UI with social media integration, but with rigid privacy options."

While the lion share of female entrepreneurs are not building high tech companies per se, they are certainly prolific in terms of building companies to meet consumer market demands and are largely driving trends around e-commerce, media, and technology-enabled services.

Executives - Making decisions.

Today, some of the most revered executives in Silicon Valley are women. Although the number is still miniscule compared to male executives, the amplification of their personal stories, strategies, and decisions far outweighs that of their male counterparts. Call it a blessing or a curse, but women who make waves as tech executives are seeing impact far beyond the industry itself. They act as an inspiration to young women and men everywhere who watch them turn around struggling companies based on decisive action and clear thinking, often void of ego-plays.

In addition to females assuming C-suite positions at technology giants Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, the VC world has recently embraced "women as weaponry" in terms of indentifying talent and sourcing deal flow. Added bonus: with the number of female-run startups increasing, female investors often have a competitive advantage as they connect with young, rising-tech starlets; something men often fail to do on an emotional level.

Designers - Making it usable.

As recent as five years ago, the term designer - if applied to a female - would generally connote she was in some way, shape, or form working in the fashion or luxury lifestyle industry. She would have been designing clothes, shoes, jewelry, and possibly furniture.

But now, particularly in startup-rich regions, female designers are emerging as an important and integral part of product the development cycle. While design is the closest to a technical pursuit without involving deep data science knowledge, the creativity, insight, and aesthetic associated with both graphic design and UX have been attracting tech-savvy women to the startup culture - where they are often equity partners and have input on the product far before it reaches public consumption.

As eloquently stated by LaunchGram Co-founder, Andy Sparks:

"We knew from the beginning we wanted a designer as part of the founding team. Design goes beyond 'making things pretty'; it's about simplifying usability to the point of ridiculous ease. When we found Carrie [Phillips], we knew she was the design co-founder we needed... but not because she was a woman. Rather, she truly understood our vision and jumped in with her insights and ideas after only one conversation. Beyond her eye for design and usability, she possessed the creative capital we needed to ensure the future success of our company."

Communicators - Making the connection.

Perhaps the least appreciated and highly criticized role within the tech community are those purveyors of information, who craft messages and develop plans for short and long term market positioning long before launch. Often responsible for steering startup founders and CEOs in a direction they would never have gone (for the better), the communicators act as a bridge between creation and consumption. Call them PR Professionals, Marketing Directors, or Social Media Experts, the point is that if executed properly, positive communication outcomes often far exceed the initial intent.

Regardless of the communicators' reputation, these largely female-driven positions are no doubt important ones. In fact, much like VC firms are recruiting women as Managing Partners or Investment Specialists, they are also employing "Heads of PR" and "Directors of Marketing" to manage both their company brand and investment portfolio-company launches.

Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, former VC and CEO of recently launched tech startup AirPR, describes the importance of this role:

"The brand of an organization is beyond crucial: a company lives or dies by its ability to convey key messages in a compelling and digestible way. Communications professionals are experts at driving this key component. Andreessen [Horowitz, a VC firm] understood the significance when it made Margit Wennmachers, a top communications executive, a full partner. As startups appreciate the greater importance of this role, many are now bringing on talent (top PR independents) to communicate the successful brand of the organization. These creative influencers represent a great example of female leaders the ecosystem."

Muse - Making it inspirational.

Beyond first-time startup founders, fresh-faced from Stanford's GSB or MIT's Computer Science Lab, what you often find in "techland" are male entrepreneurs who have grown successful empires over the course of time with at least two, if not a handful, of hits.

What you also find standing beside these men are wives, girlfriends, female-business partners and female-friends who act as stabilizers for the insanity, providing much needed moral support and often acting as the "muse" for the man.

This is one of the most powerful roles within the tech ecosystem, and it's darn sexy. Often forgotten and unappreciated is the importance of this femininity in making any environment (or product) pleasurable and desirable. What's more, women can assume the role as "co-pilot" and muse while simultaneously applying these attributes to building a company of her own or being a leader in a growing startup.

Beyond Women and Tech

Women are the engines, not just the engineers. Celebrate womanhood, celebrate femininity, but do it under the auspices of a shared-vision for something greater, something beyond gender.

Gender is a mere description of the vessel; contained within is the earth-shattering talent, competence, autonomy, wit, and intuition required to multi-task and to move mountains.

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