Some of my best friends are women. No, really.
It just so happens that none of them are at our startup, and this past week, as I was wrangling equity and stock options within the rapidly gelling OnBoardify founding team, I thought: Waitaminute. We’re just like Twitter. Or Facebook. Or Box. And sadly, I don’t mean in terms of revenue, users, or valuation. What we, a fledgling startup, have in common with these behemoths is that we, like they, have no women in our founding team. There’s a huge gulf that separates OnBoardify from these successful companies, but I suspect that, when they started, they had the same challenges as we do in attracting women to our founding team.
You’ve seen the recent media coverage about why many women don’t make it to the established ranks of a technology companies, with notable exceptions like Meg Whitman (eBay), Carol Bartz (Autodesk), Marissa Mayer (Google), and Padmasree Warrior (Cisco). The firestorm first started with Stanford’s Vivek Wadhwa taking Silicon Valley to task for its lack of women on its executive teams. , where he stated that “Silicon Valley is a boys club that stacks the deck against women and certain minorities.” This great infographic by Women 2.0 Magazine tells the story of Silicon Valley women managers and entrepreneurs. Women accounted for just less than 18 percent of directors at Standard & Poor’s 500 Index company boards this year, according to reports, and they start only 3% of technology companies in Silicon Valley.
According to the Census Bureau, women account for nearly half the work force but hold only 26 percent of science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) jobs, with 74 percent going to men. Yet, it’s not as if women are absent from science and math jobs, as the Disparities in STEM Employment by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin study reports: “In 2011, women were only 13% of engineers, 27% of computer professionals, 41% of life and physical scientists, and 61% of social scientists.” In other words, women aren’t taking up engineering and computer science jobs as much. You can, likely, think of a lot more doctors you know who are women, than engineers.
As our team was beginning to form around the edges, and solidify into a committed group of startup engineers, I reflected on why the founding team was all male. It’s not as if we’re a homogeneous bunch of male brogrammers – we have team members who are African-American, Indian, and Jewish. We have native San Franciscans and immigrants. But not one of them are women. When I look back at the beginning of my computer science and engineering foundations, built at MIT, we saw a lot of women in engineering and computer science classes. In fact, in Fall 2012, 45% of MIT undergraduates were women. Yet, here we are, years later at a startup, and there are no women.
So here’s the unvarnished truth to why our founding team has only men – it’s the velocity of how we network to form startup teams, and not giving enough attention to ensuring that the team becomes gender-diverse. There’s a saying in Silicon Valley that, in the early stages of a startup, you have people who build (engineers) and people who sell (salespeople), and everybody else just gets in the way. Since I’m the salesperson, everybody else needs to be a software engineer, and when our network of engineers reached out to us, there were no women who came calling.
Really? No women at all in Silicon Valley for us to attract to the founding team? Well, not quite; there were women interested in joining us, but they were not software engineers. There are notable women engineers in Silicon Valley who have captured the imagination of the country. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, has two computer science degrees from Stanford, yet she only worked as a software engineer for a couple of years – the rest was as a product manager, and then executive. Ruchi Sanghvi, VP Operations at Dropbox, has been written about in the New York Times, and celebrated as a tech geek. However, if you look at Ruchi’s LinkedIn profile, you’ll notice that, even with her two degrees in Computer Science from CMU, most of her experience at Facebook has been as a product manager, rather than a software engineer. So, while we would indeed be hugely lucky to get someone of Ruchi’s profile at our startup, the truth is that, at this early stage, we would want to hire not an “engineer turned product manager”, but “an engineer’s engineer”, somebody who has, up to the last 24 hours, been writing software code for most of the night. And not just any code, i.e., in addition to liberal arts majors who have become front-end engineers, we need guys and gals with computer science degrees who have remained software engineers for most of their careers, building software that eats the world.
Just this week, our VP Engineering asked me to mine my network of engineers on LinkedIn, because he needed us to attract to OnBoardify, a founding engineer who could design, architect, and build what is called the “back-end”, or the infrastructure and plumbing software that makes our product hum. I used LinkedIn’s (very tedious) Tag feature to categorize all contacts who looked like software engineers. Out of 80 engineers that I am directly connected to, I found one woman, and even she wasn’t the kind of software engineer we needed. On the other hand, I was connected to 400 women professionals, but none of them were software engineers. Almost all the computer science women that I knew at MIT had become marketers, teachers, or lawyers. I know amazingly successful women CEOs, marketers, PR professionals, athletes, management consultants, salespeople, product managers, and many other professions. Oh, and from the MIT classmates, I reconnected with the amazing and successful Anna Napolitano, who’s the founder and CEO of an established software engineering company in Greenwich, CT.
I believe that diversity in Silicon Valley companies pays off handsomely. It brings different perspectives. It teaches you how to work with the real world of customers. It makes for collaborative teams and a great learning experience for life. And I know that we will attract the right, diverse team. In time, we will need not just engineers, but also marketers, salespeople, and executives. What it means for us startup types is that we need to work harder to find a diverse team, especially women. There are hackathons and meetups out there, including Develop.Her, Women Who Code (SF) and Femgineers. We’re looking for that very amazing person. Contact me on LinkedIn if you are a woman, of any age, persuasion, color, ethnicity, or food-preference who:
- Love the idea of building software to dramatically increase collaboration and user engagement
- Want to fundamentally change the way business users who use enterprise applications get work done
- Are a guru in Java and open source technologies that run the back-end stack
- Experienced with SQL/NoSQL databases, REST APIs, and public cloud stacks (AWS, GCE, etc.)
- Are excited about building a product from (near) scratch and the share ownership it comes with
- Eat Indian food as we have a Whole Foods approved chef who often feeds us (take that, Google and Facebook)
Day in a Startup series
The chronicle of our Silicon Valley startup:
Startup Diary Day 1 – Always Be Hiring
Startup Diary Week 2 – Share Your Idea To Acquire Customers Faster
Startup Diary Week 3 – Making Friends
Startup Diary Week 4 – Separation of Church (Web Site) and State (Email)
Startup Diary Week 5 – Why Our Founders Are Not Women