Illegal Gender Discrimination in Tech? Hardly

Last Updated Sep 3, 2010 7:40 AM EDT

I have an overwhelming theme in the advice I write--and that is, stop whining and blaming others and take responsibility for your own choices. So, when I hear women whining about being discriminated against I always have to stop and wonder, is it illegal discrimination or different choices?

Most of the time, all the signs point to...drum roll please...different choices. Everyone wrings their hands and frets, "what can we do about the inequality in X?" Well, first stop and see if people are making different choices.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about the "problem" of too few women leading technology start ups. First of all, what is the problem? Unless there is a quota that makes it impossible for women to start their own company, (Sorry, Helen, we limit start-ups to 10 women per year. You're the 11th, so you'll have to wait until 2011), where is the problem?

I know, I know, there is a presumption of discrimination because women are so down-trodden that that they think they wouldn't be able to succeed because all those men who control the money wouldn't let them anyway, so why try? Gah. This bugs me. Are we as a gender so stupid? And if we are, then we don't deserve to succeed anyway. If you encounter real discrimination, then report it, expose it, and go elsewhere.

But, to overcome this "problem" we have women's groups and women's meeting and even a TedWomen's conference. Now, I love TED with all my heart and my fondest dream is to one day be a TED speaker. But one women, spoke up. The WSJ reports:
These women-power efforts aren't without controversy. "I personally do not participate in any female tech organizations because they make more harm than good sometimes, because they [segregate] women," said Yuli Ziv, founder of Style Coalition, a network of fashion and lifestyle digital publications. Instead, Ms. Ziv said she tries to encourage women to integrate more forcefully into male-dominated tech events such as the New York Tech Meetup.
Another woman in the article criticizes a TechCrunch Convention for not having enough women speakers. She wants to "raise awareness." Which to me is code speak for "whine about unfairness rather than doing something."

Michael Arrington, the founder of TechCrunch, responded to the accusation that TechCrunch could do more to get women speakers this way:
Success in Silicon Valley, most would agree, is more merit driven than almost any other place in the world. It doesn't matter how old you are, what sex you are, what politics you support or what color you are. If your idea rocks and you can execute, you can change the world and/or get really, stinking rich...

Every damn time we have a conference we fret over how we can find women to fill speaking slots. We ask our friends and contacts for suggestions. We beg women to come and speak. Where do we end up? With about 10% of our speakers as women.

We won't put women on stage just because they're women â€" that's not fair to the audience who've paid thousands of dollars each to be there. But we do spend an extraordinary amount of time finding those qualified women and asking them to speak.

And you know what? A lot of the time they say no. Because they are literally hounded to speak at every single tech event in the world because they are all trying so hard to find qualified women to speak at their conference.
It's not that they are discriminating against women. It's that women are choosing not to enter into the field in the first place, and those that do choose to enter in are so busy they can't speak at every conference.

And honestly, there are good reasons why many women choose not to go in to the wild world of Technology. Time Magazine reports that young women earn more than young men. If you can get a good salary without the risk that goes into a Silicon Valley start up, why not?

It's a choice. It's not some external force that prevents women from entering a field. It's a choice.

If you want to do something, go out and pursue it. Don't whine about it or wait until someone "raises awareness" of an "issue." Just go out and do. And if you don't want to do it, don't, but don't whine that it's because you're being discriminated against.

Photo by gcoldironjr2003, Flickr cc 2.0