Where is feminism when you need it?

Where is feminism when you need it? That question is currently being asked, and answered, in Silicon Valley. Whether it’s discussing the resurgence of sexism, finding the new flavors of feminist, cheer leading for all the fab women in tech and pushing for more women to join the geektrain; or whether it’s asking hard questions about how the heck we manage to be female in high power areas, the discussions are plentiful and the responses thoughtful. I’m collecting some here:

A great starting point in Silicon Valley is Women 2.0 . Founded in 2006 by Shaherose Charania and Angie Chang, Women 2.0 is a global network and social platform for influencers that drive trends and decisions — as startup founders and as consumers. Their mission is to inform, inspire and educate a new generation of females that are entrepreneurial and successful.

Unfortunately, the environment is still quite toxic to women in vast swathes of the tech world.

‘Gang Bang Interviews’ and ‘Bikini Shots’: Silicon Valley’s Brogrammer Problem by Tasneem Raja at Mother Jones is a curation of stories, articles and blog posts about the bros/hos culture. She includes the Geeklist incident (and others) but also labor statistics on women in tech and comments from the smart people who realize that alienating 50% of the workforce is short sighted.

But recruiter beware, warn some veteran observers: a bros-only atmosphere will hurt no one more than the startups that foster it. “We simply cannot afford to alienate large chunks of the workforce,” notes Dan Shapiro, a tech entrepreneur who sold his comparison-shopping company to Google and now works there as a product manager. Shapiro, who has blogged in the past about sexism in the tech industry, notes that “it is a widely understood truth that the single biggest challenge to a successful startup is attracting the right people. To literally handicap yourself by 50 percent is insanity.”

Why your next board member should be a woman? recent post on Tech Crunch by Aileen Lee. My own piece on ‘The opportunities for Robots, Startups and Women‘ at Women2.org , MEGA Startup Weekend and the Robot Launch Pad.

But while the tech culture is still male dominated, I believe that the onus is on men to speak up. When women tweet, blog or speak about sexism, the resulting flamewar is usually far greater than any positive gains. Example: Shanley Kane (Geeklist/Twitter), Kathy Sierra (shut down blog in 2007), Rebecca Watson (Skepchick). This is one reason you don’t hear a lot of women complaining. Please don’t interpret silence as consent.

You might not hear the sighs or complaints, but you do hear a lot of appreciation from women if you speak in support of decent human behavior, (which makes sound financial sense too).  Chris Yeh spoke out recently at MEGA Startup Weekend and took the heat. It matters, as  Adria Richards, technology evangelist, replied in ‘Everyone Has a Voice When It Comes To Tech and Sexism’.

Once again, there is an international push for more women in technology. Tech Needs Girlsdescribes an international ‘road map for tech education and career changes’.

New York, 26 April 2012 – Global leaders from the US, Europe, Africa and Asia joined together today to debate and define a roadmap that will help break down barriers and overturn outmoded attitudes in a bid get more girls into technology-related studies and careers.

A high-level dialogue … identified misguided school-age career counselling, the popular media’s ‘geek’ image of the technology field, a dearth of inspirational female role models, and a lack of supportive frameworks in the home and workplace as factors that, together, tend to dissuade talented girls from pursuing a tech career.

Once again, the focus is on the pipeline. Getting girls into technology. But getting girls into the pipeline is no good if pond at the end of the pipeline is still poisoned.

As GeekDad’s guest writer Michael Eisen describes his 6 yr old daughter’s disappointment at being excluded from a massively geeky ‘father-son sweepstake’, he touches on the part of us that dies inside every time the world says ‘not for girls’ without even intending it to be a slap down. Whether it’s sexism, racism or some other ism creating division, we all need to speak up.

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