Why We Care About Women in Tech

We'll see more innovation when the female perspective is present. That's good for society and the economy.

Colleen DeBaise By Colleen DeBaise

Today we kick off a 3-part series with The New York Times, in which we explore some of the reasons why the tech world is so male-dominated while profiling three female tech entrepreneurs who are bucking the trend.

The stats are dismal when it comes to women in tech — only about 3% of tech startups are founded by women. Best we can tell, here’s a basic explanation for why: From a very early age, girls are steered (sometimes subtly) away from “male fields” like science and math, and encouraged to pursue more “female fields” like arts and the humanities. By the time those girls reach college, they are far behind the whiz-kid computer scientists, who are mostly young males, and treated differently by faculty. For the women who do graduate with STEM degrees, they face more bias — and sometimes, open hostility — when they pursue careers as scientists, engineers or programmers (with the latter occupation being so male-dominated, it’s often called “brogramming”).

And for the rare woman who starts her own tech company, she faces a further uphill battle, as nearly all venture-capital firms are run by men. Investors, generally speaking, like to invest in startups they understand, and in entrepreneurs they can relate to. So for instance, a woman who is creating something aimed at moms, and who might be a mom herself, might not fit the average investor’s profile (or portfolio).

For the first part of our series, we take a look at Shaan Kandawalla of New York, who has a good background for succeeding in a male-dominated world: She was raised in Pakistan, where her early aspirations as an Olympic swimmer were dashed by a male-centric government. She is now running PlayDate Digital, a startup that makes mobiles apps for kids featuring Hasbro toys and characters. She opened up to us about the questioning she faced when she became pregnant during the startup phase. See the full profile on Shaan in The New York Times here or on our own site here. Our series continues next week with Melody McCloskey of StyleSeat, who we named earlier this year as one of our Young Women to Watch, and concludes with Amy Sheng of CellScope.

Through our series, we hope to raise more awareness about the dearth of women in STEM, and add to the discussion about ways to fix it. Our hats are off to organizations like Girls Who Code, Women 2.0, Golden Seeds, Astia, Springboard Enterprises and Broadway Angels, who are actively trying to reverse the trend.

And at the same time, we also hope to showcase the promise of women in tech and what happens (in terms of innovation) when the female perspective is present. When we have more women entrepreneurs, we’ll have more people inventing products with the other half of the world’s population in mind. Bottom line, it’s good for society and it’s good for the economy. With luck, “brogramming” will be merely a memory in the not-so-distant future.

Related project: The Story Exchange on STEM Entrepreneurship

Related: Why We Need Women in Stem

Posted: October 29, 2014

Colleen DeBaiseWhy We Care About Women in Tech