The startup tech industry is forgetting women exist. Again.
It’s Wednesday morning and I am sitting at my desk, sipping coffee, as I come across yet another invitation to an all male panel. This one is organized by a major player in the tech field and a state-funded startup incubator. Peeps, I’m tired.
I run a coding bootcamp for aspiring entrepreneurs, which means I navigate through the friendly world of startups and developers daily. When I first started working in this wonderful industry, many men expressed how happy they were to see more women involved. I felt welcomed, and relieved to witness that the blatant lack of gender diversity was a recurrent topic. But as it turns out, these endless conversations systematically fail to translate into actions.
In a small city like Brussels, calling out people is tough because, well, we all know each other and we like each other. The people in this field are fantastic, and it makes you want to let some things slide. Yet, it’s fundamental to break this silence. We need to stop being so fragile and start welcoming constructive criticism when it comes to sexist events.
I had a conversation with one of the organizers of the panel. Ironically, the French branch of that company signed the chart #JamaisSansElles, promising to always give visibility to women (or rather, to stop excluding them). The Belgian branch, however, responded that they lacked time and resources to find a woman speaker. This is not acceptable. I took the liberty of making a short list of advice. It seems like decency 101 to me, so hopefully it won’t come off as radical notions to you :
- If you don’t have time to include women in your panel, it means you don’t have time to organize a panel. Make the time, or don’t do it at all.
- Don’t attend to an all male panel as a speaker, nor as a guest.
- Don’t allow your employees to go to an all male panel during work hours (this initiative was actually enforced by the Financial Times earlier this week).
- More importantly, call them out. Ask them where’s the other half of the population.
I am done with men who complain about not having enough women in tech whilst attending another #AllMalePanel. You don’t have my sympathy. Whining is not a tangible action towards equality. Your boycott of those events, however, would make a difference.
There are plenty of other gender related issues that could be easily tackled through straightforward actions, and I will certainly write an article about it soon. But the truth is : it’s naive to believe that no one involved considered these recommendations. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that attending an all male panel in an industry that systematically rejects women is reckless. Many people are not bothered by disparity in business or in tech. It becomes an obvious reality every time I find myself explaining that there is no biological root that prevents women from pursuing certain career paths. And it shows even more each time I am asked to prove that gender diversity is beneficial for business, because quite frankly, even if it made no difference to your success, you should still care. It is frightening that I need to put forward the advantages women will have on your company for you to choose if you find it relevant or not.
I am proud of my company for actively working towards building an inclusive community in which women have a place. We are making continuous efforts for better representation. Those efforts would seem hypocritical if I started ignoring the toxic culture that surrounds me. Though I have many things to improve and I am in not even close to being perfect regarding gender equality within my own workplace, at least I made it my responsibility. Dear Belgian startup world, dear Brussels tech community, it’s time to make it yours.