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The plain numbers about women in tech – The Startups

I don’t often think of myself as a woman. As I approach public restrooms, I have to remind myself: “Whitney, you are a woman, use the women’s room.”

Being a woman doesn’t actively, consciously factor into my every day life, especially not professionally. While my gender must have a partial effect on everything I do — the way I interview users, draw wireframes, bill my clients — I am far from overtly feminine, nor do I consider myself to be traditionally female.

I have always wanted to be judged against all other people — male and female — and as a result, try not to play the woman card. I’ve also avoided most discussions about women in tech, women in business, women speakers, women organizations, women investors, women anything. A couple years ago I even insisted that I’m not a woman blogger.

It hasn’t ever really bothered me that there are so few women in my professional universe. I’ve always had more guy friends, went to a predominantly male university, and have worked mostly with men. But two things happened recently that rubbed me the wrong way:

Firstly, at the NY Tech Meetup a couple months ago, there were two products demoed by women. When a question from the audience was directed at one of the women-run companies, the other (male) presenters on stage started passing the mic to the wrong set of women. I’m not sure if anyone else noticed it, but it made me extremely uncomfortable. These guys couldn’t even remember which woman had demoed that product — just that it was a woman. The important detail of who didn’t seem to register.

Secondly, I was at the Boxee Box launch at Irving Plaza last month and, before the presentation started, Boxee’s team photos were projected onto the screen in a loop. I was proud to see how much the company has grown since I had worked with them in early 2009 — at the time, I had been the only woman among 10 men. But seeing the photos, I noticed that out of their 20 or so employees, practically all of the women working for them are in marketing.

It finally hit me: not only are women in tech mostly invisible, the vast majority of those who on display are selling, not making.

This is a problem. This is a big problem. At least according to ComScore [whitepaper], women are significantly more active social media and e-commerce users than men. So if the primary target audiences of most high traffic sites are women, why are only men designing and developing these systems?

I decided to take an empirical look at the gender ratio of some popular startups, just by looking at their team pages. I defined startups as < 50 employees and < 6 years old. This is by no means a comprehensive study, but I'm amazed by what I found.

Take a look for yourself...and let me know what you see.

High Profile Startups

Foursquare

Team Page: http://foursquare.com/about#
Women Employed: 6/40
Women’s Positions: Community Manager; Lead Designer; Marketing Manager; Head of Recruiting; Community Support Coordinator
Location: New York City

Kickstarter

Team Page: http://www.kickstarter.com/team
Women Employed: 4/14
Women’s Positions: Customer Service; Marketing; Community
Location: New York City

Squarespace

Team Page: http://www.squarespace.com/about/
Women Employed: 6/32
Women’s Positions: Support Team; Senior Designer; Marketing Director; Chief Marketing Officer
Location: New York City

Dropbox

Team Page: https://www.dropbox.com/about
Women Employed: 3/35
Women’s Positions: CFO; Support Lead; Office Manager
Location: San Francisco

Aviary

Team Page: http://www.aviary.com/about
Women Employed: ~5/30
Location: New York City

Square

Team Page: https://squareup.com/about
Women Employed: 10/54
Women’s Positions: Customer Support; Server Engineer; Recruiter; Financial Manager
Location: San Francisco

Tumblr

Team Page: http://www.tumblr.com/about
Women Employed: 1/16
Women’s Positions: Director of Outreach
Location: New York City

Vimeo

Team Page: http://www.vimeo.com/about
Women Employed: 4/31
Women’s Positions: Analytics and Marketing; Marketing Communications Director; General Manager; Community Manager
Location: New York City

Path

Team Page: https://www.path.com/about
Women Employed: 2/14
Women’s Positions: Executive Assistant; Recruiter
Location: San Francisco

Blip.tv

Team Page: http://blip.tv/about/people/
Women Employed: 7/31
Women’s Positions: Co-founder; Ad Operations; Office Manager
Location: New York City

Disqus

Team Page: http://disqus.com/about/
Women Employed: 1/13
Women’s Positions: Office Manager
Location: San Francisco

Hashable

Team Page: http://hashable.com/aboutus
Women Employed: 2/8
Women’s Positions: Chief Marketing Officer; Director of Business Development
Location: New York City

Venmo

Team Page: https://venmo.com/info/about-venmo
Women Employed: 0/7
Women’s Positions: None
Location: New York City and Philadelphia

BankSimple

Team Page: https://banksimple.com/#team
Women Employed: 0/9
Women’s Positions: None
Location: New York City and Portland

Targeted to Women

The only startups that seem to have a higher percentage of women are products or services that are oriented towards women:

Learnvest

Team Page: http://about.learnvest.com/company/team/
Women Employed: 7/11
Women’s Positions: Founder and CEO; CMO; Director of Product; Creative Director; Chief Content Officer; Editor; Financial Planner
Location: New York City

PlumWillow

Team Page: http://www.plumwillow.com/plum/team
Women Employed: 11/21
Women’s Positions: Director of Marketing; Community Leaders
Location: New York City

food52

Team Page: http://www.food52.com/blog/about_food52
Women Employed: 6/8
Women’s Positions: Co-founders; Editors; Recipe Testers
Location: New York City

Birchbox

Team Page: http://www.birchbox.com/about-birchbox/what-is-birchbox/
Women Employed: 4/4
Women’s Positions: Co-founders; Director of Interactive; Director of Content
Location: New York City

Rent the Runway

Team Page: http://www.renttherunway.com/team
Women Employed: 30/38
Women’s Positions: Co-founder and CEO; Co-founder and President; PR; Operations; Marketing; Merchandising; Creative Director; Customer Insights; Director of Finance; Director of Business Development; Visual Designer; Developer; Stylists
Location: New York City

Bucking the trend

Startups that aren’t specifically targeting female customers, but that appear to have higher percentages of female employees:

NabeWise

Team Page: http://nabewise.com/pages/team
Women Employed: 3/5
Women’s Positions: Founder and CEO; Creative Director; Director of Business Development
Location: New York City

Yipit

Team Page: http://yipit.com/about/
Women Employed: 3/8
Women’s Positions: Product and Operations Manager; Developer; Content Manager
Location: New York City

AdaptiveBlue

Team Page: http://getglue.com/about
Women Employed: 6/17
Women’s Positions: VP of Engineering; Developer; Editor; Community/Marketing Analyst
Location: New York City

Perhaps not incidentally, I am currently working with a startup that employs more women than men, and its product isn’t explicitly for women:

Loosecubes

Team Page: None yet
Women Employed: 7/9
Women’s Positions: Founder and CEO; Product Lead; Community Manager; Designer; Content Strategist; Street Team
Location: New York City

Am I missing something?

So what do these numbers tell you? Have I forgotten about several startups with predominantly female staff? Am I unaware of some startups with more women in the “making” positions than in the “selling” ones?

Please set the record straight! Or share your thoughts on why we’re seeing this unsettling trend.

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  • http://hearsaysocial.com Diana Freeman-Baer

    Thank you for writing this. While it doesn’t surprise me, it does sadden me.

    I’m proud to have just joined Hearsay Social as their designer mostly focused on product/interaction.

    I’m excited to be on a team with many smart and talented woman including an engineer and Clara Shih, one of our founders, who was recently named one of the best young entrepreneurs of 2011.

  • Abhi

    My wife is the only female engineer in her department in a major energy services company in southern California. And this makes me very very sad.

    I think this has to do with the current culture of US where somehow it is associated that all enginners and nerds are uncool and anti social.

    I have worked with teams from Canada and India where it is the opposite. Being a senior engineer is ‘cool’.

    This image in the media is very important for kids growing up. Who wants to grow up to be anitsocial with no friends?

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  • http://www.chdcollective.com Chanelle Henry

    As I was applying for an all women incubator for a startup that I had, I talked about this in great detail on one of the questions. It’s so true, and so sad how much women are not in tech. Is it that there is many women in the field? Is it that we aren’t trusted to do good work? I have always been a ‘lone woman’ in my field as well. Being in IT at first and now as a UI/IA Designer and Founder of an agency and a few startups (in progress), I notice that I stand alone as a woman, especially a MINORITY woman. It’s interesting to see the actual numbers, and I wonder if it will change.

    Hopefully it will, and hopefully in the future we can join each other and become stronger in numbers that will proven through our work.

    • http://tedfrazier.com Ted Frazier

      Chanelle,
      I find it sad that you want to be part of an incubator which discriminates based on the gender of the owner of the business.

      • http://www.chdcollective.com Chanelle Henry

        Why is it sad? There are TONS of incubators, and one that just happens to ask that a women is ONE of the founders is discrimination? Is it discrimination or is it just encouragement for women? I find it sad that you would even respond to me with rebuke and criticism without really knowing my story or referencing the article in the article. I am sad for you.

        • http://tedfrazier.com Ted Frazier

          Oh, I see. Discrimination is fine for you as long as it works in your favor. I know rebuke and criticism is hard to take, but sometimes that is just what is needed. I know I am making enemies by saying it. But I think it needs to be said. Somehow it is P.C. to discriminate against men.

          • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

            Ted, the world has been discriminating in your favor for centuries. Give us a day off from your righteousness, please.

        • http://tedfrazier.com Ted Frazier

          You called it an “all women incubator” which gave me the impression that it is only there to support women.

        • Sarah

          Clearly this guy is an idiot.

          Check out this site he designed

          http://tedfrazier.com/images/screenshot1.jpg

          • http://www.chdcollective.com Chanelle Henry

            Hahaha.. Sigh. It’s just sad to see people like him that prey on the internet to point the finger, instead of uplifting the community. People like Ted make me fearful for the future of any minority whether they are women, or a different nationality, or a different race, or sexuality who seek shelter in areas that provide support (or safety) to them to keep them away from people like him. I think this article that Whitney wrote is SPOT on and he is making her point so much more valid.

            The thing I applied to was this: http://womeninnovatemobile.com/ where no one is “discriminated” but nurtured to survive in a society of ‘off color’ people who troll areas to bring people down.

        • http://tedfrazier.com Ted Frazier

          Well I didn’t expect to find any empathy here. Just thought it needed to be said.

          • Sarah

            Empathy for what? That there exists an incubator for women founders. I don’t understand how that affects you one bit.

  • Kieran Hawe

    Whitney – I HIGHLY respect you and have for awhile now…but, I am a bit lost with this post. Are you saying that the companies you list are purposely not adding woman – do you feel there is discrimination going on? Bias? Are there qualified woman who are not getting positions they should?

    I ask because I honestly don’t know – I don’t know why your ratios are the way they are. I don’t know the hiring mindset for these companies. What I do know is that that there should be an equal balance of people within a company – but at the same time I am more for hiring the right person for the job..whomever that might.

    Also, what I would have liked to see are some stats on woman in the workplace for a specific job function for true comparison. For example of 1000 engineers (most start-ups are heavy on engineers) how many are woman? Based off of that ratio could you then determine what a companies internal engineering group ratio should be right? I mean, without understanding the available pool of female workers how do you know what is going on?

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  • tylerjones

    Thank you so much.

    http://breathewell.net