Friday, September 13, 2013

Open Letter to TechCrunch

"I’m as mad as hell, and I am not going to take this anymore" – Howard Beale, Network  (1976)
I opened my Facebook stream Monday morning to be greeted by an article posted by a friend about the debacle that was the recent TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon.
I usually avoid commenting on these issues. I am more concerned about creating positive action to combat some of the negativity caused by a lack of sensitivity or just plain boneheadness by men in the tech industry.
But then I was virtually punched in the gut by and a presentation that included simulated male gratification at what was supposed to be a leading tech conference -- and I realized I can't stay silent anymore.
There has been much made of the gender divide in recent years. For more than a decade, I’ve been working in technology and studying this problem up close, which is how I came to realize there is no one silver bullet to this issue. The solution involves many steps and many people pitching in.
The only way to maximize the value of the untapped resource that is women in tech is to change the culture, not just in the workplace, but also in society.
Groups like TechGirlz and Girl Develop IT can train and teach and create girls and women who are ready to be tech workers. But if the culture does not change -- if women are not considered part of the team or are thought of as sexual objects in an overt way or if we are treated like we don't belong -- this gender gap won’t be solved. And all the work that groups like ours do will be laid to waste.  
That makes me angry. 
For four generations, women have been cut, prodded and dissuaded from the technology picture. The first computer programmers on the ENIAC were simply cropped out of the Army’s publicity shots. In the 1980s, the percentage of women studying computers in college began its decades-long decline. We can’t forget the first Danika Patrick ad for GoDaddy in 2010, though I wish I could.  And now one of the most respected media outlets covering tech allowed not one, but two, travesties at its conference. 
That makes me mad as hell.
So, let’s put this in terms that will make those who sponsor events like TechCrunch and those that depend on educated tech workers think twice: you need us.
The number of job openings versus the number of qualified tech workers is widening. There are not enough men to fill open positions. Women are getting more college degrees and becoming a greater part of the workforce. 
If you want to make sure your companies will be sustainable for years to come, don't allow this behavior to continue.
The media frenzy around this event and the ensuing flurry of content and discussion will fade shortly ... then return again with the next round of idiocy.
My question for you: What are you doing to create lasting change?
TechCrunch screwed up, issued a lame apology and offered up a process for the next Disrupt. That is great, all good stuff, but the most important thing was still missed: regular positive action to increase the number of women in tech and to create a welcoming workplace culture.
Now is the time and TechCrunch has the opportunity to make significant cultural changes. I have some suggestions:
● Assist, Girl Develop It, Black Girls Code, ChickTech, CyberJutsu Girls and the numerous groups doing the heavy lifting by helping them raise money by getting our message out.
● Create a dedicated new channel on the website to generate stories and videos which encourage women and girls to enter the field. We know that knowledge is power.
● Help us with research. There is a lack of good, up-to-date data on why this problem continues to exist. Most of our groups don't have the resources to conduct this.
Yours truly,

Tracey Welson-Rossman
CMO, Chariot Solutions

TechGirlz Board of Trustees

Anita Garimella Andrews
Tech Girl and VP, Client Analytics Services @RJMetrics

Amy Larrimore
Managing Partner at The Empire Builders Group

Neelan Choksi
President and COO of Tasktop Technologies

Steve Rossman
Drucker and Scaccetti


  1. Excellent points Tracey! Women account for 85% of all online consumer purchases including everything from autos to health care. Perhaps we should make future purchasing decisions based on % of female employees? Maybe we also need a hostility meter to track this kind of treatment ? No flaming. Perhaps we just need to think about spending our money where we are treated with respect and provided with opportunities.

  2. Thank you! As a women in tech trying to encourage more girls in tech, this has truly been a frustrating week. I'm presenting with Catherine Cronin at STEMxCon on 9/21 and she will be highlighting that after 30+ years of interventions with women & girls - the proportion of women in STEM continues around 15-20%. It is simply not enough to put in place initiatives to support and encourage girls (although they are clearly needed). STEM culture needs to change to be more diverse and inclusive, ready and willing to incorporate and value women and other minorities.

    1. Kim - this problem is an onion, you keep peeling back and there are other issues. We need to create programs which appeal to the "clients" (i.e marketing and sales 101, create a product your target wants to use), make it consistent (the whole school year not just summer), understand this is not all going to be taken care of in school, let girls know about the career opportunities that is not just about coding, have colleges make a better effort of attracting girls, create welcoming workplaces after college, and have women understand there are issues to fix within ourselves (confidence barriers, and more).