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July 9, 2010

On Tech, Women and You’re Not Helping

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This is one of those posts that I’m afraid I’m not rational enough to write. Whenever I try, it degenerates into incoherent screaming and CAPSLOCKED RAGE and no one wants to read that. But because the alternative is ranting on Twitter to no effect again, I’ll give it a shot. Another quick warning, it’s not about SEO or even Internet marketing. It’s about respect.

When you look over at our blog’s sidebar, what do you see?  A link to Facebook (Like us!) and to Twitter (Follow us!), the logo for SEM Synergy (Listen to us!) and three smiling faces (Hello!). The name on the company might be Bruce Clay but it’s those three faces that bring you SEO news, case studies, the best darn SEO Newsletter out there and awesome blog posts every single day, barring weekends and holiday. What do you notice about those faces? The smiles? The fact that Jessica totally ruined our dark background theme?  Or maybe, just maybe, you noticed that we’re all young, attractive women.

Work is complicated

Why are all of our writers female? Is it a conspiracy? Are we the only ones who will fit into airplane seats so we can go to conferences? Nah, we get resumes. Lots of resumes and so far, the best people for the job have been women. No conspiracy, just straight up talent.  Maybe the Daily Show is having trouble finding women who can write but we sure aren’t.

Here’s the thing though. Because we’re all women, I’m going to bet you right now that out there someone is thinking “hey, women get segregated to the writing ghetto at Bruce Clay, Inc. and they’re clearly not as important to the company as the SEO Analysts who are mostly men!” Furthermore, with my keen sense of female intuition, I’m betting that someone is a woman. With all of the best intentions, she’s thinking “poor things” and about to write a screed about how we need More Women In Technical Positions and how we’re being kept out of the Cool Positions by our cursed ovaries.

(By the way, there are six men and five women among the analysts in the Simi Valley office. Just saying.)

As our hypothetical woman is writing this brand new never-before-thought-of angle, she’s trying to come up with ways to break women out of the writing ghetto. She’ll take the facts: all Bruce Clay, Inc.’s writers are young and female and turn them into the “reasons” we don’t have “more important” jobs. And in doing so, she’ll make “young and female” into flaws instead of facts.

She might come up a list very like the one in Bianca Male’s article How We Can Encourage More Female Entrepreneurship. This article got my back up for a bunch of reasons but I’ll pick two or we’ll be here all day.

Problem 1: Where are all the women?

The first is that it falls into a typical fake feminist trap: it sets up and then dismisses women who work their butts off every single day in its eagerness to prove its point.

The New York Times reports that, although around 40% of private companies in the US are owned by women, there is still a significant lack of female entrepreneurship in the tech sector — only 8% of American venture-backed tech startups are founded by female CEOs.

No, those 40% of women owned and operated businesses don’t count because they’re not doing real work.  Not tech work. Similarly, the 40% of The Daily Show staff who are women should be mocked and discounted because they’re not doing real work. Not writing and correspondent work. They’re just doing hair and makeup. And accounting.

The Daily Show Women do not exist

The question of why there aren’t more women in tech is a good one, as is the question of why The Daily Show can’t seem to hire funny women for their writing staff. But quit pretending few women in [X position] means NO women in any position.

Problem 2: We can’t fix anything now, but in the FUTURE…

If you didn’t go read Male’s article, here’s the list of solutions her single female entrepreneur source suggested to get more women to pitch tech startups. (Seriously, Bianca, if you need more women running their own tech companies, I’ve got a Twitter feed full of them ready and willing to help you out.)

  1. Start in the workplace.
  2. Women should consider launching tech companies with male partners more often.
  3. We all need to highlight more successful professional women in the tech world.
  4. Encourage entrepreneurship in our children.

Let me translate for you. These suggestions are:

  1. Make non-entrepreneurs into entrepreneurs.
  2. Give the wimmins a hand/rely on men to forge success.
  3. Wimmins are people too (see problem 1)
  4. This generation is a loss, let’s fix the next one!

I could make every single one of those their own problem but I’m going to pick up on the general gist of them: Women aren’t good enough right now to do it on their own. They need help: education, men, spotlights, something other than determination and interest.

Enough with the women on women violence! It’s NOT untrue that women still face a harder world than men do. It’s not untrue that women still only make $.74 for every $1.00 a man makes. It’s not untrue that we need to encourage young women, old women, women of color, disabled women, ANY woman to push boundaries, get excited about new challenges and bust down locked doors. But we have to stop dismissing, ignoring and downplaying the contribution of women who are already DOING what they want to do and who are justifiably proud of it. There are enough real problems in the world that we don’t have to invent them.

The fact is that when you hire Bruce Clay, Inc. for content creation or SEO services, you’re not hiring our faces or our chromosomes. You’re hiring our talent. Implying that we were hired for anything else, implying that women succeed for any other reason, implying that doing some jobs is not as good as doing any other job, is disrespectful, misogynistic and wrong.





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48 responses to “On Tech, Women and You’re Not Helping”

  1. Melissa Fach writes:

    Wow! Fantastic article and amen! :-) Let me just say that I believe women rule the world – we work, we run businesses and we take care kids, husbands, households and parents. We either cook or order food – both take time, but people are fed. We organize employees, we donate our time, we stay organized and we are educated. Only morons cannot see that without us nothing would get done :-)

  2. steveplunkett writes:

    FYI.. i work at an full-service integrated technology Pr firm/Advertising/Social Media/Search Agency..

    The majority of our staff is female.. my boss is a female..

    Sex like Race is an outdated concept in terms of job ability and talent.

    Good Article as usual and kudos on the professionalism even though this is a rant.. and thanks for keeping it rational NOT DOING IT IN ALL CAPS!! hee hee

  3. Susan Esparza writes:

    I have given in to a few caps.

    The dangerous thing here is that there are still problems with discrimination and prejudice with race, with gender, with orientation, with religion. We don’t need to invent things to get mad about. The only reason to invent them is because invented problems are easier to solve than the real ones.

  4. Rebecca L. writes:

    Our SEO staff has four women and two men. Of all of our account managers, only two are male. All of our senior designers are women. And half of our IT team. We are definitely not a helpless lot relying on the men to carry us.

  5. Robert Scoble writes:

    Kudos! Inspiring rant and you are exactly right. As to why not more tech female execs? That problem starts in college. My first year calculous class was about 40% women. Second year? 5%. That is where the problem is and if we can’t get more women through the math classes we can’t have the geek pool that leads to entrepreneurship or executive ranks.

  6. Christina Gleason @ Phenomenal Content writes:

    Amen! I brought a friend to a networking mixer last night because he’s looking for IT work, but they put my company name on his name tag because he was my guest.

    The very first man we talked to saw my company name on both of our stickers, and very obviously turned to my friend to ask him what “his company” does. When my friend explained that the business was mine and that he was my +1, the other man decided to see “how good of a date” he was, and asked him to explain what my company does.

    I want to say more, but I really don’t want to hijack your blog comments. :)

    I’d like to thank my friend for sticking up for me an explaining that I was the one he should talk to about that. But he shouldn’t have had to stand up for me against such ridiculous sexism.

  7. Susan Esparza writes:

    I think it’s a horrible injustice to ever claim that because something is “women’s work” it is automatically valued less, particular when we can see that it wasn’t “women’s work” it was the work that women were doing. That kind of backwards logic makes my blood boil (obviously).

    Thanks for commenting.

  8. Susan Esparza writes:

    Thanks for stopping by!

    I don’t think math or science backgrounds are required for a strong tech start up. It’s not that we aren’t educating women either. Women are graduating from college at a higher rate than men are. The problem comes from the still automatic way that women are discounted and discouraged at their interests, especially by other women.

  9. Susan Esparza writes:

    I can’t even COUNT the number of times that’s happened to me. Or to my boss. At SES NY way back in 2005, I witnessed a man come up to our booth, speak to our head of SEO operations (a woman) and ask “for someone who can show me the tools.” She said she’d be happy to and he gave her the most patronizing. “Oh, well, I need someone who works with them every day and does SEO.”

  10. Amy Teeple writes:

    As a woman, an entrepreneur, and a writer, I thank you! Well said!

    As a side note, I have done technical SEO work, but I found that I like to write better, so I shifted my focus to copywriting. However, I know several women in IT and other technical roles.

    Thanks again for a great article!

  11. netmeg writes:

    The problem doesn’t start in college; it starts far before that. I don’t think entrepreneurs are created in college; tech or otherwise. I have a ninth grade education as far as that goes, and a multi-decade resume that includes selling used mainframes and minicomputers, inventory management of the same, UNIX tech support, managing the support arm of a networking company, web development, consulting, software design, internet publishing, and hey I can build (and fix) my own computers from the chip level too. I am currently CEO of two tech companies and advise a third. None of that had a thing to do with college (and I started when the words “women” and “tech” were never mentioned in the same sentence).

    It has to do with being able to see possibilities where they may not be clear to others. If or when that gets knocked out of you, it happens WAY before college.

  12. graywolf writes:

    As long as we continue to make the distinction women in tech, women in entrepreneurial roles, women in seo, women in blogging, women in anything we’ll still have a problem.

    Yes things where messed up in the not so distant past I get it, but as long as people are going to have a hang up about it, we’re never going obtain the equality we’re striving for.

    We need to teach people and children not to be a good woman in tech … be good in tech … period … regardless of gender. Don’t strive for balance by pushing the pendulum in the other direction to compensate. Don’t strive for equality by creating some isolated group.

    If you want to be considered as an equal the last thing you want to do darken in the line that puts you in a different group … in fact you should be trying to erase it and pretend its not there.

  13. Susan Esparza writes:

    It’s the privilege of the power class to ignore disparity. It doesn’t work just to pretend it’s not there because it is there. There’s enough of it there that you can feel it walking down the street. The goal is to get to a point where no one has to pretend it isn’t there.

  14. Mom writes:

    I get it! Let’s “pretend” there isn’t any oil in the Gulf!

  15. Lisa Barone writes:

    As long as we continue to make the distinction women in tech, women in entrepreneurial roles, women in seo, women in blogging, women in anything we’ll still have a problem.

    Exactly, which is why the posts like the one written by Bianca Male need to stop. She’s not helping women, she’s setting them back.

  16. Michelle Robbins writes:

    It’s not about darkening a line of distinction. It’s about recognizing where there are disparities and moving the needle. Pretending no problem exists has never solved a problem. And there is a problem with the perception of gender qualifications that relate to given roles in our society. There’s really nothing men can do that women can’t, and likewise. Fact is, stereotypes remain and are reinforced throughout the culture that stick women – and men – into specific roles and these stereotypes assist in preventing men and women from pursuing goals that are completely open to anyone.

    How do you fight the stereotypes? Present against them. And yes, even highlight these people. The gay firefighters, marines, construction workers; the black CEO, scientist, judge, president of the United States; the female scientist, programmer, air force pilot.

    Is it ideal that we have to highlight these things? No, but as Susan mentions – until these things are so commonplace as to not be noteworthy, we still have a problem.

  17. Lisa Barone writes:

    I’d need more than two hands to count the number of people who asked me if I was Bruce’s daughter when I started going to conferences.

    No, no, I’m not.

  18. graywolf writes:

    I don’t pretend it doesn’t exist … but it’s hard to move forward if you spend all your time looking in the rear view mirror.

    I get it that we have to learn from the mistakes, and one of those mistakes was telling them they where inferior thru actions or words.

    Kids and people are often limited by what they where told they could or couldn’t do … so let’s teach children that gender isn’t an issue to being successful … it’s what I do with my two girls

  19. Susan Esparza writes:

    Or the number of people who thought I was Robert’s wife?

  20. Lisa Barone writes:

    ooo, that one’s always my favorite. :)

  21. Susan Esparza writes:

    Teaching your girls that gender doesn’t matter a very different thing than pretending sexism doesn’t exist. The first is good. The second sets them up for trouble when they run into resistance from people who believe otherwise.

  22. Mom writes:

    1st graywolf post: “…in fact you should…pretend it’s not there.”
    2nd post: “I don’t pretend it doesn’t exist…”
    Glad you changed your mind.

  23. Cathy Reisenwitz writes:

    So do you have a problem with this: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/07/growing-our-appetite-for-geeky-girl.html

    Do you have a problem with encouraging women to go into tech through scholarships, or only when the ideas are patronizing? Aren’t affirmative action scholarships patronizing?

  24. Julie Kosbab writes:

    Heck, it’s not even just in tech. It’s throughout the workforce. If you’re fairly young, the assumption is that you will leave the workforce when you have babies, and if you don’t it’s because you need the money. Men work for ambition and achievement; women work because they have to for some reason.

    Jodi Kantor is a NYT columnist, and she tweeted this today: “Dear fellow journalists: can we stop referring to women who work as “career women”? 60% of U.S. females 16 and older are in the labor force.”

    If you’re not paying attention, this sort of cultural attitude is everywhere, but to many it just washes off like water on a duck’s back – even among women. It’s the dominant idea.

    It’s also bloody wrong, whether in tech or anywhere else.

  25. graywolf writes:

    just because I know something doesnt mean I want you to know I do … ie if you know that I think or believe men dont’t make good bakers that puts me at a disadvantage if I come to you for a job as a baker. However if you know that I don’t think and dont act like gender plays a role in making a good baker I don’t have that disadvantage when applying for the same baking job …

  26. Susan Esparza writes:

    I have a problem with treating some women like they don’t count because they’re not throwing themselves at a particular field. If girls want to go into tech, I think we should support them. I think we should support them NOW, whether they’re in school or a 65 year old woman who wants to try IT. It’s not just about education when we’re young, fixing the future. It’s about supporting every woman.

  27. Susan Esparza writes:

    I can’t make heads or tails of this. Are you saying “If I believe I’m inferior, I’ll be treated like I’m inferior and if I don’t, I won’t”?

  28. Michelle Robbins writes:

    In the not so distant past (the mid 90s), I worked in management at a Fortune 500 company, in the national office overseeing local and regional teams. A new department VP was brought into the company and I had a meeting with him to ask him how he saw the direction of the department changing. He said to me “Why don’t you go home and discuss some things with your husband, see what he has to say about the future, and let’s regroup.” o_0

    That had nothing to do with the messages I received growing up, nothing to do with what I believed about myself, nothing to do with my own goals and accomplishments. It had everything to do with his worldview and stereotypes that get reinforced in our culture.

    And my experience in the “enlightened” fields of tech and seo? Not so different from Lisa and Susan’s, where for years people assumed I was someone’s wife or girlfriend. And to this day, when people *in this industry* ask what I do and I say “I’m a developer and programmer” the reactions range from “No way, seriously?” to “Oh my god! I never would have guessed that!” Yeah, we’ve come a long way, baby.

    Again – these incidents are independent of my own behavior and accomplishments. So it seems just getting out there and doing what we want isn’t, on its own, moving the needle of cultural perception.

  29. Matt McGee writes:

    “She’ll take the facts: all Bruce Clay, Inc.’s writers are young and female and turn them into the “reasons” we don’t have “more important” jobs.”

    Anyone who thinks writers are less important than SEO analysts needs to learn more about online marketing.

  30. Michelle Lowery writes:

    “It’s the privilege of the power class to ignore disparity.”
    One of the best things I’ve read today, along with this post.

    Would anyone ever ask an African American (or Hispanic, or Asian, or insert non-white ethnicity here) person to pretend racism doesn’t exist? If you pretend it doesn’t exist, you won’t be subjected to it or suffer any effects of it? If only.

  31. Man Ray writes:

    It’s sad how people keep on preaching how the web is driven by online content, and yet belittle those that drive it.

  32. Todd Mintz writes:

    I can’t think of anything that gets someone more visible in the search marketing industry than writing well…the ultimate gender-neutral talent :.)

  33. Michael Martin writes:

    I remember back to Differential Equations it was down to 1% :)

  34. Michael Martin writes:

    Is this a setup to a BlogHer rant?

  35. Susan Esparza writes:

    Most things are a setup to a BlogHer rant for Graywolf. Unless it’s a setup for a Google rant.

  36. Lisa Barone writes:

    word.

  37. Bharati Ahuja writes:

    It is very surprising to note that this issue is a universal one.

    I myself am an entrepreneur now -from India.I started my career way back in the early 90’s, as regards the opportunities that I got for responsibilities and growth in the organization where I worked were equal but because of the conditioning that a girl gets while growing up was the main reason for me not doing justice to all of them.

    All this conditions and restrictions make the society give a lot of importance to men inspite of the fact that at times comparatively they may not have the expertise and knowledge compared to their counteparts working with them.

    But with experience I can say that entrepreneurship is one of the ways this issue can be solved as you have the freedom to take your own decisions without feeling bogged down.

    The most important thing is (hope all the fathers who have daughters are listening) that their daughters need to be taught to give importance to themselves, have a right to high education and they should also be told that, though you may take care of home and kids – at the end of the day your career and work are equally important.

    Many times I know these restrictions from the elders and the fathers are put because they love them and want to be protective but by stopping their growth you are not protecting them but punishing them for being born as a girl. If you want to protect them teach them how to fly don’t chop their wings.

    Moreover the women themselves have to be firm enough in deciding and striking a balance between work and home and chose a path for themselves for getting ahead in life by breaking all these barriers without creating any disharmony at home.

    When I stopped working for a few years when my kids were growing I did not stop upgrading my knowledge. Kept on learning and upgrading my knowledge. That is one of the reasons I have my career back – as at the end of the day – Knowledge Is Power but for women this knowledge has to be backed by a lot of inner mental and emotional strength.

    Things will change If we want them to change.

  38. graywolf writes:

    no but if in the back of your mind is the hint of the notion you are then you work from a position of inferiority. So you may KNOW that women where treated as inferior in past, but if you want to be treated differently, pretend as if it doesnt happen or never existed.

    you’ll meet the occasional “who does she think she is” person and IMHO that means you’re succeeding.

  39. Tedster writes:

    “Pretending” anything at all is not the issue. The issue is what is effective in bringing about change. The Tao Te Ching says “The more one attacks an enemy, the more he defeats himself.”

    So acknowledge that the reality as it is – that’s being sane. But do not give that temporary reality any energy by opposing it, because the energy you give just feeds it. Instead affirm the right and positive pattern in all ways, and celebrate it whenever it appears.

    This particular old pattern is on-the-wane. So let’s not put it on life-support.

  40. Dana Lookadoo writes:

    Well done, Susan and all who commented!

    I have worked in male-dominated industries all of my career and felt similar “discrimination” early on. But I don’t anymore. I primarily work with corporate clients, and I have seen a huge shift in acceptance and respect for women. Point – a positive shift is occurring.

    Regarding our industry, there are more women now than before. SEO and the search industry has seen a tremendous influx of women. Women, in general, are better communicators. Semantics flow, which may be why SEO copywriters and bloggers are more often women. We need writers who have a good understanding of SEO, like the Bruce Clay team, who can break it down, talk tech and smack! :-) Dittos to Matt’s point as well. Heck, they don’t say “Content is Queen!”

    Want to make a difference? Take a look at Webgrrls International: http://webgrrls.com/

    Enjoyed the rant(s)!

  41. Henry Gilbert writes:

    Most SEO copywriters are rubbish. It makes me furious. There is only one lady I am still trying to track who was a true SEO content master.

    CUT the verbosity on clients’ websites damn it.
    Write for the web!

    Such basic principles. All this feeling of ‘acceptance’ is coming from peers and clients only, you are all under delusion. 99% of SEO copywriters are down-right rubbish! Go and revise Jakob Nielsen or something.

    While you are at it – also revise Usability / Accessibility. I can’t even right-click and open your menu page on a separate tab. Flash Menu? Pfft!

    PS: I am going to track that lady, she is good, you hire her – she is the best.

  42. Susan Esparza writes:

    Henry,

    I think you may have missed the point of the article.

  43. Susan Esparza writes:

    So now we’re back to pretending it’s not true?

    The truth is that we don’t have the privilege of pretending that the very fact of being a woman is an invitation to discrimination. The right thing to do is understand that it’s there and make the effort to correct for it.

    I think this industry does a pretty good job of giving recognition on talent, not any other factor but it does still exist.

  44. Kerry writes:

    Because the NYT article is focused on tech entrepreneurs, it is extremely relevant that so few of them are women. The skills that women develop in owning other types of businesses are certainly relevant to launching a tech startup, but they don’t become relevant _until_ that startup is launched. Also, Cyan Banister’s tips are all reasonably present-focused–even training up young women to buy into is a form of asserting women’s current value. I don’t think either article truly downplays what women have already achieved, but just emphasizes that there’s still work to do.

    On a related note, the very name of Bruce Clay Inc. provides a really interesting metaphor for women’s contributions to success ultimately being attributed to men. How do you all feel about working for a company named in this way? Would men working at a company named for a female founder feel differently? Also, components of Susan’s bio details–“She also knows where the knives and forks go in a buffet line. The latter makes her invaluable to Bruce Clay, Inc.” and “can be distracted by cupcakes or puppies”–seem to play on gender in an almost belittling way. What are the implications of this? Would men ever be described in this way?

  45. Susan Esparza writes:

    Kerry, thanks for stopping by!

    I’ll take this in reverse order — I wrote my own bio and detail. The knives and forks line is a hat-tip to my past life in catering (they go at the end, if you were wondering) and cupcakes and puppies are a running gag here on the blog. As for belittling women, no, I don’t particularly think they would. If you hop over to our siblings Down Under, you’ll see that their sidebar bios are equally silly. Do I as a woman in a public position have a responsibility to take myself more seriously than a man would in the same space?

    You’re correct about the work I do often being attributed to Bruce the person, not Bruce Clay, Inc. the company, and yes, that is very annoying. I’m not alone in that either — everyone at this company has the same issue because we work for an SEO superstar. It’s not Bruce’s fault that he gets credit for what I do and he is diligent about correcting misconceptions when they come up. Do I suspect that if the name of the company was Barbara Clay, Inc. and I was a man that I would get a lot more personal recognition? I do, because it is still the case that men’s work is valued more highly than women’s. The only way to change that is to prove it wrong.

    As for the Business Insider article, it’s absolutely about women in tech. But it’s about women in tech at the expense of other women. The headline doesn’t indicate that there’s a dearth of women in tech startups, it implies that women are missing altogether, which is frankly insulting to the 40% of women who do own small businesses. Likewise the tips provided are all focused on how we can train future women to take on entrepreneurial attitudes (or convincing them to partner with a man, as though women have a problem doing it themselves,) not on a consideration of what is actually stopping women right now.

  46. Rob Woods writes:

    I agree with Matt’s point above 100%. The ability to write well and create content that is compelling enough that people truly want to read it is far rarer than being a good SEO. I think the job of “writer” is as important or more important than SEO analyst. I can teach almost any intelligent person to be a decent SEO analyst. I don’t think the same holds true with good writers.

    I know and work with people of both genders who are great at both roles. I’m actually encouraged by the number of women who are very successful and respected our industry. Unfortunately other industries I’ve worked in are not nearly as equal as this one. I know we aren’t there yet where gender is of no account but I think that in this industry at least, we are moving in the right direction.

  47. Lisa Barone writes:

    Do I as a woman in a public position have a responsibility to take myself more seriously than a man would in the same space?

    I hate to say it but, yes, you do. As a woman on the Web, you don’t have the same rights and privileges that a man does. A male CEO can use a pic of him in a bathing suit as his FB profile pic, a woman cannot. Is it fair, no it’s not. It is what we live in? Yeah, it is.

    I don’t deny that there’s in inequality in how we’re treated, I just don’t think women need to highlight it or keep kicking one another down. As far as you using puppies and cupcakes in your bio, I don’t have much an issue with it. I do think women play on their sexuality (I’m as guilty as anyone), but, at least in this instance, I don’t think it detracts from what you do.

  48. Susan Esparza writes:

    I think it’s more about defining expectations. It’s possible to balance lighthearted (cupcake and puppies) with seriousness. I don’t like it any more than you do, but I do there’s a level of “women must be twice as good as a man to be considered equal.” There are certainly people who will dismiss both of us based on not being Srs Bizness enough.

    On the other hand, I think that there’s a balance to be struck. How much of our personalities are we willing to hide in order to be taken seriously? I think this is part of where your idea of an ideal self comes in on a larger scale. It’s important to project an image that’s all your best parts, not just the parts that are the most like a man would be.



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