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Do Women-Only Initiatives Really Help Women?

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women in technology

Recently I’ve noticed an uptick in “women-focused” pitches in my inbox. It seems in the last year there has been a lot of momentum in the “women-focused” space. Women accelerators, women incubators, women crowdfunding sites, women angel funds.

We’ve covered some of those initiatives here and here at Nibletz, but I have to admit I’ve been a little ambivalent about doing so. Take this line from a recent pitch:

Women need all the help they can get.

Wait. What? I need all the help I can get just because I’m a woman? That’s news to me.

I’ve been told all my life that I can do anything I want to do, that nothing can hold me back except myself. I’ve been told that I’m smart and creative and most likely to succeed. And no one ever felt the need to add, “for a girl.”

Because here’s the thing, y’all:

Women in 21st century American cities are the privileged of the privileged.

 

We are more educated than we’ve ever been in history and more so than many of our male counterparts.

Our mothers and grandmothers did the grunt work by forcing our inclusion in the workforce in general, and now we have the option to “opt out.

No longer expected to pop out babies every year, we are having children later and later. Or never.

In a recent interview with PandoDaily CEO Sarah Lacy, she told me, “People get mad at me for saying this, but I don’t believe Silicon Valley is inherently sexist. I raised $3 million, brought my baby to meetings, and didn’t have a cofounder.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s true for everywhere else now, too. Are there sexist and biased individuals out there? Of course. Are there systems still in place from a sexist past that need to be revamped? Sure, and the flood of educated, successful women will eventually take care of that.

But there’s something wrong when we treat half the population like a minority or special interest group. Women don’t need all the help we can get because we’re women.

Just like the men around us, our intelligence and creativity and hard work earn us the right to ask for the help we need.

However Niels Bohr was right when he said, “The opposite of a great truth is also true.” While women as a whole may not need focused efforts, there are subsets of women that can benefit from programs that reach them specifically.

One interesting take on the women-focused front is a group called Bella Minds. They are currently running a crowdfunding campaign, and they are interesting because they focus education efforts on women in rural areas.

Women in these areas are watching their way of life die around them, and without immediate connections to big cities, they may not be aware of their options. Bella Minds hopes to offer the kind of mentorship and education urban women take for granted, a specific mission that will open options up to women who are smart enough and driven enough to take them.

Another subset of women that could benefit from focused attention is entrepreneurial women in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. These women are fighting years of cultural oppression and live in societies that are truly patriarchal. They are still the outliers in their cultures, and any support they can get will help drive both them and entrepreneurship in general.

It’s a nuanced issue, for sure, and a blog post will never solve the world’s problems. Ultimately, there are situations in which special help for women is actually needed.

But based on my inbox alone, I fear those initiatives are getting lost in the noise.

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  • James F. Ruffer III

    Well written

  • William Goddard

    Can you say “Rock” and “Hard Place” “Chicken and Egg”. The question always begs…if not now, when? Tough issue for sure.

  • C Curley

    I appreciate your perspective but would posit that with women still under-represented in the C-Suite, in the Boardroom and as investors and recipients of early stage capital, many “women’s initiatives” are still needed to help us more towards gender balance.

  • sep332

    You seem to be missing the point that in the 1970′s, 37% of Computer Science grads were women while now the number is down to 20%. Whatever privilege women have in the larger society, their numbers in computer-related fields have been falling for decades. These numbers are for the United States – in fact the ratios are better in some other countries.

  • Mickey_disqus

    “Women don’t need all the help we can get because we’re women.”

    Do they need help because they are, in many circumstances where sex has no bearing, routinely and systematically afforded a lower status than men?

  • Amy

    Excellent, refreshing article.

  • MarkSteveBill

    “I raised $3 million, brought my baby to meetings, and didn’t have a cofounder.”

    It sounds like she did have a cofounder — and truth be told, one that was probably more mature than some of the founders I’ve met.

  • mipsy

    Keep in mind that your perspective is tremendously biased by your experiences in Silicon Valley, a place so desperate for talent like yourself that they’ll drive you to work, cut your hair, make your food, and give you a 10% raise every year. I have a mother, wife, sisters, and cousins in the US and Europe who have all complained of workplace bias. Try to work your way to the top of a law firm, the top of a university, or the top of a major corporation, particularly at child-bearing age, and I think you’d have a different story to tell.

    One other thing – this side of the gender story always makes it to the top of Hacker News but the opposite perspective doesn’t. Unfortunately, you serve as just more fodder for young white privileged males to believe that hard work is the only component of success in 21st-century America.

  • Howard K

    So women don’t need special treatment… except rural women, citing a lack of connection to big cities. In other words: some animals are still more equal than others. Rural men: just keep working on the farm or in the mine.

  • Amy

    This is simply not true anymore. Used to be true, yes. Nowadays, sorry, no.

  • Monica Selby

    For what it’s worth, I’ve never even been to Silicon Valley. I grew up to middle class parents in Mississippi, and I was literally the first person in my family to go to college. Not to the Ivy Leagues, either, though I could have. I lived in a town that didn’t even know to shoot for that. I am not a millionaire.

    I am also 31, with 3 children at home. I spent 7 years at home taking care of them, so now I’m building a career years behind my peers. I know all about fighting for what I want, without the money and connections other people have, during the prime of my “child-bearing years.” As the cofounder of a new media company, I have far from “made it” at this point.

    This article wasn’t about law firms or universities or corporations because I don’t have any experience in those fields. This discussion is about entrepreneurship. And, I’m happy to stand up and say that I don’t deserve any breaks because I’m a woman or have children. I’m earning everything, just like others are.

    Is it harder for me than my 24-year-old male cofounder? Probably, but we’re both working hard to build our company. Entrepreneurship isn’t supposed to be easy.

    I fully respect people that disagree with me, but I’m tired of being told I need special treatment because I’m a woman.

    Finally, Hacker News killed this story after an hour.

  • Mickey_disqus

    Perhaps in your typical everyday life. I see it every day.