Debate has been ravaging the internet for sometime about why there are few female entrepreneurs and / or engineers speaking at events, and generally in the public eye. I have fairly strong opinions on the matter, but don’t often voice them online – I leave this fun debate for the real word. Until today.
Michael Arrington recently posted about his experience of finding women to speak at his conferences, and concluded that it was not the fault of men that the ratios are poor. His argument: that he tried to find women, but they simply weren’t there. Sure, I can’t fault him for trying, but he failed to dig deeper into why it was hard to find women, and simply decided that it wasn’t his fault.
More recently I saw a Ellie Cachette’s post claiming that the reason we aren’t entrepreneurial is because we want families and babies. Whilst this may be true, I think it is a poor argument and does no service to women. Controversial, Moi?
It shifts the focus of why we don’t find my female entrepreneurs into an argument over choice, which simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. More women are choosing to wait longer before starting a family, and many are choosing not to at all. There is plenty of time for most women to explore their entrepreneurial spirit before starting a family.
In my world*, many of my friends don’t even want babies, let alone have them already**. Sure I’ve had conversations with my friends about kids, but they are all set in some future hypothetical world.
Whilst some women may choose family over job (and I wouldn’t criticise them for that), I don’t think the inequality we face in this industry can be explain by this. Something deeper is at work.
Take a moment, and think of a Nurse and Builder. Keep them in mind.
I believe that much of the inequality faced by women in the workplace today, with or without entrepreneurial spirit can be tracked back to much earlier in life. From a young age we are raised in a highly gendered society where boys play with guns and girls play with barbies. Throughout all of our lives we are bombarded by a media which portrays women in a weak and subservient way, and worst of all. These myths are drummed into us continually, until they become expectations.
Now think again of your mental images of the Nurse and the Builder. I would wager that they are female and male respectively. This is an extreme example of the social conditioning of gender expectations that takes place in western society today.
We are bought up to conform to certain expectations and it takes enormous will power to break free from the mould. Far more women (and men) are doing this than ever before, but it will take at least a generation or two for this to really take effect. Kids being raised today in a world where gender stereotypes are less relevant will hopefully raise their kids into a world where it is almost irrelevant.
* as I write this I’m approaching 27, I live in London (for now), live in a highly cosmopolitan world, and have an incredibly diverse set of friends and experiences.
** the few who do have kids are all from religious background, and as much as I love them, don’t really form part of the everyday world I live in