Why are women underrepresented in STEM, and in particular, in start ups?
The demographics don’t quite make sense: Women are the fastest-growing online demographic. Companies with women in management tend to perform better. Women are slightly over 50% of the population.
Yet less than 5% of the pitches venture capitalists get are from women-founded companies (source).
Fast Company recently ran an article on Girls who Code, a program out of NYC trying to change this. Their process is a support network for young women who are interested in programming, giving them the resources, mentoring, and access that would help push more girls into computer science.
But something in the video, something that the founder herself said, makes me a little hesitant about their impact on start ups.
Starting a company is lonely. You battle constantly, not only against technical barriers and funding deadlines, but against the most unmoving opponent of all: irrelevance. You have to have an incredible amount of self confidence, an ego bordering on hubris, just to get through your days. In effect, the very existence of your startup means that you are claiming to know how to solve a problem in the world better than anyone else has ever done before.
So when Reshma says that girls evaluate their performance based their perceived performance more than their actual performance, it gave me pause.
90% of the time I’m working, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.
90% of the time, I doubt myself and my capabilities to execute on this goal.
90% of the time, I feel entirely outclassed, certain I am in the 90% of startups that will fail.
My ‘perceived performance’ would be utter, disastrous failure. But something keeps me going. One of my favorite authors, Kazuo Inamori, describes it as “suji”, or an inner sense of rightness which gives you peace. Whatever you call it, drawing strength in the face of uncertainty is a huge part of startup life, and to a lesser (and much more regrettable) degree, an enduring part of the programming ecosystem.
More than any one single other component, I hope Girls Who Code can change this cultural artifact. The coding lessons and after-school programs are nice, but I want my daughter to grow up with equal confidence in her skills and ability to get shit done as any of her male classmates. That would be real change for our industry.