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TechCrunch

Equality

TechCrunch, TitStare and a Tale of Two Silicon Valleys

This weeks spectacular display of bad taste by TechCrunch Disrupt has lit up the Twittersphere with more analysis of how hostile tech is for women. In case you missed it, TechCrunch Disrupt opened with not one, but two awful presentations (awful unless you are a teenage boy). An app designed so you can capture people staring at other people’s breasts, TitStare, and a demonstration of on stage masturbation (male masturbation of course), with an iPhone app counting the number of times you can shake your iPhone in 10 seconds. We have such a long history of bro-dom in tech, and such a lot of material, that the Atlantic has written a poem to it.

What I find so bizarre about this week’s particular brand of puerile presentation is that it is still going on. Are these guys living in a time warp?  Do they actually work in Silicon Valley or not? Twenty years ago I would have expected it, but not today!

In the real Silicon Valley today most people are so busy building products, users and revenue they don’t have time to make fun of women, or their breasts. If it doesn’t make me money, leave it out. Enterprise software is back in fashion, the Cloud and Mobility are turning the world on it’s ear – who has time for sexism any more?

In the real-world of Silicon Valley now we have strong sexual discrimination laws. Woe betide you if you work for a real company and you harass a female employee or create a hostile environment. And if you work for a real company pay attention – you can get fired in the blink of an eye if you put the company at risk by hitting on the women you work with, or worse yet who work for you.

In the real-world of tech we have more and more women in power – Meg Whitman and Marissa Mayer and Ginni Rometty and Christy Wyatt and Mary Meeker and Theresia Gouw and Arianna Huffington and many more, including me… and I sure hope the tech frat boys are smart enough to keep their breast interests outside of our offices.

In the real-world of tech we have women changing the way we think about sex. Cindy Gallop is changing the world through sex and challenging the way we even think about sex in today’s society. As she posted in Facebook “You’re absolutely right TitStare doesn’t get a thumbs up from me”. But in contrast the boys of Hacker News defended TitStare with “I don’t see the problem. Pornography is perfectly legal and big business.” At least they equated it to porn, which it is, but pretty boring and tasteless porn.

Two contrasting views of how tech power views women have been emerging for the last 10 years and there are two Silicon Valleys – two worldviews within the tech industry. First, there is the tech world 95% of us live in. Intense work on powerful technology, long hours, explosive markets, serious investors, growing revenue and creating long lasting products and customer engagement. Some gender bias in graduating degrees (yes I write often that we need more women in STEM), little gender bias in the workplace, no misogyny in the office.

And then there is the tech world that attracts press and discourse because it drives traffic — the world of the tech boy culture so perfectly captured by TitStare. But it’s rare. It’s now almost as unimaginable as a politician sending a text photo of his penis to a woman via social media — but wait, that was real too! Some people’s (lack of) intelligence boggles my mind.

But if you do run into the second tech world, the misogynistic one, and it makes you angry, remember: don’t get mad, get even. Smile and take over. Whether you are female or male, don’t tolerate the behavior and it will, eventually, die.

Equality

Techcrunch, Penelope Trunk and the damaging stereotype in pursuit of traffic

When someone takes a strong, clearly personal position and claims it is the majority is it journalism, controversy for it’s own sake or an unprincipled pursuit of traffic?

Penelope Trunk’s recent blog Stop Telling Women To Do Startups is one such example that begs the question. With statements like :

“Here’s a post by Tara Brown wondering why women don’t comment on VC blogs. Here’s the answer: Because women don’t care.” We don’t? All of us? Are you sure? Maybe we are just very focused in the use of our time as we run tech companies.

“Women can do startups. The thing is, most don’t want to.” Do you know these “most”? If you lived in Silicon Valley you’d know many, many women do want to. I mentor them continuously.

“For the most part, women are not complaining about the lack of VC funding in the world. They are complaining about the lack of jobs with flexible hours.” Are you not listening to the number of women trying to figure out how to break in?

I guess this type of “stop changing things we are quite happy not having equal opportunity” thinking is not new.

In 1852 the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin played a strong role in the anti-slavery movement by popularizing the discussion on the wrongs of slavery. In response the pro-slavery South published a series of novels romanticizing that slaves were happier and better off being slaves than being free.

In 1913, as women campaigned for the vote, Helen Kendrick Johnson wrote Women and the Republic, stating the reasons why women did not want the vote – “Because the influence of women in social causes will be diminished rather than increased by the possession of the parliamentary vote.”

In no way do I equate the issue of equality of opportunity for women in tech startups to the struggles of the anti-slavery movement or women’s suffrage but come on Penelope, do you need to, in our own little world, repeat the pattern and stereotypes?

Today less than 5% of venture capital goes to women led startups. Startups are not only fun they are also a way to create products and personal wealth. It makes sense that women want to get funding too. And they should be encouraged to try if they are interested.

For many women, maybe not you, career and family go hand in hand. You snark at Sheryl Sandberg but she, like me, and many others, is having both a vibrant career and children. Many of us enjoy the challenge and the role model we create for our kids – oh and by the way have happy, normal kids.

Don’t stereotype us with generalizations like “I think you’d be really hard-pressed to find many moms with two young kids who wants Sandberg’s life. Which is why women are not “leaning into their careers” like Sandberg says they need to in order to get to the top.” Many women ARE leaning into their careers and I take my hat off to them. I know it’s hard but it’s also fun, rewarding and creates more opportunity for the next generation of women.

But maybe this is about ad traffic? Maybe this is about creating a platform for yourself as a speaker and a blogger ? If so your strategy is working. But you are doing a disservice to the women working hard to build an equal role for themselves in the male dominated field of technology.

Career Advice

Michael Arrington and the price of Fame

Success – and subsequent fame – always comes at a price. Little children are taught this through fairy tales, we see it in our society’s craving for celebrities and how they are hounded and stalked, and we even see it in our business leaders who fly private jets and get vilified for it.

Very successful business people sometimes learn it the hard way. Like my friend who ran a multi-billion dollar telecom company and had his house ransacked by a disgruntled shareholder, or my girlfriend who was a dot com CEO with out-of-sight press coverage and found she couldn’t date because she had too many bad experiences of creeps (who appeared OK at first) dating her for her fame.

Now Mike Arrington of TechCrunch is learning it and doesn’t like it (see Alley Insider’s story). He doesn’t like it enough that he may quit. He won’t be the first to step away and say “I don’t want to live with fame” and it is a very unfortunate that he has had the unpleasant experiences of being stalked and being spat at.

But at the same time if you live by the sword you must be prepared to die by the sword (corny I know – from Matthew 26:52). Many bloggers make their name through sensationalism. Look at the spectacular success of the Huffington Post (full disclosure here – I have nothing but admiration for Arianna and the media phenomenon she has created) – but HuffPo’s headlines are sensational and drive their enviable traffic. Likewise Techcrunch, ValleyWag et al have grown their traffic by not only providing interesting coverage of new and breaking technologies or scandal stories, they have also used individual personalities to grow the brand – and Mike Arrington drove the creation of the TechCrunch using the force of his personality.

I don’t judge. As a CEO I know when to use persona to create coverage and open doors; I know when to use my personality or press-ability to further my business objectives. But I am also very aware of the personal stress doing that can create over time and how much animosity from strangers can hurt. And I recommend anyone who isn’t willing to live with the price of celebrity chose a different line of work than being a personality blogger (or a CEO!) because blogging is one of the new forms of celebrity – with all the downside that comes with the upside.