May 20, 2014

Women in engineering vs. women in startups

My experience as a woman engineer has been very different from my experience as a woman in the startup world, despite similar gender disparities in the two industries, and I think it has to do with how subjectively we define "success."

Early on in Venture for America's training camp, I was very frustrated during one of my group challenges when my male teammates interrupted me and talked over me, which I had never before encountered. In my engineering classes, I had always been treated as an equal. I asked VFA's then-programming director why he thought my experience as a female engineer differed so greatly from my experience as a VFA fellow. I really liked his response--he said,
"In engineering, the only thing that matters is that you get the right answer. It doesn't matter how loud you speak, or who you know, or what you look like. In startups, there are no right answers, so one strategy people use to assert power is to have the loudest voice in the room."
There's no way to define startup success completely objectively, but as more women and minorities gain access to the startup world, I think the culture will shift from the "meritocracy myth" where pushy people win, to a more equitable system.