Girls Girls Girls

The New York Times stuck its foot in its mouth today by running a story on girls in tech… in the fashion section. This raised a bit of consternation – Mary Hodder was none to happy – but not as much as it perhaps should have. The piece is ranked pretty high on Techmeme but only has three blog posts attached to it. Compare that with the recent hubbub over Seattle vs Silicon Valley (in which we got involved), which generated 158 comments on Arrington’s blog alone.

The premise of the NYT piece, that the majority of Web content innovators is increasingly teenage girls, is a strong one and worth covering. But why not in the Business or Tech section? It’s a question to which I don’t necessarily have an answer. But it adds to a theme that’s been bubbling in my head lately: where do women stand in the tech community?

It’s a subject I find myself returning to every few months. Back in July of 06, I tackled it on my personal blog and the Guidewire site, bemoaning the need to make every gadget “for girls” pink and sparkly. A few months later, I railed against Sugar Networks for throwing up a Digg clone, complete with hearts. (I’m sad to find that site still in operation.) It comes full circle with today’s news of the PopSugar/TechCrunch mixer scheduled for April in Hollywood. TechCrunch presented it in a mostly inoffensive manner; PopSugar just came out and said it directly – find a husband here, girls!

I’m not necessarily talking about the lack of women engineers, or the struggles for female entrepreneurs, covered by Chris just a couple of days ago. At the base of these very real issues is something else that needs addressing first and foremost: the role of women as simple participants in the technology ecosystem.

As I become more deeply involved in beta tests and blog conversations and the startup world overall, I’m encountering both a brick wall and a black hole. The inner circles of tech, where the really interesting conversations happen, seem to have erected invisible velvet ropes at specified points. Comments and questions are only responded to when the chosen ones make them. Outsiders are allowed to watch but shouldn’t expect much real involvement. The potential of some of our most exciting technologies is rusting away, as insiders deny access and involvement to people that could add real value.

Of course the question is: is this my experience because I’m a woman? Or because I’m a relative newcomer to the inner circles? I’m not entirely sure. But I’m noticing a large deficit of women in the communities and products I frequent. And the ones I do notice keep awfully quiet, either by force or by habit.

I was hoping to come to a point of realization in writing this post and it didn’t happen. I’d love others input on this, male and female. Why do women largely stay on the sidelines in tech? Why aren’t more women involved in the conversation? And perhaps most importantly, does it even matter?

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