Browsing through a bunch of event invitations that had made it onto my screen the other day, I couldn’t escape the sight of a gleaming hi-tech echo chamber, dominating the local startup landscape. One all-male panel is an act of omission, two showcase lack of awareness, but three, in as many weeks, suggest that there is something fundamentally skewed in how the startup folks operate around here.
Now before you conclude that this is another “women-in-tech” lamentation and move on, it’s not. The men in tech are the real losers here. Getting women on panels and conference podiums is not about feminism and political correctness. And it’s not about the optics, so no, a token female doesn’t help.
At a business conference earlier this year, Minister of Education (and former hi-tech CEO) Naftali Bennett quipped that he advances women not out of feminist ideology, but out of pure self-interest. Few men on the startup scene really care about getting more women into the industry. These are business ventures, not social justice NGOs. Yet, ironically, it is the start-up founders and the investors, who pay the price for continuing to sit in the echo chamber and actively or inactively exclude women.
First, despite our stereotypes of scientists, women are simply wired for innovation. Real innovation thrives on interdisciplinary connectivity. Best business and technological solutions are born when people look outside their domain and incorporate strategies from other fields of knowledge.
Women excel in this kind of associative processing. Gender differences in brain anatomy, documented by MRI scans, make women more adept at combining and integrating disparate information. Besides giving women an edge in innovative solution-based thinking, it also accounts for women’s more developed social and communication (think marketing and PR) abilities, indispensable in our tech economy.
Secondly, the truism that women make most of the buying decisions doesn’t end in the detergent aisle. Gender is the most powerful filter through which we perceive reality, stronger than age or culture. It’s been a decade since leading companies, such as Deloitte, have realized that having women on the buyer’s team in a B2B setting changes the sales dynamic. Acknowledging that women make decisions differently, whether shopping for their families or for their companies, Deloitte revamped its sales trainings to account for gender differences and has closed more deals.
Even in gender-skewed tech industry, though women hold only about a quarter of engineering jobs, other positions are split equally between the genders. Whether you are selling your tech to consumers or corporations, inevitably women will be there buying. Your ability to make the sale may depend on the extent to which you have taken their needs and buying behaviors into account.
Unfortunately, Israeli companies are completely unaware of gender impact on buying. In numerous conversations about growing sales by reaching women, both veteran marketers and business executives invariably respond with a blank stare, then a light bulb, and then a “What? You mean women-buying-differently is a thing?”
So, if you are an organizer, if your panel doesn’t include women, you have just walked away from presenting some of the brightest ideas and turned off the voice of more than half of the target audience. The first step to understanding your female clients’ perspective is acknowledging that there is one and wanting to hear it first-hand from other women in your field.
If you are a participant, the next time you are invited to an event with an all-male speaker list, consider skipping it. Instead, find venues that offer a variety of perspectives or reach out to a female college in the space and meet up to share ideas. Good solutions just don’t live in silos.