Gender bias is sneaky. It’s often subtle, yet pervasive – and the effects are far reaching.
We’ve heard a lot this summer about outright sexual harassment and discrimination against women in the tech industry. This is certainly disgraceful and I applaud the actions taken to remove the offenders from their positions. Yet, beyond these blatant examples, there is an implicit gender bias that has a cumulative effect in everyday decisions that stacks the deck against women and minorities.
This blog post will look at how we can help budding entrepreneurs to think differently – and how Educational Accelerator programs, like MIT’s delta v, are making changes to identify and root out these implicit biases.
Gender Bias in the Tech Industry
First, let’s look at some examples of gender bias in established tech industry companies. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, wrote an exclusive feature for Vanity Fair on “How to Break up the Silicon Valley Boys’ Club.” She says she was “frustrated that an industry so quick to embrace change and the future can’t break free of its regrettable past.”
Wojcicki brings up sometimes subtle forms of bias that even well-intentioned male colleagues or managers may overlook. These include:
being frequently interrupted or talked over;
having decision-makers primarily addressing your male colleagues, even if they’re junior to you;
working harder to receive the same recognition as your male peers;
having your ideas ignored unless they’re rephrased by your male colleagues;
worrying so much about being either “too nice” or “sharp elbowed” that it hurts your ability to be effective;
frequently being asked how you manage your work-life balance; and
not having peers who have been through similar situations to support you during tough times.
Wojcicki states that by employing more women at all levels of a company, it creates a virtuous cycle that has proven to address both explicit and implicit gender discrimination.
So, how can we work with startups to take these biases out of the picture from the very start of a company’s formation?
The holiday period is a great time for reflection and then behavior modification – often referred to as resolutions. While a bit artificial to the logical engineer, this opportunity can be helpful. This year, my favorite insight came from a former student and employee, Elliot Cohen, co-founder of PillPack.
While thinking about the major aspirational goals for the upcoming year that motivate me to get out of bed every morning with high energy and purpose – such as getting my second book out in March, significantly raising the endowment of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, developing the concept of “Inclusive Entrepreneurship” to battle the deep societal alienation we have seen in 2016, and, of course, just becoming a better entrepreneurship educator to my students – there is one underlying enabling resolution that can help me achieve all of them more efficiently and effectively.
Wow. Imagine being invited to moderate a free-form discussion with the people who lived out the book “Bringing Down the House” and the movie “21.” It doesn’t get any better than this.
At Xconomy’s XSITE conference, I had the honor of moderating a reunion panel of the MIT Blackjack Team with two of the original members (Bill Kaplan and Jon Hirschtick) and two (Neelan Choksi and Semyon Dukach) who reconstituted the team in 1992. The team is known for its sophisticated card-counting techniques that outsmarted many casinos during the 1980s and 1990s.
For many “born-on-the-Internet” companies, slow growth isn’t an option. These are companies that started on the Web with a global marketplace in mind, and many are finding that it’s either scale or be irrelevant. They work hard to achieve market leadership, to realize economies of scale and economies of scope, and to be recognized as the brand leader. A few examples of these ventures include Dropbox, Evernote, Fab, Etsy,GrouponGRPN +4.15%, LinkedInLNKD +0.84%, Pinterest, Stripe and Square.
These types of businesses often start fast and never let up, which stresses a startup financially and can leave its owners emotionally drained. To maintain advantage, they need to have the proper building blocks in place in order to go full speed ahead with the best chances for success.
When we teach our introductory entrepreneurship class at MIT, we take it for granted that each of our 75 students will be able to start an American company upon graduating.
But many of them lack one thing they need to be able to do so—permission from the United States government to continue working in our country.
In this academic year, three in 10 MIT students, including four in 10 graduate students, are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. So for them our entrepreneurship class is likely to remain just an academic exercise. Their student visas expire when they graduate, leaving them with two options, to leave the country or find an existing company to sponsor them for a chance at an H-1B visa.