Learning to Lean In

A blog from a girl figuring out how to survive and thrive in Silicon Valley...while staying sane. 

Where's the empathy, bro?

The TechCrunch Disrupt misogynist presentation fiasco from over the weekend is a great example of why people roll their eyes at the Valley.  Two separate teams spent an all night hackathon creating absurd apps.  While a lot of people are speaking out against the sexist nature of Titstare and the developer who mimicked masturbating on stage, I am more concerned with the wasted time and talent spent on something so asinine.  The tech gender equality police are right, this is the type of behavior you usually find at a frat house but to be fair most frat houses aren’t expected to use their power of throwing epic parties to solve some of life’s hard problems or promote efficiency (unless they’re sponsoring all night drinkathons for charity.)

Yes, I agree the tech industry is inherently sexist, but I don’t think you’ll solve the problem by demanding professionals accept women amongst their ranks, if that were possible the whole country would already be a utopian cesspool of equality.  Instead, we should focus on how the lack of women in tech is creating inefficiencies in development/product cycles.  

Chris Hoogewerff wrote a blog post about what he learned from his start-up, HelloParking, going into the deadpool. One of the key revelations he walked away with was he never understood his audience or the market very well because his team never left the office.  Many start-ups face the same problem—they start by creating a clean, elegant solution which they know will solve a problem but then nobody adopts it.  Why? Because they never took the time to hear the market’s needs.   

Now, can you imagine a woman starting a company and not doing any prior research or asking what her customers/vendors/clients need? I am not saying a woman is naturally equipped to be a better leader, although I’m not- not saying it.  It’s just that I feel the male start-up world could benefit from having a bit of feminine intuition early on in their development cycle—that is to say, being a little bit more sensitive to the demands of their potential users and less confident that they know exactly what to do.

Whenever I talk to males in tech, even the ones that consider themselves attuned to women’s rights/issues, I am struck by their inability to empathize with a woman’s point of view.  This isn’t because all males in tech are sexist; they’ve just never been encouraged or shown the importance of understanding another’s points of view (unlike us humanities folk who would spend pages upon pages addressing “the other”). 

I concede my engineer friends can optimize a workflow for efficiency better than me because they’ve spent hours upon hours studying the intricacies necessary to do so, however, while my engineer friends were tinkering with processes, I was doing some tinkering of a different variety—with people and ideas. One of the most valuable things I learned at college was how to interact and listen to anyone no matter their station in life, whether they lived in a dump in Tijuana, rode unicycles at Harvey Mudd, or wanted to become the next President of the United States.  

I’ve spent enough time around engineers to accept the fact that most will never be able to empathize with me as well as I can empathize with them.  It’s too late for many in tech to gain empathy (unless they are mandated to take sensitivity training) but they can and should acknowledge their archaic views leave something to be desired and if they refuse to compensate for it then they will never achieve true success.

While it’d be great to see more female engineers, I think it’s just as important to see more women in driving product creation.  Technology isn’t a niche sector anymore, it’s a pivotal part of everyone’s lives.  So while it’s great to be agile and have a nimble, smart crew of top-notch programmers, you’re still missing the key thing—the human element.