Silicon Valley Needs More Women. Are the Tides Changing?

Silicon Valley Needs More Women. Are the Tides Changing?

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Women in tech is a growing conversation in the academic and professional world. The discourse stems around the lack of female representation in tech fields, especially in areas such as computer programming, executive officers, and sales representatives. However, this lack of representation needs to be more broadly examined. The potential for women to move into these areas of tech is paralleled by the flood of women who traveled during the Gold Rush to better their own status in a male-dominated world. Just like women today, these women traveled for both marriage and to make it rich themselves. While women are currently missing in all aspects of the industry, from programming to human resources departments, by capitalizing on their unique brain type they could easily fit into this environment.

The Gold Rush was started by the discovery of gold in Sutter’s creek in Coloma, California in 1848. This discovery marked a mass exodus to California in the search of a better life. In 1848 alone, 80,000 migrants from all over the world traveled to California. In the book, They Saw The Elephant by JoAnn Levy, readers are introduced to the Gold Rush through the real accounts of a multitude of historical women. Levy discusses how women came from all over by land and sea in huge quantities to strike it rich in the west. From this detailed account, readers can see parallels between women in the tech boom and the Gold Rush in their willingness to move in search of hitting it big financially or in finding love.

Women traveled from all over the United States to the west coast in order to find a suitable husband during the Gold Rush. Due to the gender disparity, in which men greatly outnumbered women in California, it provided an ample hunting ground for women seeking a wealthy husband. The news of the potential riches in California traveled fast and many people, especially single women, flocked in herds to the said promise land. Levy’s  book provides a collection of primary source documents, such as diaries and letters, which reveal the many choices and options facing women in the west. One account, a diary kept by Mrs. McDougal, detailed her journey across the ocean to California and also commented on the lives of the other women on the ship with her. This account  also taps into the field of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychologists like Kanazawa believe men seek female beauty, which is a reproduction sign of reproductive potential, and women seek men with status to provide stability. The women of the Gold Rush wanted to have financial stability and one of the best ways to achieve this goal was to find a husband who struck it rich mining for gold or a man who opened a prosperous business, like a hotel for boarders, to capitalize on the new market. Men in California needed women so they weren’t as picky; if they wanted to continue their lineage they needed a mate. This is why so many women came to the West. As seen in Levy, the number of women in California was very low, as “California’s 1850 Census reported female residents at about 8 percent.” One example is Sophia Eastman, an adventurous women from New England who wanted to be a teacher out in California. In her book, Levy goes into detail about how Eastman got multiple marriage proposals: “Sophia wrote Maria and Isaac of her safe arrival-and that she had already refused her first marriage offer: ‘[He] proposed having me marry him, &  going to the mines; but this I think shall never do. If he is not able to build a house and give me a good comfortable home then I had better not marry him’” (Levy, 115). Sophia knew she could get more marriage offers so she didn’t settle. The text also gives the example of Dorothy Scraggs, who placed an ad in a newspaper offering herself up to the most suitable suitor (Levy, 175). This blatant advertising shows the way in which women were able to take advantage of the gender disparity in the West and better their status through a successful marriage. The text also offers a male perspective on this disparity as seen in John McCrackan, a San Franciscan lawyer’s, letters which detailed his desperate need for women around, as he saw them as a saving grace against the loneliness of the Gold Rush. These women in the Gold Rush could be picky and choose somebody they found both emotionally and physically attractive. This same pattern of women taking advantage of a vast gender disparity is now being echoed in the era of technology.

In addition to seeking marriage, women today are trying to break into the tech industry through different means for employment, just like women during the Gold Rush. As seen in Kim Malone Scott’s book, Virtual Love, readers observe Virginia get a job in a managerial role in the sales department of Google because she is both empathetic and systematic in how she approaches her role. This approach is also echoed by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer in that she manages a large team while balancing home life and work life. These strong women fit a niche needed in tech and are but a few examples in which women can fill roles in the tech industry. For example, during the Gold Rush, women were gamblers, con-artists, barbers, washers, seamstresses, hoteliers, entertainers, miners, and cooks. One of the most lucrative industries in the Gold Rush was cooking and women quickly filled in the high demand for cooks. Levy records Margaret Frink’s diary, in which she wrote, “a woman, if she could cook at all, she could get $16.00 per week for each man that she cooked for, and only cooking required to be done was just to boil meat and potato” (92). That amount of money in 1849 equates to 500 dollars in a week in the United States today. Cooking was a simple but fast way to make money, so many set up shop and quickly begin to make a profit.

Another common job was a hotelier. These women would sell rooms in their place to miners who would pay them handsomely to live there instead of camping, which wasn’t as comfortable. Woman made use of their typical “E” brains and saw ways in which a niche was needed in these mining populations in California. One example is Luzena Stanley Wilson, who wanted to create a rival hotel in Reno, built a hotel and went into partnership with her husband to become very successful financially (Levy, 102). Women like Luzena wanted to make a name for themselves and so women filled in whatever roles were needed, just as what needs to happen in the tech industry today.

Today, women make up a greater portion of those going to college than men and yet many don’t pursue careers in tech afterwards, having been marginalized by STEM fields in general. The tech industry desperately needs more women, no matter their major, or rather it needs their brains. Evolutionary psychologists like Kanazawa state that their are two types of brains, the “S” brain and the “E” brain. The “S” brain is referred to as the systematized brain, or the male brain, and the “E” brain is the empathizing, or female, brain. Both sexes can be either, however, there is a strong correlation between brain types and gender. Kanazawa states that our female ancestors were “E” brains and the men were “S” brains. Kanazawa claims that women looked after children and didn’t need to be systemic like men because the men were the ones who did systematic operations like tracking animal tracks, and then using this knowledge to track and kill their prey. The men needed to be systematic and emotionally detached from their activities, such as hunting and killing. Today, there are more men in tech positions, like software engineers, because they are more systemic. However, this brain differentiation isn’t enough to explain the disproportionate amount of men to women in tech. In tech, there’s a lack of women in any of their departments, including those like human resources, marketing, and sales, which should be geared towards the female brain, causing a great gender chasm.

Many “E” type brains would be perfect in the tech industry to break up the “boys” club that is the tech industry. It will increase productivity and create new ideas, as well as increasing equality. For example, in the top tech companies just 30% of employees are women according to cnet.com. However, the numbers don’t convey the whole truth. At Microsoft women only make up 16.6% of the technical roles such as programmers and analysts. The tech boom is ever growing, with the continual innovation in how consumers use technology in their everyday lives. Type “E” brains would bring in new perspectives that many companies are lacking when they are controlled predominantly by men. Bringing in more women means new ideas can be generated, since their brains tend to work differently, specifically with empathy, than their male counterparts. This allows for greater interpersonal connections and ability to grasp what consumers are looking for. Women can fulfill roles in any department, from the tech sector to the human resources sector, therefore, whether they have an “S” brain or an “E” brain they are needed to fill the gender divide in tech companies. The diversity in Silicon Valley is atrocious. However, there are signs that the playing field for women is beginning to look-up.

Just as they did during the Gold Rush, some women today are coming to Silicon Valley to search for a potential husband, particularly a rich man in the tech industry, using this lack of diversity to their own advantage. This is many women’s best chance seeing that the men in the tech industry were hitting it big financially. Today in Silicon Valley, there are more men than women in the tech industry. To combat this many male techies are hiring transnational matchmakers to help them find love. For example, on the website NYmag.com one women detailed her experience with the start-up, Dating Ring. As a crowdfunded company, money was donated to the matchmaking company by investors in exchange for a specific return. In this case, those who donated a certain amount of money got to meet at a social with sixteen women the company hand selected and flew to San Francisco. Just as Dorothy Scraggs with her newspaper ad capitalized on the lack of women during the Gold Rush, this company is well aware of the  disproportionate amount gender counts in both New York and Silicon Valley. While Silicon Valley lacks women, New York has an abundance, therefore making it easy to market the dating opportunity to both sides. The male techies in Silicon Valley have a lot of money to spend and little time to search for dates, so this may be a hugely lucrative industry.

In an article entitled #TechTuesday: 4 Reasons Why Its Awesome To Be A Women in Tech further examines the current advantage of being a women in tech. The reasoning ranges from female centric startup ideas led by women, to understanding the strife of other minority groups in tech. As shown in this article, women are just as capable as handling the tech industry as men and in many ways surpassing them in different areas. This is demonstrated by the tenacious women of the gold rush and the different roles they took on as previously mentioned.

The era of technology is upon the world. With this historic revolution came the mass migration of people with starry eyed dreams of hitting it big in places like Silicon Valley. A key example of a tech success story is the Apple conglomerate, which was started by a few men in a garage in Northern California. The most well-known name that came from this group is the late Steve Jobs, who with along partners became multi-billionaires almost overnight, much like those few lucky miners who struck it suddenly fabulously wealthy in the Gold Rush. Another example is Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard to create Facebook. According to techtimes.com, Zuckerberg is now the world’s sixth richest person, with a net worth of 47 billion. However, with this chance of fantastic rewards, the tech world is also a place of high risk, high loss situations. Just as in the Gold Rush, the majority of fortune-seekers chasing the tech boom fail to find their gold. Nine out of ten startups fail, leaving only a very few who come into the field successful in their endeavors. However, that many try and try again, despite their setbacks, shows the resilience of the tech industry. In addition, just as the success stories of the tech boom have been dominated by men, just as in the Gold Rush, women remain the key in the day to day operations of these industries. With their own unique brain type, specifically their ability to empathize, encouraging women enter the tech fields could help further these companies even more.

It is clear that women in today’s tech industry, just like women during the Gold Rush, are greatly outnumbered by men. However, in both cases, women have found different niches they can be successful in, as well as using this disparity for their own advantages. Women are here and they are ready to use their different perspective to take Silicon Valley by storm, just as they did in the Gold Rush. Like the great Beyonce once said, “Who runs the world? Girls!”

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