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Women-in-technology

It’s a Man’s (Virtual) World, Baby

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Before starting this discussion, permit me to point out that no entrepreneur in conservative online media has been more successful than Michelle Malkin, who launched two digital start-ups — HotAir.com and Twitchy.com — and subsequently sold these Internet properties to Salem Communications for sums rumored to be seven figures each.

The knowledge that this woman’s phenomenal intelligence and hard work have been handsomely rewarded in the marketplace of ideas casts an important light on Issie Lapowsky’s Wired.com article:

Shortly after Kathryn Tucker started RedRover, an app that showcases local events for kids, she pitched the idea to an angel investor at a New York tech event. But it didn’t go over well. When she finished her pitch, the investor said he didn’t invest in women.

When she asked why, he told her. “I don’t like the way women think,” he said. “They haven’t mastered linear thinking.” To prove his point, he explained that his wife could never prioritize her to-do lists properly. And then, as if he was trying to compliment her, he told Tucker she was different. “You’re more male,” he said.

Tucker didn’t need to hear any more. “I said, ‘Thanks very much,’ walked out, and never spoke to him again,” she recalled earlier this year, as part of a panel discussion on “fundraising while female” at the annual Internet Week conference in New York.

It was one of many stories shared during a panel that painted the tech world as a place that—for all its efforts to push into the future with apps and gadgets and online services—is still very much stuck in the past when it comes to attitudes involving gender. Rachel Sklar, founder of Change the Ratio, an advocacy group for women in tech, shared the story of an investor who said he doesn’t invest in women he doesn’t find attractive. Another gave women in the audience a tip for pitching VCs: “Wear a wedding ring.”

As unsettling as they were, these stories only begin to describe the obstacles facing women in the tech world. We’ve all seen the numbers. According to a recent report . . . only 13 percent of venture-backed companies had at least one female co-founder. In the software sector, women-run businesses accounted for just 10 percent of all venture capital deals. . . .

You can read the whole tendentious thing, which is a typical example of how feminists argue: Cite some statistics, tell a few anecdotes and — voila! — they’re victims oppressed by the patriarchy. To dispute their claims just proves you’re a sexist, and so skeptics are either smeared or intimidated into silence.

The core of the feminist argument here is a simple fallacy, the belief that every kind of “inequality” must be the result of unfair discrimination, so that merely by showing a statistical disparity, they believe they have exposed “social injustice.”

This is an absurd species of bad logic. It depends upon the credulous belief, the unstated premise of the syllogism, that male sexism is such a powerful force as to triumph over the profit motive of investors in a market economy. Such feminist claims furthermore depend on another unstated premise, namely that perfect parity — where participation in every field of human endeavor, at every level, is exactly proportional to the general population — is the natural, normal or most desirable state of affairs. Only if one accepts that dubious egalitarian premise is there any reason to believe that the high-tech sector is plagued by wrongful sexist discrimination.

The different proportions of employees in various career fields — whether we analyze the workforce by sex, race, age, nationality, religion or any other factor — may have any number of explanations without prompting a legitimate claim of unfair discrimination. Even where one can cite anecdotal evidence of prejudiced attitudes (e.g., sexist remarks made by investors or executives), it does not follow from such examples that this prejudice is the cause of the statistical disparity. In fact, one can plausibly argue that causality runs in the other direction, and that sexist attitudes in male-dominated career fields are simply a reflection of the fact that most people in these fields are male, so that the normative expectations are expressions of commonplace male attitudes.

We might expect that women seeking employment as construction workers or long-haul truck drivers would face a certain amount of prejudice in those overwhelmingly male trades; it does not follow from this fact, however, that prejudice against women explains why there are so few women carpenters, bricklayers or tractor-trailer drivers. There is a chicken-and-egg question of causality involved, and if truck drivers are (a) mostly male and (b) given to “sexist” beliefs, we cannot presume that (b) is the cause of (a), nor can we rule out the plausible alternative (c) that most women simply aren’t interested in driving big rigs.

It is impossible to overlook the fact that these types of “diversity” claims — where a perceived shortage of women or ethnic minorities in some field is treated as a problem of unfairness or discrimination — are only ever made in relation to career fields that are relatively lucrative or perceived as prestigious. No one has ever cited the percentage of women (or Chinese or Latinos, whatever) employed as short-order cooks or retail clerks as evidence that there is discrimination in these low-paying, low-prestige jobs. Nor is the disproportionately large number of African-American players in the NBA claimed to result from anti-white prejudice, because success in the world of professional sports ultimately comes down to who can best play the game. Where we find claims of discriminatory unfairness, or laments about the lack of “diversity,” are in high-paying office jobs generally requiring a college education and where the superiority of merit between different employees is difficult for any outsider to judge.

Notice that the people who are most involved in pushing these discrimination/diversity claims are usually employed in exactly these kinds of office jobs. They are lawyers, journalists, academics or non-profit activists — college-educated people employed in fields where it is hard to say that judgments of merit are entirely objective. If a certain lawyer is appointed to be a federal judge, for example, the fact that this attorney is qualified, having a diploma from a good law school and having been successful in private practice, does not mean that he is the most qualified candidate for the job. There may be many thousands of lawyers in America whose qualifications are at least as good as the lawyer appointed to the federal bench, but (a) many of those lawyers have no interest in serving as a judge, and (b) even if they were interested, most don’t have the political connections needed to attract the attention and support of those who decide which candidates the president will nominate for a vacancy in the federal judiciary.

By the same token, whatever the criteria by which one judges a journalist, a professor or a non-profit activist, it is very difficult to say that questions of absolute merit in those fields can be determined by strictly objective standards. A reporter who wins the Pulitzer Prize, for example, can usually be presumed to be one of the best practitioners of the trade. However, Janet Cooke of the Washington Post won the Pulitzer for a series of articles later revealed to have been fabricated, and Pulitzer winner Rick Bragg resigned from the New York Times after being accused of ethical lapses. One  could examine the other occupations of diversity-mongers — in academia, for example — and produce similar instances that indicate the absence of an absolute-merit standard.

We return, then, to the alleged discrimination against women in the computer technology field, as described by Issie Lapowsky. Here we need not speculate endlessly about the standard of merit. Ultimately, the market determines whether a technology company succeeds or fails. High-tech start-ups are notoriously risky investments; for every Google or Facebook that turns into a gigantic money-maker for investors, there are countless ventures that implode in a matter of months or which, like Salon.com, seem to stagger along in zombie fashion because “investors” have a non-monetary motive to keep losing money year after year.

Investors and executives in high-tech firms have every possible incentive to attract the very best personnel available. If qualified females are being discriminated against, so that less-qualified males are employed or promoted, then companies could gain a competitive advantage by hiring and promoting women who are victims of discrimination at other firms. Therefore, if the lack of “diversity” in high-tech is the result of unfair sexist prejudice, some companies must be cutting off their noses to spite their faces, forgoing opportunities for profit in the process. Ultimately, then, these sexist firms would lose market share in comparison to companies whose employment practices are based on standards of absolute merit, and firms that hire and promote qualified females would gain economic benefit from their wise policies.

The fact that this has not happened — that the most successful firms in this highly competitive field are founded and managed by men — would logically seem to be adequate evidence that  unfair discrimination is not the norm in high-tech. But if feminists cared about logic and evidence, they wouldn’t be feminists, would they?

First published at TheOtherMcCain.com



 

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