Blog Post

Silicon Valley Has a Woman Problem, But Women Still Have a Baby Problem

A post yesterday on TechCrunch did a wonderful job of illustrating how many more men than women there are in the U.S. venture capital industry — and how that imbalance extends to tech entrepreneurs. It also extrapolated a rationalization for this gap that, while reasonable, was incorrect. Silicon Valley’s gender problem isn’t that complicated — it boils down to babies. As in, those who have them can’t be a startup CEO, too.

Vivek Wadhwa, the author of the TechCrunch post, included a nice list of reasons why women entrepreneurs and women-led venture-backed companies are scarce:

Sharon Vosmek, CEO of venture accelerator Astia doesn’t think that VCs have an overt bias against women. Instead, it’s the way the venture-capital industry operates. Vosmek says that these “systematic or hidden biases” include:

1. that VCs hold clear stereotypes of successful CEOs (they call it pattern recognition, but in other industries they call it profiling or stereotyping.) John Doerr publicly stated that his most successful investments – and the no-brainer pattern for future investments – were in founders who were white, male, under 30, nerds, with no social life who dropped out of Harvard or Stanford (2009 NVCA conference).

2. VCs invest in people they know. If women aren’t in their natural networks, they won’t get through the door. We know that still today, men and women network in separate business networks.

3. VCs want to invest in serial entrepreneurs. (This further reduces the chance for woman entrepreneurs.)

4. The VC community is obviously male dominated, and it just got worse…after the cold freeze VCs experienced over the past 24 months, many women partners exited the industry. As the Diana Project research shows, a firm with women General Partners is more likely to invest in women entrepreneurs.

However, it was a comment from TechCrunch reader Chem that actually laid bare the issue of why women aren’t better represented in tech — essentially, it’s because women have babies, and the perception is that when we do, we leave the workforce to take care of them. And while Chem’s stereotype isn’t correct ( I was back at work and even took on a more demanding job soon after my daughter was born), the fact that women are “supposed” to bear the brunt of raising children is a huge reason why women aren’t more visible at the helm of venture-backed startups. It’s the babies, stupid.

Or rather, it’s the idea that women should shoulder the burden of raising children, an idea that dominates our society to such a degree that many women and men buy into it without question. Society at large explicitly perpetuates motherhood and not parenthood (check out the New York Times, from stories that demand mothers learn how to speak nanny, to the spate of “wow-men-are-now-staying-at-home” stories), and implicitly enforces the status quo through its policies around access to childcare for babies, school calendars and thousands of other complicating factors that any family, be they dual-income or single-parent, must navigate.

And when that navigation does require a trade-off, it’s generally still the mother that makes it. Which means that yes, once women have babies there are forces that can keep them from taking on a 90-hour-a-week startup gig. We can bemoan a scarcity of female role models in tech, entice women into the math and science professions or even blame women who leave the work force to take care of kids for the lack of gender diversity, but to fix the problem, we’re going to have to discuss the lack of parity between men and women when it comes to raising children.

Because Wadhwa is right: Gender diversity is important, and women shouldn’t have to choose between raising a family and building a startup any more than men should.

Image courtesy of Flickr user anonymous to you

59 Responses to “Silicon Valley Has a Woman Problem, But Women Still Have a Baby Problem”

  1. Yeah, serious reality distortion, and I bet mostly by people (men or women) who have no children and so no direct experience with this. When you can counter or include men on all the biological and psychological changes that happen as part of pregnancy, childbirth, and post-partum, then the babies won’t be an issue.

    I’m not saying there isn’t gender bias in many aspects of the professional world. But completely ignoring one of the key factors in this for many women is just sticking your head in the sand to avoid an inconvenient truth. And more than that, making women who choose to stay home with their kids feel marginalized is itself a form of sexism. All choices should be valid, even if it (gasp!) takes a woman off the professional fast-track.

  2. It is the babies. The last line in the article said women shouldn’t have to choose more than men whether to have families or do a startup, but women are the ones carrying the babies and growing the bigger tits so they can feed the babies. They are the ones undergoing tremendous physical change. And women cannot delay having babies nearly as long as men can delay making them.

    To say women don’t have to choose any more than men in this case is called reality distortion.

  3. To me it comes do to who is willing to neglect their families for their careers. To achieve great things it takes tremendous amounts of hard work. This applies regardless of whether you are a mother or a father. Society could be changed so adults could offload their families on others to purse their ambitions or it could facilitate balance. When it comes down to it most people vote for balance. If we achieved and embraced that balance then we still wouldn’t have that many women willing to put in the 90hrs a week and there would be a drastic reduction in the number of men willing to work that hard.

  4. Okay, Seriously, It’s NOT the babies, stupid.
    It’s called gender bias and oppression. Look it up.

    1. Norway has a female head of state. We haven’t managed to get this in 200 years of self-governance.
    2. Norway instituted a 40% women on boards rule, with 100% compliance by 2009. NYTimes reported it last week. Women are breaking barriers there.
    3. Maternity and paternity leave are the norm.
    4. Norwegians have a higher standard of living than most of us here in America.

    Coincidence? I think not. They recognize gender oppression, and even though they’re using quotas, they’re actually DOING something about it.

  5. A Parent

    “…to fix the problem, we’re going to have to discuss the lack of parity between men and women when it comes to raising children.”

    Let’s talk about the bearing of children first. About swollen feet and hormonal changes. About the inability for many women to sit for long periods late in their pregnancies. About some women having to be on bed rest or risk losing their baby. About the physical trauma of childbirth and the weeks of healing that come afterward (some women can bounce right back within a few weeks, but they are by far the exception). Then we can talk about nursing, or not: about the cracked nipples, the back strain, the continued changes in your body. And then there are the many known benefits of breastfeeding, and the difficulty of pumping breast milk if you’re not with your baby for long hours. Or on the other side, the logistical difficulties of not breastfeeding, often compounded by the emotional difficulties of not being able to breast feed if you wanted to.

    And then finally, we have to confront the really difficult issue that hits many women, one that is invisible to those who have not had kids: the incredible emotional bond you form with your baby that for many — not all, but many — women suddenly makes things like going back to a high-powered tech job seem liked the most pointless thing ever. Denying that this is the case is just another form of sexism, of marginalizing those women who consciously decide to stay home for a few months or a few years, and thus take themselves off of the professional fast-track — but as most will tell you, for something they value even more.

    All of these are realities that have nothing to do with culture and everything to do with biology. Women bear children. That’s the fact. Until men have to deal directly with pitting edema, loosening joints, shifting internal organs, labor, delivery, after-labor, episiotomies, Sitz baths, nursing (or painfully being unable to nurse), and clear neurological and hormonal changes in the presence of your newborn, this fact will remain unaltered.

    Once we’ve taken all those into account, and have stopped denigrating women who choose to stay home with their child(ren), THEN we can talk about the lack of parity between men and women in raising children. That lack of parity is definitely there, but that’s not really the issue.

    The issue is as you started off saying: women have children. Men don’t. As much as we want to squirm away from the inevitable differences that creates in how men and women experience the workplace, the issue really is pretty much that simple.

  6. Katherine Gray

    Are we really talking about whether or not women can have it all without sacrifice? No.

    This article is about a misguided perception that prevent women from getting VC money: if they’re mothers, they can’t run a company. VCs don’t bother to investigate whether or not a venture-seeking female entrepreneur has worked out her childcare/family issues and that she’s got the same support at home that her male counterparts with a SAH wife may have. They just assume she’s going to be more conflicted than a man and won’t fund her. No matter what are your opinions about who should raise the kids (and they are opinions, not facts, because as Scott points out, families are extremely complex systems and no rule applies to all families), women are at a serious disadvantage when they want to run companies that require money to get started, solely because they are women.

    This is also why you tend to see so many women entrepreneurs running service-based and consulting businesses–they require less up-front investment.

    There are other things women miss out on besides money, if they choose not to seek, or can’t get, venture funds: guidance from seasoned entrepreneurs and access to mature networks of business people. Women will form their own networks, but it’s usually made up of people whose experience is about the same as their own.

    There are always ways to get around this and the truly determined woman entrepreneur will find a way. But that’s just it: she shouldn’t have to.

  7. “Because Wadhwa is right: Gender diversity is important, and women shouldn’t have to choose between raising a family and building a startup any more than men should.”

    So what you are saying is woman too should be able to pay someone else to raise their family for them and then claim all the credit for mother of the year just like men who get credit for father of the year even though they work 90 hours a week and never see their kids?

    Sounds like something to strive for.

    Plus women do have a choice. Don’t have kids. Or marry someone that wants to stay home. Don’t fault everyone else because your man doesn’t want to stay home. Hell adopt a kid. Lord knows there are children that need your money.

    At the same time – let’s face some facts – Men and women are different.

    Your term “Gender diversity” itself implies we are different so why then do we get upset when there are differences? Why then do folks using this term want to make us interchangeable? We aren’t.

    You can’t fight nature. Look at all the studies of girls and boys at young ages. We are very much different.

    Stop taking a round peg and a square peg and wondering why the round one fits in the round hole and the square one doesn’t.

  8. Oh please! When will we abandon the misery-engendering fallacy that men should become women and vice versa? The feminization of the American male is a travesty propagated by rabid-femi-nazi’s who can’t accept biology, morality, mortality, and reality.

    This is not college, not feminist doctrine 201. This is real life, where women and men really are different, where children actually benefit most when they have the counterbalance and harmony that comes from a mother who is a mother and a father who is a father.

    In conflating natural roles you are attempting to cultivate a crop by poisoning, starving, and ruining it.

    The only thing radical feminism is good for is the stark slap in the face it sets up its adherents for when they get their first real breaths of reality.

    Breath it in Stacey. Real life is not a berkley woman’s studies program. It consists of real biology, not theoretical garbage.

    That being said, diversity can be valuable, just not at the expense of truth and reality.

  9. Gender diversity is important…some thoughts on women and teamwork:

    Men and women should operate as a team, both within a corporate environment and outside one with synergy in mind. Members of either gender should not feel threatened by the presence or performance of the opposite sex. What we need is a positive approach to life and business in an attempt to increase personal, corporate, national, and international welfare.

    The social, cultural, and political attitudes of modern society have enabled women to seize some power from men, despite being treated unfairly by unethical leaders, who continue to reinforce the “glass ceiling” and, in some cases, despite having to leave the workforce due to family considerations, and then return a few years later. Women understand that fruitful conversations promote sound business relationships and teamwork, thus contributing to an improvement in the bottom line.

    Women are usually well organized: they manage a dual career, as homemakers and professional employees. Women often regard their fellow employees as family and take time to ascertain their personal needs. Hence, they can sometimes be taken undue advantage of. Competition is strange to most women because they were groomed for caring, rather than winning!

    Fay Weldon, a writer, stated, “Worry less about what other people think of you, and more about what you think about them.” A former mayor of Ottawa once said, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought of as half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult!”

    When women start to follow in the footsteps of many men, by being intoxicated by power, they lose their identity and bearings. Women should focus on a diplomatic approach and learn how to exude self-confidence while maintaining self-respect and deal with the competition without being intimidated or taken undue advantage of.

    Women who achieve powerful positions in the corporate world may be subjected to personal and professional attacks because of their gender. Independent women are strong, fearless, and in control of their homes, families, emotions, and their working environment. They tackle problems with a heads-on approach, being steadfast in their pursuit of success and happiness.

    I have a policy of distributing free abridged versions of my books on leadership, ethics, teamwork, motivation, women, bullying and sexual harassment, trade unions, business law, etc., to anyone who sends a request to [email protected].

    Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

  10. Although much of the baby-raising issue comes down to assumed norms, I can’t deny that I also wanted to spend time with my kid when she came along. The idea of only seeing her for an hour or two at the end of each weekday was not palatable. Yes, society assumed that I would be primary caretaker, but it was also my choice. (Oddly, going freelance ended up being the best thing for my career, but I had no idea that would be the case when I made the decision.)

    Also, whether it’s the mom or the dad staying home, we still end up in a situation where (usually) one parent is working ridiculous hours and the other is holding things up on the home front. Or, for those who can afford it, there’s the nanny route. I’m all for gender equality in parenting, but the American work culture – and the American childcare system – doesn’t support it well.

  11. So there’s no difference between men and women? Well, okay, but it seems that is a desire to have it both ways. But since there are no differences then it must not be true that men commit domestic violence more frequently than women? It might be nice if we would stop saying that the world be a much better place if women were in charge (“no more war” etc.) because after all, there really is no difference, right? And shouldn’t we stop talking about “male ego,” because if there are no differences men and women have the same ego? Yeah, right.

    As far as childcare being the reason for the lower number of women-startups, that can be easily dismissed by pointing out that we see the same male majority in any tech related activity done by teenagers who don’t have children. Why are there so few teenage girl hackers? Is it because they’re too busy with their children? Why is it that hard-core teenage gamers are overwhelmingly male, while teenage females predominate in “casual” games which do not require the same expertise and practice/time. Now why is that? Is it because the teenage girls have children?

    Teenage hackers, teenage gamers, teenage modders, teenage coders, teenage tech entrepreneurs, teenage programmers, teenage jailbreakers, etc., all skew predominantly male. Yet this age group does not have children, so how do you account for the lack of females when the childcare excuse is not availability? This is the group from which many of the future tech startup will come from, so you can see that the larger number of males in tech is not related to the greater family responsibilities of females.

  12. anonymoose

    Forget gender equalities for a second – to me that’s almost a secondary effect. This data is more worrying for a completely different reason. Apparently in order to be funded by a VC you’re expected to neglect your family in the hopes that your startup will be one of the very very few that succeed. Am I the only person who thinks that’s a bigger issue?

    I for one wouldn’t trust a CEO who puts his or her company ahead of their family.

  13. I think you pinpoint the problem correctly by concluding “Or rather, it’s the idea that women should shoulder the burden of raising children.” But this can change. Here in Sweden, parents are sharing this burden more or less equally. With the consequence of significantly better career chances for women.

  14. It seems to me that certain things in life will never be fair. Women “get” to have babies (I realize that can be interpreted as privilege or burden). And there’s a limited window in one’s life in which to do that (despite the best efforts of doctors and startups in the area). But we should really start with the premise that life isn’t really fair. Setting an expectation for fairness is setting oneself up for a lot of disappointment in life. Is it fair when the neighborhood bully punches you in the nose? Is it fair when you get cancer? Is it fair when you get laid off? Lots of things aren’t fair.

    I don’t have any statistical data whatsoever, only anecdotal data. But among my friends in Austin, the number of female entrepreneurs is quite high, and often they are the spouses of male entrepreneurs. Are these particular men more understanding because they are entrepreneurs? Well, in many of the cases the women were the first ones down that path (including my own wife). However, none of the women entrepreneurs I know in Austin are employing VC money – they’re employing their own capital, sweat, and (occasionally) angel money. Most of their male spouses are in the same boat (self-funded), but there are a few exceptions.

    I think the notion of equal sharing overlooks the complexity of the family, and the irrelevance of a goal of equal or fair within the family unit – it implies a zero-sum game rather than shared sacrifice and shared rewards and working together for common good. If both partners should contribute equal time and energy to the child-rearing (assuming this is possible physically), should they both contribute equal earnings to the family as well? Doesn’t “equal earnings” sound absurd? It does to me. Should they have exactly the same number of hours of sleep and exercise as well? And what if one of the spouses travels for work? How is it even possible that that person could equal what their spouse contributes to their children in the short-term?

    I think we need to accept that people make lots of different choices and the most important thing is that the men and women agree on the balance of work and child-rearing. Should it be equal? Well, I’d submit that as long as two people have different ideas about what is most important, they’ll never agree that the split is equal – for example, the more career-motivated spouse may feel that they are sacrificing when they work late into the night – but the more family-oriented partner may feel that they are being selfish by not being home with family. Two very different viewpoints on the same data point… On the other hand, in another family, both partners may feel that the late-night working is a sacrifice being made on behalf of the family (or the career).

    I’m not sure that looking at the VC funded community is a good measure of female entrepreneurship. Not that the statistics aren’t valid and concerning- but are they really relevant as a goal for society to achieve equality on? If VCs are overlooking this opportunity, then somebody should be capitalizing on the lack of competition for investing in female-run firms. I’m not sure that women should be in a rush to hand over equity to VC’s in exchange for money. And in today’s world of lean startups, I’m not even sure it is necessary in many cases. Of course, this could all be biased by my “Austin” experience.

  15. Forgot to add: men and women are different, but it’s not like all woman are the same, either. Individuality applies. So you could do better than base your reasoning on gender stereotypes.

  16. @Ken

    Right now it’s more like 90/10.
    It’s not about forcing people to be in VC.
    It’s enabling those who want to be, lowering an unjustified barrier to entry.
    As long as the idea and the tech behind it are sound why should the gender of the founder be a barrier?

  17. I like the balanced viewpoints in the comments, way to go both sides for not turning it into any sort of war.

    As per the research requested, I didn’t have a lot of time this evening but here are some starter articles.

    — “Biobehavioral Responses to Stress in Females: Tend-and-Befriend, Not Fight-or-Flight.” Shelley E. Taylor, Laura Cousino Klein, Brian P. Lewis, Tara L. Gruenewald, Regan A. R. Gurung, and John A. Updegraff University of California, Los Angeles

    Psychological Review 2000. Vol. 107, No. 3, 411-429

    Discusses findings that females react to stress differently than males, releasing certain chemicals that induce “tend and befriend” patterns of behavior involving “nurturant activities designed to protect the self and offspring…”

    — “Every Child’s Birthright: In Defense of Mothering.” Selma Fraiberg, New York, Basic Books Inc, 1977

    Consulting data from biology, ethology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, and developmental psychology, Selma Fraiberg discusses maternal-offspring attachment conditions, and the necessity of it for infant rearing development.

    — “The Maternal Behavior Inventory: Measuring The Behavioral Side Of Mother-To-Infant Attachment.” Becker, Gilbert. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Joural 22/2 19940501, 177-194 (Subscription required to view article. Try your local library or university.)

    Provides basic background on infant-mother attachment, and how this is strongly developed during the first few weeks and months of life primarily due to the close physical interactions mothers have with children. Infant-mother attachment is essential to the proper development of a child, as referenced by several other articles. For more information on the essential role of attachment in an infant’s life, see “Infant-mother attachment and social development: Socialisation as a product of reciprocal responsiveness to signals,” M. D. S. Ainsworth, Silvia M. Bell, and Donelda J. Stayton, The integration of a child into a social world, Cambridge University Press (

    My main argument is not against the idea of women in the workplace, so don’t read that into my words. Instead, I just wanted to promote the idea of a mother being the best provider to a child. Even if one chooses not to look for numerical evidence of this, to go contrary to the idea requires turning a blind eye to nature itself and thousands of years of human behavior.

    We need women in the workplace! We also need women at home.

    • Thanks for actually bothering to look stuff up. With infants, I agree mom is #1, but it gets fuzzier with kids that are off the boob.

      Still, if we posit that mothers are fundamentally better than fathers at raising children(which has troubling implications for equality in custody battles, among other things) we’re still left with the assumption that is a bit of a leap: Women are better parents, ergo they should dedicate 100% of their time to their children.

      This is silly on a number of levels. Throughout most of history and in most cultures, children have been raised by several adults, not mothers exclusively. Also, the quality of the time spent with kids means more than the quantity. Spending all waking hours with a toddler can turn loving engaged mom into harsh short-tempered mom in short order, which is hardly good for the kid.

      There’s a happy middle ground between childcare and work, and it is possible with the right kind of support. That support depends on letting go of the idea that kids are “mom’s job” exclusively.

    • Thanks for actually bothering to look stuff up. With infants, I agree mom is #1, but it gets fuzzier with kids that are off the boob.

      Still, if we posit that mothers are fundamentally better than fathers at raising children(which has troubling implications for equality in custody battles, among other things) we’re still left with the assumption that is a bit of a leap: Women are better parents, ergo they should dedicate 100% of their time to their children.

      This is silly on a number of levels. Throughout most of history and in most cultures, children have been raised by several adults, not mothers exclusively. Also, the quality of the time spent with kids means more than the quantity. Spending all waking hours with a toddler can turn loving engaged mom into harsh short-tempered mom in short order, which is hardly good for the kid.

      There’s a happy middle ground between childcare and work, and it is possible with the right kind of support. That support depends on letting go of the idea that kids are “mom’s job” exclusively.

  18. les madras

    I agreed with this post until the last sentence “women shouldn’t have to choose between raising a family and building a startup any more than men should”

    this is simply denying biology. mothers are special. fathers can never relate the same way to a child. my wife has a Ph.d in engineering. she has turned down jobs at Google and Harvard despite my protests.

  19. Is the lower number of women in VC really a problem? It implies that the correct and equitable ratio is 50/50, as if men and women want a high-risk, highly uncertain lifestyle in equal proportion.

    It’s incredibly ironic that some feminists try desperately to force this on women without most women having asked for it.

    I wish more people could fully support the freedom of all women to choose what their lives – as I do – while also accepting that the preferences of men and women will rarely split evenly. We’re different. Gasp!

    • The issue isn’t forcing women to take venture-funds, but that they aren’t given (or can’t take) the opportunity because of a wider societal assumption. And of course women and men are different, which is why it’s a shame that we don’t see more of them in VC firms or at the heads of startups. Diversity is a good thing, when it comes to starting businesses or the gene pool :)

  20. I find comments like the one about women are more adept at raising children to be adolescent and trite. It is another stereotype that has been brought into this debate numerous times that offers no real value. It’s a dodge-and-cover argument that fails to see the underlying issue. And, if it were a valid argument, why isn’t motherhood given the same praise and recognition as starting a business venture?

    And it really irks me when I see comments asking why women should try to do all the things men do. We are not trying to do what men do; we are trying to have equality where there hasn’t been for a very long time. Just in the same respect of stay-at-home dads, as Stacey pointed out in her article, there’s inequality. So what, a man stayed home to take care of the kids. Again, Stacey pointed out how this invariably and implicitly keeps the status quo.

    Yes, men and women do things differently. We have different values. But that is not a specifically gendered trait – I know just as many tough-as-nails women as I do effeminate men (which I hate giving labels to them because they are just who they are). We’ve got to step away in seeing this issue with such polarizing lens.

  21. The headline is a grabber but a baby is not a problem. American society is the problem. If you are naive enough to approach the enormous role of parenting from the negative, you are doomed from the start. This mixed-message situation is way more complex for both men & women who want to spend TIME with their children. And let’s face it, time is what it takes. Tons of it.
    Societal expectations– let alone corporate/biz/VC biases- are impossible to break here in America. In Europe, they seem to have it together. Meaning: a safety net. There is no support system for parents here in the US of A. It’s an either/or situation. I’ve lived it for 19 years (am the single Mom of two teens) and I am sad to say companies and investors are still only paying lip service to creating a more ecumenical environment. Imagine all the wasted creativity and talent because for women, there really is no choice. If you’re lucky, you’re able to carve out a niche that gives you flexibility. Thank God for high tech! But compared to all the Big Dreams we women have about wanting to chart our OWN achievements (in addition to mommyhood), it remains elusive.

    • I think we’re on the same page here. The lack of a safety net stems from our society’s inability/unwllingness to accommodate dual-income parents and single-parents. Moms bear the brunt of that lack of safety net because they bear the brunt of child rearing.

      • Folks, if anything, it’s WORSE in Asia. I’ve dealt with startups in Vietnam, China, Malaysia, India and Singapore, and the “pattern recognition” gets progressively worse along that list. I just asked two Singaporean Chinese tech-entrepreneur friends of mine if they knew of any of their peers who were women or non-Chinese (as is a third or so of Singapore). One response summed up my observation perfectly: “Why would anyone try? Nobody would want to deal with them.” We’re still waiting for the South Asian Susan B Anthony or Martin Luther King. Maybe next millennium — but I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

      • @Jeff
        To an extent, it is true that freedom, empowerment and social-acceptance of women in high-tech business is less compared to say Silicon Valley, but you need to expand your friend-circle for sure. There are several startups in India that were founded and currently run by women CEOs. Also, women entrepreneur in traditional industry (not high-tech) has been fairly well accepted in large parts of India. The problem as I see it, is a worldwide mindset, which is more deeply ingrained in this region, and that is women are naturally better in bringing up children. Probably being a male, it is hard to believe otherwise. At the cost of sounding orthodox, my point is — it is going to be very difficult to prove that nature did not mean to make women better equipped in bringing up children, and this extends well beyond the human race.

        Of course, there are families s.a. in case of same-sex marriages, single parents where a child is brought up by the father, and it is hard to tell if they don’t do a good job of that.

        At the end of the day, there are a multitude of ventures who didn’t need a penny of VC funding, yet were high-technology companies. Also we have ample example of women CEOs who are also mothers. It is a simple matter of making a choice.

      • @Las Madras – geographically, it’s Southeast Asia, but if you’ve ever lived in this part of the world for a while, you’d certainly have noticed that most SEA countries are either “more east than south” or “more south than east” from a cultural perspective. Having lived in a half-dozen such countries and visited a dozen more, I can assure you that Singapore is firmly in the latter group.

  22. Startups won’t need 90h/week forever. You’re supposed to start being profitable or get some VC and hire some people. And women can just delay motherhood until the startup has other people to delegate to.
    At least that’s how see it.
    Or does founding a startup compel people to have kids?

    @website_builder women may want to do startup just because that’s what they want to do. Startup founders are generally in their twenties, it’s not like they can’t wait a few years to have kids.

    Now, VC bias is a huge barrier to entry, if they won’t get out of their comfort zone women are out of the picture through no fault of their own.

    • They’d better not NEED 90h/week very often, and in small, carefully calibrated bursts when they do. Studies going back (at least) to the ’80s point out that people always make better decisions when they’ve had a good night’s sleep and decent food. Entrepreneurs — overwhelmingly Doerr’s young, white male semi-disciplined workaholics — too often don’t figure that out until their body and/or marriage has suffered catastrophic failure. I had a stroke at 32 after working 70 continuous hours; we shipped, but I spent six months in and out of hospital. “Work smart, not hard” isn’t a goal, it’s an imperative.

  23. Oh how I could – and probably will – write a book about this subject. Joshua’s comments below are the heart of the problem. As long as a good-sized portion of the population, both male and female, believe that women are the only gender genetically predisposed to adequately nurturing and raising children, this problem will persist.

    The insidious part of the argument is the implication that women are actually harming their children by pursuing careers, as Joshua states (and yes, I too would like proof of your argument). It’s an argument that has been so effective that it’s roped women into going along with it.

    I’m going to stop typing now so I won’t hijack your post. But you hit several nails square on the head with this. And I plan to pick up the meme myself. ; )

    • Carla, I’d love a book on this topic, or even more data. Entrepreneurship manifests itself in so many different ways and I think it will become more common across all genders, races and age levels. Figuring out how to ensure that everyone has the support network and ability to create a business is important for innovation, wealth creation and even our health as a country. Cutting out half the population or limiting it to one type of entrepreneurial activity because they can have children is short-sighted.

      • Stacey,

        Perhaps this is familiar and perahps not:

        Try dating super-achieving career women and you’ll see that a lot of them harbor a major conflict between their desire for maintaining a very demanding career (surgeon, CEO, etc) and having to settle for a non-alpha male, who makes less than she does and will actually share the burdens of the boring stuff, as is the stated desired outcome in this article: Childcare, dishes, etc, leading to 50/50.

        Until you’ve experienced the seething resentment of a career woman who hates you for being what she claims she wanted (helpful, supportive, etc) then you haven’t fully explored this problem…

        Sad but true, a lot of women divorce or leave men that ARE the ideal of supportive, helpful and caring, because these men are not as exciting or high-achieving as they’re supposed to be in the superwoman’s fantasy of an alpha-male achiever, you know, the one who doesn’t mind doing the 50/50 thing when it’s her career that comes first, but simultaneously has his own money and career stuff in turbo mode.

        Ladies, reconcile (or at least acknowledge and explore) your own conflict about this issue, or you’re surely running into a brick wall of misery for you and your man, whom you will unceremoniously dump or drive away with your impossible expectations.

        It’s not that (just) that good men aren’t out there who do what it takes to get to 50/50, they are out there, more and more. It’s also the fact that women often mistake these men for suckers/betas and kick the men out of their lives for being liberated men.

    • I’d look forward to that book (or data) too..I’d actually like to know how many women (in the western world) actually want to become tech entrepreneurs, knowing what it takes to be one.

      I’m sure one can rattle off a handful of examples of nerd gals out there, but if there would be a survey of (for example) high school students, what would be the ratio of boys vs girls who would want to get into the tech industry – and have the interest, perseverance, determination to do so..(Note that I’m not including ability or creativity or intelligence in this list).

      If you think I’m gender biased, let me come clean. No, I’m not. I’m hinting at a possible root cause that goes deeper than child bearing. Babies probably come on the agenda later (both chronologically and priority-wise) for the career minded woman. The key question is : Does our society encourage enough women to become tech-career-minded in the first place? Or, what needs to be done to make this happen?

  24. kristenej

    I agree and disagree. I think we need to nurture women entrepreneurs starting in high school and college, then by the time they are 30-35, they have either cashed out of their first business, or had kids and laid low as a programmer/creator until they got older, then decided to start a business and engaged the kids as much as they wanted, a tech family business as it were. If we want to stay competitive, we need to be able to bear children and companies. After all, who’s to say that some of these women who choose to stay home with kids aren’t nurturing the next entrepreneurs of both sexes and will end up still reaping the benefits indirectly(name still on company, contribute ideas once in a while) and be happy with that. What about husband/wife tech entrepreneur teams.

  25. Great piece. In my opinion there are major factors that cause fewer women to start companies at all (funded or un-funded) before women hit the baby-making stage of their life.

    For example very few women are becoming programmers in the first place, which goes back to high school. Seems like there’s a big opportunity for organizations to identify these factors and help reverse these stats since gender diversity is hugely important to building better products.

  26. I certainly agree that gender diversity is extremely important, and that women in the workforce are every wit as capable, talented, and creative as men. Along that same vein, however, is the the importance of gender diversity in the home. A man should equally share the responsibility for raising children in the home, but it is a proven fact that women are far more adept at providing the nurturing, caring role that children need. Without adequate influence from a mother, a child has less of a chance at a good life than a child who had the full attention of its mother. And what’s more important: a VC investment or a child’s life?

    • If you have any research to back these claims up, perhaps women have been found “more adept” at nurturing simply because men aren’t under the same pressure to excel at raising children. This is the heart of the problem. If men saw childcare as their natural role as well, they’d be better at it, responsibilities at home would be split more evenly and this would be reflected in the workplace.

  27. Children need their mother’s nurturing they don’t need another startup. Why can’t our culture accept the value of each parent’s roll and accept them for what they are? Why do women need to feel like they should do everything men do? Why can’t we embrace the differences? Again – there is not startup that’s more important than the nurturing a child needs from his or her mother.

    • Is a startup more important than a nurturing father? The question of the relationship between work and raising children is entirely different than the question of who should be doing the raising. Kids benefit from having both parents involved in their lives. If you’re going to go that route, why not ask why society holds fatherhood in such low esteem?

  28. I completely agree that this issue is a big deal. After all, how can we claim to be an industry based in meritocracy when worrying symptoms (like this) appear to cast it into doubt. What are the odds that the best and brightest entrepreneurs all happen to look almost exactly the same? In other words, diversity is the “canary in the coal mine” for meritocracy.

    On the issue of the burden of raising kids, I think these stereotypes are damaging for both men and women. In fact, many families are making an economic mistake by failing to invest in both parents’ career. It may seem more expensive in the short term to invest in quality daycare etc, but the opportunity cost can be steep in terms of future lost earnings. On a society-wide level, we all lose out when talented and creative potential entrepreneurs are excluded.

    For more on this, I recommend “Getting to 50/50”

    (For the record, I’m a married man without kids. I just think our industry’s behavior represents a big lost opportunity.)

    • Eric, thanks for the book recommendation. I think your comment about investing in both parents’ careers is right on. And I think both parents win on the home front when they take equal responsibility for the home and child rearing. Plus, it gives both men and women insights into building products or serving professional and consumer markets.

  29. Amen. Like any good business, divy up the responsibilities and accountability. Even in a same-sex parenting situation, the same rules apply – share and share alike.