We often hear people talking about social progress — or the lack thereof — in the technology sector. It wasn’t so very long ago that Twitter was abuzz with tweets using the #1reasonwhy hashtag to aggregate the many reasons, big and small, that there weren’t more women working in the gaming industry. Ubisoft’s Jade Raymond was on the receiving end of some rather nasty online harassment, essentially, it has been argued, for being female, attractive, and good enough at her job to win awards during her rise to international prominence. In reference to their rarity, Raymond has described women in the gaming industry as being “like unicorns”, but she also says that is changing. Raymond now heads Ubisoft Toronto, where 20% of her developers and half of her “senior leaders” are female. Independently, the flurry of activity around the #1reasonwhy hashtag inspired #1ReasonMentor, a hashtag that emerged to offer “advice and help to anyone struggling to overcome sexism in the industry.”
You won’t be surprised to hear that this phenomenon — that is, the relative scarcity of women — is broader than just the gaming industry. I have been the only woman at tech meet-ups more times than I can remember. That hasn’t been a bad thing, though. I recently discovered by accident that my gender was actually opening some doors for me. The rest of the Debenu executive team and I are active members of the local tech-focused entrepreneurial community. We regularly attend networking events in our area. People who attend these gatherings really run the gamut, from those who have just come up with their first big business idea to grizzled veterans who are years into running successful businesses.
I remember debriefing with Karl and Rowan (my male fellow Debenu execs) after one of these gatherings recently. I felt that it had been a great success. I had spoken to a lot of fellow entrepreneurs, made small talk, chatted about our families, and of course, talked a little business. Moreover, the whole night had felt rather relaxed and pleasant. I was quite surprised to hear that Karl and Rowan had both had a completely different experience. They said that it had felt like they had been locked in a fierce struggle for status all night, with the other guests constantly seeking to compare growth, turnover, profit and staffing figures. At first, it was hard to believe that we had been at the same event.
Of course, in hindsight, it makes more sense. When you get that many driven, ambitious people in one place there is bound to be a current of competition (healthy or otherwise) running through the room. Being the sole woman in gathering of tech entrepreneurs, I think I forced everyone to go off-book. Instead of going through the whole ritual of comparing balance-sheets, we were able to just cut straight to the actual point of the evening and start networking.
I realize that being a woman working in a senior role for a technology company makes me unusual. Maybe that won’t always be true — Debenu’s head programmer is only the most senior female member of our development team (as in, she is decidedly not our only female developer). For now, I’ve found that being a woman can be a significant professional advantage in this male-dominated industry. Things might be gradually changing with respect to the gender balance in the tech industry, but for today, I’m still a unicorn, and I’m more than OK with that.