Have you ever listened to Aretha’s Respect only to go to work and feel like the last woolly mammoth before it went extinct? You, the only woman in the room, feeling invisible.
My own experience of feeling invisible in tech started when I was a computer science student: I was that only woman taking machine learning graduate classes as an undergrad. And then the only female engineer at a startup. And now the only female board member.
That’s the gap I’ve lived in—being the only woman in the room. I’m also empathetic to anyone else who inhabits that invisible space for many other reasons. This community was inspired by a desire to help women, but no one is excluded. I started ready2.build to empower ALL people to feel like they belong in tech and to even the playing field. There are plenty of companies trying to help here. The difference is I don’t monetize or plan to. I focus on getting good people jobs at early-stage startups to see how company building is done and then do their own.
I don’t want to create profit. I want to create change. If this service inspired you to build, drop me a note at email@example.com I'd love to hear about it or feel free to spread the word. It's free, I invest my time and costs come out of my pocket. Ready2.build functions on thank-you notes 🎁
ALL people belong in startups. I may lead with “women” because the dividing lines in the industry have been so clear, and that has been my experience first hand—but I mean that all people belong in startups. Regardless of ethnicity, economic background, technical skills, age, physical ability, location, or education. Ready2.build means to create opportunities for ALL people to bring their full self to tech, unlock their potential to build, and to celebrate them.
I am in a privileged position as an investor and uniquely positioned to give back.
Ready2.build comes after a decade-plus of having observed that there is a monoculture in tech. The men say they’d like to hire more women, but those women are nowhere to be found.
For me personally, as an investor, a former ML engineer, and a woman, I started to wonder: is what I’m noticing accurate and, if so, why? After all, the founders I meet describe their number one priority as “hiring good people.” If we exist in a true meritocracy, the startup world shouldn’t be so male-dominated.
The problem is systemic, of course, and reaches far beyond tech. We can find a particularly good examination of the issue in Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.
“More than 40% of women leave tech companies after ten years compared to 17% of men.…They left because of ‘workplace conditions,’ ‘undermining behavior from managers,’ and a ‘sense of feeling stalled in one’s career.’”
“Women are asked to do more undervalued admin work than their male colleagues—and they say yes, because they are penalized for being ‘unlikeable’ if they say no.…The inequity of women being loaded with less valued work is compounded by the system for evaluating this work, because it is itself systematically biased against women.”
“An analysis of 248 performance reviews from a variety of US-based tech companies found that women receive negative personality criticism that men simply don’t. Women are told to watch their tone, to step back. They are called bossy, abrasive, strident, aggressive, emotional, and irrational. Out of all these words, only aggressive appeared in men’s reviews at all—’twice with an exhortation to be more of it.’”
There’s also the matter that women in tech have to navigate a sense of belonging—and conversely, othering.
In Design for Belonging, part of a Stanford d.school series, studies from researchers like Brené Brown, Claude Steele, and the Mindset Scholars Network point out that belonging is the key that unlocks the best in everyone. Kids who feel they belong learn better in school. Elders with a sense of belonging stay healthy and aware. Immigrants who feel they belong thrive in their new communities.
Having a sense of belonging leads to flourishing in every environment. And the feeling of belonging can be measured by contribution. The more you belong, the more you contribute and vice versa. Belonging happens when people feel seen, safe, and accepted.
On the other side of belonging is othering. Othering restricts the movement of whatever group is not invited in. And it refuses to let you be yourself. Cues for othering are: who is featured, who is promoted, who can access a space, putting one identity or group above another, or disempowering others based on group membership.
Are women in tech being othered? We can revisit Perez’s Invisible Women:
“[A study] found that appearance had no impact on how likely it was that a man would be judged to be a scientist. When it came to women, however, the more stereotypically feminine they looked, the less likely it was that people would think they were a scientist.”
“Writing for the New York Times, economist Justin Wolfers noted a related male-default habit in journalists routinely referring to the male contributor as the lead author when in fact the lead author was a woman. This lazy product of male-default thinking is inexcusable in a media report, but it’s even more unacceptable in academia, and yet here too it proliferates.”
“Brilliance bias is in no small part a result of a data gap: we have written so many female geniuses out of history, they just don’t come to mind as easily. The result is when ‘brilliance’ is considered a requirement for a job, what is really meant is a ‘penis.’ Several studies have found that the more a field is culturally understood to require ‘brilliance’ or ‘raw talent’ to succeed…the fewer women will be studying and working in it.”
Acknowledging the problem is the first step to solving it. If the problem is that women feel like they don’t belong, we can create a solution—me, you, all of us can nurture belonging. But we must be intentional and design for belonging. I want the women around me, the friends, the mothers, the sisters, the daughters, and coworkers to be able to fulfill their potential. Aren’t you happier when the women in your life are happy?
Let’s look at an example of how the problem is inadequately addressed today, according to Perez:
“[At Google,] women weren’t nominating themselves for promotion at the same rate as the men. [Unfortunately] their solution was not to fix the male-biased system: it was to fix the women. Senior women at Google started hosting workshops ‘to encourage women to nominate themselves.’ In other words, they held workshops to encourage women to be more like men.”
As a person who emigrated from her village in Romania at 18 to study in Germany and then at 26 to California, I strongly believe that if you want to create change, you have to make something.
Below are the values that underpin ready2.build:
ALL people belong in startups—cis women, nonbinary, and trans people—regardless of ethnicity, economic background, technical skills, age, physical ability, location, or education. Ready2.build is for all people who help build a company, no matter their role with it. How can we make that a reality within our current system?
CREATE opportunities for women to be their full self in tech. It’s in the hands of each of us to create opportunities for all comers to express their full self, to unlock their potential. The way I am creating opportunities with ready2.build is:
SEE the women in startups and CELEBRATE them.
More women who build. More women CEOs!
I choose to use my energy and my privileged position as an investor to address the needs of those furthest from opportunity. That’s why I started ready2.build. I am a cis-gendered, mixed (muslim Tatar mother, orthodox Romanian father), currently not living with disability. I am positioned in our culture as a recipient of white privilege. I am doing this work as an ally for cis women, nonbinary, and trans people to use ready2.build to redesign an unjust system. I am hopeful that you will join me and use ready2.build to make change happen. If you have ideas or would like to contribute, or just want to share feedback, please feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org.