Women in tech can be more successful with this one weird trick: erase yourselves!
That’s the lesson of an ill-considered op-ed from John Greathouse, a venture capitalist and professor at UC Santa Barbara, published today in The Wall Street Journal. After piecing together a vague evolutionary theory, an anecdote about blind orchestral auditions, and a theory of likability from a self-help book, Greathouse concludes that women would be better off in professional settings by covering up the fact they’re women.
Here are some of Greathouse’s key suggestions:
...women in today’s tech world should create an online presence that obscures their gender. A gender-neutral persona allows women to access opportunities that might otherwise be closed to them.
...however unfair it may be – I would suggest that if you are a woman raising capital, you might consider not including photos of your team in your pitch deck.
If you identify your team via their initials (men and women), you effectively strip out all preconceptions related to race, ethnicity and gender.
Greathouse’s suggestion is based on the prejudicial position of men in tech — a position illuminated by the fact that he’s only asking women to conceal their identities, and not men. So he’s not really talking about a “gender-neutral persona,” he’s talking about a vaguely male persona. If you look male in a slide deck or have a traditionally male name, no problem: step right this way for your money.
I am not suggesting that people shun their ethnicity and run from their cultural identities.
(Actually, you are suggesting exactly that.)
This kind of “helpful” advice from men toward women may be one of the most reliable forms of irony in the tech industry. But even this nakedly absurd editorial conclusion, which borders on parody, seems to belie real consequences. Take, for example, one of Greathouse’s final claims:
My point is that many people in the business community are intellectually dishonest. They say that they believe in diversity of thought, but their pattern matching habits cause them to prematurely narrow their aperture before giving certain entrepreneurs a chance to prove themselves.
Rincon Venture Partners, where Greathouse is a partner, lists 39 companies in its funding portfolio. The Verge reviewed data for each of those companies through their listings on CrunchBase, except for two whose founding teams were unlisted. Of the companies we looked at, Rincon funded 68 male founders, and only 4 female founders.
Greathouse may say he believes in diversity of thought, but the pattern of his company’s investments suggests it may not be giving a certain type of entrepreneur a chance to prove herself.