October 13, 2008

Selling Ourselves Short as Women In Tech

By Cyndy Aleo-Carreira of Shakespeare I Ain't (E-mail / Twitter)

More than a few friends sent me a link to one of Loren Feldman's videos, assuming, I suppose, that I would be set to grab my torch and pitchfork and go after him yet again. I can't remember a video that he's done that I've agreed with, and have, on many occasions, found his videos in poor taste, yet his commentary on the now-infamous "Cypress" video was, while still a bit over the top, dead on the money.

There are several journalists and bloggers I look up to, and Kara Swisher is usually at the top of my list. Kara is who I'd like to be when I grow up, mixing an irreverance with an unflinching eye. I've mentioned her code of ethics statement in posts on more than one occasion, because she manages to walk the fine line of socializing in the industry with grace. Her commentary on the video, however, seemed to shy away from the issue of ethics, and whether that was because the journalist in question worked for her employer or not, I'm unsure. It left me disappointed.

In the echo chamber of the tech industry, impressions are everything. While the Silicon Valley crowd meet and greet all the time, and most of the big players interact at conferences, for many of us, the only interaction we will ever have with each other is online, and without that in-person interaction to base personalities on, those impressions left online are crucial. Even my writing here on the occasional basis is a shock. I told Louis, when I met him at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco this year, I like him a lot better in person than I did based on the impression I had of him online.

The problem that we are running into is that tech has attempted, in nearly every way, to reimagine itself as a mini-Hollywood. The companies who have gained a lot of press are the ones being run by young, attractive people. It's become just as, if not more, important to look good than it does to be running a company that actually makes money in this climate.

In that same vein, it's become important to throw young, attractive reporters at those entrepreneurs. Tech still hasn't lost its male-dominated culture, and let's face it, when wooing young male entrepreneurs to spill their inside secrets, nothing works better than a pretty face. In some (but not all) cases, that young, pretty girl doesn't have the background or the experience necessary to really work the beat and remain objective. I'm in no way saying this is the case based on the Cypress video, but impressions are in the eye of the beholder, not the people who know the actual people involved.

It's disappointed me, time and time again, to see the parties and the groupies (for want of a better word). It's easier for girls (I just can't bring myself to call them women) to cozy up to an entrepreneur than a Hollywood star, and sites like Valleywag have made them famous in this tiny little realm. It's the wannabe Hollywood, complete with wannabe starlets.

But every time a story like this one comes out, with people questioning the principles of a journalist making silly videos with friends whose company she covers, or someone makes the front page of Valleywag as she climbs the social echelon of Silicon Valley, it reflects badly on all of us. For every woman in tech I respect like Kara or Orli Yakuel, there are more who are happy to skate by, regardless of the disrespect they receive. I can't imagine taking pride in gaining notoriety by what I'm wearing or who I'm dating rather than gaining respect for my knowledge and insight, and I wish that the women who do would think better of themselves than they do. We don't need to sell out to make it in tech.

Read more by Cyndy Aleo-Carreira at Shakespeare I Ain't.