Techweek 2012 is a wrap. Despite some organizational stumbles, the sheer mass of programming and the crowds guaranteed good things would come of it. They certainly did for me.
Techweek ran the gamut, from Howard Tullman’s tour-de-force talk on the data-sliced present/future, full of utopian potential and dystopian risk, to Dennis Manarchy’s stunning oversize Vanishing Cultures portraits, an homage to the present/past of both people and technology. It was wonderful to meet and reconnect with people, to talk about projects, business models, progress. And god bless those ever-resourceful Task Rabbits who brought the Wow Bao buns: brilliant marketing—really, truly I will use you when the need next arises.
Yet throughout the event, there were little off-notes of sexism, most likely unintentional, but nonetheless there.
- Only 7 women on the Techweek 100 list
- An all male panel of judges for the 2012 Final Five Launch competition
- Only one woman entrepreneur in the Final Five pitch
Which is neither to say that there are not a lot of talented men on the Chicago tech scene, or that all of the men on the list didn’t deserve to be there. Rather, it is point out that the number of talented women on the scene is on the rise. And though plaid and t-shirted men still outnumbered women strolling the trade show aisles and attending lectures, I would guesstimate that at least a quarter of attendees were women.
There are more women enrolling in Code Academy. Three of what I think are among the most promising startups in Chicago happen to be women-run:
- Sharon Schneider, Good Karma Clothing for Children
- Julie Bashkin, KLUTCHclub
- Jennifer Thomas, Travel720
This is something to celebrate. Yet when numbers skew so badly—only 7% of the techs-to-know in Chicago are women? really?—it raises questions.
I probably would have let this slide, but for a quote of Nora Ephron’s that I read this morning in an obituary. In a graduation address to her alma mater, Wellesley College, she talks, with her trademark razor sharp wit, about changes in attitudes toward women and by women since was a student in the early 1960s. Then she gets to the rather serious nut:
“What I’m saying is, don’t delude yourself that the powerful cultural values that wrecked the lives of so many of my classmates have vanished from the earth. Don’t let the New York Times article about the brilliant success of Wellesley graduates in the business world fool you — there’s still a glass ceiling. Don’t let the number of women in the work force trick you — there are still lots of magazines devoted almost exclusively to making perfect casseroles and turning various things into tents.
Don’t underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back. One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don’t take it personally, but listen hard to what’s going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks are the words: get back, get back to where you once belonged. When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn’t serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move to limit abortion rights is an attack on you — whether or not you believe in abortion. The fact that Clarence Thomas is sitting on the Supreme Court today is an attack on you.”
So it makes a difference. There are good things happening on Chicago’s women-in-tech front. More good things need to happen. And we all need to do a better job both seeing and acknowledging them.
—J.A. Ginsburg / @TrackerNews
(originally posted on Built in Chicago)