Women Reject Idea They Should Obscure Their Genders to Advance in Tech

By Paula Bernier

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

That’s the verbage from one of my favorite cartoons. I just looked it up and was reminded it first appeared in The New Yorker toward the middle of 1993.

Of course, the same could said about the internet relative to men and women.

For example, just this other day I read a piece in this past weekend’s issue of The New York Times about a Finnish boy (now a man) who wrote he was able to be himself, and ultimately find acceptance, by pretending he was a woman on the internet.

I was then reminded of a recent article contributed to The Wall Street by John Greathouse of Rincon Venture Partners, who suggested that women could be more successful in tech if they “create an online presence that obscures their gender.”

 Image via Bigstock
Image via Bigstock

Greathouse in his article said that professional orchestras in the 1970s tended to be comprised almost entirely of men, but that today the gender mix of those groups better reflects that of the general population. That was achieved in large part, he suggested, due to blind auditions during which evaluators could not see but only hear the candidates perform.

Obscuring gender on social media profiles by taking steps like just using a first initial and not posting a picture, he argued, would help achieve a similar end for women seeking positions in the tech world.

Here’s a direct quote explaining Greathouse’s thinking on the matter: “A gender-neutral persona allows women to access opportunities that might otherwise be closed to them. Once they make an initial connection with a potential employer or investor, such women then have an opportunity to submit their work and experiences for an impartial review.”

It sounds as if Greathouse’s intentions are good, as he’s trying to offer suggestions on how to get more women better positions in tech. But his suggestion – for which he later apologized on Twitter – that the path to do that is for women to obscure their gender online is clearly misguided. And, to be honest, it’s more than a little sad to read for some professional women – many of whom are high achievers but are often overlooked for higher-level opportunities at their own or other companies.

Indeed, sad was the word C. Fairchild, the editor of New Economy, used to describe the Greathouse piece in a September posting on LinkedIn. The first paragraph of the piece nicely summarizes the issue at hand: “The good news is that a male venture capitalist thinks he has an innovative new solutions to solve the gender gap in tech. The bad news is that it involves women pretending that they are men.”

Fairchild (the C, by the way, stands for Caroline) went on to talk about the importance of diversity in leadership roles. It’s important, she noted, because there are inherent biases to hire and promote people who are the same as existing leaders (who tend to be men), and because companies with diverse teams have been shown to perform at a higher level.

Workplace diversity is one of themes TMC is working to promote with its Workplace Excellence Award Series for 2017. For more information on that and TMC’s other workplace-related awards, visit http://techculture.tmcnet.com.


Does your company deserve to be highlighted for its outstanding company culture, commitment to a diverse workplace, or focus on social responsibility? Apply for the TMCnet Workplace Excellence Award! Applications should be submitted by all technology organizations who have developed a positive, productive and performance-driven culture. Additionally, TMC is seeking applications from organizations who have fostered a diverse work environment whose culture and commitment to social causes drives performance and growth. Apply today.

Women Reject Idea They Should Obscure Their Genders to Advance in Tech

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