Digging into diversity: Willamette Week takes a look at the number of women in the tech startup scene

I’ve been lucky enough to get the chance to work with some amazing developers, CEOs, investors, and leaders in the Portland tech community. And, in my experience, some of the strongest voices have been women. But my experience belies the ratios that drive the businesses of our community.

So just how many women are there in the Portland tech startup scene? For such a loaded question, Ruth Brown at Willamette Week has managed to take an objective look at the diversity in the Portland startup scene.

A survey of 11 recent Portland tech startups, ranging from companies with four employees to 80, reveals that their total workforces were typically 70 percent to 80 percent male, while their development and engineering teams—i.e., the people who write the actual code—have even fewer women. In many cases, none.

Females are even scarcer in the open-source software community—people who work on free and open projects like Linux and Firefox—which is particularly active in Portland and which the Portland Development Commission cites as a major “strength” of the local software industry. According to a 2006 study funded by the European Union, about 1.5 percent of open-source contributors are women.

This is why it’s important to have more traditional media interested in what’s happening in the Portland startup scene. Because they have the time to dig into these stories.

Is it perfect? No. Is it inflammatory? Possibly. But long story short, this is a solid piece of journalism. And I’m interested to see the conversations it starts.

I’d encourage you to read the entire article.

[Full disclosure: I am working with Willamette Week on the Portland Digital eXperience event, this September.]

  1. Jen Pahlka (Code for America – and Portland should!) was asked about this recently, didn’t, unfortuntately have a lot to suggest (shucks!). It’s a complex and overwhelming problem when a woman steps back to survey it on her own, even a very intelligent and accomplished woman like her! We’re talking about re-educating people at large in the face of long accepted (if dysfunctional) norms. This needs to start at home and at school.

    One place where small moves have the potential for big impact (fast!) is in the media. One project to consider: let’s start a print and web magazine for girls (women, too) and technology. Profile successful women active in the field so there are clear cut examples and role models (we need more than Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and Jen Pahlka, ladies and gents!). Get sponsors like the Society of Women Engineers. Let’s establish more large scale events for women that are focused on technology – how about a business plan/startup contest for SPECIFICALLY for woman-founded ventures, woman-only hack-a-thons (“wogramming”), Women in Open Source conventions (butt grabbers will lose fingers, especially if male), and so on.

    Essentially, women need to work very dilligently together develop and carve out their own culuture among the existing establishment in technology in science. The more women who move into these fields, become successful and harness their success to push this gender bias bullshit to the curb where it belongs, the better off we’ll be.

    We have a long way to go, baby, so let’s get to work!

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  3. Great point Tristan. I totally agree with you that the problem starts much earlier. But I also think that *more* girls trail off the science and engineering path – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20466219/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/stereotypes-turn-girls-math-science/#.T72liFKN1EM that turn off girls at a younger age

    If someone has a solution, I would love to work with you on this.

  4. Interesting article. However, I think people are too focused on the last mile. The real question is obviously not “why aren’t more women in one industry or another,” it’s “why aren’t more women pursuing careers in science and engineering in general.” When you take a deeper look I think you’ll discover the problem starts much earlier. We need to do a much better job encouraging young people of all genders to study science and engineering.

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