Ask the Wrong Question, Get Meaningless Answers

Note: This essay was originally published on the Guidewire Labs blog. It has been moved here in an attempt to consolidate my writing. – CS

Oy. My head is about to explode. I’m here at the Innovate Columbus event listening to a panel that had such wonderful potential. David Pogue of the New York Times (and an incredibly funny moderator), Anousheh Ansari, co-founder of Prodea Systems and the first private woman space tourist, and Sarah Lacy, the infamous Silicon Valley journalist. I met Anousheh at dinner last night and was so looking forward to hearing about her travel to the International Space Station and the audacious aspirations to make space travel available to mere mortals.

That’s not exactly what transpired, much to my disappointment. I suppose it was inevitable, though, that an audience member would ask that question that makes my eyes roll like an exasperated teenager: “Why are there so few women in tech?”

For some seemingly interminable time, Sara, the audience member, and Anousheh (when she can shoehorn a word in) discussed the question. Amid the not-so-veiled hypothesis that women are back-stabbing bitches who perceive all other women as competitors who must be crushed under their stiletto heels, Sara made an insightful observation. As graduating men and women enter the job market, they are at relative parity in pay and status. ”But somewhere along the line, a choice is made. Things change. I don’t know what it is.”

Really? This from a woman who is pregnant? I’m going to guess that the birth of that child might help identify the “choice.”

Which leads me to my point. Beyond being tiresome, this relentless questioning of why not more women entrepreneurs or why not more women in tech is fundamentally the wrong question. We should be asking why more men aren’t choosing full-time parenting. The fact is that women stop out of their careers to raise children at a substantially greater rate than do men. And they tend to do it at exactly the time most professionals hit the inflection point of their careers.

Just once, I’d like to hear a panel discuss that question. I’d like to hear men speculate about parenting as an emasculating activity that leaves an otherwise macho wage-earner whimpering in the locker room with as much stereotypic bull pucky as we listen to women describing each other as ruthless, hair-pulling, nail-scratching, girl-fighting wenches.

Really. Just once. Can we?

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