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Are Startups Using Culture as an Excuse to Exclude Women?

There’s no shortage of startups these days, especially if you look at Silicon Valley. But old problems still remain, alongside potentially innovative new products and ideas. For instance, tech companies have a shockingly low amount of female employees … and may actively be recruiting men instead of women to create a certain type of “culture.”

(Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr)

For about as long as tech startups have existed, they have utilized a type of hiring process to ascertain if a potential employee would be a good fit for the company. Forget skills or resumes; these companies are simply looking to see if a personality will be a good match.

In my experience, I've seen companies in Silicon Valley hire a new employee because the worker was offering rideshare services and their new employer happened to like their personality and offered them a job on the spot, skills unseen. Elsewhere, I've seen companies have potential employees meet with the founders, and then send the candidate off to lunch with a few members of the existing staff to see if there is a “fit.”

In both of these situations, the chances of “fitting” favors males, due to existing schema at most startups.

But what happens if you are one of the founders … and female? As Whitney Wolfe of Tinder discovered, the theory of maintaining “culture” meant that she was fired from her job as VP of marketing at Tinder and stripped of her title of cofounder. According to Refinery29, Wolfe filed a lawsuit against Tinder on June 30, in which she says former vice president Justin Mateen stripped Wolfe of her cofounder title because having a young female founder made the company look “like a joke.”

“Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders,” Mateen reportedly said, “it just makes it look like Tinder was some accident.” 

Unfortunately, the strong desire to exclude women from executive roles -- or even any role -- at startups is prevalent at many tech companies. Recent numbers revealed by Twitter, Facebook, and Google only a small percentage of females comprise the total number of employees in tech roles.

Refinery29 also notes that earlier this year, "longtime Github engineer Julie Ann Horvath resigned, saying in a tweet, 'My only regret is not leaving or being fired sooner.' Her resignation came with a story of overt sexism and ongoing attacks from male colleagues and superiors."

Adding to Wolfe, Horvath’s story is just one of dozens revealing overt sexism in the tech industry over the past few years and a result of being ousted by culture.

It’s an open question whether startups are leveraging the notion of “culture” to actively exclude women from these nascent companies. As companies mature, it may be critical for them not just to actively include women -- but to re-examine the idea of what exactly culture is and whether these culture-fit tests contribute positively to the corporate environment. 

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think tech companies are excluding women? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. 1 angela 18 Aug
    I agree women make men in management upset when they are getting all the work done and the male manager will ask her to back off and let him send her plan over email to the different dept. And president of co. If the lady is professional she will agree but not follow this non rule and soon she will be fired because the male boss felt like he was lookng bad and plotted to get her canned, thank u

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