What it means when someone complains about the number of women on stage at a technology conference.
Is there anything more utterly fucking boring than well-meaning commentators tweeting the obligatory “Why are there no women on stage?” at tech conferences? I’ll help you with the answer to that: no, there isn’t.
How many times have potentially enlightening debates about business models or consumer habits or growth or investment or some other, infinitely more interesting discussion topic been derailed by this soporific garbage?
If women want to stage their own conferences to discuss under-representation, that is a good thing. The more women in the industry, the better. Really. (Just don’t expect to be on the pitch if you’re not comfortable with a level playing field.)
But what’s most peculiar about this empty spectacle of bien pensant posturing is that, so often, it’s actually men doing the posing. I think it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider why that might be so.
No matter the significance, newsworthiness or even comic potential of what’s happening on stage, a male tech blogger can always be relied upon to bleat out the same, tired old commentary as if he were a bold social reformer, rather than the bland, craven hack he so often is.
They do it in the full knowledge that they are being recklessly disingenuous. For this is the technology industry: there are more men in it because the male mind is, in general, better primed with the sorts of skills the industry values; men are simply better suited to most technology jobs.
Women therefore tend to work in roles that require finesse and communicative skills, where they pop up in this world at all. What is hard to understand about this, or offensive about pointing it out? The sexes are wired differently, and that’s perfectly fine.
There will be exceptions. Women who succeed should be celebrated – though on their merits, not because they have a vagina (hello, Evening Standard). But there will always be more men. It’s a biological inevitability.
It’s certainly nothing to feel crippling guilt about.
Not to be crude, but it does make me wonder if these men, earnestly tweeting their despair at the lack of punani under the spotlight, have mislaid their dumpsticks. I mean, seriously: what turns a normal man into a docile, cringing coward who can only muster “where the bitches be at” when asked to pass judgment on a discussion of importance?
Is today’s man really so emasculated?
Or perhaps it’s the opposite. Perhaps it’s their members leading the way. Perhaps these buffoons are trying to suck up to women merely to get laid. (Newsflash: no woman wants a man so spineless and so ostentatiously beta.) Who can say.
But what infuriates me beyond reason is the implication that the technology industry’s accomplishments are so insignificant and its progress so meagre and unimportant that the dearth of women in boardrooms and on conference panels is a subject worthy of so much time and attention.
It isn’t. Nor, particularly, is the under-representation of ethnic minorities, or gays, or Jews, or paraplegic Armenian lesbians. There aren’t many other homosexuals in tech, but you don’t hear me banging on about it.
I mean, Christ, for a world that prides itself of being a fierce meritocracy, we don’t half go in for some special pleading and minority elevation, don’t we?
The truth is this debate simply doesn’t matter that much. Impressive women who can stand their ground alongside men – and there are plenty of them – succeed not in spite of a supposedly oppressive male atmosphere but because of it.
Because, actually, women have it easy in tech: there are so few of them that conference organisers are desperate to put them on stage. Feature writers are unendingly enthusiastic about trailing glossy pics of them in newspapers and magazines. Prime Ministers are anxious to meet them and be photographed alongside these trailblazing digital divas.
When you think about how easy it is for a female founder to get media coverage, it’s the men I feel sorry for.
And you do have to feel particularly sorry for those poor, disadvantaged men on stage, who are privately as cheesed off by the tweets of loony feminist activists and journalists as those journalists’ own readers are. The specific problem for VCs and start-up chief executives is that they have to pay lip service to the bores, for fear of negative publicity or opprobrium from colleagues.
I’m afraid it’s time to be honest about what’s really going on when a tech blogger – or even, for shame, a proper newspaper journalist – makes these impassioned pleas for arbitrary “equality” or – shudder – “quotas”. Either they are weak and stupid or they are horny.
So let’s stop patronising women. The best women don’t want your pity and the mediocre ones don’t matter anyway. And complaining about a lack of women on-stage at a technology conference is not a brave political statement or an expresssion of the desire for change, or equality, or social progress.
Instead, it is an admission that the commentator has given up trying to engage critically with the issues being discussed. It is an abnegation of intellectual responsibility; a cry for professional help.
It is just another form of empty-headed crowd pleasing; an alternative to coming up with something insightful, useful or witty.
We shouldn’t give in to such vacuity. If you’re a journalist, stop being such a lazy, spineless weasel and start addressing the big issues. Because technology is changing our world in extraordinary, disorientating ways.
But society has no hope of keeping abreast of the vastness and speed of these shifts when its chosen interpreters are hung up on tired 1960s identity politics and special pleading on behalf of groups to which they do not even belong.