Women in Technology Suffer as a Result of the American Myth of Meritocracy.
The American dream is based on the idea that the United States is a meritocracy. Americans think that success in life and business can be gained by anyone prepared to put in the appropriate effort.
Thus, many Americans believe that those who are successful deserve to be such, and those who aren’t are equally deserving of their destiny – despite mounting evidence that expanding disparities in income, wealth, labour, and gender play a significant influence in who succeeds and who fails.
And, as my and others’ research indicates, the fact that Americans believe their society is a meritocracy is the greatest threat to equality, particularly when it comes to gender.
The Definition of Meritocracy
In America, gender inequality is ubiquitous.
Women in the United States continue to face gender inequality, sexual harassment, and little progress toward equal pay. Top positions in government and industry continue to be dominated by males.
Simultaneously, 75% of Americans say they believe in meritocracy. This idea endures despite evidence that we tend to use it to justify acts that maintain rather than reverse the current quo of gender discrimination.
This myth is so strong that it influences our actions.
Entrepreneurship is a place where the myths and realities of America’s meritocracy collide. Women control 39 per cent of all privately owned enterprises in the United States but only receive about 4 per cent of venture capital funding. In other words, male-led businesses receive 96% of all funding.
However, because of the meritocracy myth, which my research reveals has a stronghold in the world of entrepreneurship, women are frequently reminded that all they need to do to receive more of that $22 billion or so in venture capital financing is to make better pitches or be more assertive.
The idea is that women aren’t working hard enough or doing the right things to advance, rather than that the way venture capitalists provide investment is unjust in and of itself.
Another reason for the paucity of support for women is the “pipeline” issue. That is, women are simply uninterested in the industries’ foundational subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math.
As a result, as more women enter STEM disciplines, there will be more female entrepreneurs, and more money will flow to them. Pipeline explanations presume that there are no barriers to women becoming technology entrepreneurs.
However, we know that the contrary is true. Women in technology were pushed out by men, according to technology historian Marie Hicks and her book “Programmed Inequality.”
I did research on entrepreneur support institutions, such as accelerators, alongside management professor Susan Clark Muntean.
Demonstrates that they frequently use outreach and recruitment techniques that favour males rather than women This is confirmed further by survey data from Techstars, one of the world’s most well-known and recognised innovation accelerators. Approximately four out of every five organisations that have completed their programmes are white, and nearly nine out of ten are male.
The Myth of ‘gender-neutrality’
Nonetheless, many tech accelerators are led by an underlying assumption that gender-neutral marketing and recruitment approaches, rather than tailored ones, will attract the “best” candidates. This idea is sometimes phrased as “Our doors are open to everyone,” implying that they do not discriminate.
Many organisations in the tech sector, ironically, accept this approach because they believe it is gender-neutral and so unbiased.
However, professing to be gender-neutral hinders businesses from admitting that their methods are prejudiced. The majority of outreach and recruitment occurs through word-of-mouth, alumni referrals, and personal networks of accelerator leadership, the majority of whom are men.
These strategies frequently attract more of the same: white male entrepreneurs rather than diverse professionals. As a result, women in entrepreneurial ecosystems do not have equitable access to resources.
And this is despite the fact that data on returns show that venture-backed tech businesses led by women outperform those led by men.
The first step in resolving this issue is for tech companies, investors, and accelerators to recognise that what they call meritocracy is, in fact, gender-biased, with mostly white men gaining access to resources and funding. Gender equality will remain a distant goal if we continue to believe in meritocracy and adhere to its methods.
The next stage is to abandon gender-neutral tactics in favour of “gender-aware,” proactive initiatives to address unfair practices. Setting explicit targets for gender balance, monitoring the gender composition of boards, committees, and other key groups inside the organisation, and evaluating the methods and channels utilised for outreach, recruitment, and support of entrepreneurs are all part of this.
The payback on investment in gender equality is obvious: supporting and investing in enterprises founded by half of the world’s population will result in vibrant societies and sustainable economies. And it begins with male allies who want to be a part of the solution and see that meritocracy, as it is currently defined in society, is not the way to go.