Why women in tech are outraged

Melinda Gates: We need 'more diverse teams'
Melinda Gates: We need 'more diverse teams'

Women in tech are seriously fired up over a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

The piece, written by a white male investor, suggested that women in tech "obscure their gender" -- for their career's sake.

"A gender-neutral persona allows women to access opportunities that might otherwise be closed to them," wrote John Greathouse, a partner at Rincon Venture Partners and professor at UC Santa Barbara.

Greathouse suggests that entrepreneurs should go by their initials in fundraising pitch decks to strip out "preconceptions" related to race, ethnicity and gender. He advocated for both men and women to only use their initials, but the piece was addressed specifically to women.

He touches on a phenomenon called "pattern matching," when investors look for entrepreneurs who remind them of prior successes. So investors might be more likely to fund entrepreneurs who look like, say, Mark Zuckerberg.

It's no secret that the deck is stacked against women. They make up just a small fraction of founders (less than 20% in 2014) and just 7% of partners at the top 100 VC firms. Female founders have raised just 10% of global VC funding.

Stories of bias and harassment against women in tech are perhaps more alarming -- everything from an investor touching a female founder's breast to women wearing fake wedding rings to stave off dates while networking.

Related: Melinda Gates is doubling down on this issue

women in tech wsj

There's a lot that is troubling about Greathouse's proposal for combating bias.

His argument places the onus on the marginalized, in this case women, to counter the biases against them. This is in contrast to the approach taken by diversity consultants, who educate on things like unconscious bias so decision-makers can be held accountable.

According to Gesche Haas, founder of Trailblazer Ventures, Greathouse's suggestion that women conceal their identity "leads women to being underestimated and underappreciated -- to the detriment of everyone in our society."

"To create real change, it's crucial for more women to succeed and to visibly do so, as women," she told CNNMoney.

Related: Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science nears gender parity

From venture capitalists to entrepreneurs to engineers, people can't stop talking about how misguided the op-ed is and how Greathouse's "solution" is anything but valid. (Utilizing initials to hide their identity was something female journalists did in the 19th century.)

women in tech initials

"You are effectively telling all women, including impressionable young girls, to be ashamed of their gender online," tweeted Hannah Rutherford.

Aileen Lee, managing partner at Cowboy Ventures, urged Greathouse to consider how his argument would sound if he substituted "black men" for "women" and "race" for "gender." "Would you feel proud?" she tweeted.

In a tweetstorm, entrepreneur and writer Anil Dash wrote that, "the burden of fixing historic wrongs and systemic biases is not on those who are victimized by them. Hiding oneself is not an answer."

"The answer is to hold the intellectually dishonest accountable. And who better than a VC, with both power & money, to hold them accountable?" he wrote in a later tweet.

The WSJ posted an article on Wednesday, which it said showcased different points of view.

Greathouse apologized in a tweet Wednesday, calling his article "dreadful."

"I told women to endure the gender bias problem rather than acting to fix the problem," he wrote. "Women have a tough enough time having their voices heard and my insensitive comments only made matters worse. I am truly sorry."

UC Santa Barbara did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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