Gender diversity in tech: fake it till you make it
March 30, 2015  

The first problem of gender diversity in tech is that men think there is no problem with gender diversity in tech.

We all have a lizard brain and the lizard brain thinks like this: There's no problem. Work is getting done. Startups are starting up. We're shipping. IPOs are making us rich. It's a pipeline issue, nothing I can do. Women are choosing to have babies. Anyway, what about nursing?

It doesn't matter how many studies come out showing the benefits of gender diversity, or the reality of bias. The lizard brain is impervious to logic.

Only the lizard brain can defeat the lizard brain.

Jujitsu your lizard brain

Consider a frat boy sitting in a frat house on a Wednesday afternoon, no women around.

Now consider that same frat boy sitting in a business meeting with ten men and ten women.

We all know that our frat boy will not behave the same in these circumstances. His lizard brain understands that these are different situations, requiring different behaviors for survival.

The way to make a woman to feel comfortable as the only woman in your group of ten is to act as if there are already another ten women in the room.

Your lizard brain can make it happen. If you are working in an all-male group of five, tell yourself that there are five women in the room, sitting behind you. It's actually pretty easy to get your lizard brain to believe this. The lizard brain invented paranoia—paranoia is its natural state! Your conscious mind does have some control over the unconscious mind, particularly when you want it to follow its natural tendencies.

The benefits of diversity

But why should you do this?

I'm not going to bother linking to studies that show how diversity leads to more successful organizations. Again, science and logic will never convince the lizard brain.

Instead, just consider a fact you know from your gut: men behave differently when women are in the room.

Forget what new ideas and viewpoints women might bring. Their mere presence changes how men act and interact in a group. And when this is happening in a business context, it means that men act in a way that is better for business. We think before we speak; we consider different viewpoints; we're more polite; frankly, we act less like assholes.

The great thing is that you can have these benefits of diversity today, even if you're a small, all-male startup. You just have to act as if there are women in the room. And if your goal is to reach gender parity, you should start acting that way now. Otherwise the first woman that walks into the room is likely walk right back out.