Tech's geek boy blind spot is killing good ideas

Tech's geek boy blind spot is killing good ideas
It's a mistake for tech firms to think their staff is a match for their market

We know that tech has woman trouble. The people running the start-ups? They're almost exclusively male. The people working in the companies? Mostly male too. The attitudes to women that we see in marketing and presentations? Frankly patronising. The problem is, the industry appears to carry on under the impression that it's a perfect microcosm of the rest of the world, and then gets surprised every time it's reminded otherwise.

Anthony Rose, CTO of TV social network Beamly, is laudably honest when he explains the gender blind spot his own company was operating under in his interview with TechRadar. "When we started the company, we were super served internally with male geeky guys, essentially people like myself. And this meant we automatically leaned to engineering the utility side of Zeebox [as Beamly was then called]."

But what Rose and his colleagues took a while to twig was that people like them don't watch very much TV. They were making a product all about television, meticulously geared towards people who don't like television. Cue Zeebox's female-focused rebirth as Beamly: new name, new pink-ish colour scheme, new focus on social networking, making it something like the Pinterest of prime time.

According to Rose, 65% of Beamly's users are women. Which makes me wonder: if Beamly found its audience despite being pitched insistently towards a group that was never going to want it, how many more great ideas in technology are being snuffed out because the geek boy groupthink is stopping them from finding the people who actually have a use for them?

While brogrammers are brogramming away to suit themselves, they're actually strangling their own chances of success. And looked at like that, it really should be obvious that the appalling record of the tech sector in attracting, employing and retaining women is one that the industry should be looking to remedy urgently and for the basest financial motives.

The costs of the boys' club

There are other reasons why we need more gender equality - there's the simple and obvious injustice of half the world having been frozen out of the industry that shapes the world we now live in, for example. But all the coding in the world is worthless if you don't know what you should be making and who you're making it for.

Technology is still a bit in love with itself as a boys' club, with a macho pride in working punishing hours. But geek boy groupthink is a prison. It keeps women locked out, and that's one way in which it's disastrous. It also keeps tech firms sealed in, trapped by an idea of their audience as fundamentally like their nerdy selves which stops them from coming up with any number of good new ideas - good ideas that consumers like you and me would fall over themselves to use if only someone would invent them.

Some of the biggest technology companies in the world have already learned that backslapping laddism will only get them so far. Facebook is one: after starting out as a frat boy innovation that put leching to an algorithm, its user base is now over half women and its chief operating officer is Sheryl Sandberg, queen of corporate feminism. It's time tech accepted that acting like only half the world counts means doing yourself out of half the success you could have.

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