When’s the last time you heard a man say, ‘I’ve been reading this great book, you’d really like it?’

Last week, I talked with a BBC reporter about a story she’s writing on the importance of networks for women (I’ll add the link when the article is published in a few weeks). I think this is an important issue, so I wanted to talk with her honestly, without any spin.

Who You Know

The reality is that of course who you know is important. Whether you’re looking for a job, employees, customers, funding, media coverage, or advice, more connections are always better. And it’s a virtuous cycle. Say you know someone great who is looking for a job. If someone else in your circle is looking to hire for that role, you make the connection, and you’ve paid back double.

Most networks grow organically. Let’s grab a drink after work. Who wants to watch the game? Men make up the majority of tech and of course know a lot of other men. When they make plans to have a scotch or watch some football, they mostly aren’t actively looking to exclude women. It just happens that way. And along the way, they trade advice, learn more about each others’ companies, and their networks grow.

Where does this leave women?

Certainly, women should be proactive and start their own organic networks. Some of the best support, advice, and referrals I’ve gotten have been from the women in my networks.

Women can also join what they consider the men’s networks. Mostly, men really don’t want to exclude women. They just aren’t thinking about balancing gender ratios when they get thirsty for a beer (I’m talking here about informal networks, not formal, structured ones, such as those organized by companies, when lack of thought about gender is both short-sighted and inexcusable).

During the interview, I mentioned that I occasionally attend regular poker games and I’m nearly always the only woman. I’m a really terrible poker player, but no one cares (in fact, they probably appreciate the easy money!). I’ve met lots of great people and always have a good time. Sometimes work stuff comes up; sometimes it doesn’t. The networking isn’t the point, but a happy side effect.

But Dudes Don’t Have Any Overlapping Interests With Women

I told the reporter that I think some women are hesitant to join these kinds of events because they worry they’re not really wanted or they’ll just get in the way. When you have a man who just got $6.5 million to launch a women’s web site being published in the New Yorker saying:

“I am a dude. I don’t have a lot of overlapping interests with most women my age. I’m really into history. I’m really into markets and finance.”

And:

“Men, to the best of my knowledge, don’t even read. When’s the last time you heard a man say, ‘I’ve been reading this great book, you’d really like it’?

Then you could easily start to assume that men (as evidenced by that dude), media (as evidenced by the New Yorker giving that dude a voice), and venture capitalists (as evidenced by those who gave that dude money) at the very least think of women as having completely different interests than men (and certainly don’t expect to be hanging out with a group of people with such a lack of overlapping interests).

(Can’t help it, although surely obvious aside: the last time I heard a man say “I’ve been reading this great book, you’d really like it” was probably yesterday.)

And then you think, sure, I really want to walk into a room full of men who see me and think, there’s that woman with no overlapping interests, who doesn’t care about money or our world and only wants to talk about stupid books.

What If They Think I’m Just a Taker?

The BBC reporter I talked to also thought perhaps that some women think of going to these kinds of events as mercenary: that they’d be attending just to try to get something, and that would leave a bad taste. I agreed that no one should be hanging out with people they don’t enjoy spending time with, participating in activities they don’t like. My point, rather, was just that at this point in time, women are fewer than men in tech. And so focusing on only creating more women’s networks may not be enough. We also should turn (accidental) men’s networks into co-ed networks, and that may require us to take a leap of faith that we won’t show up someplace and be relegated to the women’s book club corner so the men can talk finance. I believe that most men aren’t like that dude. (The reason some women may be so hesitant to go to that poker game is that some men are in fact exactly like that dude, and we women know that from experience.)

Later, I was talking with a friend about the interview, and I mentioned how I just had an honest conversation, but since these types of articles have to surface only short sound bites from larger discussions, I’m now worried that I’ll come across as mercenary and in it only for what I can take from my fellow poker players. And that’s not what I was trying to say at all.

Which is one example of how complicated it all can be to talk about. But all of tech is better off if we can. Plus, maybe we all can get some good book recommendations.

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