Guest post: Half of my potential pool of applicants simply wasn’t there

Guest post by James Garnett.

Much has been written and discussed about how expectations of adherence to traditional gender roles adversely affect us, and particularly how they disproportionately affect women. The list is long and familiar and I couldn’t describe it fully even if I knew every vocational and social aspect. What I can describe is lesser known, namely how these gender expectations affecting women have a rebound effect upon men, because it has had an impact upon me personally.

I earned a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering (EE) and graduate degrees in Computer Science (CS) and in 2004, with a patent application for my graduate research under review, I decided to start a company to offer a specific kind of Internet security service based upon that original research. My alma mater had a “Technology Transfer” office that was designed to facilitate exactly this kind of academic-to-industry effort, and through them I was able to incorporate, form an initial board of directors, and very quickly start soliciting investment. Even as far back as twelve years ago, people were beginning to become very concerned about the issues that I intended to address, but there were no solutions yet available. So I had logistical resources at my disposal that were going to allow me to jumpstart my company immediately, and a new, potentially lucrative market that resulted in a great deal of investment interest. All I needed was an engineering team composed of people who had the appropriately rarified education and training to comprehend immediately what I wanted to do, and the skills to implement it.

Building the core engineering team is where I ran into trouble. I had potential funding contingent upon being able to produce a proof of concept so I began soliciting applicants through every avenue available. It quickly became apparent that there were very few people who had the minimum necessary skill-set and training–and moreover that the only people who were even applying were men. Thinking back on my academic career I recalled that my graduating EE class was composed of several hundred men and exactly one woman, and that the composition of my graduating CS class–although better–was still mostly men. I realized then that half of my potential pool of applicants simply wasn’t there, and that that was a direct result of our society’s discouragement of women in “traditionally male” occupations. After a fruitless summer of trying, I gave up. I had debts, I needed income, and it was obvious that my hiring efforts were not going to amount to anything, so I asked to be hired as a full time employee at the firm where I had been doing occasional consulting.

Since that time, I have watched the nascent industry that I wanted to help create, growing by leaps and bounds. Cloudflare, a company now offering services roughly equivalent in many ways to the sort of thing I was intent on developing (at least in terms of functionality), raised USD$2.1 million in 2009, followed by USD$20 million in 2011, USD$50 million in 2012, and recently a Series D round of funding worth USD$110 million in 2015. That is just one of many successful startups in the industry. I’ve stayed in the job that I took upon giving up on my own startup ambitions and I’ve been professionally and financially successful, so I don’t regret anything–but sometimes I do wonder what things or what good I could have achieved with financial backing of that kind.

To quote President Obama: “Imagine you have a team, and you don’t let half the team play–that’s stupid. That makes no sense. And the evidence shows that communities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons, they are more peaceful, they are more prosperous, they develop faster, they are more likely to succeed.”

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