It doesn't take much sleuthing to figure out that the tech industry has a diversity problem. From major companies self-reporting grim stats to ugly sexual harassment suits and disheartening tales of the realities of fundraising while female, an occasional glance at the media is all you need to confirm that this issue is far from fully resolved.

So if you're a talented woman with a startup idea and a ton of ambition, how should you take this drumbeat of negative press?

Speaking recently at Y Combinator's third annual Female Founders Conference, Jessica Livingston, one of the accelerator's co-founders, offers a short and simple answer to this question -- just ignore it.

"There are some real obstacles women face as startup founders," she acknowledged in her speech. "But there is just so much talk and noise about this topic that I worry it will scare potential founders away."

Harsh words for the media

Livingston goes on to offer some harsh words for folks (like me, occasionally) who make their living writing about and discussing the issue. "The conversation around this topic is too often driven by people who are not actually building anything themselves," she claims. "And as with any other topic, the amount of attention the press devotes to this issue is not determined by the size of the problem, but by its potential to generate page views. Controversy generates page views, so they write about controversy."

"I don't give a sh*t about page views," she continues. "What I care about is how I can help support female founders." And the way to do that, she feels, isn't by scaring them off (or into some sort of defensive crouch) with a bombardment of stories about how bad the situation is.

Just do it.

"While I'll tell you that it is going to be harder for you as a woman, it's not going to be so much harder that it will make the difference between success and failure. If you want to start a startup, just go ahead and do it, and don't let yourself be intimidated or distracted by all the noise," Livingston insists.

"That's not only the best plan for you personally, but it's also the best way to fix these problems," she concludes.

Do you agree with her that the (loud) controversy around diversity in tech is counter-productive?

Published on: Jul 6, 2016