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I am often told we don’t have enough women in the pipeline for tech jobs. Here’s my take on that: there are enough women in the pipeline—if you assume competence.

What do I mean by “assume competence”? Let me give you an example.

The Volleyball Example

In September of  2018, men held almost 60% of the head coaching positions for Division I women’s volleyball teams.

Women make up 100% of the athletes in women’s volleyball. Yet not even 50% of the coaches are women. There are only 22 men’s volleyball programs at the Division I level in the NCAA, yet they apparently produce enough coaches to supply almost 60% of the coaches for 334 women’s Division I programs.

Over 75% of the athletes who play volleyball in the U.S. are women, yet there is no pipeline problem of men to coach women’s volleyball. To my knowledge, after some brief searching, there are zero programs that prepare men to coach women’s volleyball. There is no leaky pipeline study, no Lean In book telling men what to do to coach in a female-dominated sport.

Why do we not have a pipeline problem for men coaching women’s sports? We assume competence.

We assume men who have never played women’s volleyball or (other women’s sports) can coach women’s volleyball. There are key differences in the skills and strategies of men’s and women’s volleyball. Nonetheless, we assume not only that men’s skills at playing men’s volleyball are useful and transferable, but also that they can go to the next level and coach—lead, instruct, motivate, develop winning strategies for—a women’s volleyball team, even though they have never played this exact sport.

To put it bluntly, we assume whatever experience a man had before makes him competent to coach women. There is a gendered expectation that the man is fundamentally competent.

To reverse the situation, almost no women coach men’s sports. Women’s experience playing and coaching women’s sports is not seen as transferable to men’s sports.

Why not? I would argue that it is because we do not assume women’s competence in the same way that we assume men’s competence.

Back to Tech…

Imagine if we could replicate the pipeline of men coaching women’s volleyball and apply it to women in the tech industry. The NCAA was somehow able to take a pipeline of approximately only 20% men—none of whom had direct experience playing women’s volleyball—and fill 60% of the leadership positions, i.e., the most prestigious women’s coaching jobs.

How did they do this? What was their secret? They assumed competence.  

If we assume competence, we can do this diversity thing in tech. There are women, people of color, persons with disabilities, and many other underrepresented groups with either directly applicable experience or transferable skills who can lead, build, and grow your tech company—if you assume competence.


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Jason Thompson Jason Thompson
Jason is VP of Diversity & Inclusion at Techstars. Jason has had a long career in Diversity and Inclusion, most recently with the US Olympic Committee, and has developed award winning D&I programs for sports organizations, healthcare and higher education.