Why Didn’t Congressman Gianforte Invite a Single Woman to His Tech Roundtable?

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In the series of stories about Greg Gianforte meeting with some Montana technology executives this week, one line stood out as a perfect illustration of just how out of touch and sexist Mr. Gianforte is. From Montana Public Radio:

Gianforte invited a handful of representatives from Montana’s growing high-tech industry to meet with him Monday.

The 10 men who huddled around a meeting table at the Missoula-based incubator MonTec run Montana companies offering everything from analytics, e-commerce, energy, tourism and security services. (emphasis mine)

You read that correctly. In a story about the challenges of finding workers for the tech economy, our Congressman couldn’t think of a single woman in the state worthy of attendance. Not any of the women who are leading tech companies, teaching computer science at our universities, or leading investment firms that focus on technology. None of the coders, entrepreneurs, or executives who are helping these companies grow.

Not one.

There are, of course, dozens of successful Montana women leading the way in high-tech fields, but in the narrow vision of Greg Gianforte, none were welcomed to the table to share their experience or ideas.

In fact, Gianforte attended a tech conference a year ago in Missoula where a female speaker, a former executive at his company, specifically noted that she “could list 10 women in tech in Montana that are all doing interesting things.”

Maybe Mr. Gianforte wasn’t listening to that woman either.

And in a story about the challenges companies are facing when it comes to hiring, that’s not some sort of harmless oversight. That kind of thinking could well be the cause of the shortage of workers in tech. We’re losing out on critical talent because young women, who are competing with and even exceeding what boys accomplish in high school STEM classes, are too often discouraged from tech careers by a misogynistic culture that keeps them from the field.

A comprehensive study by Reuters found that it is precisely the exclusion of women and other groups that keeps them from pursuing jobs and getting career advancement in tech:

But the myth of meritocracy prevails. “This mythology … denies the role of personal connections, wealth, background, gender, race, or education in an individual’s success,” writes Alice Marwick, a professor at Fordham University. “If, for example, women (or people of color, or gay people) are not getting venture-capital funding at the same rate as men, the myth maintains, it is due to their lack of ability rather than institutional sexism. It also justifies immense wealth as the worthy spoils of the smartest and best.”

Just think about the opportunity a chance to meet with someone who made his fortune in technology could have afforded a female tech leader in our state. The thoughtless exclusion of a single woman was not just a symptom of the glass ceiling that pervades tech; it was also a cause of the sexism that keeps women from top positions.

And just in case you think this was an isolated oversight, don’t forget that Gianforte himself told students at the University of Montana that his company was hostile to women from the outset:

Gianforte recently gave the keynote address at the Jobs Summit at the University of Montana on Oct. 9. He showed the crowd a slideshow of the early days of RightNow that illustrated tech’s cultural challenges.

“This was our first Christmas party,” Gianforte said, pointing to a picture. “It’s like, five geeks standing around with a beer. We did hire women, but they knew better than to show up for the Christmas party.”

If you search through Mr. Gianforte’s comments about tech in Montana, he’s constantly explaining what women need to do to become more involved in tech. Isn’t it time for him to sit down and listen to a few?

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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