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April 11, 2014

Women, Tech, and the Single Dad

Screenshot 2014-04-11 at 4.03.28 PM

“Listen, between us, when I get a call for a position like this, the message between the lines is that they need a man who is always on call. Companies don’t want to deal with someone that has to run home to children or nurse sick kids back to health.”

I wasn’t sure if the content of what the headhunter was telling me or the flippant tone in her voice was more shocking. This was the same woman who had hounded me to visit her office for two weeks. The same touted individual who, two minutes earlier, had told me that I was an absolute shoe-in for the position.

Many similar conversations would follow over the next two months. The reactions to my proclamation of single fatherhood varied from the unpleasant to the downright ugly. One interviewer assured me that not being as involved in my children’s lives would not make me a bad father. An (government employed) unemployment official advised that it would probably be worthwhile for me to gain training outside of tech, in an atmosphere “better suited for mothers.”

I had been laid off before but I never took it as a cause for worry. When layoffs hit the startup I was working for a few months ago, I felt a deep pit in my stomach because I recognized the challenge that awaited me: for the first time, I was looking for a job as a single dad. Much like single mothers the world over, I now had to find a workplace that saw my status as a working parent not as a liability, but as a testament of character and an opportunity for new perspectives.

Equally as important in a potential employer was the progressive atmosphere touted by Y Combinator founding partner, Jessica Livingston, in a recent interview when asked what needed to change in order to increase women’s participation in tech,

“Companies need to be flexible. But it’s in the nature of startups that they’re a little more flexible than your average corporate job—you don’t have to work 9-5. There’s more flexibility about time spent in the office or telecommuting.”

The companies that will inevitably lead the way in women’s equal participation in the workplace will be those most comfortable with the latest generation of communication tools. Only such a company can keep up with the busy schedule of working mothers, and, in my case, a single father.

As fate would have it, I was eventually directed towards a group of industry leaders working on building an app that was enabling communication and project building to continue beyond the boardroom. I left my interview at Zula knowing that I was dealing with people that understood this new, holistic approach to teamwork.

Much attention has been drawn towards the subject of women in tech this week. I need not repeat what has already been observed and debated. While conditions have improved, there is a long road ahead for those of us interested in seeing women’s increased involvement in tech, and in startups in particular. However, as I peruse through the statistics and studies, I can’t help but feel a level of camaraderie with women that I have never felt before, combined with optimism for our shared future.

Zula is one of several trailblazers that is removing existing barriers to efficient group communication and I am proud to now be a part of a project pushing the evolution of the office forward.