Last month, I had the honor of curating and moderating a VC panel at the TFQ Girls’ Lounge at SXSW. If you take a look at the video thumbnail below, you will see that this was not your typical investor panel. It was a truly diverse group, made up of:
Much of our conversation was focused on fundraising but, as we were in the TFQ Girls Lounge, we also spent time discussing diversity, or the lack thereof, in the tech industry. I purposefully opted not to recite the dismal statistics of how many women VCs there are or how little money goes to female founders. Constantly regurgitating the numbers is not a way to encourage up and coming entrepreneurs or investors.
It is clear we need more diverse folks at every level of our ecosystem – LPs, VCs, Angels, Founders, Board Members, etc. It will take some time to see significant change but I, for one, am very optimistic. There are a handful of amazing organizations and groups focused on tackling these issues, like Project Include,Pipeline Fellowship, and The Boardlist. Over the past 18 months, just about every major tech company has published diversity numbers, and has committed to finding best practices for attracting and retaining women and people of color. In addition, many notable VCs have been focused on bringing more diversity into their partnerships. There are also more women than ever out raising funds of their own. Again, none of this is easy or happening overnight. As Christine Herron points out, funds have a 10 year life cycle so our industry doesn’t lend itself to quick change. At the end of the day, this is an industry that is driven by returns, and research has proven that women-led companies and companies with women (and other minorities) on their senior teams perform better. The numbers are driving the change and the numbers cannot be ignored.
In our panel discussion, we also talked about diversity and inclusion on a micro level. In other words, what are the steps that each of us can take on an individual basis to impact change in our ecosystem. Suzy Ryoo offered up some specifics, which she had recently shared via a thoughtful blogpost entitled, “The Only Woman in the Room”.
Special thanks to Sean Jacobsohn for joining us on the panel. As we say at TFQ, if we could have done it alone, we would have by now. It takes men and women working together to impact change.
You can listen to the entirety of the conversation in the video below.
Last Sunday, on my flight to the World Economic Forum, I came across an article entitled, “Davos Makes Glacial Progress in Hike Towards Gender Balance”. Having since spent time on the ground in Davos, I am thrilled to report the glacier is thawing and I am confident that next year’s coverage will highlight progress being made.
To its credit, the WEF reached out to The Female Quotient in 2015 as part of its efforts to proactively change the gender ratio (less than 20% women) of its flagship event. In its second year, TFQ at Davos doubled in size and produced three full days of standing room only panel discussions. With participants including Sheryl Sandberg,Paul Polman and Cherie Blair covering topics ranging from “Why Diversity is a Business Imperative” to “Rebooting the Future” to “The Future of Work”, The TFQ Lounge was a “Can’t Miss” destination along the Promenade.
So much ground was covered in three days that a true recap could fill the pages of a Thomas Friedman book (btw, he was on a panel with us this year! #fangirl). Luckily for you, much of the content was taped and will be made available via TheFemaleQuotient.com. In the meantime, below are three topical highlights.
1) Inclusion and Equality in the Workplace – THE HOW:
The general consensus of all discussions was that we have been admiring the problem for the past few years, and now is the time to walk the talk. In the lounge, we heard from executives at some of the companies leading the way, including Salesforce (the gold standard), CA Technologies, Unilever, Facebook, Tradeshift, and more.
Devin Wenig, CEO of eBay, told us he made achieving pay parity part of eBay’s overall business agenda and implemented metrics and targets to measure progress, just as he does any core business agenda. This proved successful as eBay, one of the first public companies to publish pay data, recently announced that it achieved 100% pay parity.
To help move the conversation from lip service to impact, The Female Quotient, in partnership with Catalyst and Atlantic Media Strategies, announced the launch of “The Modern Guide to Equality.” The document, available online here, is a practical starting point for advancing equality in the workplace and is meant to become a living, breathing destination for thought and action-sharing.
2) Leadership in the Age of Millenials and the 4th Industrial Revolution
The definition of leadership, along with the traits that make for a good leader, is changing. As our world is rapidly being reshaped (demographic shifts, industry transformations, advances in technology, science, communication, etc.), we must reshape ourselves, our communities, our companies, and our countries in order to thrive and excel in this new paradigm. Gone are the days of the “carrot and stick” and “command and control” leadership tactics. Compassion, humility, collaboration, inclusion were the phrases most oft-repeated as traits required of leaders.
Indeed, whether they had read The Athena Doctrine or not, CEOs and leaders across Davos were touting the importance of feminine leadership traits. Luckily for us, the author John Gerzema is a friend of TFQ and joined us for a private dinner we threw for CA Technologies in our Lounge.
3) Getting Back to the Basics: The Golden Rule
Also known as the Law or Reciprocity or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” The Golden Rule has been a core tenet of cultures and religions since the beginning of time. Unfortunately, I think we can all agree that, in recent times, compassion and tolerance do not seem to be “ruling” our collective hearts or minds.
The good news: there is a call to action happening now – post 2016 and in response to Drumpf, Brexit, and increases in hate crimes, terror attacks, species extinction, etc. – that humanity band together to accept our differences and to live compassionately and sensitively toward ourselves and others. Put more simply, we’re bringing The Golden Rule back.
For more on this read our amazing panelists’ books:
As I type this I am back on a plane, heading home to LA. It has only been a week, but feels much longer. Not only has the most female-attended World Economic Forum passed, the largest Women’s March/Rally in history has taken place. Both have left me inspired, energized and with a renewed sense of hope and faith in humanity.
The March embodied so much of what was discussed in the TFQ Lounge at Davos. Certainly, it was organized by compassionate leaders across the world and reached epic participation rates (women AND men) because so many of us believe in standing up, and standing together, for inclusion and equality and compassion and love. One of the mantras of the Girls Lounge, which Shelley, the CEO, repeats often is, “Alone we have power, together we have impact.” Never have those words rang so true.
For those asking what now? The answer is, “we keep at it.” We stay united, engaged and activated every single day. Creating diversity and equality in the workplace will take time, as will realizing the changes we would like to see in our country and world. I will end by paraphrasing Thomas Friedman’s advice for making it through these challenging times: 1) Play the long game and avoid short-termism, 2) Wake up everyday and be a positive, active force in your immediate community, and 3) Live by The Golden Rule.
If you have not read the New York Times article, “Brands to Ad Agencies: Diversify or Else,” you should. The similarities between the Startup and Ad industries are pretty uncanny, except the fact that Silicon Valley looks like this…
And Madison Avenue looks like this…..
In reference to major brands demanding that agencies diversify their teams, the article states, “The efforts reflect a growing concern among marketers that Madison Avenue’s largely white, male leadership may be hindering their efforts to connect with American consumers.” Kudos to Verizon, HP Inc. and General Mills for taking a stand!
In the startup world, there should be (and I hope is) a growing concern among LPs (the folks that fund VCs) that Silicon Valley’s largely, white leadership may be hindering their efforts to connect with – and fund – entrepreneurs/founders. Of course, LPs are mostly white men themselves, adding another layer of complexity to diversifying the startup ecosystem.
Hopefully, the statistics coming out of recent studies will help impact true change. Here are a few:
• Women led startups receive less than 3% of VC funding, yet we know from a Babson study, among countless others, that women women-led, VC-backed tech companies bring in 12 percent higher revenue than similar male-led companies and have a 35 percent higher return on investment.
• Only 7% of VC partners at the Top 100 firms are women, yet a recent study in partnership with PE Hub, VCJ, Women VC, showed that the overall performance of female VCs’ portfolio companies is 3.78x, ahead of the overall industry average. In addition, having more female investors is important, as they are 3x more likely to invest in startups with a woman as CEO.
The NYTimes article also states that, “In order for us to create work that’s more connected with the consumer, it needs to come from a deeper connection to what’s going on in society and what’s going on in culture.” Nothing has the potential to be more transformative to society and culture than technology innovation. Funding and supporting a diverse set of founders and investors (women and people of color) is imperative. The same goes for hiring women and people of color at the big tech companies. By improving diversity across the entire technology ecosystem, we will facilitate more, and better, innovation across the board.
The good news is that both industries have been under intense press scrutiny for the last few years and now seem to be taking action. With major brands leading the way in advertising and folks like Melinda Gates tackling diversity in tech, we are certainly moving in the right direction.
May both industries learn from each other and move forward quickly to impact change. We will, as a society, be better for it.
I learned the term “The Messy Middle” via my work with Shelley Zalis and The Girls Lounge. The Messy Middle refers to the pipeline problem that most corporations experience, where the number of men and women in junior roles is fairly even and then, as you move up the ranks, there is a major drop-off in women. This is due to the gender wage gap, unconscious bias, and other corporate issues, as well as women leaving the work force to start families and not returning (which can often be tied back to poor corporate policies and culture).
What I didn’t realize, until an Oprah-style “A-Ha” moment I had whilst lunching with a dear friend, is that I have been in my own version of “The Messy Middle.” And I am not even at a major corporation. Nor do I have children (outside my furbaby Joanie).
I am a 40 year old woman who has been in the startup space (both operations and investment) for close to two decades. These past few years I have been going through what I will call “a transformation” – which has mostly been very powerful and positive. But a lot has been going on in my head and my heart, which has been making me feel a bit, well, ”messy.” Indeed, life itself is messy, but this middle time, at middle age, seems particularly so.
Now “middle-aged” is not a moniker I like and/or associate with. And, in this day and age, 40 isn’t even middle-aged anymore (right?). But what I have discovered while having some deep conversations with my female friends (mostly ranging 35-45), is that all of us are doing a great deal of self-work. We all seem to be spending a lot of time and energy examining: 1) the nearly two decades of our work selves, 2) our priorities, passions and purpose and 3) how we define happiness.
Yes, middle age seems like a perfectly logical time to be assessing the first half of your life and making adjustment/improvements for the second. But for women, it is more than that. At 40, we find ourselves serving multiple roles:
1. Career women (who have often had their heads down working twice as hard as men to get recognized, promoted and paid equally) 2. Wives 3. Mothers 4. Single people who, whether grappling with marriage and child-bearing or not, are constantly barraged with inquiries as to why we are single and childless 5. Care-takers to our parents
Playing all these roles is exhausting and impossible to balance (yes, I hate that word too). The only savior is to really spend time in one’s own head and heart evaluating what’s most important to your own fulfillment – which is usually quite different from when you last checked in during your 20’s and 30’s.
The good news for women here is that we are open communicators and have nurtured deep support systems to help us along the way. If I did not have a kickass group of women that I trust and respect to talk to, this messy middle would be a whole lot lonelier and great deal messier. Also, I found that when I was sharing what I was going through, not only was I not alone, I picked up terrific advice and actionable tools for re-assessing and re-aligning.
I share some of my “self-work” in this post. Hopefully, it helps others work through some of their “messy” to make whatever adjustments they need in order to live their best lives.
Tuesday, June 14th 2016 was an incredibly special day. I spent it with 5,000 women. We discussed hard topics like violence against women, discrimination and the gender pay gap. We prayed multiple times for the victims in Orlando. But the United State of Women Summit was not a place of anger, sadness or frustration. Instead, it vibrated with love, optimism and the promise of a future, a not so distant one, where our daughters won’t face the same challenges we do.
It was amazing to hear from the likes of Kerry Washington, Patricia Arquette and Amy Poehler, alongside everyday women who had started companies against all odds and built organizations impacting change. It was a day of heroes, but the standout for me was “The Administration”. Collectively, I mean POTUS, FLOTUS, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi (and all the female congresswomen that joined her onstage), Megan Smith (CTO of the USA) , and Valerie Jarett & Tina Chen (who work for FLOTUS and serve on the White House Council on Women and Girls, which produced this historic, free event).
There has been no other time in history where we have had so many folks (women AND men) at the highest levels of government so whole-heartedly dedicated to advancing women and girls. Yesterday’s event crystallized this for me in a way that I am not quite sure I understood.
The morning started off with Vice President, Joe Biden. If you haven’t read Joe’s letter to the Stanford Rape victim, go read it NOW! Biden has been a powerful crusader in the violence against women fight for more than 25 years. In 1990, then-Senator Biden, introduced the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to Congress. The act was a landmark piece of legislation that changed the way our country responds to domestic violence and sexual assault. Since, its passage in 1994, rates of domestic violence have decreased by 50%. Upon accepting the VP position, Biden appointed the first ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. All Americans, especially women, should be grateful that we have had a man like Joe Biden serving our country as Vice President these past 8 years (and the many decades prior). Standout quotes from the VP were:
“We have to give women and girls a greater voice, but also have to assure their voices will be heard.”
“There is never, never, never a cultural justification for dehumanizing another human being “
Around mid-day Nancy Pelosi came to the stage. As the first female Speaker of the House, Nancy has an important place in history. Nancy is one tough lady. She told us war stories about rising through the ranks of the male-dominated House. They were stories the crowd could relate to – no matter field of work. At the end, she shouted, “when women succeed, America succeeds”, and then brought out a group of other women from the House onto the stage. The crowd stood in ovation for several minutes to honor these women. We need female representatives in government to make sure are voices and stories are heard and our issues are fought for. Unfortunately, the number of women in politics is going down, not up. Perhaps, HRC winning in November will reverse this trend. The power of “seeing is believing” can never be underestimated!
Shortly after Nancy’s speech, POTUS walked onto the stage (our Pres has some real swagger;) and kicked off his speech by proclaiming, “This is what a Feminist looks like.” He then proceeded to give a lengthy, impassioned speech. Mind you, in the wake of the tragic events in Orlando, he could have just stopped by the conference. That would have been enough. He also could have spoken to us for a few minutes. That would have been terrific. But he didn’t. He fervently delivered what should be considered a seminal speech for him on the advancement of women and girls. And it brought the house down multiple times. Here is a great clip where he is talking about his daughters and how they see the world and drops what will surely be a famous line, “Our country is not just about the Benjamins, its about the Tubmans too!”
At any other event, POTUS speaking would have been the highlight. But not at the United State of Women. FLOTUS, interviewed by OPRAH stole the show. Michelle Obama exudes confidence and authenticity effortlessly. She is at once the most powerful, sophisticated woman in the room and a woman you could easily shoot the shit with over a glass of wine. In referring to herself and her husband, she said, “We are regular folks – we care about people, we care about family…..we have not changed…” When asked what she is most excited to do after The White House, she quipped, “Go to Target, I hear it has changed.”
Michelle Obama dropped so many gems during the interview that even Ms. Winfrey shared in the collective awe and admiration that overtook the room. Do yourself a favor and watch the entire interview, as I am sure it is posted somewhere. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite (approximate) statements:
“Our first job in life as women is to know and please ourselves…..Take time to know who you are.”
“Know your value. That will provide you confidence and bravery.”
“Surround yourself with goodness, get the haters out of your life.”
“The best revenge is success and good work”
“What can men do? Be better at everything…. Be good fathers who love your daughters, who provide a good example of what it means to be a man in the world….. Be a better husband, father, employer…….BE BETTER, BE BETTER, BE BETTER!”
“You can have it all, but often times its hard to it at the same time. And don’t beat yourself up and feel less than cause you aren’t having all.”
Back in February, David Brooks published a spot –on piece called “I miss Barack Obama”. In it, he writes about President Obama’s integrity, authenticity and sense of basic humanity. The following sentence, in particular, speaks volumes after having attended the United State of Women Summit: “He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards. There are all sorts of unsightly characters floating around politics, including in the Clinton camp and in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. This sort has been blocked from team Obama.” As I stated earlier, the heroes of the Summit were all the folks in “The Administration” that, not only put on the event and gave powerful speeches, but do the work on a daily basis to advance women and girls (and all minorities). Michelle Obama said, “Being President doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.” What the Summit revealed is that we have been incredibly fortunate to have a group of incredible people in our government incredibly dedicated to making women’s rights/human rights a priority.
Tuesday, June 14th 2016 was a special day. To “The Administration”, I say “Thank you!” You will be missed. #TodayWeCanChangeTomorrow
**special thanks to The Girls Lounge for its unwavering devotion to the #powerofthepack and for bringing women across all industries together at events all over the globe.
2016 is shaping up to be a year of epic progress for women and girls…and we are less than 40 days in!
In case you haven’t been keeping a running tally like I have, here are the highlights:
1) Obama announced in a press conference new rules aimed at leveling the “paying field”. Women earn $0.79 on the dollar compared to men in the same position. For women of color, the numbers are significantly worse. Now, companies with 100 employees or more will be required to report to the federal government how much they pay their employees broken down by race, gender, and ethnicity. Transparency and accountability are key to fair pay. WIN!
2) The White House announced it will host a summit on “The United State of Women” on May 23rd. “The Summit will rally all of us together to celebrate what we’ve achieved, and how we’re going to take action moving forward.” Topics covered will include: Economic Prosperity, Health and Wellness, Educational Opportunity, Violence Against Women, Entrepreneurship, and Leadership and Visibility. Community (public & private sector, women & men) is key to moving forward faster. WIN!
3) Obama pledged $4 Billion for Computer Science education in all schools. It just blows my mind that we teach biology, chemistry and physics in our schools, yet there is no national CS curriculum. Tech jobs make up the fasting growing sector of the US economy – and they are high-paying jobs. As the stats show, these jobs go to white men – and mostly middle to upper class white men. We need to get more girls interested in technology and coding. We also need to address/eliminate the unconscious bias we (parents, teachers) have that tells our girls “computer science is for boys.” In addition, we must bring technology and CS to low-income neighborhoods. More people learning Computer Science will make our entire economy stronger. WIN!
On the heels of these epic announcements, I attended the AOL MAKERS Conference this past week. If you are not familiar with MAKERS, it is a women’s leadership platform that highlights the stories of groundbreaking women today to create the leaders of tomorrow. MAKERS has created the largest collection of women’s stories ever assembled, which encompasses broadcast documentaries, web and mobile-first video content, and live events. When you finish reading this post, I implore you to immediately go to the Makers site and explore/watch it ALL. I have spent hours on the site – and am a better and smarter person, as well as a stronger, more impactful businesswoman, for it.
The MAKERS conference, put on by Dyllan McGee,Sammi Leibowitz and a tireless crew of AOL and MAKERS staff, was the most inspirational and impactful conference I have ever attended (and I attend a lot of events/conferences). The list of female rockstars that spoke was exceptional: THE Gloria Steinem, America Ferrera, Sheryl Sandberg, Carla Harris, Abby Wambach, CTO of the USA Megan Smith, US Treasurer Rosie Rios, GloZell, Caitlyn Jenner, Joanna Barsh, Joanna Hoffman, Shelley Zallis….the list goes on. These women shared their struggles and learnings with the hope and understanding that we can all learn from one another and that, as a community, we stand stronger and are more apt to achieve change than as individuals:
America Ferrera – Hollywood celebrity and one super evolved and wise young woman!
“When I stopped thinking of other women as competition to me and started thinking about them as my partners in life…my whole experience of life changed.”
Abby Wambach – Soccer Phenom/#GOAT. Her next mission is to fight for a more equitable world…Watch out!
Rosie Rios – US Treasurer responsible for getting a woman on our currency.
“This is not about one woman, it’s about the hundreds and hundreds of women that should be recognized everyday as part of our history ”
Carla Harris – Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Morgan Stanley. Holy moly this woman is the definition of the word POWERHOUSE! She is chockfull of #carlaspearls.
“Perception is the copilot of reality”
“You can train people to think about you the way you want them to think about you. Think about how you want people to describe you when you are not in the room. Pick three adjectives – and make sure they are in line with what is important to your organization. Then display consistent behavior towards those three adjectives”
“This is not a women’s issue, it is a social and economic issue.”
There were countless more amazing moments, conversations and workshops. And the great folks at MAKERS taped them all. Go watch them here and get inspired, as we are in the midst of true change to make the world a better place for women and girls (and everyone).
I’ll wrap up this post by quoting my new favorite badass, Carla Harris, “Ladies, make 2016 the year of no regrets, put your foot on the gas and let it rip!
I have been in the startup community (NYC and LA) for nearly 20 years, first as an operator and now as an investor. There has always been a diversity issue (a very big one) so I am, of course, thrilled that it has been getting so much attention as of late. Though I am eager to move from talking about it to ACTING to eliminate it.
I am a strong believer that each of us is responsible for putting into the world more than we take out. That each of us can, and should, make a positive impact – whether that means on a community, industry, state or global level. Obviously, it is easiest to make a difference locally, in an area that you are passionate about and familiar with. Starting out in early-stage tech in the late 90s, I have countless stories about being the only woman in my company, at a party, or at a conference. Because of my experience, I dedicate a good deal of my time to advising and mentoring both my female colleagues as well as the many existing and aspiring female founders I meet. I want more women to join / start / invest in tech startups. The more women that do so, the more that will follow in their footsteps (see my post “Choose Possibility”). Of course, we should all want this, not just women, as the numbers show that companies with women in management report higher returns on equity and better net income growth than those lacking female leaders.
Last year, I had the good fortune of meeting a “soul sister” by the name of Shelley Zallis. Shelley built and sold an online research company and, for the past few years, has been producing “The Girls Lounge”, a destination for female executives to connect and inspire one another, at a handful of major industry conferences. As everyone does, I immediately fell in love with Shelley. I believe our meeting was kizmet, as we met right at the time I began to think about gender equality on a national and global (not just tech ecosystem) level and right at the time Shelley was just beginning to think about how to build her Girls Lounge into a much bigger initiative.
Just before Christmas (and exactly one year after our first meeting), Shelley invited a group of 35 female executives to join her on a trip to DC. This was a venerable crew of badass women from Fortune level companies including IBM, Viacom, iheartmedia, Unilever, The New York Times, and Caterpillar (to name a few). I was honored and elated to be invited.
The purpose of the trip was to bring women from the public and private sectors together to begin to formulate a plan for moving beyond articles and studies and into creating an executable corporate roadmap for achieving gender equality. The first day we met with Megan Smith, the CTO of the USA, and discussed/brainstormed topics ranging from STEAM education to how to involve big media companies in bringing greater visibility to workplace diversity. The second day was spent with US Treasurer, Rosie Rios. She is the woman behind the initiative to get a female on our currency (if they see it, they can believe it!). Rosie had McKinsey & Company come in and present to us. If you don’t already know, McKinsey has a partnership with LeanIn.Org and, together, they produced a study called Women in the Workplace 2015.
The study is a short read, chock-full of charts and to-the-point summaries – definitely worth 15 minutes of your time. Check it our here. I will provide you with the take-away sentence that is most important: “Based on the slow rate of progress…it will take 25 years to reach gender parity at the senior-VP level and more than one hundred years in the C-suite.”
This is absolutely NOT OK. That’s four more generations of our daughters being passed over for high-visibility projects/promotions, feeling like they cant take reasonable maternity leave without it impacting their performance reviews or career trajectory, and working just as hard (if not harder) than the guy next to her while earning 77 cents to his dollar.
The good news is that workplace diversity and gender equality are hot topics today. You can’t peruse the tech pubs on any given day without an article on this topic. And there have been a multitude of high profile articles on diversity (or lack thereof) in Hollywood this past year. These are the two industries in which I play – I am hoping, and assuming, the same goes for all industries.
The bad news is that we are at a stage where many companies are just providing lip service when they are publicly claiming diversity is a priority. In fact, according to the McKinsey study, “74% of companies report that gender diversity is a top CEO priority, but the message is not reaching the majority of employees. Less than half of workers believe that gender diversity is a top priority of their CEO, and only a third view is a top priority for their direct manager.” One example here is Twitter. Twitter joined alongside several Silicon Valley heavyweights in releasing their diversity numbers (which were beyond dismal) and proclaiming that diversity was a key priority. Recently, an employee (now ex) posted this resignation letter that went viral stating that he was leaving the company because he believed its diversity initiative was more talk than action. To be fair to Twitter, tackling diversity in the workplace is a huge task and one that won’t happen overnight. The company did release an apology letter and just this past week announced that they hired away Apple’s Worldwide Director of Inclusion and Diversity.
There have been lots of folks hired in the last year with fancy titles like the one above. But what can and will these people actually do to implement change. That’s where we are back to the good news. There are action items that can be taken – and companies like Facebook (go Sheryl), Salesforce, Netflix, Goldman Sachs, and Intel are leading the way. What we need is for these major companies to be transparent about what is and is not working – and to track and report their progress – all the way down to the bottom line. We must prove to CEOs (and shareholders) that diversity strengthens a company in every aspect, including financially.
And this is where The Girls Lounge (consisting of leaders across multiple industries) and Megan & Rosie come back in. Having corporations and organizations tackle this issue in silos is a sure way to get to 100 years before we create the change we want to see. I will not share the plan for more unified action here – as it is still under construction and it is not mine to share. But it includes bringing together companies, organizations, and the government to evaluate, promote, and enact best practices for eliminating the gender/race wage gap, building corporate practices that promote diversity and eliminate discrimination (including changing Family Leave Policy – for more on this, watch this TED talk), and tackling the very difficult subject of unconscious bias.
As Shelley likes to say #TogetherWeCan
As I like to say, let’s #GetShitDone
Last month, I participated on a panel at The Milken Institute Global Summit (watch it here) where the moderator asked if the recent attention on the low numbers of women in technology and investing was a good or bad thing. Both Melody McClosky, founder of StyleSeat, and I agreed that, although the spotlight is mostly a good thing, we would both like to see less articles bemoaning the stats/struggles and more articles highlighting people/organizations making impactful changes towards creating more diversity. In addition, we would like to see more articles featuring the women leaders of today. There is nothing more impactful than young women seeing female leaders on the covers of magazines so they think “I can do that / I want to do that!”
I gave the example of Lynda.com, which was a “unicorn” level exit of a Southern California company founded by a woman (appropriately named Lynda;). Her story is a terrific one. A woman who taught herself computer skills and became very adept at web design. The earliest version of Lynda.com focused on teaching design classes and then grew into a site offering hundreds of web, creative and business courses online – in multiple languages. Lynda.com was really at the forefront of EdTech before we were even calling it EdTech. But I didn’t see much press about Lynda upon the $1.5B purchase of her company by LinkedIn. And I certainly didn’t see her on any magazine covers. I can’t help but think Lynda had two strikes against her: 1) she is a woman and 2) she is in her sixties. The poster child for the tech scene is a white millenial male in a hoodie (a la Mark Zuckerberg), and Lynda didn’t fit the bill. Seeing is believing and one cannot underscore the impact that stories like Lynda’s can have on our young women. IMHO the media should make a concerted effort to feature the stories of founders and investors that represent diversity of all kinds.
I am hoping that with the numerous articles over the past 12 months highlighting the stats we all know too well – just 2.9% of startup CEOs are women, just 6% (and by some accounts 4%) of partners at VCs are women – we are now moving into a period where more articles are discussing actual ideas and tactics for entrepreneurs, investors and companies to help improve diversity in the technology/startup ecosystem.
I have come across three such articles in just the last week.
1) Kudos to Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder of Joyus, for posting a letter on ReCode which includes survey results from 200+ top female founders. It also provides a great list of ideas for increasing the rate of progress for women in tech entrepreneurship, stating “some ideas will succeed, others will fail, but we know that iteration matters in building momentum behind any large vision.” Her letter was signed by many top women in the tech ecosystem. A big thank you to all of them!
Her list of excellent action items is below. Be sure to check out the full article here.
*Entrepreneurs seeking to enhance their startup’s performance can choose today to add their first qualified female board member or investor. Diverse thinking can benefit private tech boards potentially even more than public ones, and there is no reason to wait.
*Startups seeking to attract women could choose today to create best practices in the areas of family planning and leave policies early and proactively. We can make this as easily understood as cap tables and free lunch programs among first-time founders.
*Venture capitalists (and their LPs) looking to understand their own biases and also their progress could choose today to track female versus male stats (pitched to funded) in their deal pipeline, and even publish it proactively.
*Venture capitalists seeking to attract the best entrepreneurs could choose today to be explicit in their term sheets on their own zero-tolerance policies for sexual harassment and other discrimination, as well as demanding the same of their portfolio companies. This is a simple signal, and it goes a long way to both genders of top-tier entrepreneurs.
*Investors and board members looking to grow the best companies can choose today to vigilantly treat female founders and CEOs with the same level of candor, directness, expectation and measurement that they would any other CEO or founder, rather than operating from a latent fear of “female emotion.”
*Women who are starting or working in a tech company can choose today to oversell their vision rather than underselling themselves, as they are competing for resources and mindshare with people who pitch big ideas.
2) Two amazing tech reporters at The LA Times (both women) then did a follow up story about the above letter (read here). The below echoes my thoughts precisely.
“There are lots of women rising and succeeding in technology,” said Ruzwana Bashir, CEO of Peek, who co-signed the letter. “Instead of saying the challenges they face are insurmountable, why not focus on the women who have succeeded and understand what they did so we can have more people succeed?”
3) And this piece on Pandodaily is the type of story I really love to see. It features a badass woman I had never heard of – CyPhy Works CEO Helen Greiner – along with the title “First Lady of Robots.” I want every young woman out there to learn about this woman!
“I saw Star Wars when I was eleven and I wanted to build robots ever since. So I really went to MIT to learn robots, and I learned a lot of great things there. But it turned out, at the time, they really didn’t know how to build robots so I had to start a company to do that.”
I truly hope that these recent articles are an indication that we have turned the corner from focusing on the negative (like the article titled “How Companies Crush Womens’ Ambitions” in NYMag.com) to highlighting the positive and the possible. Discussions about proactive ways to improve diversity and articles/covers featuring the successes of not just women, but anyone who does not look like the poster child of tech, are the way to truly impact change. I am optimistic we are moving in that direction:) #changetheratio #choosepossibility #choosepositivity
Kudos to the Milken Institute for putting on an amazing Global Summit this year. Yes, they do a great job every year, but this year was special. They chose to place an emphasis on girls and women, both in their programming and in their attendance. 30% of the attendees were women this year, a significant increase from prior years. Day 2 of the conference was particularly impactful as the lunch program (which everyone attends) was a 2 hour program that featured Patricia Arquette speaking about pay equality, Frida Pinto discussing how to help advance young women in India, and Willow Bay moderating a panel called “What Would You Do to Make the World Better for Women and Girls? A Conversation and Call to Action”.
I was honored to be on a panel alongside a handful of powerhouse women called “Women Challenging the Status Quo.” Check out the video below: