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