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.
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
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: