Women in Tech and Leadership: Still a Lot More to Do

Georgia Tech Demo Day August 23Getting more women involved in technology, technology startups and leadership has been a challenge that has been well-documented and reported. I am delighted to share with you that I am optimistic about the future of women and technology based on a great experience I had at Georgia Tech this past Tuesday evening.

To become more acquainted with the startup community in Atlanta after my move from Philadelphia, I took the opportunity to attend the Georgia Tech Startup Summer Demo Day. Twenty companies created by college students and recent grads gave overviews of their businesses followed by demos. During their pitches, I started to see a pattern emerge. About half of the presenters were female, and it seems more than half of the companies have women founders or co-founders. (I will seek exact numbers and will update when I get the data.)

This is really great to see – not just because I am the father of two daughters – but because startups with women founders and co-founders are likely to be more successful, according to First Round Capital in its 10 Year Project, which said in part:

“Our investments in companies with at least one female founder were meaningfully outperforming our investments in all-male teams. Indeed, companies with a female founder performed 63% better than our investments with all-male founding teams. And, if you look at First Round’s top 10 investments of all time based on value created for investors, three of those teams have at least one female founder — far outpacing the percentage of female tech founders in general.”

In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of STEM programs for girls and young women. Things are being done that are planting long-term seeds for change as well as meaningful change today.

One great example of this is Tech Girlz, founded by Tracey Welson-Rossman as “a non-profit organization dedicated to helping adolescent girls understand that a future in technology does not necessarily equate to a ‘boring computer job,’ but instead transcends the cubicle into nearly every field imaginable.”

Another positive sign is the Women in Tech Summit, co-founded by Gloria Bell and Tracey Welson-Rossman. The Women in Tech Summit is “a series of annual, multi-location events that inspire, educate and connect women in the technology industry. Our goal is to support the community of women currently working in technology and to help pave the way for adolescent girls who want to enter the industry.”

These are positive signs, indeed, but there is so much further to go. I attended an industry technology association event the day after the Georgia Tech event and did a quick count in the room. It seemed there were only 15 women participating among the approximately 80 attendees. Even more glaring: The four really excellent speakers were all men. I couldn’t help but wonder where the women experts on the program theme were. Not born yet or not educated yet? Not invited? Not willing or available to participate? I don’t know, but it sure stood out to me.

This experience makes it crystal clear to me that we need to do more. I am glad that my friends Tracey and Gloria are pushing forward with their initiatives. I am happy to know that super-smart women like another friend, Eleni Miltsakaki, who has her Ph.D. in computational linguistics, are pushing the tech envelope with tech startups. I am delighted to see my fellow Penn Organizational Dynamics alumnus Madeline Bell serving as the CEO of Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia as well as a director on Comcast’s Board.

I find it gratifying and stimulating to work with a fantastic group of women who are equals – or “more equals” – to the men on my team of Biz Allies. They are leaders in their fields, and we work together with a high degree of mutual respect.

All of this is good, but we need to do more. As I cheer for the women I’ve mentioned above – and all the women who are working to get more women involved in technology, tech startups and leadership – I realize that we are in the classic case of “If we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.”

And by “we,” I primarily mean men.

There are lots of good things we can do – and I’m sure others can add to this (and I can update ideas as I receive them). Here are some I can think of:

  • Be empowering and treat women as equals to men, especially in areas of compensation and opportunity.
  • Encourage, guide and teach women who would like to know what you know and / or achieve your level of success.
  • When you’re putting together your team or a slate of speakers for an event, go out of your way to recruit women for the roles that are needed. Aim for balance, and don’t be afraid to pull a young woman forward, just as you may a young man, and help her grow into the role.
  • Sponsor / Donate to TechGirlz.
  • Pledge to not sit by and do nothing about this issue. If you’re asked to be on a panel at an event and it’s an all-male panel, recommend a woman who can take your place.

Here are some ideas from the National Center for Women & Information Technology:

  1. Listen to women’s stories.
  2. Talk to other men.
  3. Seek out ways to recruit women.
  4. Increase the number and visibility of female leaders.
  5. Mentor and sponsor women.
  6. Notice and correct micro-inequities or instances of unconscious bias.
  7. Establish accountability metrics.
  8. Model alternative work/life strategies.
  9. Make discussions of gender less “risky.”
  10. Reach out to formal and informal women’s groups.

You can read the complete article.

I’d also encourage men to find a way to be part of women’s leadership conferences. Women getting together for women-only conferences is a good idea, and I wonder if this approach does not miss an opportunity to get male leaders to participate and be part of the solution. I’m happy to say that I’ve been asked to co-chair a women’s conference in 2017 that will have a “what do men need to know and do component to it.” This should be interesting, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll share more as plans take shape.

As I look toward the future, the smart, confident, capable teams at Georgia Tech consisting of young women and young men working side by side to do wonderful things gives me confidence that we are moving in the right direction. The people I know personally who are working to make a difference add the exclamation point to this hope!

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