On April 28th, 2016 I attended Women Leaders in Technology here at TechLAB Innovation, a startup incubator in Santa Clara. (Thanks very much to Women Who Code for sponsoring my ticket!) It was really great to be in a room full of women tech innovators, company founders and aspiring company founders. I thought I’d write a quick blog post to share how awesome this event was!
The panel was moderated by Andy Cunningham, Founder and President of the Cunningham Collective. She did a fantastic job of steering the conversation in important topics like breaking barriers, how diversity affects innovation, and the role of mentoring in encouraging more women to become technology leaders.
The panel consisted of four amazing women leaders in technology:
*Colleen Kapase, VP of Partner Go to Market Strategy at VMware
Renee Ryan, VP and Investor at the Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation
Radha Basu, CEO and Founder of iMerit
Lisa Lambert, VP and Managing Director of the Diversity Equity Fund at Intel Capital
It was really fantastic hearing the perspectives of four inspiring women in technology who all worked at very different organizations. The talk was sobering in content, because we discussed some of the myriad challenges involved with pursuing funding as a woman in technology. As Lambert pointed out, the number of women-led companies in the world is merely 8-10% - but it’s even worse right here in the Silicon Valley, where that percentage falls to only 3%. It makes initiatives like the one at Intel, announced last year, that stated they would invest $300M into companies led by women and minorities. Upon some research,l I noted that even that initiative has apparently received some backfire internally.
As Lambert discussed in the panel, women represent half of the population - and they are often the early adopters of new technology. Statistics have shown that more women play video games than men, and according to a study by Dr. Genevieve Bell, women adopt new technologies, particularly mobile and communications oriented technologies, before men. It’s impossible to ignore the importance of women as tech users, and yet the tech itself is being built almost primarily by men (the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only 17.9% of software developers in the US are female).
Anyway, not to harp on statistics - what’s the solution? Because right about now is when well-meaning people start bringing up the Pipeline Problem. Lambert described it as the Leaky Pipeline (as women enter the pipeline, but they can’t move up the pipeline to more esteemed positions). I was really glad that someone in the audience brought up this supposed Pipeline Problem, and just how frustrating it is when people bring it up - for women at all levels. The woman who brought it up expressed frustration with being a mid-level employee who is constantly told about problems finding more entry-level women - when she herself is struggling for recognition and advancement, and knows many women in similar positions.
I really appreciated (and agree with) what Kapase had to say about it. It’s a distraction. It’s easy to say there are no people coming in. It’s harder to examine intrenched issues with organizations that might be as much a part of the problem. No one wants to admit it, but the fact is that many companies simply aren’t making diversity a priority. At the end of the day, the focus is on the success of the business, and diversity falls to the wayside. The funny thing about this is that diversity is a business issue. Studies have shown that diversity leads to better innovation, stronger profits, happier workers (and higher retention rates), and other positive effects on business.
After the panel, 5 women-led companies pitched their product for funding to a group of potential investors. Each of the companies was really interesting and exciting! Here’s a quick summary:
RigPlenish, demo by Founder & CEO Nupur Mehta is doing amazing things to help ambulances help more people by decreasing time spent on paperwork.
DroneSmith, presented by Co-Founder & CEO Jinger Zeng. Dronesmith is creating an amazing framework to allow developers to program drones remotely and without having to understand the hardware components.
Neuroprex, presented by Founder & CEO Janice Huang, PhD. Neuroprex is building a portable TMS device for treating major depression in-home, rather than through multiple costly office visits.
Aqueal is producing new waterproof bandage protection for everyday and post-surgery use.
Kachingle, presented by Founder & CEO Cynthia Imig Typaldos, has created a revolutionary co-marketing platform for extended contributions and social engagement with pet shelters.
Thanks so much for reading through! I had a really great time thinking about these issues, talking with other women in tech, and seeing what amazing new companies women are founding at Women Leaders in Technology. Let me know if you have any questions, comments or thoughts! As always, feel free to send me an email!
Alexandra Polubiec on LinkedIn