There’s a good thing cooking on September 15th. It’s the third annual Women Who Tech summit, a series of phone-based panels featuring the who’s who of women in technology, includingRashmi Sinha of SlideShare, Kaliya Hamlin of Shes Geeky, Shireen Mitchell of Digital Sistas, Beth Kanter, Amy Sample Ward, Michelle Murrain, and Lauren Vargas,, Irene Au of Google, Amy Jo Kim of ShuffleBrain, Heather Harde of Tech Crunch, and Lynne d. Johnson, formerly of Fast Company and now with the Advertising Research Foundation (plus a couple smart men, such as Clay Shirky and Geoff Livingston). The event is a series of stellar panels (again, by phone, so you can participate from anywhere), including “Social Media ROI”, “Launching Your Own Startup”, and “Self Promotion: Is This Really a Rant About Gender?”.
I totally get the premise of the summit, that women are underrepresented in mainstream media and blogs and conference panels, that we need to break down barriers to women’s participation in the technology sector, and the need to create a network of women in technology who can be called upon as experts in their field.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, “only about 11% of U.S. firms with venture-capital backing in 2009 had current or former female CEOs or female founders, according to data from Dow Jones VentureSource. The prestigious start-up incubator Y Combinator has had just 14 female founders among the 208 firms it has funded.” Women Who Tech is not the only women-focused event on the calendar. In December, the influential technology conference TED is holding its first women-focused conference. (More stats and resources about women in tech are available here.) I applaud these events, not for their sometimes interpreted as “affirmative action for women” approach, but for their celebration and encouragement of women who are breaking down perceived (as well as actual) barriers.
The thing is, I grew up in a different world, where my CEO-of-educational-technology-startups mother worked long hours to excel at her career, make the world a better place, and be a 100% mom at the same time. It’s possible that she worked harder than her male colleagues, or had more to balance with her roles at home, but from my point of view as a kid and young adult, women could do anything. The fact that I have chosen to work in a tech-related field isn’t because I am trying to change percentages, or represent my gender in high level decision making. It’s because it excites me, and I’m good at it. Gender never played into my decision (if it had, I would be doing something else?), and it rarely presents itself as an issue in my professional life.
That being said, there are definitely times when I look around the room and find myself in the company of mostly men. I like to think I’m rather Zen about it. I take note, and then move on. Recently, I’ve been putting together a panel for a social media session at a major national Jewish conference. I’m struggling to find a man for the panel, you know, just for the sake of diversity. So in my world, thankfully, the experience is not as one-sided as the venture capital statistics seem to say. (Note to self: I wonder how different is actually is in the nonprofit world – reflecting on my experiences at NTEN conferences, the presenters are heavily weighted towards women. Currently seeking the latest stats). The goal here is not 50/50 equality all the time. The goal is to recognize both real and perceived barriers, and to abolish them.
While others may interpret events like the upcoming Women Who Tech and TEDWomen as equally sexist as the venture capitalists whose decision making percentages they quote, I think the greatest power of these events is to give women who didn’t have moms like mine a similar sense of “anything is possible.” Further, as women, we do face unique challenges (as me sometime about the weeks leading up to announcing to my clients that I was pregnant for the first time, or how I paced around the house with a newborn in a sling, the wireless phone clipped to my hip, and a headset on – someone should have taken a photo). But most of all, these events are tremendous for one main reason: they showcase tremendous talent, all in one place.
The Women Who Summit event is an easy-to-swallow $20. Really. So mark your calendar for September 15th, from 11am to 6pm Eastern time. All you need is an internet connection and a phone line. Check out the schedule and register online. There are even after parties in a handful of major cities. I might try and get myself to the New York City one. Anyone care to join me?
Plus, I’ve got 2 passes to give away. Leave your comment here with your thoughts on gender and technology and I’ll pick two winners before Rosh Hashanah (September 8th). But go ahead and buy your pass now. You can always give it to the nice gal (or guy) down the hall. With a pink bow around it. Or not.