Women leadership and career development has been a prominent focus of Vault's Annual Diversity Survey for many years now. Giving companies the opportunity to discuss their initiatives along with submitting data on retention, promotion and turnover rates, gives the surveys the power to collectively and effectively throw light on industry demographics among various career paths, the makeup of senior management as well as employee loyalty.
For a panel called "Hot & Bothered" today at New York City's swanky Trump Soho Hotel, the debate was lack of women in leadership and entrepreneurial roles in the technology sector. Going by the hordes of women lined up outside eager to get in, the subject had clearly resonated. Organized by 85 Broads, a global networking group of women entrepreneurs; Emily Gannett, cofounder of Klickable.TV; and moderated by Rachel Sklar, the editor-at-large with Mediaite.com, the panel had a lofty goal: to analyze and discuss how to increase female ranks in new media and technology. Complete with an assigned Twitter hastag (#changetheratio), the event also marked the end of Internet Week New York.
The attendees represented a diverse spectrum of technology/advertising/new media executives including women entrepreneurs, students as well as entrepreneurs in the making. The panel was equally diverse: young entrepreneur Alexa Hirschfeld, founder of PaperlessPost; Michelle Madhok, founder of SheFinds Media; Joanna Stern, contributing editor at tech magazine Engadget; and Angel Investor Esther Dyson. Several factors were discussed in the hour-long panel: age diversity, women leadership, lack of women in venture capital, stereotypes, and more.
On women in the technology field
Stern: "I continue to stick out at technology conferences. The ratio is certainly in the favor of men in the tech world, particularly on the hardware side. Your ideas get associated with being a woman and blending in becomes that much harder…. I used to do a column called Netbook Diva, where the perception was that I would talk about women in technology, but really, I was focused on discussed hardcore gadgets and their technology!"
Stern: "The fact that we still come out with a 'Top Women in Tech' list says something.
On venture capital
Madhok on attracting funding for SheFinds Media: "I kept running into the issue of VC firms saying I was asking for too little. My reasoning was that I did not want them to control. I wanted just enough for them to a minority shareholder, not my boss. And most of them had a problem with that."
Dyson on being a venture capitalist: "When you approach a VC firm for funding, you must understand that it is about giving them control. If you want outside investors, they will run the company for their advantage, and that usually is motivated by money. For better or for worse."
On being a young female entrepreneur in technology
Madhok: "Just show up and figure it out."
Stern: "You get used to being a minority. You might never blend in but that’s okay."
On age diversity
Stern and Madhok: "Women tend to live their lives in chapters. First we're students, then we're workers, then we're wives, then mothers, etc. Men don’t tend to see it quite the same way."
Dyson: "Old people tend to be better managers because of their experience. It's easy enough, especially in today's environment, to start a company at 25 years of age; the challenge comes when it's time to grow that company. And that’s where older managers come into play."
On what can be done to reverse the gender ratio
Hirschfeld: "It's all about hiring. We need to hire more women, educate them, and organize more forums that prove technology isn't too far-reaching for us."
Madhok: "References. I know someone who keeps a rotating list of women executives and entrepreneurs in the technology field, whether that’s startups, social media, new media, etc. Every time she talks to the media or in conferences, she makes sure to forward that list. Refer each other every time you can."
Dyson: "Failure is liberating. Once you fail, you emerge much more experienced. I'm not saying you should fail in your first startup! But that if you do, it's okay, because it gives you the chance to return to corporate work, reenergize the ideas and skills and get out again and start another venture."
Audience member: "The fact that there are many more women graduating from business schools than men, yet few make it in technology is worth remembering. It's because every man who leads a tech company or is a successful entrepreneur has a woman—whether that be a wife or a girlfriend—taking care of his personal life for him. Women don’t have that advantage."
Response from Dyson: "Hire a personal attendant, a summer intern; whatever it takes...it can be done."
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