What I Learned at the Women Who Tech TeleSummit

On Wednesday, I participated in the Women Who Tech TeleSummit. Though mostly targeted towards women working in technical fields or those interested in launching their own start-up, the conference offered a lot of great advice for organizations and companies hoping to increase their diversity, gender and otherwise.

I attended three of the sessions: Breaking the Mirror-tocracy, Disrupting the Startup Brogrammer Culture, and How to Rock Your Pitch. Here’s a few things I learned:

1) The tech industry often boasts of being a meritocracy, where if you’re smart and work hard, you can succeed. In reality though, the industry has become more of a “mirror-tocracy,” meaning leaders hire and promote people who are like them. What I thought was most interesting though is that this isn’t just diversity in physical appearance. The presenters said they often heard workers saying “I want someone just like me, but a woman” or “someone just like me, but of a different skin color.” In their view, this isn’t true diversity. The whole point is that tech companies need a diversity of backgrounds and ideas. While most of the time this coincides with hiring more women or people of color, it isn’t always that simple.

2) Many of the male-female dynamics we see in the tech industry originate from fear and a lack of emotional literacy. Mary Hodder, who gave the keynote speech on “Breaking the Mirror-tocracy,” points out that this fear exists on both sides. Men fear that they will be manipulated by women without realizing it’s happening while women fear that men will be aggressive and that they won’t know it’s happening until it’s too late. Because of this, men tend to hire other men and women tend to remove themselves from situations where this aggression may take place (for example, the tech industry). While there is an admission from both men and women that this manipulation and aggression are rare, the fear is strong enough to push them both towards places where they feel safer. To combat this, Hodder says we need to have a long standing conversation about emotional literacy, or as she explained, be able to relay this message: “I know I’m capable of manipulating you/being aggressive towards you, but I won’t because I want to create an environment that is safe.”

3) There is also a business case to be made for increasing diversity in the tech industry. According to the presenters in the “Disrupting the Startup Brogrammer Culture”:

1) Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are more likely to outperform and have higher financial returns than other companies by 15%.

2) Ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform.

3) Women-led tech companies have a 35% higher ROI and 12% higher revenue.

4) Organizations with inclusive cultures have 39% higher customer satisfaction.

4) There isn’t necessarily a “one size fits all” solution. For example, what might help increase hiring for white women may not work for women of color. As shared by one of the panelists, a recent study by UC Hastings revealed that 100% of women of color in science have faced some type of bias. The study referred to this as “double jeopardy.” Because the problem is different for different groups, we can’t always just transfer the solutions.

5) Recruiting women and individuals of color is a very different process than recruiting white men. The panelists in the “Disruping Brogrammer Culture” urged companies to truly have an open door, to be sure that job descriptions are not gendered or imply that there is limited work-life balance and to involve women and employees of color in the recruiting process. It’s also important to track diversity in your applicants. If a company’s pipeline is homogeneous, then it might be wise to start expanding your recruiting sources.

6) And finally, the “Rock Your Pitch” panel gave advice that is good for both women and men launching start-ups: When it comes to pitching your idea, be yourself; authenticity matters. Also, be passionate about your space. Know the customer pain points or inefficiencies in the market and be able to effectively articulate how you solve that problem. And what seemed to be the most important piece of advice, as it was stressed multiple times: know your industry, your competitors, and how you fit into the marketplace as a whole.

Some of these points seemed like common sense and somewhat obvious, while others were totally new to me. All in all, this conference was eye opening and it was inspiring to hear from so many women who were able to overcome the discrimination. Women who were able to fight through the biases, and make it to the top of their field. And on top of this, these women were brave enough to speak out about it, to further push against the walls and glass ceilings and encourage other women to do the same. The women of Women Who Tech are truly trailblazers, creating a path for all of us to follow in their footsteps.

Featured image: Screenshot of http://womenwhotech.com/

1 Comment

  1. Allyson Kapin on May 1, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    Sara, thank you so much for attending the Women Who Tech TeleSummit and for your thoughtful write-up!