Women in Tech Exist and They’re Thriving
It’s true. What’s also true, unfortunately, is that while there are front page examples of individual women who have made it big in tech, as a group, women in tech are severely underrepresented in the media. We only see the numbers — and admittedly they aren’t where they need to be — we don’t see the stories. The numbers of women in tech are low, lower than they should be in 2015, and even worse when you narrow that lens to look specifically at leadership positions and female-led companies receiving angel and VC funding. According to Kauffman, women make up only 10 percent of founders of high-growth companies and received just 19 percent of angel funding (and even less venture capital funding). There’s no denying that needs to change, we know that. What’s talked about less is how our willingness, as women in tech, to represent our industry in the media could help to redefine the way we’re recognized.
While it is essential that we make sure there are women in tech, it is just as important we make sure that women in tech are seen and heard on a regular basis. Any time there is a conversation happening around our business — on TV, online, in print, on the radio or at panels and events — we need to be a part of it, we’re valuable contributors and should be valued as such.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, Founder and Chairman of Joyus, stated it eloquently in her open letter co-signed by hundreds of female CEOS and Founders:
“…absent almost entirely in this coverage is the experience of women entrepreneurs themselves. Looking at the press, one might think women entrepreneurs are not only hard to find, but struggling to succeed. If we want to progress the path of potential women founders, it is equally important to bring this perspective to the table.”
It’s intolerable to remain invisible. But it can be just as damaging to perpetuate a negative narrative that promotes the untrue idea that women in tech are flailing. Michelle Peluso, CEO of Gilt, rightfully points out that “the network of strong, talented female tech leader is alive, well, and inspiring. It’s high time for those stories to be shared.” We have to take ownership of the narrative, to give women role models and success stories. They are out there. Yes, there should be more to draw from. Yes, there’s a lot to be done to make that the norm and not the exception. But what’s in our control to change right now is our ability to lead by example.
There’s a widespread need to build awareness and clear pathways for girls and women from diverse backgrounds at every level of their education and career to become a part of the tech ecosystem. Susan Lyne of BBG Ventures summed up the need for a concerted and persistent effort in order to change the ratio of women at top tech companies during a recent interview, saying: “The companies that are making real progress here are the companies that have made it a priority. It’s not going to happen on its own.” The same can be said for the coverage of today’s leading women in tech. In addition to addressing the pipeline problem and reevaluating the ways companies recruit, promote and retain their employees, we have to actively work to make sure the women who are leaders in the space today are taken seriously — and that means making sure they’re comfortable in front of the camera and on the record with reporters.
Julie Samuels, Executive Director of Engine — a non-profit that supports the growth of tech entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis and advocacy — outlines some simple steps we can take:
● Tell your story. The ‘women in tech’ dialogue has been dominated by “negative” data, emphasizing that women have not been able to contribute at their full potential. But still lacking are the stories from female entrepreneurs about their success in business and tech.
● Make time for and seek out interviews. This isn’t just about press for your business (though that helps); it’s about getting more women leaders featured, creating role models, and challenging media’s current standard for the coverage of women. If you’re not telling your story, no one else will.
● Share positive coverage of other women via your social media channels — and that’s not just for women, that’s for everyone.
As Julie tells it, one senior editor lamented “you can only reach out to Sheryl and Marissa so many times.” These women have done a phenomenal job telling their stories and being out front as experts. But there are so many more women we can celebrate who are leading the way in an industry that drives our economy and our future. There’s often a reticence on the part of women to go on the record, and I believe part of that can be overcome by embracing our own successes and learning how to convey that.
I wish this were an issue contained to one industry, but the reality is it’s reflective of the wider trend of lack of representation of women in all kinds of media. Women are featured in news coverage and media far less frequently than men. According to a study by The Women’s Media Center women were quoted in only 19 percent of news articles in the New York Times in January and February of 2013. Further, men are 3.4 times more likely to be quoted on the front page of the New York Times, 4.6 times more likely to be quoted in political stories, and 5.4 times more likely to be quoted in international stories.
As media trainer and founder of Glen Echo Group, Maura Corbett, points out, the incessant pace of today’s news cycle and the fractured state of the media landscape can be frustrating or seem impenetrable. This environment, she rightfully points out, also creates ample opportunities for us to strategically reach and connect with new audiences. Because we do our day jobs well — run companies, design tools, launch products — it’s ever more essential that we contribute in meaningful ways to conversations about our business. By doing so in a diligent, deliberate and consistent way we change the image of women in tech.
Seeking out opportunities to speak with press may feel self-serving or of little interest when that aforementioned day job can be 24/7. But it is about so much more than one story. It’s about ensuring that we consistently see powerful, smart, creative women in the media. We have a responsibility — for ourselves, for our businesses, for the next generation — to speak up and be seen as the experts we are. It’s our responsibility to recognize the women who are already leading the way, and in doing so widen the path for those who will come next.
Article a creative collaboration with Shaina Horowitz
About the Author: Katherine Oliver has long recognized the potential for media and technology to redefine the ways we communicate and foster the economic development of cities, citizens, and businesses. Guided by decades of experience in the private sector — where she launched and then managed Bloomberg LP’s international TV and radio operations — and the public sector — where for 12 years she served under Mayor Michael Bloomberg as New York City’s Commissioner of Media and Entertainment — Katherine is a founding principal of Bloomberg Associates, a New York-based consulting firm, through which she provides media and technology consulting services to cities worldwide.