Why aren’t there more women on stage?

How the 50/50 Pledge will amplify the voices of women in tech

Of the 6,517 companies that raised venture funding in 2014, only 183 (2.8%) had a woman CEO.

I’m one of those women.

Women are drastically underrepresented in almost all of the tech industry, we’ve all heard the stats. Women make up 31.2% of employees at some of the biggest tech companies, and only 15.7% of technical roles at those same organizations. The Venture Capital industry fares much worse, only 6% of partners at VC firms in the US are women.

I share my experiences about being a woman founder in posts and on podcasts. I feature women in content I create for my company. I share my opinion on how to increase the number of women founders when speaking with my peers and colleagues. But recently, I’ve felt like I could be doing more.

What else can I do?

As an entrepreneur, I think about solving problems through a combination of brute force and leverage. There are a lot of entrenched, systemic issues related to women in tech that various organizations are working on here in the US — How do we get more women in CS programs (i.e. ‘the pipeline problem’)? Why do women leave tech, and how do we reverse that trend? How do companies hire more women? How can startup culture be more inclusive? All of these and similar initiatives are obviously extremely important, but many are also too intense and complex for one person to tackle with a few hours per week.

I asked myself a question:

What is the most obvious, high-leverage activity I can spend my time on, and expect to see results?

In trying to come up with an answer to this question, I narrowed in on the idea of the 50/50 Pledge, which has the goal of increasing the percentage of women speakers at tech industry conferences — more specifically, getting 50% women speakers at these events.

I believe this to be a powerful, high-leverage initiative for several reasons:

  • The number of individuals involved in any one event (in absolute terms) is tiny compared to the number of individuals related to the broader initiatives listed above.
  • There are intense power dynamics at play for anyone in the respected speaker position, and the reach of women speakers to both event attendees and those reached through press coverage, content created from the event, etc., is enormous.
  • Being a speaker at a tech industry event women are literally given an audience, a platform, and a microphone to share their experiences and thoughts on their profession and the industry that they’re a part of.

So, how will this work?

Without any prep or promotion, I tweeted the initial idea of a ‘women speaker directory’ on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago. From that tweet, 1100 women tech professionals added their details:

Since writing that tweet, I’ve spent some time interviewing both event organizers and women speakers. I wanted to better understand the goals of both groups, in order to build a system that will help alleviate the pain points of both groups as it relates to either getting great speaking gigs, or finding great speakers. I also wanted to establish a baseline — I found that women are currently underrepresented, accounting for only 25% of speakers.

What are event organizer saying?

What are women speakers saying?

Chatting with both of these groups, a lot of similarities to hiring came to mind, with tinges of professional intros. I’ve decided that the best model to start with is a curated, double opt-in system. I’ll act as the intermediary at the beginning, asking questions to understand the requirements and expectations of both speakers and organizers. My goal is that this process becomes productized, but for now I’ll be doing everything manually to ensure great matches for speakers and events as I learn more about the nuances of the process.

What can you do?

First, copy this link: http://5050pledge.com

Next, do any/all of the following:

  • Share the 50/50 Pledge with all of the women on your team.
  • Share the 50/50 Pledge in your company’s Slack/listserv/Yammer.
  • Share the 50/50 Pledge with the companies you’ve invested in.
  • Share the 50/50 Pledge with all of the CEOs you know, and ask them to share it with their team.
  • Share the 50/50 pledge with a woman speaker you’ve seen or met at a tech conference.
  • And most importantly, if you’re a woman who works in the tech industry, add yourself.