Women in tech amazing, but show them the money
For Allyson Kapin, the story of women in technology is inspiring and frustrating.
On the plus side, she sees “an incredible rise in the number of women-led tech startups.”
The challenge is that the entrepreneurs are making it happen on fumes. Investors are beyond stingy. These particular startups attract single-digit percentages — even a fraction of a percent in one class — of awarded venture capital.
She talked with Meghan M. Biro, a Forbes analyst, brand strategist and TalentCulture chief executive officer, about how technology will change the way we do business and how the tech industry is changing — slowly — to bring in more diverse perspectives.
Kapin explained that Women in Tech is “a non-profit that is breaking new ground in technology.” She offered her take on the hottest new business tech, starting with how to address biases in hiring.
“We’re seeing more apps develop at major corporations — particularly tech companies — when they’re doing their recruitment,” Kapin said. “They’re under a lot of pressure to diversify their hiring.”
Biro noted that one hiring factor is how many potential candidates hurt themselves with social media posts.
“There’s pressure because there’s so much video and people putting themselves out there on social,” Kapin said.
For their part business leaders should keep their eye on emerging technology.
“We’re seeing a big trend on remote work and being able to provide these options to people who live in different cities — even different countries,” Kapin said. “You’re really able to expand that pool of applicants and also helping with diversity initiatives.
“One of the tools you need to bring into your workforce to be able to adapt to that type of remote environment — one of the biggest tools out there — is Slack,” she said. “You’re able to do a lot of your communication via Slack. You can set up a lot of different channels within slack for different projects, different teams.”
Kapin said Slack allows for ongoing communication and a lot of project management.
“You can also benefit from a development perspective,” she said. “If you’re working on web development or any sort of technical products, you can build in a lot of integration into Slack through Slack-Get.
“There are all these tools being constantly developed for Slack, which is really great for remote teams and also if you’re not remote,” Kapin said. “Companies are using Slack internally as well.”
On to the challenge
She takes particular pride in the Women’s Startup Challenge.
“We created the challenge to showcase women-led startups,” Kapin said. “We provide much-needed funding for these startups that have been ignored by the investment world.”
The latest star was a 13-year-old app developer.
“This year our challenge focused on emerging tech,” Kapin said. “Our winner was this incredible young woman named Emma Yang. She created an app called Timeless. It was inspired by what her grandmother is going through with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Timeless has built-in facial recognition and machine learning. It helps people with Alzheimer’s recognize their loved ones, friends and colleagues who they’re continuing to work with or keep in touch with.
“We were just completely blown away that someone so young was able to develop such an incredible and useful app,” Kapin said. “She’s now 14 and working with researchers across the country who specialize in Alzheimer’s. She’s going to use the data from this app to expand and build out the product.”
Yang and other examples make Kapin optimistic for the tech world.
“I’m hopeful because we are seeing an incredible rise in the number of women-led tech startups,” she said. “They are addressing incredible problems facing this world such as energy security, food security.
“It’s just amazing to see that, yes, they are experiencing a time when they face major challenges in terms of receiving funding,” Kapin said. “They are also not letting those challenges stop them from pursuing their dreams and startups to truly make an impact in this world. That makes me really happy.”
She sees results in prying open investors’ hands.
“We’re very excited about seeing the traction we’re having within our personal network of investors in helping to get these women funded,” Kapin said.
“In the last couple of years since going through our Women Startup Challenges, our finalists have collectively raised over $20 million,” she said. “We are so proud of that.”
That kind of motivation led to Kapin’s starting Women Who Tech.
“It was inspired by my own personal experience of going to a lot of tech conferences and seeing all of the panels and all of the keynotes that I was attending just featuring white men,” she said. “It was as if we women in tech didn’t exist.
“I took an opportunity to build our network of what we were doing,” Kapin said. “We knew there were so many women who were working in tech. We decided to launch the Women in Tech TeleSummit.”
She envisioned the telesummits as ways to highlight and showcase women founders and women technology leaders.
“We bring together this virtual conference where women in tech could be there to learn from each other, to support each other and to begin to network more with each other,” Kapin said.
“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “We had women like Arianna Huffington talk about thought-provoking topics: How to launch your own startup, how to get your startup funded, how to get more women involved in open source.”
Yet, Kapin and her associates felt something was missing. They asked themselves what wasn’t being addressed and discovered a painful truth.
“We took a step back and started looking at the data,” she said. “Not that diversity in conferences has been solved. It hasn’t. Has it gotten better? Absolutely. What else did we need to work on?
“We quickly saw the very dismal numbers of women-led startup founders who are not receiving funding,” Kapin said. “Last year, about 1.9 percent of funding went to women founders. The rest of that money went to men. For women of color, only .2 percent of venture capital money went to them.”
The “huge problems and obstacles” led Kapin and her partners to launch the Women Startup Challenge.
“Culture change takes a very long time, and we’re not very patient people,” Kapin said. “Everything is about immediate gratification. The first thing when you’re working on these issues around diversity and inclusion, you have to recognize — particularly with larger companies that have thousands of employees — you’re not going to see change happen overnight.
“However, it is essential that we keep talking about this issue,” she said. “We need to educate senior leadership and board members about steps they can take to begin to address some very serious issues within their companies.”
Kapin and her group intend to keep up the pressure and build in accountability.
“That’s one of the things we continue to do with Women Who Tech and what we’ve been doing with our programs,” Kapin said.
“It’s also important that while we’ve been talking about these issues that we not frame this as it’s just women’s problems or women of color to address these issues,” she said. “We need allies at the table. That means having men allies at the table when we are talking about getting more women involved in senior leadership and board positions.”
Success will have to be a group effort.
“It’s not about women being allies to each other,” Kapin said. “It’s about all of us being allies.”
Among new technology, anything that eliminates bias in hiring and aids diversity in the workplace is a good thing.
“I’m always excited about technology that improves working relationships among remote workers and allows teams to easily connect and work together,” Biro said. “Smart homes and smart — self-driving? — cars are exciting technology advancements.
“I’m excited to see the new developments around augmented reality and mixed reality, and how businesses find creative ways to use them,” she said.
“Online privacy is also very important and a big takeaway from the 2016 U.S. elections and how our data is mined,” Kapin said. “Check out Firefox’s extension to ensure that Facebook does not track your data around the web.
“I’m also excited about cryptographic protocols like zero-knowledge proof,” she said. “Right now, cryptocurrencies aren’t private. The closest one is Zcash, a digital currency using zk-SNARK to give users the power to transact anonymously, which you can’t do in bitcoin.”
Fighting blind spots
To embrace different perspectives, leaders need to be open minded and aware of their blind spots. This includes having different voices at the table and delegating responsibilities.
“Think differently about promotions,” Biro said. “Think about ways you can reward those who think outside the box.”
For team building and interaction, Kapin suggested planning team lunches with Lunch Train.
Leaders also can encourage debate, but Kapin urged caution.
“That depends on the situation,” she said. “For example, The Anti-Diversity Manifesto is not up for debate. It’s wrong. We cannot tolerate sexist, homophobic and ageist thinking.
“Be intentional about creating a diverse and inclusive culture,” Kapin said. “Look at who is in positions of power. Who is getting promotions? Who is on the board of directors? Is it all white men? This data will give you a good starting point for making changes.”
Biro said workplaces must be safe.
“Foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their views,” she said. “Encourage a task-focused climate of give and take, rather than always seeking consensus as the end goal. This type of dynamic can push your team to new levels of creativity and productivity.
“Hire differently,” Biro said. “Starting with your job description and interview process, create a process designed to help identify and select people who think in diverse ways.”
She also advocated finding new places to network.
“As collaboration with diverse individuals provides new points of view, networking accomplishes this on a larger scale,” Biro said.
Both Kapin and Biro are using technology to increase diversity in hiring and management.
“Use software to create job postings that attract diverse candidates,” Biro said. “For example, software that conducts sentiment analysis can ‘de-bias’ a job posting. It identifies exclusionary language and suggests alternatives that appeal to a more diverse candidate pool.”
She said an applicant tracking system can collect demographics and ensure compliance.
“With technology, you can see what is happening at different stages of recruitment,” Biro said. “Recruitment technology can monitor job offer rates by specific interviewers. This lets you uncover conscious and unconscious bias.
“Technology is making it easier than ever to improve diversity levels and reduce discrimination by providing greater transparency and insight,” she said.
Kapin endorsed apps such as Blendoor.
“They focus on recruiting employees and address unconscious biases in the initial hiring process,” she said. “The founder, Stephanie Lampkin, created it in response to the biases she faced applying for jobs in tech.”
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