International Women’s Day

By Michelle Dervan, Principal, Rethink Education

International Women’s Day is a chance to pause and recognize the immense contributions that women make to our society, economy and communities. In few places is this felt as greatly as in our education system where the majority of teachers and educators are women. Today is a chance to thank them for their work.

Today is also an opportunity to reflect on the pressing gender equality challenges facing us. Despite the high proportion of educators who are women, there is still a significant lack of gender diversity among the people who found and lead education technology companies and those who fund them.

As a female venture capitalist in the edtech space, I am keenly aware of this and so, I want to take a moment today to recognize some of the great women CEOs and Founders whose companies we are proud to have in our portfolio. Their experiences provide inspiration for me in my daily work and I hope they will for you too on this International Women’s Day

Arti Finn, Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer American Prison Data Systems

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? It is a chance to showcase how women’s education can be the key to advancement — whether it is one of our customers who is a woman working in corrections, one of the inmates receiving our secure tablet technology focused on education and rehabilitation or one of our colleagues working to make all of this possible. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to continue the advancements we’ve already made and continue to show my daughter what is possible.

Why does International Women’s Day matter to you? I started a business with my husband. I don’t succeed because of him; he doesn’t succeed because of me. We have succeeded because of a strong partnership. International Women’s Day has made this possible for my family because when I went to business school at Kellogg, there was no barrier to entry. While the ratio of men to women was stark, the support was never in doubt. For that I thank all the women before me who enabled that.

What is your advice to aspiring female edtech entrepreneurs? Don’t give up. We were told repeatedly that providing secure tablet technology for inmate education and rehabilitation would never work. Not only has it worked, but our business has helped change the zeitgeist in corrections to focus on education and rehabilitation as the primary motivator for bringing technology to inmates.

Who is/has been a female role model? My mother and her mother before her. If my Indian Grandmother who died in childbirth with her 13th child when my mother was six, had not taught her nine daughters to have careers and be independent, my mother would not be the success she is. My mother is a world-famous doctor who taught me that hard work is the key to success. Being a woman has never been a barrier for me because of them.

Allie Diracles, Co-Founder and CEO, Vidcode

Who is/ has been a female role model? One of my recent role models is Red Burns who founded the New York University Interactive Telecommunications Program. She got into technology via broadcasting in the 1970s after having multiple children and being a single mom. She became mesmerized with technology and fought for humanity in technology for the next forty years. She brought an artist’s and a humanitarian perspective into the technology conversation far before companies like Apple and Microsoft gained widespread success. One of her many great quotes, “[What I want you to know- ] is that there is a complex connection between social and technological trends. It is virtually impossible to unravel except by hindsight.” — Red Burns

What is your advice to aspiring female edtech entrepreneurs? EdTech requires a lot of traction in order to get funded compared to other startup verticals. Use kickstarter, networking and grants until you are ready to spend time pursuing angel or VC funding. That being said I would never discourage going out for funding and I feel like female entrepreneurs sometimes wait longer than needed to start pitching. Start practicing early, shoot for the moon and also have a game plan for alternative types of funding.

Mary Ellen Beliveau, Founder and CEO, Knowledge to Practice

International Women’s Day matters to me because it’s an opportunity to build global awareness, contemplation and inspiration to make a difference. Ignorance is often the root cause of injustice. It’s easy to get buried in the day-to-day, pulling back to see the forest is a purposeful and often inspired pursuit. International Women’s Day builds emancipatory knowledge* through global story sharing; it inspires people to think about the difference they can make, to think about parity, to think about the opportunity they have to lead, inspire, champion, mentor and empower women to be all they can be for the benefit of global development. International Women’s Day

What is your advice to aspiring female edtech entrepreneurs? Believe in yourself…then find a way or make one. While both education and technology sectors suffer from lack of female thought leaders and CEO’s, there has never been a better time than today. Establish an ecosystem of people who have walked in your shoes, who appreciate your mission and passion, and have the wisdom and networks to empower your path forward in a transformational way. Be authentic, hear your voice and stand behind it… especially if it has been enriched by the network of advisors you build. Read “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz at least twice. Know that men often don’t understand strong women; make the time to develop relationships with male advisors so they can stand strong with you. Women often struggle to balance leadership and decisiveness with their nurturing side. Find your balance, be true to it and take the responsibility of being a role model. Build a culture of parity, listen to all voices equally and remember women are generally not the best at self-advocacy; encourage and reward the concept of mentoring.

*Emancipatory knowing (the opposite of ignorance) involves reflecting on social, cultural, and political injustice and how and why it came to exist. Habermas’s research proves emancipatory interest is a fundamental human interest that involves the capacity to recognize that something is wrong or unjust and to try to make it right. Freir’s theory of human liberation tells us that liberation happens through two critical processes:

  • Consciousness Raising: in this case International Women’s Day
  • Consciousness of Actions: developing a course of action that is feasible but not yet tested or tried, in this case #BeBoldForChange