2017: Rise of the Women (in Tech)
How the biggest disruption next year will come from women, not robots.
Every year, we make predictions in tech about what we will see more of the following year. Whether it is the increase of virtual reality, chatbots, robots or (can it still possibly be) mobile. One thing is for sure. There aren’t many banking on the fact it will be women. But they should. Here’s why…
We have hit a critical point in time where technology pervades almost all aspects of our lives. And at the same time, the reduction in its cost and now ubiquitous nature offers opportunity to more women than ever before.
So when Silicon Valley VC John Greathouse recently wrote a piece entitled “Why Women in Tech Might Consider Just Using Their Initials Online,” my first thought was, how did we get to this? Along with the pretty terrible political landscape we have found ourselves in this year, it seems we are decidedly moving backwards in many areas, not least when it comes to the tech industry. But we won’t stand for this anymore.
Technology has become the single most important democratizer of recent times. In the right hands, technology becomes an incredibly empowering tool. But we need to focus on who has the power. And continue to ensure women aren’t left out of this revolution.
The Tide Is Changing
Historically, the press have chosen to cover the men in our industry. Just a glimpse of the Newsweek special edition below tells you all you need to know about how the press place preference on the male founders and innovators in the industry. It’s as though the female pioneers didn’t/don’t exist.
But times are-a-changing and we are now seeing the role models which are needed to encourage the next generation of women into tech. This is evident in the sharp increase in films and documentaries putting smart, inspirational, women front of focus including Dream, Girl,She Started It, Empowerment Project, and Hidden Figures.
Kids’ books are now being written that inspire and encourage young girls to be engineers, scientists, innovators, such as Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, Tara Binns, Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. These books did not exist when I was a child.
“There is no greater indicator of an innovative culture than the empowerment of women.” Alec Ross, Industries of the Future
So what will this increase of women in tech mean for the industry? For society? What I have learned from interviewing close to 150 women for my book — Female Innovators at Work — and blog is that with women at the helm, a business is more likely, at the very least, to have a more mission-driven business. So enabling and empowering women to rise will absolutely change the tech industry, and society, for the better.
Examples of this, profiled in the book, include Yasmine Mustafa, a refugee who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime and later founded ROAR for Good after learning her neighbor was raped on her doorstep in Philadelphia. Judith Owigar, who set up two organizations: AkiraChix to encourage more women into tech in Kenya, and JuaKali to change the face of manual labor. And there is Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX who is on a mission to help humanity and colonize Mars.
Historically, women would have struggled to find investors to back this vision — perhaps because men were reluctant to invest in unproven women, in the same way they wouldn’t hesitate to invest in unproven men. Either way, this problem has been fixed with the emergence of female funds and crowdfunding sites. From aileenlee’s Cowboy Ventures to Sallie Krawcheck’s Ellevest and Debbie Wosskow’s AllBright, more women are starting funds to help female founders. So the flow of cash in and out of technology, and therefore society, is no longer held by men.
And along with the wonderful enabler of crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, and women’s networks such as The Wing, Blooming Founders, Ada’s List, Pearlxchange, Create & Cultivate, Tech Ladies, et al, we are already seeing a sharp increase of women entering the field and thriving (15,000 attended the Anita Borg Conference this year). If we continue to empower these women, they will drive technology where it needs to go. They will also help attract and retain even more women in the industry thus creating a far more level-playing field for all, and a better product and service for tech consumers, half of which are women.
It Is Our Time
Finally, I truly believe that as women, it is our time. We are critical components to where technology needs to go. As the director Cynthia Lowen of Netizens (a documentary about women and online harassment) says, leadership sets the tone for its community. “Now, more than ever, we need the voices and leadership of women. The web is perhaps the most important public space in our communities, and one in which we all have a stake.”
Diversity in the tech sector as a whole (not just women), in all its power and glory, will rise and thrive in 2017, and prove what we knew all along. That we are the lifeblood for the types of innovation the world so desperately needs right now.