Notes from #WebSummit: WiT special: Hacking the gender divide in investing and company leadership.

Building confidence and valuing passion over “gravitas.”

Date: November 8, 2017
Time: 12:50
Conference stream: Growth Summit

Susana Quintana-Plaza, Partner, Next47
Alexandra Mack, CMO, Crunchbase, Inc
Sarah Moran, Co-Founder & CEO, Girl Geek Academy
Ester Martinez, CEO & Editor-in-Chief, People Matters Media Pvt. Ltd.

Web Summit Summary
Tech is male-dominated. It shouldn’t be. Let’s hear from the people hacking the gender imbalance.

Main Theme

This panel of powerhouse women focused on the “how,” rather than the “why” behind the gender gap for women in technology leadership. They talked about internal confidence and external mentorship as necessary conditions for advancing more women into leadership roles.

The Key Quote

“I want to give women a very important task every single day: Wake up in the morning, look yourself in the mirror, and tell yourself: I. kick. ass.”
- Susana Quintana-Plaza

Key Points

  1. Alexandra: Women represent only 8% of investing partners. They are vastly outnumbered in VC firms. However, we’ve seen incremental progress in startup founder ratios: 16% of startups have at least 1 female partner.
  2. Alexandra: “If we give women the power to choose where the money is going, this will open doors to an important part of the ecosystem. If we can create a culture that promotes funding for women-run companies, we can create a culture that financially advances and empowers women and their ideas.”
  3. Esther: “How do we solve this problem? How do we get more women in leadership roles?” Susana: “I see there being two factors that fuel this problem. 1- Lack of self-confidence. You want to be compelled to invest in someone. If they don’t project confidence in themselves, how can you feel confident investing in them? 2- Bias. People tend to hire people that look like them, talk like them, etc.” By forcing women to take leadership positions, it will widen the hiring pool and encourage dominant groups to hire people that are different from them.
  4. Esther: “How do you institutionalize and enable that change to happen? How do you create structures for that change?” Sarah: “Congrats to all the men that are here. Until men make room for women and help fuel their confidence, we won’t achieve gender balance.”
  5. Sarah: “Every woman needs a cheerleader… someone who will advocate for them inside and outside of their company.”
  6. Alexandra on role models: “How do I show up as a leader with confidence? It’s hard when you’re the only woman on a leadership team of men. Where I’d love to see women go in terms of leadership is to just be a woman in leadership. I want to see women be recognized for their efforts and leadership, not simply spotlit because they’re a woman.”
  7. Susana: “Don’t think about your limitations. Focus on your potential. Women on my teams come to their annual reviews with a list of things they need to improve on. And 90% of the time, I’ve never noticed any of those things, until now.” Moral of the story? Don’t sabotage yourself.
  8. Susana: “I want to give women a very important task every single day: Wake up in the morning, look yourself in the mirror, and tell yourself: I kick ass.” Alexandra: “You have to see yourself on the same level as your peers.” This was really helpful for me to check the level at which I show up in my role at work. Susana: People tell me, “you should have gravitas.” This language and heuristic is defined for men, by men. Own your difference. Own your passion.”
  9. Sarah: “What I wish men would do is mentor a woman. Help me figure out how to break down some of these walls.”
  10. Sarah: “You’ll see a very high return on investment if you hire women. But it’s important to engage in bias training.”

Esther: “What advice do you have for your younger self?”

  • Sarah: “Make your dreams come true.”
  • Alexandra: “Look at the careers available to you with an open mind.”


This panel focused both on internal and external factors that create limitations for women entering leadership roles.

Confidence was a strong internal theme throughout the panel. All women spoke to the idea that it’s difficult to invest in women who don’t invest compassion in their own self-image. It seems the old adage is true: confidence really is key- especially when trying to turn the key to the corner office.

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