WIT: THIS UNLIKELY TECH QUEEN WANTS TO BUILD A NEW GLOBAL HUB IN KYRGYZSTAN

Because behind every great app there’s a great team of back-end developers. Some are where you’d least expect.

By James Watkins of Ozy.com

The blinds are pulled in all the windows of the fifth-floor office. Computer screens and cracks of daylight cast a gray-blue glow, complementing the dark grays and dark purples of mismatched furniture, seemingly thrown together yet too cool to be accidental. The only accents of color are lime greens and bright pinks that dance across screens in lines of computer code. This place has style.

One of several artsy-looking signs on the wall reads “Dance like no one is watching. Encrypt like everyone is.” If I were a location scout for HBO’s Silicon Valley, I’d film the whole damn thing here. But we’re 7,000 miles from California. We’re in Bishkek, the capital of landlocked Kyrgyzstan, at a back-end development hub behind some of Asia’s top apps and tech platforms. Another streak of color? The shock of bright-pink hair on the CEO at the center of the room: Alla Klimenko. Her company, Mad Devs, is a leader in Kyrgyzstan’s burgeoning tech scene, which is increasingly pitching itself as a cheaper alternative to Ukraine, yet more upmarket than India, in the battle to be the brains behind tech titans in Russia, Singapore, Thailand and beyond.

Mad Devs became Mad Devs only about two years ago, but the core team of developers who started the company have been working together for more than a decade. Most recently, they were the development team at Namba, a sort of Netflix-turned-Uber in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan’s most ubiquitous consumer tech company started as an online TV platform, has run an app-based ride-sharing service since 2012 and added food delivery in 2013 (a year before Uber Eats launched). Not satisfied with those challenges, the coders felt they weren’t being given enough to do, says Klimenko, so they started their own company.

It now has more than 50 employees, contracting with Namba as well as Eatigo, a Bangkok-based restaurant booking service with more than a million users across Southeast Asia; Zentist, a Silicon Valley–based dental services platform; an artificial intelligence–meets–blockchain concept called Neureal; and others as far away as the U.K. and Australia. “We don’t work with small projects,” says Klimenko, only meaningful partnerships of six months or more. They don’t have a sales team beyond Klimenko herself, with all their work coming through word-of-mouth.

Tech CEO isn’t the usual career path of 31-year-old Kyrgyz women. Almost all talented young people leave to work in Kazakhstan or Russia, where average wages are four and eight times that of those in Kyrgyzstan, respectively. Klimenko herself spent 18 months working in Almaty, Kazakhstan, returning to Bishkek on weekends. Though the business scene is more developed in Kazakhstan, the region’s economic powerhouse, almost all employees in Kazakhstan’s tech scene are Kyrgyz, says Klimenko. But now, the lack of other opportunities means that tech is one industry where Kyrgyzstan could thrive: “We are hungry,” Klimenko says. “As soon as you give people a chance to earn good money here without leaving the country, they take it.”

That same ambition has driven Klimenko personally as well as professionally. Fiercely independent since childhood, she excelled at physics and mathematics Olympiads as a high school student. Studying computer engineering at university, she was one of the best in her class, and would often be held up as an example to her predominantly male classmates — “Even the girl can do this, and you can’t?” she recalls her teachers saying, though for her it’s more a source of pride than an example of sexism.

Klimenko occupies a strange ideological position on gender politics. She is considering running an all-female intern class next year because she’s convinced that women are usually far better qualified than they say in applications, and yet she doesn’t believe the future is totally female: “There shouldn’t be more women than men” in tech, she says, else “they start to try to dominate each other.”

Klimenko left her first husband (whom she married while still at university) because he wanted her to be a stay-at-home mother; she left her second husband (the father of her 6-year-old son) because he didn’t share her ambition. She is chatty and funny, markedly different from the rest of the employees, whose eyes barely rise from their screens as they eat at their desks. Klimenko hasn’t actually coded since university, after realizing that project management in tech was her forte. It’s “unique” for someone to have Klimenko’s communications and sales skills while still being on the same intellectual level as the coders themselves, says Andrew Minkin, one of Mad Dev’s other co-founders.

Mad Devs is “one of the top local companies” in Kyrgyzstan’s tech scene, says Aziz Soltobaev, co-founder of KG Labs, an organization working to boost the country’s tech infrastructure — although there are a few other companies eyeing international prominence, including software development platform Zensoft. Many of the other leading companies have offices abroad or foreign founders, says Soltobaev, making Mad Devs one of the few to remain in Bishkek. “One of the challenges is a lack of talent,” he says — a problem that Mad Devs tackles by training dozens of unpaid interns in-house, several of whom have no formal training. The team calls their grueling program “The Hunger Games,” which ends with a “hell week” during which the office sofas become makeshift beds. Minkin leads the internship program, mainly because of his size and intimidating physical appearance, says Klimenko.

Of course, it’s still early days for the Mad Devs team, and becoming the go-to back-end development hub for the future economy is a title that emerging economies the world over are fighting for. But if there’s one thing they’ve nailed in the aspiration to bring Silicon Valley to Central Asia, it’s a tribelike company culture. Minkin even has a tattoo featuring the Mad Devs logo. Klimenko’s own tattoo covers her forearm with a “goddess of flame,” and it too was inked with the company in mind — yet another colorful selling point.

WIT: Why the Trolls Are Winning the Internet: Ex-Reddit CEO Speaks Out

She sounded the alarm on Silicon Valley. Now the former Reddit CEO is finally seeing things start to change.

 

By Kimberly Weisul of Inc.com

Ellen Pao knows the startup world–and its skeletons–inside and out. The former venture capitalist and one-time CEO of Reddit is now the co-founder and CEO of Project Include, a nonprofit that advises tech companies on diversity and inclusion. Pao first rocked Silicon Valley in 2012 by suing her employer, legendary venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, for gender discrimination. Though she ultimately lost, her lawsuit sparked a long-overdue reckoning about how the tech industry treats women and people of color, and helped lay the groundwork for the ongoing #MeToo movement.

In a wide-ranging interview, Pao explains why this is a critical moment for women in Silicon Valley, calls for greater regulation of the biggest internet companies, and warns entrepreneurs against the worst mistakes she sees founders make.

So much has happened in tech in the past year, from Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal to #MeToo. What, if anything, do you see changing?
We’re only starting to find out what can happen to our data on the big tech platforms, and how little control we’ve had over it–and even Facebook has had over it. It’s 100 percent clear the tech platforms cannot manage themselves. I’m not a fan of regulation, but that may be the only way to make things better. We’ve reached the last resort. Other options have failed.

For women in tech, this will be a really important year. We’ve had all these things happen, and now we have people who are actually open to change. I want to push as much change through as possible.

You’ve worked in venture capital, at startups, and at big tech companies. What value do you think VCs bring to startups?
They bring value in their networks. And they’ve seen a lot of things, so they can potentially help you troubleshoot. But they also bring a lot of baggage. VCs want a board seat. They may have giant egos and want you to do something a certain way. They may want you to go public, or sell earlier than you want to sell. They may be tracking metrics that you don’t believe in.

So do you advise founders to seek, or avoid, venture investors?
I don’t know that I would raise venture capital unless I really believed in the investor. I hope that in the future we can find alternative sources of funding, that it becomes easier to self-fund, and that people can get to profitability earlier.

When you invested in startups, what mistakes did you see entrepreneurs make repeatedly?
The worst was when entrepreneurs tried to postpone solving difficult problems, hoping they’d just magically disappear. That never happens. Especially the people issues–those get worse unless you have a conversation with those involved. And even then it’s 50/50–but if you don’t have the conversation, you can be 100 percent sure that it will get worse.

Also, don’t spend your money just because you have it. Be frugal, because your runway is really important. You don’t want employees who are there just because you’re spending a ton of money on events or on alcohol or on a fancy chef. You want people who are there to do their work and not for the fringe benefits. Focus on giving them great work to do and valuing the work that they are doing.

You left Reddit in 2015, after becoming interim CEO and trying to crack down on the site’s widespread hate speech. How have the large social-media platforms changed since then?
They’re more siloed, and more artificial. The idea of having authentic inter­actions on these platforms is less realistic. Instead, we see people marketing propaganda, or pushing for their idea in a way that might not be truthful.

It makes me really sad, because the internet is such a powerful tool, and it introduced this idea that you could connect with anyone. And it’s been turned into this weapon used to hurt and harass people.

What does that mean for the people who run these companies? How should they be responding to the abuse on their platforms?
You always have an obligation to keep your users safe, to make sure they are not going to be harassed or shoved off your platform for expressing their ideas, or attacked in real life by people sharing their private information.

Those should have been principles from the beginning. I do think the people who started the internet thought it was going to be a force for good, and I don’t think they anticipated the level of harassment and invasiveness and harm that people would use these platforms for. But at the minimum, you want to prevent bad things from happening on your platform.

What limits on free speech, if any, are acceptable in trying to curb online harassment and bullying?
The definition of free speech has become convoluted. It originally meant protection of the press from government intervention. Now it’s come to mean that people should be able to say whatever they want on tech platforms, which are run by private companies. This idea, that private companies have this obligation to allow any kind of speech, is actually not something that is legally required.

Tech companies created some confusion early on, because a lot of founders used “free speech” as a marketing angle. “Express whatever ideas you want!”

But when you make it a free-for-all, people unfortunately come out with their most terrible insults, and this horrible online harassment that we’ve seen get worse and worse over the past several years.

There has always been some censorship on platforms. They have always taken down spam and some child porn. It’s just when you get into certain types of content that people get really upset.

One of the big problems is that these platforms were built by homogeneous teams, who didn’t experience the harassment themselves, and who don’t have friends who were harassed. Some of them still don’t understand what other people are experiencing and why change is so important.

Is it possible to create a place where people can safely express any ideas online, no matter how controversial?
I don’t think it’s possible anymore except at very small scale, because the nature of interactions at scale has become very attention-focused: “The angrier and meaner I am online, the more attention I get.” This has created a high-energy, high-emotion, conflict-oriented set of interactions. And there’s no clear delineation around what’s a good or a bad engagement. People just want engagement.

Are any tech leaders taking this problem seriously?
I have been really impressed by [Medium founder and Twitter co-founder] Ev Williams’s coming out and saying, “Look, we didn’t understand back then what the internet was going to become, and we really need to rethink what we’re doing.”

Another problem is that employees who manage the behavior on these platforms are not valued. It’s hourly work, and the people who do it aren’t necessarily trained that well. So you’re expecting people who are clocking in and clocking out to figure out hate speech–which constitutional law professors are still constantly debating.

On top of that, you’re asking them to deal with hate and harassment directed at them personally. At Reddit, we had employees who got doxxed [had their private information published online]. So there’s a lot of fear, and it’s justified.

Meanwhile, the employees don’t see an upside; nobody really seems to be holding them accountable for making sure the platform rules are being followed. So any rules are not implemented well.

These platforms, especially Facebook, collect a large amount of data. Why did it take the Cambridge Analytica scandal to raise widespread alarm?
Because the data collection was marketed really well–a thumbs-up seems so innocuous! You don’t realize you’re sharing a ton of information–and it was very incremental. We had the Likes–and then all of a sudden the app was available on my phone, and that seemed really con­venient. It wasn’t explicit that all of this information, all of your actions on your phone, was going to Facebook, and that you were opening up your friends’ data. There were so many changes and new privacy policies that after a while people gave up tracking them–and Facebook didn’t wave it in your face. It’s not like the company said, “Hey, we’re taking all your data, and we’re doing all this stuff.”

Your trial, followed by Susan Fowler’s account of widespread harassment at Uber, helped lay the groundwork for the #MeToo reckoning about sexism, harassment, and sexual abuse throughout the business world. Is it worse in tech than in other industries?
In tech, there is such a concentration of power in a small set of venture capitalists and a small set of CEOs that people aren’t sharing all their stories–the #MeToo stories, the discrimination stories, and the retaliation stories.

Some of the stories I’ve heard behind the scenes are much worse than stories that have been shared publicly. People still want to be able to find jobs, and they want to be able to raise funding for their companies. It’s a rational decision not to share your story. And I don’t think we can really understand what’s happened in each of these industries without having heard all of those stories.

Do you feel you’ve been penalized for telling your story and for suing Kleiner Perkins?
There are people who won’t talk to me. There are people who believe the negative press campaign. A woman who runs a fund recently reached out to me, and she said, “I am sorry, because I really thought you were crazy when you sued. I see now why you did it and why it makes sense. I had pushed down all of my feelings and my experiences. I apologize, and I thank you for what you’ve done.”

But this is six years after I sued, and she’s finally saying something about it.

There are still a lot of people who believe that I was wrong to sue. It’s been such an uphill battle for so long. I don’t know if I’ve come out the other side yet, where I can say it’s been a positive. But it’s been very rewarding to see so many other people speaking up, and to see that shift from doubt and skepticism into empathy and belief. That’s happened in the past couple of years, and it’s been such a relief. 

I don’t think of it as about me personally. It’s more that the industry needs to change, and we’re making progress, and that’s a good thing.

How much progress have you seen for women in Silicon Valley?
Things are incrementally better. You can actually talk about an experience that you’ve had and not be met with skepticism or told that you’re crazy. People who have reported problems have gotten attention in a way that was not as negative as the attention I got.

Now there is a feeling that we need to change. The mindset at first was, “We don’t believe there’s a problem.” Then people admitted there was a problem, but it wasn’t their problem. Then they understood that they needed to make changes, but said they couldn’t because it was a pipeline problem. And now we’re at a point where people admit we need to change, and that they have some responsibility to do it. We’re just now starting to see companies say, “I want to change and I want to be revolutionary.”

This is going to be a critical year, because now people are willing to do some work. This is the best chance we have. We can see the move toward true inclusion–meaning not just women, which a lot of efforts are only focused on today.

The important part of this next wave of change is to try to keep people working together. It’s very easy to have people fracture and say, “There’s only one spot allowed for diversity, so we’re all going to fight for it.” But we need to be more supportive of one another. We need to understand that if we all work on inclusion together, it’s going to be faster, broader, better, and more thorough than anything we can do on our own.


Companies often cite the “pipeline problem,” the argument that there aren’t enough women or people of color with the degrees necessary to succeed in tech. Is that a real problem or an excuse?

There is a pipeline problem, but a lot of it is self-manufactured. Companies use the same recruiting firms. They have a process where it’s easier for a certain type of person to get through, so then the recruiters bring in that type of person, and build a huge pool of only them.

There are fewer women with computer science degrees, but that’s also an excuse. You don’t necessarily need a computer science degree. A lot of people are self-trained, and a lot of people who are successful in tech aren’t engineers. But it’s not only engineering that has a dearth of women. It’s across the whole tech industry, so it’s a much bigger problem.

I’ve heard people say #MeToo hasn’t helped women, it has just made men scared of hiring women.
Of course it helped. People said the same thing about my lawsuit–that VCs would never hire another woman, that it was going to prevent people from meeting with women, and that it was going to destroy any kind of gender progress that had already been made. That’s just sensationalistic–and also a little bit pissy, for lack of a better word. It’s like, “We don’t like this change, so we’re going to dig in our heels.”

Plenty of longstanding research shows that diverse teams perform better. So why do we still see so many all-white, all-male partnerships?
Some of these companies are so data-driven, so metrics-oriented–yet once the data is staring them in the face, their emotions override it, and they think they don’t need to change. I think there’s a comfort zone, and there’s a fear of women in the workplace. Sometimes they’ll say, “Our culture is so inappropriate that we can’t bring a woman into this environment.”

So how do you change an entrenched culture, like Uber’s?
It is so hard. You have to be vigilant about every interaction. You have to make sure if there are violations of values that you’re on it. Uber’s culture is in its DNA now, and I haven’t seen all the courage required to do the tough changes. The company is going to have to fire more than 20 people. It’s going to have to really dig in and spend time on it. The change agent needs to be the CEO.

There are some signs that Uber is not quite there. I don’t understand why it doesn’t have the diversity and inclusion lead reporting directly to the CEO. Chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John’s leaving is not a good sign–especially when Uber is putting $500 million into branding. That’s not good.

What do you tell the well-meaning CEO who hasn’t thought about inclusion or diversity a lot but wants to be one of the good guys?
There are a lot of very basic things: Make inclusion either an explicit value or part of all your other values. Make sure you step back and look at all of your processes: How are you recruiting people? How are you building your pipeline?

Are you rewarding people for bringing in their friends, who probably look like them? Are you getting a look at as many candidates as possible, or are you looking only at candidates who are on your homogeneous radar? Are you then going through a fair process to bring candidates on board? Or are you using trick questions that people with friends in the company will be able to answer, because they get a heads-up?

If your leadership team is not diverse and inclusive, then clearly this is not a priority for you. It also means that you have a limited circle. It may be because of your recruiter or it may be because of your board. But if your executive team doesn’t have much diversity, that’s going to be a problem, because the company won’t be able to attract people. And if you do, you’re not going to get them to stay, because they won’t see anybody who looks like them in the top ranks.

The early results from the first group of companies to work with Project Include show some progress in creating gender diversity but not racial or ethnic diversity. What can we learn from that?
Diversifying by race can be harder than diversifying by gender, from an emotional perspective. A lot of men will say, “I want to bring women in, because I want my daughter to have a chance.” It’s very oriented toward the people they have a direct connection with. When it comes to somebody from a different race or ethnicity, they may not have that connection.

And companies are still doing one thing at a time: They focus on gender first, and then the next group. Or they’re going to attack it one phase at a time because it’s so hard. That is not inclusion. That means you may be widening the group of people included, but you’re still excluding all these other people and your processes are still not fair. And the people whom you are theoretically including are probably still treated differently, because your culture is based around exclusion. That’s the piece people sometimes don’t get, because they don’t want to. There are specific problems for specific groups, but the focus and end goal is change, of the whole industry, for everybody.

WIT: Making Tech Truly Diverse Calls for New Tactics and Renewed Commitment

 

 

By Brenda Darden Wilkerson

This column is part of a series called “Voices of Women in Tech,” created in collaboration with AnitaB.org, a global enterprise that supports women in technical fields, as well as the organizations that employ them and the academic institutions training the next generation.

So much time, effort, and expense go into fixing tech’s diversity problem — why have we seen so little progress?

The proof of our failure is in the data. The 2017 Top Companies for Women Technologists report, which measured more than 547,000 technologists across 63 organizations, showed a mere 1.2 percent year-over-year increase in the number of women in technical roles. Women’s representation in midlevel, senior, and executive roles saw considerably smaller increases of .2 percent, .6 percent, and 1 percent respectively. 

These numbers are likely far higher than the industry at large, since Top Companies participants are already committed to measuring their progress. For women of color, the numbers are even more disheartening. The meager increases in women’s representation have gone almost entirely to white women and women of Asian descent.

For years, tech companies have followed a similar formula to diversify their workforces. They host affinity groups, they hold sensitivity training, they tweak hiring processes. But all of these efforts have yielded scant benefits. If the tech industry continues to “improve” at the current rate, it will take decades before we reach gender parity, and even longer before our workforce accurately reflects the population at large. Clearly, something’s gotta give.

All of us have to be brave and admit that what we’ve been doing is simply not working. We need to face the real data, scrap fruitless initiatives, and take an entirely new approach. This is no time to give in to diversity fatigue!

Why do so many organizations continue to fail? For some, there’s a gap between the desire to look good and the actual effort that progress requires. But even executives with perfect motivations are finding themselves looking at stagnant diversity stats. And I know this is true, because I’m one of them.

I’m the leader of AnitaB.org, the leading organization devoted to the advancement of women in technology. We host the annual Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s biggest gathering of women technologists. We administer Top Companies for Women Technologists, the only program that provides a consistent benchmark of the technical workforce across a wide range of industries.

We are, by all rights, true experts in fostering diversity. And yet, looking at our own internal diversity numbers, I could see no other answer: We had not only failed to move the needle, by most measures we had actually regressed. How could we continue to pressure the industry around us for greater diversity when we ourselves were not able to improve as we intended?

Clearly, we need a new approach. Here’s what we’re advocating: First, the change has to start at the very top. When our board of trustees sought a new CEO for our organization — someone to continue the incredible work that Anita Borg herself began in 1997 — they took a very rare step. Not only did they interview me, a black woman technologist, they hired me. By doing so, they were making a clear statement: It was time for this organization to take the necessary steps toward fully recognizing the intersectionality of the women we serve, and of our own team doing that work.

As part of a series of changes under my leadership, we have hired our first HR director. She’s implementing significantly stronger HR policies and procedures to foster more inclusivity and equity, and helping us adjust our hiring practices — where we advertise, how we assemble interview panels, and other tactical steps — to help us attract a more diverse candidate pool. We’re also requiring that every hiring manager assemble a truly inclusive group of prospective employees. 

When we add to our team, leaders must consider candidates with a variety of intersections, including age, gender, race and ability. We’re also focused on capturing our racial and ethnic data more accurately, especially for those team members who identify with more than one group, to better measure our progress.

 

Right now, I’m also personally vetting every hire we make to ensure we’ve drawn from a broad pool, and that we are bringing on talent that truly reflects the richness of the communities we serve. This commitment takes time away from my other projects, but we accept this trade-off because it’s important to set the tone from the top, and because we cannot continue to operate as we always have.

We’re also focusing on promoting and retaining a diverse set of talented employees — because, frankly, we’ve lost some good people who we wanted to keep. As we always tell the companies who work with us, fixing the “leaky pipeline” is not enough. We cannot hire our way out of this problem. We must fix our retention and promotion process, not simply in addition to hiring better, but first and foremost. 

At our core, we’re technologists: Solving problems is what we do best. We need to focus the same skills that have made technology companies the vanguard of economic growth — disruption and innovation — onto the issues that threaten our industry’s progress.

To win the innovation wars, to fill empty seats, to create products that delight customers, change must start with leadership. Visionary leaders need to make bold moves and acknowledge the depth of the issue. We need to throw out initiatives that haven’t made an impact, look at real data, and build a better way forward. Companies that undertake a new approach are the companies that are going to see change.
And it has to start with those of us who do the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion on a daily basis. 

Already, we’ve seen some progress. Our diversity numbers so far this year look very different than they did at the end of 2017. And, as we set a new baseline and measure ourselves against it, we will be better able to identify places where we’ve improved and those where we’ve regressed, codifying our tactics for future gains. We don’t expect everything to work perfectly — there is no silver bullet — but we do expect to take honest and unflinching measurements of what does move the needle.

Fixing tech’s diversity issues is truly personal for me, and for everyone who works at AnitaB.org. As we offer ourselves as an example, we want the companies we work with to know we’re willing to do the same critical work and, as leaders, hold ourselves personally accountable in the same ways that we’re demanding of them. 

Brenda Darden Wilkerson serves as the President and CEO of
AnitaB.org, an organization working to shape public opinion about issues of critical importance to women technologists in academia, industry, and government.

WIT: Women in tech – it’s not about being Wonder Woman!

Women working in IT bemoan the lack of relatable role models

By Madeline Bennett of diginomica.com

Quick quiz for you – name the first woman in tech that comes into your head.

If I could do a tally of the answers, I reckon there’s a good chance that names like Martha Lane Fox, Sheryl Sandberg, Meg Whitman and Marissa Meyer would crop up regularly. This well-known group have all proved you can make it to the top in technology as a woman.

But how valuable are they as inspiration for young women making decisions about whether to take a computing A-level or degree over French, English or Geography? Or whether to consider an apprenticeship or career in technology even though it’s still a heavily male-dominated arena?

Not very, according to attendees at the recent Women of Silicon Roundabout event in London. It’s well accepted that role models play a vital part in encouraging more women to join the tech industry. But as Jen Grant, CMO at Looker, noted during a panel discussion on attracting the next generation of tech talent, it’s always Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Meyer whose names come up. The problem is, these women aren’t particularly relatable to the majority of young women at school, university or early in their careers, and so Grant would like to see a broader range of people highlighted as role models for women in tech.

Justine Haworth, Global Head of Digital Engagement at HSBC, feels that there is less of a link between young women and the IT industry now than there was when she joined the sector 30 years ago as a graduate trainee. It’s now either geeks in basements or superwomen, she explained:

“I don’t think we describe roles in technology and roles in science in a way that females can relate to them. Today, we don’t make them attractive. There are a lot of stereotypes that we associate with jobs in technology – darkened basements, hoodies, green screens.

Even when you look nowadays at female role models in science and technology in films, they’re always portrayed almost as super-heroines, as something really different. It feels really unattainable, [young women] can’t relate to it because [they] don’t understand where [their] skills fit in this sort of world. Films like Black Panther, you’ve got these super geeky girls, there’s nowhere in between. It’s shrouded in a lack of realism.”

Jo Morfee, Founder at InnovateHer, called for more role models who are everyday, normal human beings, real people achieving in the world of technology and solving real-world problems. She gave the example of UK startup Open Bionics, which makes low-cost 3D-printed prosthetics for amputees. The firm partnered with Disney to create limbs modeled on Iron Man or Elsa from Frozen, and has succeeded in making them more accessible and affordable for its target audience of young children. Now, rather than kids being asked how they lost a limb, they get asked how they got their cool robot hand.

But this mentality of finding ways to broaden the appeal of technology hasn’t made its way into the early years schooling system yet. Morfee referred to 2017 research from Centrica, which revealed that both male and female teachers feel STEM careers are better suited to men than women.

Morfee’s colleague Chelsea Slater, Founder at InnovateHer, said there is still a barrier in education for girls not feeling they have a place in the technology industry, and this is affecting their choice of subjects to study and career paths to pursue. Slater added:

“A lot of teachers are telling them they can become teachers, nurses, doctors, hairdressers, things that tend to be a little bit more caring and that girls get boxed into. The boys are getting told to go into engineering and science.”

Slater gave the example of a 15 year-old girl she was mentoring last year, who loves engineering and wanted to study the subject as a GCSE. Her teacher declined her request as she would be the only girl in the class.

Fortunately, she persuaded a friend to take the course with her and so was allowed on to it.

The problem here is that teachers are so overworked and under-resourced, Slater maintains, that they are pushing the traditional roles and career paths onto girls and boys because that’s all they know.

Progress

While work is clearly needed within the education sector to ensure teachers are aware of the opportunities out there for young women in STEM, this year’s Women in Silicon Roundabout conference demonstrated the strides made on the corporate side. The event, which is only in its third year, attracted 4,500 attendees, almost four times as many as 2017. It had sponsorship from some of the biggest names on the global business stage – Goldman Sachs, HSBC, BP, Adidas, Sainsbury’s Argos, AstraZeneca to name a few – as well as the big guns of the tech world, from Google to Ebay to Amazon.

Only a few years ago, diversity in tech events would have failed to attract much interest outside the technology sector. Now, organizations in every industry are rushing to throw their money and opinions behind the cause – but how much of this is due to them truly valuing and understanding the importance of diversity and inclusivity? And how much is just paying lip service to the latest trendy cause, the new greenwash?

Haworth believes that by sponsoring women in tech events and making data available for projects like the Tech Talent Charter, shows firms like HSBC are heading in the right direction:

“We’re working at a time when we’re trying to reverse decades of unconscious and conscious bias. I’m really encouraged by the commitment at the top of my organization around both diversity and inclusion. It’s not just about having the right distribution of people. All of those people have to be allowed to fulfill their potential so we as a bank can fulfill our potential.”

HSBC leadership is well aware, Haworth added, of the data that demonstrates where the bank has diverse leadership teams, those teams make better decisions and those decisions lead to better business outcomes, and hence an improvement in profitability.

But balanced against this awareness of the benefits of diversity, is the stark reality of the ongoing battle for tech talent. Haworth sees a risk that the lack of skilled technology staff might lead to firms diminishing their diversity efforts to just get the vacancies filled.

HSBC, which currently has 1,000 open technology vacancies across the world, is taking steps to ensure diversity does not get sidelined. All its hiring managers are undergoing specialist training to reduce and eliminate bias, and to ensure they are tailoring interviews to reflect that men and women demonstrate their skills better in different ways. Haworth added:

“I would love for over 50% of those roles in technology in its broadest sense – they’re not just engineering roles, they’re product manager, project manager, data scientist, optimisation specialist – wouldn’t it be amazing if over 50 percent of those roles were taken by females? Together we can make this happen.

There is a disproportionate number of females at the top, HSBC included, but when you go to the middle and lower management layers, that’s not the case. We’ve all got a role to play in making this happen. There will always be people who pay lip service, but our strength as females is our unity.”

My take

What struck me most when listening to the views shared by the panel were those relating to the school-age girls, exactly the people we want to be including in diversity efforts. Slater’s example of a young woman being turned away from an engineering course as she’d be the only female is an attitude I’d have expected from teachers 20 or even 10 years ago. That young women are still being discouraged from taking STEM courses, rather than teachers welcoming them and making an effort to actively recruit more girls, is alarming.

I’ve also raised the point before that women in technology events often promote those who’ve already reached the top or have done something incredible and unique.  So Haworth’s point about super heroines certainly rang true; let’s hear a little less about Sheryl Sandberg and Shuri*, and more from the everyday female software developers, systems engineers and product managers, who are just a few rungs up the ladder from school children considering their options.

*Black Panther’s super heroine technology genius

WIT: Silicon Valley poll: Women face daunting roadblocks in male-dominated tech

Pay gaps, harassment and a restroom three floors down.

By Katy Murphy of BayAreaNews

Women in the Bay Area’s male-dominated tech world have a strikingly dimmer view of gender equality at work than women in other sectors, according to a new poll that offers the deepest look to date at local employees’ attitudes on pay parity, workplace opportunity and sexual harassment.

In an industry whose sexist reputation is dramatized in court cases and parodied in situation comedies, women in tech say the obstacles they face are all too real: Half of those polled said they feel women have fewer opportunities for advancement at their current workplaces than men, and 43 percent said they are paid less. In contrast, fewer than one-third of Bay Area women outside of tech felt held back or underpaid because of their gender.

Months after the #MeToo movement began to topple power brokers from Hollywood to Congress, the poll found that women in tech were far more likely than women elsewhere to say they had been subjected to unwelcome sexual advances or harassment at work, with more than 4 in 10 saying they had been harassed at their current jobs. Despite those experiences, women in tech, like two-thirds of all respondents, believe the national reckoning will bring lasting change.

The findings of the poll, conducted for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and this news organization, point to the roadblocks, both glaring and subtle, that gender researchers say still await many women at work — particularly in tech, one of the most dynamic and lucrative slices of the economy.

Women remain so vastly outnumbered in this notoriously male-centric industry that writer Emily Chang called it a “Brotopia” in her new book about Silicon Valley. And the string of recent grievances relating to tech’s treatment of women runs from Susan Fowler’s viral account last year of the sexism and harassment she experienced as an engineer at Uber to the uproar over the case of fired Google engineer James Damore, who wrote a memo suggesting biological differences might partly explain the lack of women in tech.

“Women leave the tech industry not necessarily because there wasn’t good maternity leave or flexible work schedules,” said Gwen K. Young, who directs the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative at the Wilson Center, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. “They say it’s the culture and the way men treat them.”

Alicia Lent, a 24-year-old engineer in the semiconductor industry, will never forget the day she went to teach a class in a sprawling factory and asked where the restroom was.

“They said, ‘Oh yeah, the closest women’s bathroom is three stories down,’ because they converted the women’s bathroom to a men’s bathroom,” she said. “They said there’s not enough women to justify a women’s bathroom on every floor.”

Lent felt being a computer science major in college — where she was sometimes the only woman in the class — not only imparted technical know-how, she said, it helped her “bulk up” for the reality of the workforce, where today she is one of two women on a team of 12 people, a job she enjoys. When working in pairs in college, she said, “I felt like I had to do good or no one would trust a woman as a lab partner again.”

Researchers say such experiences are typical in male-dominated departments and industries such as tech. The share of women earning undergraduate degrees in computer science fell dramatically after the 1980s and has since held steady at around 20 percent, a worrisome figure for those pushing for gender parity in the industry.

Stanford and UC Berkeley have begun to reverse the trend on their campuses, in part by making introductory computer science courses accessible to those with no previous programming experience. John DeNero, an assistant teaching professor who helped develop the new courses at UC Berkeley, said he is encouraged by how easily the female graduates he knows are landing entry-level jobs in tech.
When they go out to look for work, he said, “They are highly sought after.”
But mid-career women often encounter stagnation, researchers say.

national study of female scientists and engineers led by UC Hastings law school professor Joan C. Williams suggested that bias pushed women out of the STEM workforce, with two-thirds of women saying they were required to prove themselves repeatedly and the same share having their commitment and competence questioned after having children. Nearly half of the black and Latina women in the study said they had been mistaken for administrative or custodial employees.

Of Fortune 500’s 20 biggest Bay Area tech companies ranked by revenue, just one — Oracle — has a woman in charge: Safra Catz, who shares the title of CEO with Mark Hurd. Last week , the prominent venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz hired its first-ever female general partner, former federal prosecutor and cryptocurrency expert Katie Haun.

Danielle Rhinehart, 35, of San Jose, has held an array of jobs in tech, from office manager to entertainment coordinator. She says she would love to do something more creative but has sometimes felt pigeon-holed — a circumstance she isn’t sure whether to attribute to her gender or to a narrow view of the type of administrative positions through which women often start at major tech companies.

“The more I talk to other women in this industry and others, just professional working women,” she said, “that’s the theme I hear — getting stuck in an administrative role, not being able to be seen as something more.”

The new poll also highlights a disconnect between the sexes over the perception of gender inequality. Just 26 percent of men in tech polled said they thought women lacked the same opportunities for advancement as men in their current workplaces, compared to 50 percent of women in the same sector.

Overall, 35 percent of women and 24 percent of men polled believed women had fewer opportunities where they work than men, findings in line with a recent national survey.

“I don’t think there’s companies right now that are going deliberately out of their way to make sure a girl doesn’t get the job strictly because she’s a girl,” said Rohit Basu, a 21-year-old economics major from Brentwood who is doing a data analytics internship at a local company this summer. “I think it comes down to the skills you have.”

Anthony Defreitas, a 33-year-old software engineer from San Mateo whose team of 20 includes five women, said he believes women at the places he has worked have been treated fairly. He said he hadn’t heard otherwise or witnessed overt discrimination. Still, he thinks companies like his might approach problem-solving differently with more women at the table.

“It’s not uncommon for there to be only one or two women in a room of about a dozen people,” Defreitas said. “I’ve thought at times, ‘If I were the only guy in this meeting, how would I feel?’ ”

Gender equity experts say it is important for managers to listen to the experiences of women and other minority groups at work and to take a closer look at policies — such as job descriptions, performance reviews and task assignments — they might mistakenly assume to be objective.

“Sometimes they’re just shocked. They didn’t realize all of that was going on,” said Catherine Ashcraft, director of research at the National Center for Women & Information Technology, which works with Google, Apple, Intel and other leading tech firms on diversity initiatives.

The poll did find an overwhelming belief — among tech workers and those in other fields — that the changes propelled by the #MeToo movement are here to stay. About two-thirds of those surveyed, including 71 percent of women under 40, predicted the recent attention to the problem of sexual harassment would bring lasting change, slightly higher than the findings of a similarly worded national poll earlier this year.

Kimberly Chun, a journalist-turned-user-experience writer in her late 40s who lives in Alameda, is hopeful. #MeToo seems to be re-shaping the public’s perceptions of harassment, she said, by shining a light on “outrageous allegations of bad behavior” and encouraging people to share their experiences and outrage on social media.

Chun described a flurry of impromptu conversations about sexual harassment and gender discrimination at work after the movement exploded last fall, with a push to create changes in the office. It was energizing, she said. But, she noted, “I don’t see more female vice presidents or leaders at my company.”

Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said the poll’s finding about the lasting impact of the #MeToo movement was heartening, but only to a point.

“We have to build on that optimism with specific goals and a plan to get there,” he said, “and whether it’s a for-profit company or a nonprofit like ours, we can’t just pretend or hope or be optimistic that it will get better.”

Do you feel any progress has been made with gender equality in the Tech Sector? Sound off in the comments below!

WIT: We need more women in tech in order to get more women in tech

The problem becomes exponentially easier to solve once you’ve begun to solve it.

 

By David Yang and Nimit Maru of Recode.net

While the United States is seeing more women in leadership positions within politics and even classic old-boys-industries like finance, the tech sector can’t say the same. More startups than ever — 70 percent, to be exact — have absolutely no women on their boards of directors, and the same is true for their executive-level employees: More than half of all startups have entirely male executive teams.

And when we drill down to the computing sector — where are nested the kinds of jobs we train students for — the numbers are even more dire: The percentage of computing occupations held by women has declined sharply since the early 1990s, when it peaked at just over 35 percent of occupations held by women, despite the fact that slightly more than half of all college grads are women.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that our current efforts either aren’t working or aren’t being applied on a grand enough scale.

We need to start earlier.

We need to get everyone on board. “Diversity and inclusion,” while incredibly important as an initiative, can’t be viewed as merely that, a siloed initiative that happens in parallel with the same old ways of doing things or is overlaid at the end of projects to make sure everything looks kosher to outsiders. It has to be interwoven into an organization’s protocols.

Women, for example, have to feel comfortable being emotional in workplace conversations and not feel like they can’t bring that part of themselves to the job just because men are taught to operate that way. The default way of conducting business can’t be the “male” way.

Minorities have to feel that micro-aggressions will be taken seriously and not written off as “sensitivities” or “overreactions.” And companies have to go beyond “token” employees — because hiring only one woman or one person of color can be exhausting for that person and cause them to leave. It comes down to this: Companies can’t work toward moving the needle on big issues and then gloss over the small things.

Those little, interpersonal things add up to company culture, no matter what the values on the website say, and it’s precisely the day-to-day concerns that will drive women and people of color away, no matter how much energy a company puts into big-picture efforts.

We also need to come to a cultural understanding that the opposite of systematic disadvantage is systematic advantage. Though that seems obvious enough, initiatives like the Grace Hopper Program, which offer benefits exclusively to women, get a lot of pushback from men (and women, surprisingly enough) who see these policies as “sexist” and ultimately damaging to women, sending the message that women need a helping hand and undermining the idea of women as independent and just as strong as men. But the truth is that women do need at least one helping hand in light of the many hands that have held them down for so long. It’s one thing to say that women aren’t inherently less capable; of course they aren’t. But it’s essential to recognize that society has enforced handicaps, and women’s inherent abilities aren’t the only factors at play.

We’ve seen these same arguments against systematic advantage in the affirmative action context — that built-in preference of historically disadvantaged groups is somehow damaging to those groups. But you won’t see those who argue against affirmative action or scholarships for minorities or deferred tuition for women also arguing against the tacit advantage that majority groups have had for centuries, if not millennia. And that’s because the adage is true: When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. Majority groups that have been unfairly advantaged for too long see any even minute reduction in that unfair advantage as an all-out attack.

We know that initiatives like the Grace Hopper Program’s deferred-tuition model — where women train now and pay only once they find full-time, in-field employment — work. Take Leila Loezer, for example, a Grace Hopper grad originally from Brazil. She came to the U.S. in 2008, and after reading about our unique tuition model in the Women Who Code newsletter, completed our program and was ultimately hired by the New York Stock Exchange.

So it’s on all of us, but especially organizations with a strong following, a wide reach and high-profile leadership, to articulate both the general need for and their specific support for systematic advantage as a tool to combat systematic disadvantage. In this way, we can scale up these efforts — because more women in the industry naturally begets more women in the industry, and the problem becomes exponentially easier to solve once you’ve begun to solve it.

Some 94 percent of Grace Hopper grads ultimately find full-time, in-field work, which means that every year, we’re injecting hundreds of high-quality female engineers into the tech sector. But it also means that those female engineers will attract even more female engineers.

A study from 2016 revealed that 85 percent of jobs are filled via networking and referrals. When both your team and the industry are majority male, you can bet your referrals are going to be majority male. So the snake eats its tail and the problem proliferates.

But when women — who have likely found support in small, women-friendly communities like Girl Develop It, Women Who Code, Black Girls Code, etc. — join your organization, suddenly your pipeline includes those very targeted groups. And more importantly, when many of the women from those groups see your company as more friendly and more accessible — you already employ a woman they know — they suddenly have a chance at employment that they didn’t have before.

What do think needs to be done in order to get more women into the Tech world? Tell us in the comments below!

WIT: Atlanta’s Women Cybersecurity Leaders Stoke Interest in Tech with Girl Scouts

 

By Madison Hogan of americaninno.com

Several of the leading women in cybersecurity in Atlanta know all too well what its like to be the only woman in a room.

Enter the Atlanta Women in Cybersecurity Roundtable. It’s an initiative founded by women chief privacy officers, chief information security officers, general councils and other executives who want to share their experiences, collaborate on industry initiatives and inspire young women to enter the field.

Bess Hinson, a senior associate at Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP and chair of the firm’s cybersecurity and privacy practice, said she started her search for other women in cybersecurity about a year ago, surfing LinkedIn and other sources to find peers.

“It’s so nice to be in a room with women and I think that when you work in a profession where everything is new and rapidly evolving and changing and you’re the only woman in the room, it can feel isolating and it can feel challenging,” she said.

When Hinson first organized the roundtable, she was working with a list of 12 women leaders in the city; today, about a year since its inception, the organization has 45 active members. Some of the members include female leadership in cybersecurity at The Home Depot, AT&T, Equifax, SunTrust and Gwinnett Medical Center, she said.

“We now have 32 organizations and companies represented on the roundtable,” she said. “The idea was to bring together these women, because studies show that in the United States of America, only 1 in 10 cybersecurity professionals are women.”

Though one of the fastest growing sectors in tech with the rise of data-breaches and hacking, women are far too often a minority in the field, Hinson said. The purpose of roundtable is to get these women together to share their experiences when all too often, there’s not another female leader in the office, and the role of a cybersecurity leader is often to relay bad or challenging news to leadership.

“We share our challenges and we compare notes on how we are assisting our companies and leadership to understand the security risks which exist and also to support each other and communicate these risks to leadership,” she said. “Women with great power within their organization and incredible responsibility are communicating new, scary, cutting edge risks related to technology and big data to the C-suite—that I would venture to say in most cases is still majority male and a more senior generation that may have less familiarity with the technologies that are being implemented and used to help these businesses thrive.”

But the scope of the roundtable goes beyond sharing tips for how to prepare a CEO on a data-breach or how to lead, Hinson said. The women also hope their work will lead by example for young women and girls who wish to pursue STEM fields and see that cybersecurity is a career path for them, she said.

“IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE, THAT A CYBERSECURITY PROFESSIONAL LOOKS LIKE YOU, YOU AREN’T GOING TO ENVISION YOURSELF IN THAT ROLE. WE NEED EXAMPLES.”

 

“I think it continues to be an uphill battle,” she said. “I’ve had several conversations with professors at Kennesaw State who teach related curricula, and they have very few women who go on to complete the degree in cybersecurity and they are pushing hard to support these women who have an interest. I think that, unfortunately some stereotypes remain within academia regarding whether girls or young women could be good at science or engineering, I think some of our institutions do a great job supporting young women—Georgia Tech does a great job of bringing women in that pipeline. But not everyone does.”

Recently, the roundtable has partnered with the Girl Scouts of Atlanta to educate troop leaders on cybersecurity who will teach their troops on the subject for the opportunity to earn a newly debuted cybersecurity badge. Hinson said troop leaders may not understand all the technicalities and nuances with cybersecurity, which is where leaders from the roundtable come in.

“I think it’s going to be very helpful for members to serve as if they were teachers to the troop leaders to help give them some insight and also some examples of how this applies to the real world,” she said. “And I think it’ll give the troop leaders more tools and basics of cybersecurity of the curriculum as they’re teaching it.”

Role models are essential for young girls, Hinson said, and even more so in the cybersecurity industry because of the statistic stating women’s presence in the sector is few and far between.

“If you don’t know what it looks like, that a cybersecurity professional looks like you, you aren’t going to envision yourself in that role,” she said. “We need examples.”

WIT: Supermodel Karlie Kloss’ videos showcase brilliant women in tech

Following up on her coding camps, the next step in the Kode With Klossy initiative is highlighting role models in science and tech.

 

By Katie Collins of CNet

Women perform vital work in science and technology every day. Yet their stories often go untold, leaving girls short of visible role models.

Supermodel and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss wants to help change this by shining a light on women who can inspire the next generation of female techies and scientists.
Kloss released on Tuesday a four-part video series called Trailblazers of STEAM to showcase the work of eight women in tech and science who are pushing boundaries in their fields. STEAM, a variant of STEM, stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Each episode examines a different niche — games, food, mobility and space — to show the wide variety of jobs within science and technology. The interviews, which include former NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, dig into their work and what it’s like being a woman in their fields. Kloss doesn’t shy away from asking her subjects about the challenges they’ve encountered and overcome, including how others perceive them and how they’ve handled their own internal struggles.

Kloss had already been focusing on tech through her Kode With Klossy initiative that runs coding camps for teenage girls across the US. 
Kloss told CNET over email about her hopes for the series, which is a collaboration with Ford STEAM Experience, the car company’s education outreach program.

Q. When you spoke to the amazing women featured in the videos, all of whom work in different STEAM-related fields, what things in their careers did they have in common that helped them get to where they are today?

Kloss: They all shared this unrelenting drive and passion for what they do. It was really awesome to spend a day in their worlds and get to see their determination in action. What also struck me was that each of the women I met for the series talked about experiencing uncertainty or self-doubt at different points in their careers — whether in college, grad school or at their first entry level jobs. They didn’t let those feelings of self-doubt stop them from working hard and pursuing their passions. Everyone has experienced self-doubt at one point or another and it’s important to openly acknowledge those feelings but not let them get in the way of your success.

Q: What would be your advice to a young woman who wanted to work in a STEAM field, but didn’t know where to focus her learning or what path to pursue?

Kloss: To start, apply for Kode With Klossy! We help girls access hands-on computer science education and connect with a community of other women in STEAM. It’s a great place to start!

Beyond applying to our program, my advice for any girl interested in pursuing a career in STEAM is to identify your passions (fashion, social justice, music, etc.) and find out how technology is being applied to those passions. The incredible thing about code, and the first lesson we teach our Kode With Klossy scholars, is that code is a really creative language that can be applied to every industry and space. This series is living proof of how technology is shaping everything from food to gaming to space exploration.

Q: Tell me something you learned about an aspect of science or technology while making the series that blew you away.

Kloss: Talking to each woman in the series was eye-opening, but as someone who is interested in both health and the environment, I was really fascinated by my conversation with Lina Pruitt, a process engineer at Beyond Meat. She uses science and engineering to create a plant-based meat substitute that looks and cooks just like meat. We talked about both the environmental and health impacts of food waste and meat consumption, as well as the future of food and what that means for our world. Food is one of those industries that doesn’t always seem scientific, though in reality, is heavily influenced by STEAM. That’s one of our goals with this series — to show how STEAM intersects with and can applied to whatever industry you’re passionate about.

Q: What do you hope people take away from this series and what do you hope their wider impact will be? 

Kloss: Our goal is to address the notion that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” By highlighting these real, accomplished women and their career paths, we hope that young women and girls can visualize themselves in similar positions. We wanted to show our viewers what a career in STEAM actually looks like and how code can be applied to a number of different industries.

Even outside of STEAM, our goal is to celebrate women bringing hard work and creativity to their endeavors. One cool, behind-the-scenes tidbit about the series is that our production team was women-led, including our amazing director Eliza McNitt. It was important for us and the broader Kode With Klossy mission that the series was by-women-for-women.

What do think of Karlie Kloss’ STEM initiative? Sound off in the comments below!

Weekly Round Up 5/18/18

 

 

How could tech for good be bad?
GOOD TECH, BAD TECH


Anything is better than what we currently have?

Start-ups have a better shot than Amazon at fixing health care, says prominent Silicon Valley investor


If it were only that easy…

How This Tech Pioneer Hacked Her Way to Happiness


I wish I could say this comes as a surprise…

Closing tech’s gender gap will take decades

 

That’s what happens when you let Corporations think they don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else.
San Francisco is fed up with Big Tech, and residents are begging the next mayor to do something about it

This woman rocks!
Supermodel Karlie Kloss’ videos showcase brilliant women in tech

Of course they are. They’re government funded.
Emergency 911 Tech Struggles To Keep Up With The Times

Like the orange faced dumpster fire in the White House makes us look good?!
Tech Companies Are Ruining America’s Image

WIT: In quest for tech leadership positions, Chicago women band together to challenge ‘bro fest’

 

When Betsy Ziegler was named the first female CEO of technology and entrepreneurship center 1871 in February, it didn’t immediately sink in for her what that designation would mean.

The more she spoke with female entrepreneurs, however, the better she understood.

“All of them were like, ‘The fact that they chose you … as a female to lead this organization is a massive sign of … commitment,’ ” said Ziegler, who previously was chief innovation officer at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “ ‘(1871 is) choosing the right person, regardless of what their gender is, to lead the organization forward.’ ”

Women such as Ziegler are moving into leadership roles in the tech industry, and the state’s largest public university is seeing more women majoring in computer science. But in Chicago and nationally, technology jobs overwhelmingly are dominated by men. Women in the industry say creating a path for more female leaders is an important step toward addressing many of the problems they face, from the lack of funding for companies they create to the lack of flexibility from employers when they pause their careers to start families.

There have been efforts to empower women in the tech world for years, and some expect the conversations about sexual harassment and gender discrimination sparked by the #MeToo movement to accelerate the cause. More companies have those issues on their radars. Networks of women in tech are growing, and they are working to reduce barriers for their peers.

In the Chicago office of Big Four auditor KPMG, Alex Bell, managing director in the insurance technology group, is working to find more female tech talent and propel the women already at the company into positions of power.

She launched a Women in Tech group at the firm 2½ years ago, and now it’s made up of more than 50 women in a range of positions, from partners to new associates. Men joined too.

“When we started this Women in Tech group, a lot of … male colleagues came to me and said, ‘What can I do?’ ” Bell said. “That, to me, says a lot.”

The group has had sessions with the recruiting team on how to find more women for tech roles. It has gone to a high school to talk to students about careers in technical fields and works with KPMG clients to launch similar initiatives in their own companies. Bell is creating a master list of group members’ areas of expertise so women can quickly find resources to help solve problems or build skills.

At Chicago-based Relativity, which makes software that analyzes data gathered during litigation, Jennifer Westropp, the company’s learning and development manager, started a leadership coaching program for female employees in November. The company hired a consultant to help them develop paths to executive roles.

The company was revamping its leadership development program, and women were asking for more resources on how to advance their careers, Westropp said. The pilot program includes eight women at the 829-person firm.

Software engineering manager Cindy Quendangen said it made her feel proud when she was approached about joining the program. But she hasn’t always felt comfortable being one of the few women in the room, a situation she’s faced ever since her college computer science classes.

“One of the big things that drives a lot of women out of tech is that they feel like they don’t belong,” Quendangen said.

In the past seven years, the share of technology-related jobs held by women across all industries in the Chicago area has barely budged, moving from 22 percent in 2010 to 22.4 percent last year, according to data from Downers Grove-based trade association CompTIA.

Nationally last year, women held 22 percent of tech jobs, including roles like systems analyst, software developer and web developer.
The percentage of all jobs in Illinois’ tech industry filled by women, including nontechnical roles, barely improved in recent years, rising to 34.1 percent last year from 33.8 percent in 2015, when CompTIA began tracking that data.

Many corporate boards and senior executive teams in the tech industry are mindful of diversity and have been for at least the past four or five years, said Sally Beatty, a partner in the Chicago office of recruiting and consulting firm Korn Ferry. In recent months, there has been more interest in reducing the gender gap in executive roles.

But it’s still a challenge to find women to fill those roles, said Beatty, who works with technology companies around the world on CEO and C-suite searches.

“There are more men in senior tech roles, which means there’s less of a pipeline of (women) to move up,” she said. “Change is really slow.”

Women in the industry see a variety of obstacles to achieving greater gender equality: Not enough funding goes to startups founded by women; too few girls are being encouraged to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math; and it’s hard for women to get back into technical occupations after taking time off to start a family.

For all the factors contributing to the problem, there are actions companies and leaders can take now to get more women involved in technology, said Julia Kanouse, CEO of the Chicago-based Illinois Technology Association. She is bullish on increasing the number of women in technology leadership roles and in better-paying positions — such as software engineering — at tech companies.

“You can’t keep kicking the can down the road and say, ‘It’s pipeline, it’s pipeline, it’s pipeline,’” she said. “Getting women into leadership roles can happen right now.”

At times, however, having strong and visible women in charge of technology teams or heading events isn’t enough, said Rumi Morales, a local entrepreneur and tech investor. She gave a talk earlier this year on blockchain, the software platform that powers bitcoin, and the women in attendance were vastly outnumbered by the men, Morales said. Some women still don’t feel comfortable or confident attending industry events, she said.

Morales, former head of CME Ventures, said she makes an effort to get more women to participate in financial technology events so women can see that Chicago has strong female leaders in the sector. She is on the advisory council for a group called Fintech Women, which works to attract women to the field. The formation of those types of groups is heartening, Morales said, but she’d like to see more women participating.

Ann Yeung, the new head of technology for Morningstar’s global retirement and workplace solutions group, started getting involved with women in tech initiatives a few years ago when she worked for Capital One. It was an awakening for her, and she realized she should not settle for being one of the few women in the room.

“It was like, ‘OK, this is the norm, but it really shouldn’t be the norm.

Why are we in this situation?’” she said.
Yeung, the mother of a 10-year-old daughter, said she tries to be a role model, since she’s seen many women leave midcareer to start families.

There is a growing awareness among companies of the need to accommodate new moms, which didn’t exist a decade ago when Yeung was a software engineer — and a new mom — at another company. She said she didn’t feel like she could discuss a more flexible schedule with her bosses.

“The first step to being able to make incremental change is to have this awareness and having people talking about it,” she said.

Despite the ongoing problem of underrepresentation, Chicago’s tech industry has become more welcoming toward women in recent years, and the cultural shift is noticeable, said Reva Minkoff, an 1871 member.

When she was launching her two digital marketing companies six years ago, “the tech scene was kind of a bro fest,” she said.

The founder of digital marketing companies Digital4Startups and DigitalGroundUp, Minkoff often was one of the few women at events. She received inappropriate comments at industry gatherings. Once, a man at an event took a photo of her dress without permission.

She hears fewer workplace stories that could just as well have happened in a frat house. “The good news is it’s gotten a lot better,” she said.
Efforts by coding schools, universities and others are tackling the talent pipeline issue.

Coding boot camp Fullstack Academy recently launched a track in Chicago that defers tuition for women until they land a job. The track is named for computer programming pioneer Grace Hopper, and the first group of eight students is set to graduate at the end of May.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which routinely ranks among the top engineering schools in the country, the percentage of undergraduate computer science majors who are women rose to almost 26 percent for the current school year, up from 12 percent four years ago.

Among startups spun out of Illinois universities in the past five years, 28 percent have a female founder, according to a recent report from the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition. That’s higher than the 16 percent of startups globally that have a women founder, according to Crunchbase, a tech company database.

At 1871, efforts to further the careers of female entrepreneurs predate Ziegler’s arrival. The WiSTEM program, which connects women with capital and tech resources, began in 2015 with 13 participants.
WiSTEM graduate Jamie Migdal said women in tech are focused on their work, but industry initiatives help bring attention the change they are creating.

“Once in a while we lift our heads up and say, ‘Oh, that’s cool; there are more of us.’ But let’s just keep working,” said Migdal, who founded FetchFind, which provides employee training to businesses that deal with animals.

While women in the industry see progress on several fronts, many say the lack of funding for the companies they create is a persistent challenge.

Only 0.2 percent of the nearly $2 billion in venture capital funding that flowed to Chicago-area companies last year went to ventures with only female founders, according to data from research firm Pitchbook. Companies with at least one female founder secured almost 31 percent.

Those numbers are “horrible,” said Dimitra Georganopoulou, director of commercialization at Northwestern University’s Innovation and New Ventures Office.

The tech industry is starting to pay attention to the lack of inclusion and all the problems that stem from it, said Terri Brax, co-founder of Women Tech Founders, or WTF — an abbreviation that isn’t accidental.

That wasn’t the case three years ago, when WTF launched.

“Women were kind of invisible in the whole startup space, even in tech overall,” she said.

Companies now are discussing how to turn their organizations into places where women can excel, Brax said. There’s a spirit of camaraderie among women that’s driving the change, she said, but there’s still work to be done.

“It’s like when you push a rock up a hill; (it’s) the first push that’s so hard, and you still have the whole damn hill,” Brax said. “But you’re moving.”

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: