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: Robotics Barbie joins the corporate call for diversity

Robotics Barbie is also part of a Mattel Inc. initiative to promote new jobs for girls, in line with a public pledge the company made earlier this year.

 

By Jeff Green of Bloomberg

Robotics Barbie is a lab-coat-and-glasses-wearing robotics engineer, a far cry from the 1992 “math class is tough” version. Appropriately, she’s also part of a Mattel Inc. initiative to promote new jobs for girls, in line with a public pledge the company made earlier this year.

In February, Mattel senior vice-president Lisa McKnight joined 40 executives onstage at the Makers women’s diversity conference to make a range of commitments towards improving women’s professional lives.

McKnight promised 10 such dolls this year; advertising group UM said it would double the number of women of colour at every level of its organization; LinkedIn said it will add job coaching for returning moms.

These kinds of pledges have in recent years become a kind of progressive calling card for companies looking to keep and attract young talent. There’s a promise for every interest group, with a wide range of commitment and accountability.

Some 300 CEOs have signed on to the CEO Action coalition, which seeks to share successful diversity initiatives. Many members of that group are also part of Paradigm for Parity and Parity.org, which have similar missions to increase all forms of workplace diversity.

The Thirty Percent Coalition, 3% Movement, and 2020 Women on Boards ask signees for a commitment to specific levels of female representation. Others focus singly on LGBT rights, or ethnicity, veterans or the disabled or in a specific field such as the Tech Inclusion Pledge.

“There are strong social norms right now around committing to these kinds of goals,” said Dolly Chugh, an associate professor of management and organization at the NYU Stern School of Business.

She has studied how public pressure changes diversity behaviour. “If you’re among the minority of CEOs who isn’t signing the pledge or promise, you’re violating a norm and norm violations make people very uncomfortable.”

By most measures, two decades of increased efforts to improve diversity have slowed or stalled. Parity for women in boardrooms is still at least three decades away. Women and people of colour are dramatically underrepresented in top management. At the CEO level, white men still occupy 95% of the seats.

In some specific areas, though, public commitments have prompted change. Formed in 2011, the 3% Movement was named after the ratio of women creative directors in the advertising world to men (they now make up 29%).

The more the merrier, says Shannon Schuyler, who heads corporate responsibility at PwC. The professional services company started CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion a year ago. Almost 90% of the organizations either have or are planning to add unconscious bias training. “This is about the CEO saying that they will put themselves out there, to really be able to make the change happen,” Schuyler said.

Robotics Engineer Barbie, which comes with a humanoid robot and laptop, will partner with the Tynker game platform and Black Girls CODE to encourage girls to embrace computer science, according to Mattel. The company says it has introduced 17 dolls focused on careers and female role models, more than the 10 promised.

Among the other companies on the Makers stage with specific goals was Adobe Systems Inc., which promises gender pay parity at all locations by the end of this year, and is at least 80% there already, said Donna Morris, executive vice-president of the customer and employee experience at the maker of Photoshop.

AT&T Inc. and L’Oreal SA promised to improve their representation of women in advertisements, as measured by progress on the scorecard generated by #SeeHer, an organization that has its own pledge to improve the portrayal of women by 20%, as measured by viewers, by 2020.

“People really, really, really value keeping a promise,” said Ayelet Gneezy, an associate professor at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, who has studied how people react to promises honoured and broken.

“It’s really about the value of trustworthiness and reliability,” Gneezy said. “So there’s also a risk to not keeping the promise. I don’t really care what they tried to do, I care what they did.”

How do you feel about the new line of STEM Barbie dolls? Sound off in the comments below!

WIT: This Silicon Valley exec has dedicated her career to empowering women. Has it worked?

 

By Shanon Gupta of CNN Tech

When Sukhinder Singh Cassidy would look around boardrooms, all she’d see were men.

In her 20-plus year career in Silicon Valley, she had only sat on one gender-balanced company board.

“The candor of discussion among all participants was definitely stronger on [that] board,” the entrepreneur told CNNMoney. Cassidy knew there had to be a way to increase the representation of women.

Her solution? Hire more women directors.

“There are a number of seats in the boardroom, versus just one seat as CEO,” she explained. That makes the boardroom the perfect place to gather diverse perspectives.

Three years ago, she created theBoardlist, a site that connects female leaders with opportunities on tech company boards — 75% to 78% of which have no women at all, according to the company’s research.

The site invites executives and investors to help identify and recommend candidates. So far, more than 2,000 female business leaders have joined the site.

Since its launch, theBoardlist says it’s helped place more than 100 women on private and public company boards, including Aparna Chennapragada to Capital One’s board in March.

Before launching the theBoardlist, Cassidy was the founder and CEO of the online shopping network, Joyus, and the CEO of Polyvore, a website that allowed users to make fashion collages. This year, she became the president of Stubhub.

CNNMoney asked Cassidy about her fight to make Silicon Valley more inclusive for women, the power of #MeToo and the scariest part about running her own business.

Where did you find your inspiration for TheBoardlist?

I was a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, serving on public boards, and asked by a venture capitalist, “What can we do to solve the problem for women in tech?” (He was referring to the lack of women in the tech industry.)


I suggested that 100% of VCs in the valley could act now by putting a great woman leader on the board of every company they funded. I believed we could change the game significantly with this one simple act at the top.

While I pitched the idea to him and several other VCs, none took me up on the offer. A year later, I continued to be frustrated by the continued narrative about how there were so few women in tech, and I wanted to provide a tangible solution.

I reached out to 50 influential leaders in Silicon Valley and they helped me launch theBoardlist in less than 45 days.

Has the #MeToo movement had an impact on theBoardlist’s goals or mission?

Our mission has not changed from the day we launched: improve gender diversity in the boardroom.

What has changed is the environment in which we operate. Movements like #MeToo have brought greater visibility and accountability to behavior in the workplace, causing more people to seek out ways to address the issue.

So, while our mission hasn’t changed, the urgency and demand for solutions like theBoardlist have certainly increased.

Have attitudes toward women in Silicon Valley changed since you launched three years ago?

There has definitely been movement in the right direction.

TheBoardlist recently highlighted 30 public and private tech companies that have at least one woman on their board. We receive requests from men and women alike every day for qualified female talent to fill open board seats.

But, when we look at the overall picture — with theBoardlist’s research showing that only 7% of board seats at private tech companies filled by women — we know we still have a long way to go.

What’s the scariest part of your job?

The scariest part is living in constant uncertainty over a period of years, not months.

As a founder and CEO in the tech industry there are two big truths: Change is constant and timing is everything.

Innovation de facto means doing something different from the status quo. But consumers may not yet be ready to adopt even the best new ideas, despite what you build.

And while you are trying to find the right product for the market, the landscape itself keeps changing with new competitors and other companies also pivoting into your space. This creates even more uncertainty.

While I’ve gotten comfortable living with constant change, the fear of pouring all I’ve got into a company or idea and knowing it might not pan out never quite goes away.

If I could tell my 18-year-old self one thing, what would it be?

To relax. It all works out as it’s supposed to for each of us.
I was even more intense and impatient when I was younger, but I did ultimately find my place in Silicon Valley where I thrived by embracing my strengths and going where they were valued.
I believe you can’t “force” everything to happen, but you can feel confident that if you know who you are and focus on excelling in one or two areas where you shine, you will find your professional and personal success.

What brings you the most joy?

Personally, my children and family and being with them. Professionally, its building new experiences that consumers love and working with tremendous people along the way to achieve that goal.

If you could have dinner with any influential figure from any time period, who would it be with and why?

Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi, because I’m awed by leaders who embrace their resisters and create change over very long periods of time using patience and calm, peaceful protest.

This is often in contrast to the high speed, highly competitive and rapid return mindset we practice in industries like technology. Seeing the lasting and global impact of leaders of this type is inspiring on both a leadership level, but also a deeply personal one.

I’m especially inspired by their abilities to create change using fundamentally different skills than the ones I have.

What do you want to be remembered for?

Creating and building new joyful, delightful or empowering experiences that lots of people love to use.

I’d also like to be remembered as someone who was able to accelerate the success of others throughout my professional career, and who always acted with great authenticity and integrity.

What’s something most people probably don’t know about you?

My parents were doctors, but my father loved being an entrepreneur as much as he loved medicine.

He exposed me to every aspect of his business from a very young age and taught me the value of working for myself. I look back on him today and understand the power of being raised by the quintessential entrepreneur.

If you weren’t a founder and CEO, what would you be?

I’d be a film producer because I loved making movies in high school and am always moved by the power of great storytelling through film.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Work really hard and do great work for great people. There is no substitute for the value of putting your head down and being known as the person who will over deliver without ever needing to be asked.

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: Helen Dixon-New Privacy Rules Could Make This Woman One of Tech’s Most Important Regulators

With Europe’s sweeping new data privacy law, Ireland is in the middle of a standoff between regulators and tech companies.

By Adam Satariano of the NYTimes

DUBLIN — If Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t know who Helen Dixon is, he will soon.
From an unassuming townhouse in the Irish capital, Ms. Dixon, the country’s data protection commissioner, leads an agency that was once a bureaucratic backwater. Employees share offices and have few of the perks available in Facebook’s building nearby: The main free amenities here are water, coffee and tea.

Yet Ms. Dixon will soon gain vast new authority to investigate and fine Facebook, as well as an array of other technology giants with regional headquarters in Ireland. Amid increased concerns over online privacy, a sweeping new European privacy law could make her one of the world’s most consequential regulators.
She is eager to test her newfound power. But the question remains whether her tiny agency is able — or willing — to stand up to tech behemoths of Silicon Valley.

“There’s a wave coming toward us that we need to push back against,” Ms. Dixon, who spent the first 10 years of her career working for tech companies, said in an interview.

Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation is seen by experts as the world’s most aggressive set of internet privacy rules. It is expected to come into force on May 25, and it will give more than 500 million people living in the European Union the right to keep companies from collecting personal data, or to have it deleted. Regulators like Ms. Dixon will be able to fine companies up to 4 percent of global revenue — equivalent to about $1.6 billion for Facebook.

The privacy law highlights broader skepticism of Silicon Valley in Europe, where regulators have punished companies for violating tax and antitrust laws, not doing enough to stop the spread of hate speech and misinformation online, and intrusively gobbling up data on consumers.

Ireland in particular is taking center stage in the wide-ranging battle. The country is the European headquarters for data-hungry companies including Airbnb, Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn.

If companies do not comply with the law, Ms. Dixon said, “they will suffer consequences.”

But for all the tough talk, the reality is that her agency subsists on an annual budget of 7.5 million euros, equivalent to $9 million. That’s roughly as much revenue as the companies she oversees generate over all in 10 minutes. Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, has hundreds of people globally working on data protection regulation alone, including lawyers and privacy experts hired in Dublin.

The data protection office was once an afterthought. During an effort by the Irish government to move less-critical agencies out of Dublin, it was relocated in 2006 50 miles west to a town called Portarlington, population 8,368. Its power was so limited that it could not publicize investigations.

Ms. Dixon, whose father was an army officer and mother a schoolteacher, grew up in a small town in central Ireland before moving to Dublin for university. She worked for companies including the business software firm Citrix Systems before moving into government. She later received a postgraduate diploma in computer science.
Fittingly for her current position, Ms. Dixon guards her privacy. She will not share her age, other than saying she is in her “40s,” and she has become more careful with data since taking the job. She does not use Facebook or Instagram (though she does have a LinkedIn profile).

Since taking over in 2014, Ms. Dixon has successfully lobbied for more funding and got the headquarters put back in Dublin. A move to a bigger office is in the works. She has hired lawyers, investigators and engineers. The staff will total 140 this year, up from 30 when she joined, with plans to reach 200 in the next few years, if budget increases are approved.

But if data privacy is truly a priority globally, Ms. Dixon said, more resources are needed. Her office is actually among the better funded privacy agencies globally, but is still a minnow compared with, say, Ireland’s financial services regulator, which has a budget about 40 times greater.

“The question for governments is, how much enforcement do we want to do, how seriously do we want to take the risk to our fundamental rights and freedoms in this area?” said Ms. Dixon, carrying a bound copy of the new law. “We need the funding and resources commensurate with the level of importance. This office would suggest it should be far more highly resourced.”

Budgetary constraints are not new to regulators overseeing powerful industries. But privacy groups worry that without strong oversight, the European rules, years in the making, will do little to crimp the power of Silicon Valley.

There is evidence those concerns are well founded. In a Reuters survey of privacy regulators in 24 European Union countries, 17 said they did not have the needed funding or legal powers to enforce data protection regulation. Ireland did not participate in the survey.

Ms. Dixon must also contend with skepticism among privacy advocates, stemming largely from Ireland’s history of lax oversight of the technology industry.

Her predecessors are faulted for not taking earlier action against Facebook, even when complaints were filed years ago about data-mining practices similar to those eventually used by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The European Commission in 2016 also ordered Ireland to recoup about $15.6 billion in unpaid taxes from Apple. (The decision is being appealed.)

“The culture has to be changed,” said Max Schrems, a Austria-based lawyer and online privacy advocate who filed the earlier complaints against Facebook. “You can have the best law, but if nobody enforces it, then you’re not going to go anywhere.”

Advocates of the new law say it is already having a positive impact and that oversight is spread out. A new European Data Protection Board will help coordinate investigations and pool resources across European Union countries, giving regulators outside Ireland the ability to bring action. The data protection regulation also allows private groups to recruit consumers into class-action-style complaints — not as common in Europe as the United States — that could result in sizable damages against businesses.

A looming question, however, is how much people really care. Ms. Dixon cited Facebook’s most recent financial report, which showed growing user numbers, revenue and profit, despite the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“We should be acting as data protection authorities in the name of data subjects, but you often as a regulator in this space have the feeling that you’re not mandated by the general public,” she said. “Either they don’t care or they actively oppose what we’re doing.”

Representatives from the technology industry have made regular visits to the converted 18th-century Georgian home used by Ms. Dixon’s team. Aware that a public backlash is putting pressure on regulators to rein in Silicon Valley, Facebook and others have been courting Ms. Dixon, putting forward their case that their data protection policies comply with the new European law.

“We’ve really leapt into explaining what we’ve done and the thinking that’s gone into that,” said Stephen Deadman, Facebook’s global deputy chief privacy officer. “I’ve got faith and confidence that the way Helen Dixon’s office will perform its function will be true to the spirit and requirements of G.D.P.R., rather than being blown around by whatever is happening in the media.”

Google and Twitter declined to comment.

Even with limited resources, Ms. Dixon is studying her adversaries.

When Mr. Zuckerberg testified before Congress last month, she stayed up late at home despite the time difference to watch as the Facebook chief executive answered questions.

Asked if she had a message for him and other tech executives, she said they should expect her to use her new powers “to the fullest.”

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!

WIT: Why female leaders and enterprise businesses need each other

 

By Jonathan Crowl of Mobile Business Insights

If you’re a woman seeking a career in enterprise technology, you already know it’s an uphill battle. However, times are changing for women in technology and other industries. A greater push for gender equality is taking place across all industries, with women demanding equal pay while also advocating for equal representation at all levels of leadership.

According to By The Numbers, 26 percent of professional computing occupations in the US were held by women in 2017. This push is shaping a range of opportunities for aspiring female leaders, as businesses and executive leaders work to create channels for upward female mobility. Here are the ways women are seizing new opportunities to become enterprise leaders and transform the tech industry.

The business case for gender equality

 

Many organizations are trying to increase the number of women in all positions, including senior leadership — but it isn’t out of the goodness of their hearts. Increasingly, businesses recognize the value of having women represented at all levels of their enterprise.

Several years ago, a study by Credit Suisse found that companies with at least one woman on their executive board outperformed competitors with no female board members by 26 percent. More recently, a study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics examined 21,980 companies around the world and found that companies with strong female leadership earned a 36 percent better return on equity than companies lacking strong female representation.

Yet the evidence behind the benefits of female leaders hasn’t translated into broad representation at all — or even most — tech companies. According to Business Insider, women hold just 11 percent of executive roles in Silicon Valley. But gradually, women in technology are building pathways to help aspiring female leaders advance to higher positions at their organizations.

Growing mentorship opportunities for women in technology

One of the greatest catalysts for change with regards to representation of women in technology has been through concerted efforts by current female leaders to offer mentorship to younger female workers. These mentorship roles provide much-needed guidance and career counseling to women in tech eager to advance through the ranks while navigating the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated world. According to Built in Boston, multiple female executives working in tech are involved in mentoring ambitious younger workers to support them early in their careers.

Another common thread identified among these executives: Great work is eventually rewarded. While challenges may exist in creating opportunities and being given fair consideration in a male-dominated culture, many believe that a woman who proves her expertise will eventually find opportunities at the executive level.

These efforts to build a strong resume can also be supplemented by mentorship from other female leaders. Women can also take advantage of leadership development programs targeting women as well as networking and skills-building opportunities at conferences geared toward female leadership and tech.

Developing skills in high demand

 

One way aspiring female enterprise leaders can bolster their own career opportunities is by concentrating their efforts on developing high-demand skills suited for the future of enterprise technology. While many sectors of IT report a shortage of skilled employees and hiring prospects to fill important roles within the organization, some aspects of IT operations are particularly starved for qualified candidates.

According to CSO Online, the global cybersecurity industry is poised to experience a 3.5 million-person shortfall for jobs by 2021, underscoring an urgent need to develop and hire professionals qualified to serve in these enterprise roles. Women in tech aiming for leadership roles would be wise to identify these areas of need and to begin developing a resume that makes them well qualified for these roles in the future.

In the case of cybersecurity, recent waves of attacks — combined with the proliferation of IoT technology — have resulted in rapid technology developments that haven’t been matched by comparable strides in cybersecurity. This has created an opportunity for aspiring young professionals to build skill sets that will be leaned upon heavily in the near future.

How men can help

 

As women seek leadership opportunities in a traditionally male-dominated field, men can serve as vital allies in this process. Code Like a Girl highlights a number of ways men can support female empowerment in tech. These include educating themselves on the historic inequities of women in tech — and, more generally, the professional world — and performing small acts like making a more concerted effort to retweet women on Twitter. Men can also co-sign a Decency Pledge, posted on Medium and other websites, which seeks allies determined to work for and protect the rights of female entrepreneurs.

Men also should consider how their voices can support and validate the drive for greater equity in female leadership, particularly when it comes to calling out bad behavior on social media and advocating for changes and actions that support women in their own workplaces.

Women in technology have traditionally been an underrepresented group, but business culture is slowly changing, and many companies now realize that the presence of women in tech leadership roles can have a positive impact on the entire organization. By seizing upon opportunities to develop leadership skills, young women can build a platform to launch themselves into important leadership and executive roles, bringing much-needed fresh perspectives to organizations in the process.


What do think of women’s roles in enterprise tech? Tell us about it in the comments below?

WIT: How Women Of The French Tech Movement Are Turning France Into A Startup Nation

 

By Melissa Jun Rowley of Forbes.com

When former French civil servant turned venture capitalist Fleur Pellerin was in business school in France during the ‘90s, the dream career of her fellow graduates was to be a consultant at one of the top firms or work for a major corporation like Unilever or L’Oréal. But today she says students want to create their own businesses. 

“The entrepreneurial mindset and spirit is much more present in the younger generation in France,” Pellerin shares.

This is part and parcel of the French Tech movement Pellerin architected when she worked in Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s government as Minister of SMEs, Innovation and the Digital Economy in 2012.  Since then, French Tech has been breaking new ground for French entrepreneurs in France and abroad. The initiative brought 320 startups to CES 2018 and has built 32 entrepreneurial communities around the world.

After 15 years working for the government, Pellerin transitioned into the tech startup world and founded the VC firm Korelya Capital, the primary manager of the K-Fund 1, which is investing €100 million in the high-tech industry in France and other European countries. To date, Korelya Capital has invested in six companies, including Devialet, the French speaker company, which has also been invested in by Jay Z. 

What A Difference A Movement Makes

“All the ingredients and the talent to have a great innovation ecosystem in 2012 were already there,” shares Pellerin. “But this initiative [French Tech], taxation of federal gains, and creating crowdfunding helped the development of some businesses. The main outcome is that now French startups know they belong to a movement called French Tech.”

If President Emmanuel Macron has anything to say about France’s place in the global startup landscape, the best is yet to come. He has proposed slashing wealth tax in a further bid to attract investors and boost tech business. And that’s not all he’s setting forth. For the next five years, the French government is poised to spend €1.5 billion ($1.85 billion) to support research and development in artificial intelligence with the goal of catching up to the current AI leaders, China and the US. 

Catching up seems to be a key incentive for French Tech, and not by just a few years. 

“What struck me most when I was minister in charge of digital and innovation was that whenever I traveled around the world France was famous for its wine, Chanel bags and foie gras, but not for its tech,” says Pellerin. “And you know, whenever people mentioned French high-tech things it was always the high-speed train or the rockets, as if the innovation drive in France stopped in the 18th century.” 

Five years ago, Pellerin says nobody thought of France as an innovative country. But now she ’s seeing interest in Asia to invest in French tech startups. She attributes this to France’s strong engineers converging with the country’s creative industry, including cinema, design and 3D animation.

Nurturing Women Founders

Korelya has been investing in startups for one year and has met with more than 250 companies however, less than 10% are founded by women.

“I’d love to invest in companies founded by women, but the problem is there are so few,” says Pellerin. “I might have a bias because my focus is on technology companies, and most of the founders are people with engineering backgrounds. The proportion of women in top engineering schools is low. This probably explains why you have fewer women founders in the digital tech ecosystem. Out of the six companies in my portfolio, one is founded by a woman.” 

Fortunately, there are many groups bringing more women into the French Tech ecosystem, such as StartHer, Girls in Tech Paris and Paris Pionnières. 

With a membership comprised of 50% women and 50% men, Paris Pionnières is the most inclusive incubator in Paris. They’ve come a long way. When the organization launched in 2005, there were only three incubators in Paris at the time.

Paris Pionnières currently runs three startup programs. One that’s exclusively for women is a bootcamp designed to help women “release their entrepreneurial spirit,” as well as test and pitch their startup ideas.

“We’re having great impact in Paris, but in other parts of France the situation is not so good,” says Paris Pionnières managing director Caroline Ramade. “In other parts of the country, 10% of startups are founded by a woman. We also need to scale the ambition internationally.” 

 

With Community Comes Confidence

Audrey-Laure Bergentha is the president of French Tech in her region in the south of Lyon. Her startup Euveka created the first robot able to instantly produce any human being’s size and shape to support the fashion industry, sports, security, and film in the mass customization revolution. The technology is so intelligent it’s able to replicate the body’s aging process, as well as how a woman’s body changes during pregnancy. 

“We [startups] have strong support by the government,” says Bergentha.”

If we are small we can feel big and strong because we have a lot of help, mentoring and advising. The French Embassy brought us to the American market. They’ve also helped us find funding.” 

Bergentha and her team mentor young women entrepreneurs. When asked what she shares with these aspiring female founders she said: “I tell them not to be afraid as I’ve been. It took me too many years to have confidence in myself. I don’t want them to be as slow as I have been. I was my worst enemy because I had no images to refer to, and the way a woman builds a business is totally different than the way men build businesses. I am lucky now that I have two women mentors that have helped me build my vision and have trust in myself. Our [women’s] main problem is lack of confidence.” 

Viva La French Tech Visa

As part of French Tech’s mission to lure talent into the ecosystem, the initiative created the French Tech visa to encourage foreigners to develop their startups in France. The visa is good for a year and places recipients in the incubators of French Tech partners.

France’s Station F, the largest startup campus in the world, is one of them. Home to 1,000 startups and several incubators including its own, the Founder Program, the organization’s management team is 60% women. Additionally, 40% of Founder Program startups are run by women. 

As for the inclusion of women in industries outside of the tech sector, Pellerin is hopeful.  

In 2011, France’s parliament gave final approval on a law forcing large companies to reserve at least 40% of their boardroom positions for women within six years.

“The law was criticized when passed, but now proving to be very efficient,” says Pellerin. “These sort of initiatives create an environment and mindset that will impact all the other sectors.” 

All the French wine, Chanel bags, and foie gras in the world can’t top that. 

How do you feel about the steps thses women have taken to close the Gender Gap in France? Sound off in the comments below!!

WIT: Women in tech share painful stories about getting paid less than the guy working next to them

 

 

By Julie Bort of Business Insider

Imagine coming home from your favorite grocery store and discovering your neighbor shops at the same store, buys the same items — and still pays about 20% less than you do. And when you complain, you’re told that there’s nothing anyone can do, that it’s just the way things are for people like you, despite any laws to the contrary.

How would you feel about this store? Somewhere between disillusioned and duped? Would you still shop there? Think about this analogy as you consider how women are still paid less than men, even for the same work.
Tuesday is Equal Pay day, intended to to bring awareness to the pay gap.

A new report from job-hunting site Hired found that in the tech industry, the gap begins at the get-go. Hired found that 63% of the time, men are offered higher salaries than women for the same role at the same tech company. On average, these companies offer women 4% less than men for the same role, with some offering women up to 45% less.

If there’s some good news in Hired’s report it’s this: San Francisco, a major tech hub, has the smallest pay gap. That may be influenced by San Francisco’s largest tech employer, Salesforce. The cloud computing company has adjusted its payroll twice now, raising women’s salaries to keep them equal.
The second time occurred thanks to all the companies it acquired, CEO Mark Benioff recently told me during an on stage interview at the company’s annual developer’s conference.

Chasing Grace

 

The pay gap is one reason why, after years of covering all the problems women in tech face in their careers, I have decided to become an advisor to something called The Chasing Grace Project, a video documentary series about women in tech that I will provide editorial advice to. (Disclosure: this is a fully volunteer gig, with no compensation of any kind for me — no pay, no perks, no reimbursements, no equity. The project does have some corporate sponsors including the Linux Foundation, Cloud Foundry and Intel, but is independent of them.)

Chasing Grace (named after Grace Hopper, the computer programming pioneer) is a new documentary series shedding light on the struggles of real women and offering as many answers as it can.

It’s a labor of love by Jennifer Cloer, co-founder of Wicked Flicks Productions. Cloer is well-known in the tech industry for her six years running communications for the Linux Foundation, the granddaddy of open source foundations. And open source, despite its kumbaya work ethic, is a decidedly bro club: 97% male and notoriously hostile, a recent GitHub survey found.

The initial episode of Chasing Grace dives into the pay gap and how an infuriatingly unfair system causes an emotional and economic toll.

It documents the stories of several women in tech, including engineers, business people and founders. It shows how they discovered their male peers were getting paid far more than them and how that information threatened to derail their careers.

For instance, in one case the company gave a job offer to an entry-level man that was more money than it was paying a senior woman who had spent years building the company.

One of the women interviewed explained the solution simply: “Don’t lowball her. Give her the fair pay. You know what it is.”

Helping or hurting?

There are those who argue that business shouldn’t pay people equally based on some people’s idea of morality or fairness. Doing such a thing would raise costs and hurt the company.

The counter argument is that by basing pay on what people look like, rather than what they do, a company is hurting itself. Messing with people’s pay creates resentment among employees and drives away top people.

Some researchers say there’s a societal benefit as well.

Across industries, closing the pay gap could add more than $512 billion to the U.S. economy and cut poverty almost in half, according to research from the Institute for Women’s Policy. Doing that would reduce the need for taxpayer-based public assistance.
Even for women in tech who are in the higher-tier of professional compensation, and nowhere near the poverty line, disparities in pay can take a long-term toll on lives and families, says Clair Wasserman, co-founder of Ladies Get Paid, a networking group for women.

“White women are losing about $500,000 over the course of their lifetime over the course of their career. Women of color are losing $1 million,” Wasserman says in Chasing Grace episode one.

That’s the cost of paying off a house.

So on Tuesday, if you are a woman, or you are married to a woman, or you have daughters, mothers, aunts, sisters or female cousins, then you may be motivated to show your support for Equal Pay Day by wearing red to work. Tweeting your support to #equalpayday is a nice gesture, too.

Obviously, outfits and tweets won’t solve the problem but bringing the discussion to work is a place to begin.

The Chasing Grace Project will also tackle other issues concerning women in tech. It is currently available only to private screenings. Cloer is hoping to negotiate a national distribution deal and will eventually release the project online.

Here’s a clip:

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