I just attended an amazing panel with women entrepreneurs called Girls in Tech. Adriana @ Ogilvy did an amazing job organizing the event, which was hosted by Orrick Law Firm in SOMA. Sue Kwon from CBS 5 moderated the panel. (Seriously, I’m about to be a fangirl; I love her energy and candor.) Here are some of the points discussed.
With respect to women in tech (generally):
- Sexism: It’s a bit hard for me to relate to the topic, since my industry (PR) is comprised of mostly women. However, so many panelists faced obstacles working in a predominantly male industry. It’s not just that men automatically assume that women don’t know as much, women discriminate among themselves and against themselves.
- Panelists told anecdotes of VCs looking to the male for technical answers, when they were the ones with expertise.
- Women tend to downplay their strengths, while men boast their own.
- Women also pick at other women. They hide the fact that they’re females because they don’t want to be known as the token, when in fact they should be speaking up and elevating other women.
- So many female started companies have a tech team that’s all men, when there’s a great group of women engineers/developers out there. Sometimes this just happens to be the case, but how much of that is a subconscious hiring decision?
- Leverage advantages and leaving disadvantages at the door: A huge generalization, but a lot of women felt that they were timid to approach the big names in VC funding or successful CEOs/potential mentors. We need to strive above that. Women inherently have an advantage: being female and standing out in a sea of men. This doesn’t mean that we have to use our bodies or sleep our way to the top. Sarah Lacy mentioned that men confided in her because there wasn’t an issue of ego, and women tend to be better listeners. Female entrepreneurs should use that to garner mentors, angel investors and build a strong network.
- No men at the event: I was slightly shocked that Adriana said there would be no men at this event. At first I was taken back. In listening to the panelists and feedback from the audience, I realize that we can be truly honest w/o having to remain politically correct. We can make generalizations about women being sensitive w/o having that used against us. There was a great sense of kinship in the group. We bonded because we are women in the tech industry.
With respect to (female) start-ups:
- Find a mentor: ‘If you can’t even get a great mentor for your start-up, don’t even try to get funding.’ Although that might not be all true, there’s value in building the network and finding someone to champion a start-up. Panelists gave great examples of learning and finding shortcuts to projects because they had someone else’s wisdom to find a better solution. One woman had sat down for a three hour conversation about data management, and the person bought her lunch. 🙂
- Network! No seriously, network!: You never know the value that your network can bring in the future. Take the opportunity to talk to people. That’s what makes Silicon Valley so useful and versatile. I learned that at Wharton, and I’m still learning that now. Okay, some people, like me, aren’t so great at walking up to someone and talking to them. 1) Stop being timid and just do it! 2) Everyone most people starts out with awkwardness and mistakes. Take it in stride and push on. It’ll pass. One day, if you keep trying and developing those skills, you will know a lot of people in that ‘random’ room.
- “When you ask for advice, you get money. When you ask for money, you get advice”: Don’t bank of that rule, but also panelists and Sue realized that they had to ask. If they didn’t ask and waited for karma to kick in, it might’ve never happened. People love giving advice and bolstering their own ego, so entrepreneurs play to that and reap the rewards in return.
- Bootstrapping/funding/life choices: Each panelist had her own way of funding the start-up. Some went for VC funding, but most started off the company as a side passion and went on to find angel investors and interested parties. Basically, 1) believe and invest in yourself and idea; 2) find out what’s right for you whether it’s quitting your job or waiting until the company starts making money; and 3) learn how to balance life and work and don’t be afraid to ‘go home to take care of your kids.’
Of course, there are huge generalizations and somewhat untruths in the outline above. But the topics and shared stories were relatable to the panelists and most of the audience. I think that was the main take-away. We’re out there! Just look a little harder for the X chromosome. 🙂