Two Steps Forward One Step Back

There is a famous Jewish teaching that has been on my mind given recent events in both women in tech as well as in general business:

It is not upon you to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it.” (Mishna, Ethics, 2:21)

I wrote a few months ago about the HBS W50 event I attended – it was a gathering of HBS alumnae to celebrate, reflect on the progress (and lack thereof) of women in positions of leadership.  We were briefed on programs they have instituted to improve gender relations.  That program was highlighted in the recent New York Times piece

The article elicited mixed feelings from the classmates I have spoken with.  The consensus was that things as described in the article seemed significantly worse in terms of blatant sexism then when we were there.  It is incredibly disturbing to see regression on treatment of women. There was some question, however, if being married (or engaged) as the 3 local friends I spoke with perhaps shielded us from some of the issues?  Certainly there is some data to support this – the gender gap didn’t exist for married students.  Apparently since those students didn’t feel the pressure to find their mate amongst their class mates they could feel free to express themselves more fully in class.

But whether or not the situation at HBS is the same or worse than 25 years ago the most important point is that it is unacceptable and kudos to the administration for actively working on change.  That change is ruffling feathers and making people uncomfortable.  Perhaps there were missteps in the process – to be expected with such a complex problem but the point is that the status quo is not tolerable.

I was also encouraged to see the about face made by GoDaddy on their advertising tactics.  They finally figured out that it’s not good business to run derogatory advertising making your target customer feel degraded as described here.   Better late then never but progress.

Lack of progress, however, was on display at the TechCrunch Disrupt demo fiasco.  TechCrunch allowed (encouraged?) clearly misogynist demos.  I won’t link to them here because I don’t want TechCrunch to continue to benefit from such willful sexism.  This issue was so blatant that it almost defies a tactical response.  One cannot even discuss programs to target awareness and sensitivity when the behavior seemed so deliberate as to question any motivation for acceptance of women in the arena.  At least TechCrunch apologized.  At DefCon the sexist content is part of official programming – “Hacker Jeopardy” features a woman undressing.  Seeing people such as the CTO of Business Insider in reputable positions in the tech world defending offensive “brogrammers” is particularly upsetting and overwhelming.

It is easy to be discouraged and give up trying to right the situation.  But the glimmers of hope surround us.   Institutions such as HBS in a position of influence struggling to change and changing.  Nine year old Alexandra Jordan presented the hack “superfunkidtime.com” on stage.  Business Insider sent the aforementinoed CTO packing.  All of the aspiring girl programming I’m seeing in this year’s Technovation program not to mention the apps and the teams that built them in last year’s competition.  I’m looking forward to this year’s TechWomen program where I will once again be mentoring a Jordanian female technologist.

More importantly, the opportunity is huge.  Solving the gender gap in technology would go along way towards solving the shortage of programmers.  A 2007 Goldman Sachs report concluded that closing the gap between male and female employment would add 9% to US GDP, 13% to European GDPs and 16% to Japan’s GDP.

Feeling like we can’t solve the problem is not an excuse to not make progress.  Stepping away from “overwhelmed” to concrete steps, small or large.  It is not upon us to finish the work, but we are not free to ignore it.

No Excuses Please

I had the true pleasure of speaking at the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival last week in NY.  It was a great conference organized by Joanne Wilson aka GothamGal and Nancy Hechinger of NYU’s ITP program.  I always find gatherings like this refreshing and energizing.  Here are a couple of pictures from Wednesday morning.wefblog2

The attendees (almost all women) representing all ages and ethnicities, were bright, ambitious and fun to talk to.  The vibe was great – lots of exchange of ideas as well as mutual support.  A significant observation I made, however, was regarding the speakers.  There were 26 speakersall women.  Mostly entrepreneurs but also several venture capitalists.  The entrepreneurs were from a range of industries, stages and sizes of company, several of them quite substantial.  The investors were primarily early stage but covered a range as well.  A large percentage of the women (many of whom have young children) traveled cross country to participate in the conference.

Women 2.0 has published the agenda for their annual conference on 2/14.  They have a great lineup of (mostly) women speakers as well.

These conference organizers didn’t seem to have any problem filling their program with quality, qualified women speakers.  The women are there.  They are willing to speak.  They will do a phenomenal job.  This idea that there is a choice between quality and diversity is simply another false dichotomy.

My message to those who say they cannot have a gender-balanced conference agenda, you are simply not trying hard enough.  Perhaps you are suffering from an unconscious bias. Perhaps you are unlucky to have interacted in your career only with a narrow group that is not diverse.  Whatever the reason it doesn’t matter – the good news is this problem is proven to be solvable, no excuses please.

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Good Old Fashioned Networking

Last week was an interesting one in the “why aren’t there more” and “should there or shouldn’t there be more” women CEO’s. Lots of posts and a lot of anger on all sides and finally some humor. For a sampling see here:

http://techcrunch.com/2011/12/11/stop-telling-women-to-do-startups/ :-(
http://techcrunch.com/2011/12/12/stop-telling-women-not-to-do-startups-in-paris
http://zachholman.com/posts/women-should-do-startups/
http://www.gothamgal.com/gotham_gal/2011/12/a-.html
http://birch.co/post/14117221851/stop-telling-cats-to-do-startups  :-)

I got super turned off by the anger and then fortunately a few rational posts were written and published so I decided to move on from this flurry. The fact that I had a super busy week was probably part of it. I spoke at a conference in Half Moon Bay and we are knee deep in 2012 planning at SugarSync.

To top off this busy week I had committed to attend an event sponsored by Dell, the “Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN).” They had invited me to a big event they organized in Brazil last spring. Although typically eager for a chance to go back to Brazil I couldn’t make that trip work in my schedule. Last weeks event was logistically easier – a cocktail party in San Francisco, but I must say by Thursday evening, I was pretty tired and the idea of a networking event where I knew nobody seemed a stretch.  Fortunately I HATE the idea of cancelling last minute so I didn’t.

Dell’s VP of Corporate Marketing, Kelly McGinnis, hosted the networking event at her home. There were probably about 30-40 women there. Well, first off, it was an incredibly friendly group. Plus, it turns out that when nobody at the party knows each other it’s very easy to meet people and strike up conversation. It seemed like each person I met was nicer and even more interesting than the last person. Many good business connections were being made all over the place. I talked to several potential partners on the business development side, agencies, and several of the women’s companies were even interested in SugarSync for Business accounts. The women there were at all stages of growing their companies and their families and lots of advice was shared on both topics ☺. Dell is organizing the next major DWEN event in India and expecting the quality of the attendees to be as good as this event I really look forward to attending.

Kudos to Dell who is an important business partner of ours for sponsoring this program.  Lots of business was getting done which certainly in a small way and possibly in a large way helped the women entrepreneurs and their companies. Most importantly, this event was a good reminder to focus on doing not whining – better results happen and it’s a lot more fun!