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Uber Revelations Underscore Vital Work of Geek Girls

Reading Susan Fowler’s allegations of appalling sexual harassment and an unresponsive human resources department inside Uber this week gave us goose bumps.  Not only did it echo disturbing anecdotes we gathered from interviewing hundreds of women across the tech ecosystem about the toxic “bro” culture still tolerated in many corners of the tech industry (and documented in research such as the “Elephant in the Valley” report which found that 60% of  SV women surveyed have experienced sexual harassment),  but we had actually witnessed a discussion of sexism inside the Uber’s engineering ranks that seemed to foreshadow Fowler’s eye-opener.

It was December 11, 2015 and co-author Samantha Walravens was tagging along with software engineer Tracy Chou who was invited by the company’s #LadyENG and #LaddieEng groups to speak about inclusion and closing the gender gap at a lunchtime event.  Chou, who went on to co-found Project Include with Ellen Pao among others, was at the time still working at Pinterest and had received national attention for her crowdsourced data that revealed the tiny numbers of women working in the technical ranks of Silicon Valley darlings.   As we write in Chapter 1 of our book, one of the women in the meeting put Tracy on the spot and asked what Uber could do to improve its image so it can recruit more women?  Tracy asked if she meant the brand or “Is there stuff that needs to be addressed internally?” and went on to say that Uber couldn’t fix its reputation if it didn’t address concerns on the inside first. This meeting took place about a month after Fowler had joined Uber.

Now more than two years later, Uber’s CEO  Travis Kalanick (who told GQ that “Boober” is how he refers to the effect he and his company have on his desirability to women) is promising a swift investigation into the company culture.  We are inspired by Fowler’s courage to stand up and speak out and are reminded once again that the power of grass roots activism and social media can never be underestimated.  Within minutes of posting her story, Fowler’s blog post was shared incessantly across Facebook and Twitter, sparking outcry.

In our reporting for the book, we cull together the amazing stories of brave women across the tech world — developers, founders, investors, educators and advocates — who have united to change the culture of tech and to create new opportunities for women and people of all backgrounds.  Some of those trailblazers include Tracy Chou; Rebecca Miller-Webster and her Write/Speak/Code conference that helps female software developers hone their writing and public speaking skills; Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder of theBoardlist, a platform to help companies recruit board-ready female directors; Natalia Oberti Noguera, whose Pipeline Angels boot camp for women angel investors is creating an new stream of capital for female founders; Kathryn Finney, founder of digitalundivided and the new BIG Accelerator in Atlanta that helps black and Latina entrepreneurs launch their startups; Kathryn Minshew and Alex Cavoulacos, co-founders of The Muse, Sheila Lirio Marcelo, founder and CEO of Care.com, Yunha Kim co-founder of Locket and Simple Habit, who are proving that women-led businesses can deliver big-time; Dr. Maria Klawe,  president of Harvey Mudd College and Dr. Lenore Blum, distinguished professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, who have led important efforts to boost the number of women majoring in computer science.  And SO many more! What we found is that correcting gender imbalance is a nuanced and complicated problem.  There is no magic bullet. But efforts to increase diversity on boards and in the C-suite,  to funnel more venture investment to female founders, to crush stereotypes of who works in tech by increasing the visibility of female technologists and corporate leaders and to inspire a new generation of girls who see themselves as tomorrow’s builders and innovators are underway.

This is not a time to feel defeated.  “Geek Girls” will continue to rise up. The Uber scandal reinforces the important and tireless work of the “sisterhood shaking up tech.”  And they will #persist.

Attendees at the 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence Take Centerstage at Women’s Pitch Contest

 

From self-driving wheelchairs to digital personalized help for addicts to predictive data analysis for doctors to virtual travel agents, the fourth annual Women Startup Challenge showcased women venturing into emerging areas of technology.  The competition, hosted by Google in New York City, offered a $50,000 prize courtesy of the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund. The night drew more than 200 spectators, including investors, founders and techies, who watched the ten dynamic finalists pitch their cutting edge companies.

“We’ve received many hundreds of submissions from female entrepreneurs whose product ideas are often brilliant and disruptive, and a few that could even be the ‘next big thing.’ We’re just scratching the surface of  the pent-up talent, as you see from the caliber of today’s winners,” said Allyson Kapin, founder of Women Who Tech, the organization that runs the Challenge.

Didimo of Clayton, California took home the grand prize.  It’s a tool that transforms the image from a single photo into a 3D virtual character that can speak, move and represent a user in a 3D world. Runners up were Spirit AI and Addicaid, both located in New York.  Each will receive $10,000 in legal services from Paul Hastings LLP.  Kudos!

 

Putting Women in Charge This Valentine’s Day

The Kang sisters, cofounders of dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel. Left to Right: Dawoon (34), Ahreum (34) and Soo (36)

This Valentine’s Day we have a treat for you! Remember the 3 sisters who pitched their online dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel, on Shark Tank and famously turned down a $30 million dollar offer from billionaire investor Mark Cuban (the highest offer ever made on the show, by the way)? We have an exclusive interview with one of the sisters, cofounder and COO Dawoon Kang, who shares her thoughts on working with 3 sisters who are also cofounders (is it cat fight central or do they actually get along?), why they felt the need to create a dating app that puts women in the driver’s seat, and whether they made the right decision turning down millions of dollars. Plus, we’ll hear what Coffee Meets Bagel has in store for its users this Valentine’s Day (spoiler alert, it’s not too late to find that special date!). Read the full interview on Forbes.

#BUILTBYGIRLS Connects Teen Girls To Tech Biz Mentors

#BUILTBYGIRLS finalists with former U.S. CTO Megan Smith

#BUILTBYGIRLS, which runs a national pitch competition for high school girls with startup dreams, just announced a new mobile platform, Wave, that connects teen girls with professional mentors in the tech world. So far, more than 150 men and women have signed up to be mentors, including leaders at companies like Rent the Runway and Spotify.  According to Victoria Marlin, Custom Solutions Manager at #BUILTBYGIRLS, “Wave came out of this very personal revelation on our end that all the best jobs we’ve gotten, and all the best candidates we’ve gotten for open jobs, have come from referrals. There really is this network that you need to get started in a tech career.”  To hear from girls who participated in the beta of Wave, check out our full story on Forbes.

 

The Sisterhood Shines at Women’s Marches Around the Globe

Awesome sign in SF in LED lights!

Like many of you, the team behind Geek Girl Rising spent the day after the presidential inauguration marching with millions of women waving irreverent and powerful placards, donning pink hats, and rising up to say we are here, we are for tolerance, kindness and yes, we are feminists with a capital “F.”  It was a defining moment both for us personally but in particular in the life of this project. To see daughters, moms, grandmothers, aunts, and girlfriends (and their male allies) take to the streets in such overwhelming numbers, it felt like the Geek Girl movement we spent so much time researching had literally leaped off the page.  This was the sisterhood we discovered bubbling up all around us when we ventured to Houston to experience the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the largest gathering of tech women in the world; when we covered angel investor Joanne Wilson’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Festival in New York City; when we immersed ourselves in the Women’s Startup Lab in Menlo Park, California; when we spent an evening in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University where we met the college students mentoring the next generation of engineers; when we journeyed to Chattanooga, TN to meet the JumpFund and its members funding woman-led tech startups across the Southeast; when we met the amazing teen girls who competed in the #BUILTBYGIRLS challenge in San Francisco and on and on.  They are all about lifting each other up and have a deep sense of responsibility to help each other.  That’s what we saw typified in the faces of the marchers everywhere we went.

I (Heather) marched with my synagogue (a group of nearly 100) along with some of my very best friends in Manhattan.  Arriving in Grand Central Station gave us goosebumps as we stepped off the train and into a sea of pink wool hats. It was something else.

One of Heather’s favorite signs in NYC

Sam spent her Saturday with her friend Karenna at the march in San Francisco. Her mom and sister-in-law did their part in Denver.

Sam and Karenna in SF

Our fearless literary agent, Lisa Leshne, boarded a bus from NYC in the wee hours of Saturday and headed for the nation’s capital with a #GIRLGANG from all over the city.

Lisa and her NYC #GIRLGANG take the Mall

And Nadine Gilden, our talented web designer and social media guru, also spent the day with the 400,000 of us who marched in the Big Apple.  It was a day of activism and unity.  We can’t wait to see what the sisterhood does next to advance the cause of women’s rights.

Nadine Gilden and her “Pug Squad” in NYC

It’s Time to Launch! Geek Girl Rising to hit the shelves in May

We’ve made our final fact checking calls. Pored over pages and pages of proofs. Turned in the final edits. And now it’s go time for Geek Girl Rising. It’s been two years since we actually sat down and wrote up the book proposal (essentially the architecture of the book); edited and re-edited it; sat on pins and needles as we received disappointing rejections and then our hearts soared when we received multiple offers; accepted our book deal from a top NYC publisher – St. Martin’s Press; embarked on the journey of filling in all of the details laid out in our book proposal outline; tracked and trailed Geek Girls all over the country and the world from San Francisco to Boston to PIttsburgh to Atlanta to Los Angeles to London and on and on; sat for hours on end in the library and at the kitchen counter on nights and weekends pulling all of those hundreds of interview transcripts together into an entertaining narrative; edited and re-edited; and now, here we are.

We could not be more excited about the months ahead.  Publication date is May 23, 2017.  The experience of holding a finished advance review copy in our hands, seeing the font the publisher chose along with the layout and the beautiful cover was a feeling like none other.

We have been blown away by the early response. We have immense gratitude for the super women who contributed such beautiful praise. Thank you Arianna Huffington and Joanna Coles!  We’ve been honored to speak at Tech Inclusion, Women of New York and a private reading in the Hearst Tower.  Up next, our book talk at SXSW on Monday, March 13th. The fun is just beginning and we are so excited for the journey ahead.  Please let us know if you would like us to visit your company or hometown bookstore.

Thank you for all of your support. Onward and upward, Geek Girls.

How to Succeed as An Early-Stage Female Founder

What does it really take to turn an idea into an actual business? At the 2016 Tech Inclusion Conference in San Francisco, Geek Girl Rising Co-Author, Samantha Walravens gathered some essential insights from Silicon Valley CEO’s (and Geek Girls we interviewed for the book!). They shared candid advice about what it’s really like to raise money in the early stages, find the right investors and connect with a network of supporters.

Check it out!

In a Post-election Slump? Here’s How to Shake It Off

November 17, 2016

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US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a concession speech on November 9, 2016. (Photo credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, Silicon Valley women are vowing not to give up the fight for gender equality and greater diversity in the technology industry.  They call on others to “help protect women’s rights during the uncertain years to come” (Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, CEO, Joyus) and to “band together to help other women succeed” (Jenny Lefcourt, Venture Partner, Freestyle Capital).  Read their advice on what more needs to be done to shatter the glass ceiling for women and how you can get involved.

Three Essential Ingredients for Building a Billion Dollar Business

September 19, 2016

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Michelle Zatlyn, cofounder, Cloudflare

Cloudflare co-founder Michelle Zatlyn fills us in on how she grew her business school project into a billion-dollar tech business. Zatlyn is part of a unique and very small group of female founders who have founded “unicorns,” or private companies valued at over $1 billion. Here, Zatlyn shares the three essential ingredients for building a billion-dollar business and tells us what it take to survive and thrive in the Silicon Valley startup world.

Six Ways to Tap Into the Sisterhood of Women in Tech

September 13, 2016

Power women meet up in The Girls' Lounge in Cannes Lion 2016
Power women meet up in The Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lion 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the course of reporting and writing our book, sisterhood emerged as an undeniable theme.  As we traveled the country and the globe from 2014 to the present, we observed the powerful ways in which women are collaborating and encouraging each other in startup accelerators, inside tech companies, in co-working spaces,  on email lists and private Facebook groups, on college campuses and at male-dominated tech trade shows and conferences.  Shelley Zalis, founder of The Girls’ Lounge and one of the women featured in Geek Girl Rising believes fiercely in the power of girlfriends.  As we shared on Forbes, here are her six tips for forging lasting and authentic relationships in business.

Shelley Zalis, Founder of The Girls' Lounge, CEO The Female Quotient (TFQ)
Shelley Zalis, Founder of The Girls’ Lounge, CEO The Female Quotient (TFQ)

Diverse Founders Experiment with Crowd Investing

August 30, 2016

Female founders and other under-represented entrepreneurs are banking on a new vehicle to raise money from U.S. investors. It’s called crowd investing and it allows just about anyone to make an investment in a startup without having to meet the wealth and income requirements set by the SEC for traditional private investors.  How can it help early stage ventures started by women, people of color and of the LGBTQ community? Check out our story about one of the first crowd investing platforms, Republic and RaceYa, one of the first companies that successfully exceeded its fundraising goals via crowd investing in the fall of 2016.  RaceYa raised $88,000 from 173 investors to help build its customizable radio-controlled race cars that teach kids about science, technology, engineering and math.  Way to go!

Abigail Edgecliffe-Johnson, founder of RaceYa - a tech start-up that creates customizable toy cars that teach children about science and engineering, works to fix and organize some of the cars at her home office on Monday, February 29, 2016. CREDIT: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal NYVENTURE
Abigail Edgecliffe-Johnson, founder of RaceYa – a tech start-up that creates customizable toy cars that teach children about science and engineering, works to fix and organize some of the cars at her home office on Monday, February 29, 2016. CREDIT: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal NYVENTURE

Hottest Toys of 2016: On the Ground with GoldieBlox at the Toy Fair

February 16, 2016

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Debbie Sterling, Founder & CEO of GoldieBlox, with Heather Cabot at the NYC Toy FairFebruary 17, 2016) We got a sneak peek at the toys that may inspire our daughters to build, code and design in the year to come on a visit to the annual North American International Toy Fair in New York City. Our insider guide was none other than Debbie Sterling, the founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, the first engineering toy for girls. It was Sterling’s fifth year visiting the trade show which showcases hundreds of thousands of toys to 7,000+ retailers from 100 countries.

We checked out the new “Invention Mansion,” the product Sterling calls the “anti-dollhouse” and the top secret project she and her team were working on all last year. The play set features more than 300 pieces that girls can reconfigure in hundreds of different ways like turning ladders into bridges and doors into platforms. And it features a “Hacker Hideaway” where the characters Goldie and Ruby and code and create.

GoldieBlox

Walking the show with Debbie was especially cool because we saw so many of the toys that have followed in the footsteps of GoldieBlox and Debbie’s Kickstarter campaign.  Back when she first came up with the idea for GoldieBlox, the tech toy section at Toy Fair was a wasteland, Sterling told us. Now she points out, nearly every booth features STEM, robots and a lot of the products are centered around girls.

“I think I knew that there was such a huge gap when I started GoldieBlox that it seemed like a no-brainer. I think we have helped validate the market,” she says with a smile.

And as the category rapidly grows, the Toy Industry Association, which sponsors the trade show, predicts STEAM toys (those that reinforce science, tech, engineering, the arts and math) will be among the top sellers next holiday season.  On our walk around the exhibit hall, we especially liked Tinkineer and its maker kits for children aged 10 and up called “Marbelocity.”  The sets introduce kids and adults to physics and engineering principles through Rube Goldberg-like machines and a graphic novella featuring the characters known as “Tinkineers.”  And if your daughter likes to make movies on her mobile device, check out Stikbots. They are action figures that mimic human movements to be used with an app that teaches kids how to make stop motion animated movies and includes a community for them to share their creations. Finally, we saw lots of female action figures with all kinds of empowering messages including I Am Elemental, a collection of heroines started by two moms in 2014. The toys promote virtues like courage and wisdom and are intended to
re-cast the traditional female action figure into a strong, smart leading role in children’s imaginary play.

How Female-friendly is Your Company?

February 2, 2016

New crowdsourcing efforts seek to reveal the truth about workplace culture and policies that affect women.

Romy Newman & Georgene Huang, Co-founders of Fairygodboss
Romy Newman & Georgene Huang, Co-founders of Fairygodboss

Georgene Huang never expected to be fired from her job in a management shake up when she was two months pregnant. Nor did she expect to be in the awkward position of interviewing for a new job with a baby on the way.

“I had a lot of questions in my interviews that I didn’t feel I could ask, even though it was 2014– like, what the hours are really like and what work-life balance really looks like,” Huang told us.

She turned to employer review sites including, Glassdoor, for information, but she was disappointed with the lack of focus on workplace issues that affect women.  She wanted to get the inside scoop on what the likelihood of promotion might look like for women at a particular firm or if the management truly respected family commitments and how that might play out.

So she decided to chase down the real answers by asking women to anonymously share their experiences. Then she and her business partner Romy Newman began to dig into the data. Their efforts gave way to Fairygodboss, a new tool pulling the curtain back on company culture through the first-hand accounts of women in the trenches.  Launched last March,  Fairygodboss has already been hailed in the media as the “Yelp for maternity leave.”  With more than 20,000 reviews and tips gathered to date, the site offers women a platform to candidly review and rate their employers on compensation, benefits, leave, opportunities for advancement and work environment.

“I think lots of women want to help other women and they embrace this idea of a forum,” says Huang, who is proud of the rapid growth and the in-depth detail of the reviews.

These two are not alone in their mission to provide transparency around workplace cultures and policies.

Ursula Mead started InHerSight to give users a way to rate companies across 14 female-friendly metrics, including female representation in top leadership and family growth support. “A great company culture is not the same thing as a great environment for women,” says Mead.

Mead was inspired, in part, by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

“There’s a whole movement underway to better understand what women are facing at work and figure out how to improve the situation,” Mead explains. “More than ever, women are such top talent that organizations are going to be competing for them. We need to use that as an opportunity to make the change we need to be successful.”

Many of the issues that have prompted discussions around female-friendliness, such as parental leave and work/life balance, affect all workers, especially as half of American employees now work over 40 hours a week.

In an effort to promote equality for women and men, Melissa Sandgren, a Yahoo manager, is crowdsourcing parental leave data.

“Companies can play a pivotal role in breaking gender confines and redefining gender norms, and one way to alter this dynamic is by offering equal parental leave, regardless of gender norms, gender identity, leave status (birth or adoptive), or sex,” Sandgren wrote in a recent Medium post.

In her view, equal parental leave—the same time off for new moms and dads—will translate to a more equitable workplace.

“Unequal parental leave disproportionately affects women, creating a dynamic where the person with the longer parental leave (usually the female) will be more familiar with the new child’s habits, needs, expressions; thus, quickly becoming the ‘lead parent,” she writes.

This leads to the “double shift” effect where women continue to be double-bound by dual duties- at home and at the office.

Fairygodboss also plans to crowdsource data on leave for both moms and dads.

“If you have parental leave in a culture then you are much more inclined to have gender equality in the workplace,” says Newman.

Many companies are already catching on. Netflix lets new moms and dads take unlimited time off for a year after a birth or adoption. Facebook gives new parents $4,000 in “baby cash” in addition to 17 weeks of paid leave.

Parental leave is not just a woman’s issue, but many women, especially those in male-dominated industries, may not feel comfortable speaking up. By providing transparency and data points around workplace culture, the founders of these crowdsourcing efforts hope to make a difference.

“We’ve zoned in on what women say when they’re happy or unhappy at work. We think it highlights some ways that employers can focus their energy,” Newman of Fairygodboss says.

#Women In Tech: Think Like A VC

December 2, 2015

The prospect of getting in on the ground floor of the next “unicorn” may seem enticing to anyone, especially women with sophisticated technical skills in hot demand today. Start-ups are now the primary source of net job creation in the US, according to 2015 Start-Up Index report by the Ewing Marion Kaufmann Foundation. But the high stakes world of working inside an early stage venture requires nerves of steel since most start-ups fizzle out. That’s why Mary Holstege, Principal Engineer at MarkLogic, an enterprise database company, says women in tech should try to “control their destiny” by evaluating a start-up opportunity the same way hard-nosed venture capitalists assess a deal.

Holstege, who holds a PhD from Stanford in computer science and has worked at all kinds of start-ups from the proverbial two folks in a garage to “splashy and crashy” IPO’s, shared her advice with hundreds of women this fall in Houston at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the largest gathering of female technologists in the world, where tech firms were on the hunt for new talent among the 12,000 attendees. As an angel investor myself, I thought her advice was spot on as she shared the types of questions investors use to assess a business that could help prospective employee make a more thoughtful and informed decision on an offer.

1. Can The Founders Execute?
Ask yourself, do you understand how this business makes money? If you don’t, ask the founders how the business generates revenue. For example, Holstege says, “users” do not mean “paying customers.” You should understand the difference and what it means to YOUR bottom line. And listen to your gut instincts about the founders. Do you like them? Do you believe in what they are doing? Do some research on them. Ask around. Do they have expertise in the space? If not, who are their advisers or other hires that will help them reach success?

2. How Much Runway Do They Have?
This is a delicate question to ask directly but doing some homework on the financial resources of the company is a smart thing to do if you want a paycheck for long. Look up the business up on CrunchBase to see how much they have raised so far, when and from whom. A potential investor wants to know how much “runway” the company has right now or how much cash they have on hand and also the monthly “burn rate:” how much money are “burning through” on salaries, customer acquisition, marketing and PR, etc? These are things that will all affect you as a new employee. And a key question to ask: When are they raising financing again?

Geek Girl Rising recently spoke with Maren Kate Donovan, the founder of Zirtual, a business forced to lay off all 450 employees in August 2015 when they ran out of cash and couldn’t make payroll. Donovan recently shared with the 2X Conference at the NYC tech incubator Grand Central Tech last month that by the time she realized the finances were in trouble, it was too late. She told the crowd of more than 200 female founders that if she had to do it all over again, she would have hired a CFO much earlier on instead of handling the books herself. Hers is a cautionary tale for both founders and prospective employees. More on our candid interview in a future blog post to come…

3. Financial Risk and Reward?
When investors size up a deal, they look at a variety of metrics to calculate the potential return and you should, too. Holstege says prospective hires should ask, how much of the pay will be based on current earnings? Will you receive stock options? How many shares are outstanding? What was the valuation when those initial shares were issued? “Do the math,” she entreated the crowd. You probably won’t be paid much in the beginning. Will the investment pay off later in your career? There may be upside even if the venture fails. Ruthe Farmer, Chief Strategy and Growth Officer for the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) says having start-up experience on a resume, even being part of a failed start-up can be very helpful for young women, especially those who would like to be entrepreneurs later in life and plan on raising capital.

4. Is It A Culture Fit for You?
Finally, Holstege told the packed convention hall, look around and really consider, “Is this the right environment for you?” Make no mistake, working at start-up is all in. “A small company can’t afford anyone who isn’t contributing,” she said, “You will be doing great things. You will be doing everything.” Bottom line: Make sure it’s a place to you want to invest your valuable time and energy.

“Our Time to Lead”: An Interview with Telle Whitney, CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, at Grace Hopper 2015

October 19, 2015

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Samantha and Telle Whitney at Grace Hopper 2015At this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston, Geek Girl Rising had the opportunity to sit down with Telle Whitney, the CEO and President of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, to discuss the successes and challenges that women in tech face and why this year is “our time to lead.” A computer scientist by training, Whitney cofounded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing with Anita Borg in 1994. This year’s event hosted a record 12,000 attendees, a 50% jump from last year, and included women from academia, government and the tech industry.

At this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston, Geek Girl Rising had the opportunity to sit down with Telle Whitney, the CEO and President of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, to discuss the successes and challenges that women in tech face and why this year is “our time to lead.” A computer scientist by training, Whitney cofounded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing with Anita Borg in 1994. This year’s event hosted a record 12,000 attendees, a 50% jump from last year, and included women from academia, government and the tech industry.

Geek Girl Rising: Tell us why you decided to name the Grace Hopper conference a “celebration” of women in tech?

Telle: We founded the Grace Hopper Celebration in 1994. At the time, there was a lot of angst about the issues of women in technology, and we purposefully wanted it to be a celebration — celebrating the work women are doing in the computing area.

Geek Girl Rising: That was 21 years ago. How has the conference changed since then?

Telle: When we started the conference, we had about 500 women attending. Today, we have 12,000 women from 66 countries and 1000 different organizations. The topic of women in technology has become front of mind. The conference has become a cornerstone of the work that women in tech are doing today.

Geek Girl Rising: What has changed for women in computing and technology since 1994?

Telle: In terms of how women in tech are doing, things have been stagnant for a while. At the undergraduate level, about 18% of students graduating with a computer science degree are women, and women make up about 23% of the tech workforce. According to the last NSF (National Science Foundation) statistics, which are from 2012, there are indications that the numbers are increasing. Harvey Mudd College increased the percentage of women graduating from its computing program from 12 percent to approximately 40 percent in five years. Stanford just came out that computer science is the number one major for women. There are quite a number of bright spots.

The Anita Borg Institute is partnering with Harvey Mudd on a program called BRAID (Building Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity) to work with computer science departments at 15 universities across the U.S. to increase the percentage of their undergraduate majors that are female and students of color. It will takes some of the lessons we’ve learned from Harvey Mudd to other institutions, some of which are public schools, some of which are large schools, and really scan their practices. We know how to change the universities; it’s just a matter of which ones make this a priority.

Similarly at companies, I believe that what you measure, you will change. The fact that companies came out with diversity numbers and published them is really exciting. What they then do with this information is really what this is all about. There are some companies that are doing a lot more than others. For example, Blake Irving, the CEO of Go Daddy, spoke last night about what his company is doing to increase diversity. GoDaddy had a pretty bad reputation in terms of branding, but he is really doing a turnaround. He came out with not only his diversity numbers, but he showed his compensation numbers to the audience. The more you see that kind of transparency, the more you have the possibility for change.

Geek Girl Rising: Who is attending Grace Hopper this year?

Telle: Nearly 35% of our attendees are students, 5% are faculty members, and the rest are from industry. We have many tech companies represented. Google has 1,000 people here. Microsoft has 900. We sold out in eight days. Many companies would have brought more people if they could have, but we didn’t have the space. We also have about 800 men, about 4% of the attendees.

Geek Girl Rising: Do you plan to expand next year?

Telle: We do. We expect to target about 15,000 attendees for next year. We’re also launching something called ABI.Local, which is creating communities that will host GHCs (Grace Hopper Celebrations) in their local areas. Having these groups is a really an important part of our future. We are launching communities in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, DC, Boston, and Austin. We also have strong interest internationally. We’re talking to a group in Africa that would like to hold a conference in 2017, and we’ve had interest from Singapore, as well as London. We already hold a Grace Hopper Celebration in India every year. We see a lot of the scaling happening in a systematic way at the local level.

Geek Girl Rising: Why do women come to Grace Hopper? What do they hope to get from it?

Telle: The number one reason women come is for the connection. That’s been true since the beginning. As an attendee, you have the chance to connect with people who are in different fields, who are a little bit ahead of you. That’s really important. Women also come for professional development. There’s a lot of leadership training, and there’s also a diverse set of technology presentations to see.

I’ll give you two examples. We have a student who serves on our board of trustees. She just started her PhD at Brown. She came here as an undergraduate freshman and was just trying to figure out what she wanted to do. She wasn’t even sure she was going to study computing. She found her technical area by coming here and it really changed her life. She took what she learned about what other women were doing and created affinity groups at DePaul, where she did her undergraduate degree. The conference has really been a backbone for the work that she’s done over these years.

Another woman who’s been at one of the high tech companies for 10 months came up to me at a booth just a couple of hours ago. She’s an engineer, and she was in tears because she felt that coming to the conference, she had found her people. She didn’t know this community existed. She told me, “This has changed my life.” That’s one of the great parts of my job. These folks don’t all know each other. These are really independent stories of women who have the opportunity to come and connect with other women in tech. This really makes a difference in their lives. It makes them feel like they are not alone.

Geek Girl Rising: How can women who are here this week take the “spirit” of Grace Hopper back with them to their schools and workplaces?

Telle: There are two ways. Many of them take ideas that they heard at the conference and use them to implement programs. They can also join local communities. That’s why we see ABI.Local as so important, so women can continue to have a place to go and share. Many women join Systers, which is an online community of technical women. The Systers community is seeding these ABI.locals. They are very intertwined, which is great.

Geek Girl Rising: The theme of this year’s conference is Our Time to Lead. Why did you choose this theme?

Telle: Many women in tech feel like they are making progress. They’re contributing, but they aren’t necessarily recognized for the great work that they do. “Our Time to Lead” is an assertion that really there’s a lot of momentum building. You can see it with the size of the conference. It really is Our Time to Lead. I think that it’s really helped to mobilize a lot of people here.

One of the most important things that folks who attend the Grace Hopper Celebration get is leadership training. We had three different leadership workshops yesterday and part of the results of those is a set of tools that you can use. We don’t try and invent it all ourselves. This is a platform, so a lot of people that provide content are experts in their own right. Many of the leadership folks actually have blogs where you can go and get further tips after the conference. Once again, it’s making connections with people who are experts in their area.

Geek Girl Rising: A focus of our upcoming book, Geek Girl Rising, is the grassroots movement of women working to change the face of technology– by starting their own businesses, investing in each other’s businesses and expanding the pipeline. Our book really looks at the various battlefronts where this activity has been happening. Is the Grace Hopper conference a catalyst for this kind of grassroots effort?

Telle: Sure. I think that coming together and making connections is always part of people’s learning. It’s important to have both top down and grassroots’ efforts towards change. Grassroots comes in two flavors. Grassroots movements can exist within a larger organization, but they can also exist in the entrepreneurial and VC world. These are somewhat separate realms, and we see fewer entrepreneurs here.

Geek Girl Rising: Thank you, Telle. You are an inspiration to us all.

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