Journalist, Author, Speaker

Author Archives: swalravens

Women Killing It In Virtual Reality

Nonny de la Pena, American journalist, documentary filmmaker and “Godmother of VR”

Good news, ladies: women are kind of killing it in virtual reality. This feels like a big deal not because it represents general progress in the tech industry, but because VR won’t really have to be corrected. Think about it: the entire world of gaming was perceived as a boys’ club pretty much until relatively recent data started to make it clear that girls like games too.

Case in point, one set of data found that “adult women” are the most active demographic in gaming – take that, stereotypical boys in basements! But in VR, the way things are looking, no such data sets are ever going to be needed, because women are making an impact from the start.

The way we see it, if we keep highlighting this fact, we’ll avoid ever falling into a misconception about VR being another tech boys’ club. With me? Good! So, as part of that effort, we wanted to point to a few specific women who are getting things done in virtual reality.

Jennifer Scheurle – Opaque Space Game Design Leader

Opaque Space isn’t a huge name in VR unless you pay attention – but once you take a look, it’s representative of some of the most exciting things about the technology. There was an article back in 2016 commenting on some of the potential for gaming in VR that had a lovely bit about exploring new environments, basically discussing how VR could put any ordinary activity into any space. Opaque Space, whose game design leader is  Jennifer Scheurle, exemplifies this basic but fundamental capability, most notably by taking users on a realistic journey to space.

Suzanne Leibrick – ARVR Academy Founder, VR Artist & Storyteller

As you can see from the title and job description above, Suzanne Leibrick does a little bit of everything in this industry. And what’s more, she does it with something of a humanitarian angle. ARVR Academy is a nonprofit whose primary function is to educate communities that might be a little bit behind on AR and VR in the technology. Basically, Leibrick – in addition to being able to put together her own VR experiences – is helping to ensure that there are more Suzanne Leibricks coming from all sides. Not a bad way to affect an industry in its infancy.

Pranee McKinlay – Future State Machine Creative Director, Game Developer

A Medium article from 2016 suggested that VR storytelling wasn’t working and might never work. The author claimed that storytelling itself is a retroactive art form and therefore difficult to carry out within the extraordinarily “present” nature of VR.  We get it, but it never quite rang like a fully damning observation.  And, to support the idea that VR storytelling can work, we have people like Pranee McKinlay.  McKinlay works as a creative director for a company, Future State Machine, that aims specifically to create narrative-driven VR experiences. They’re in the early going with VR, but based on some of their previous games, they’re on the right track.

Christina Heller – VR Playhouse CEO & Co-Founder

Christina Heller is a little bit of a different choice on this list because she’s effectively running a studio, rather than working on the creative or technical end of a gaming company. VR Playhouse produces cinematic experiences in VR and AR, and has already worked with people as big as Ken Burns, and won an award or two. Heller’s work is a nice reminder that VR and AR are important in the entertainment world, beyond pure gaming.

Nonny de la Pena – Emblematic CEO & VR Journalist

Last but certainly not least, we have to touch on the journalism side of things! Articles like this very one are hopefully going to do their part to promote the leading ladies of VR. But it helps to have female voices in the industry generally producing content as well. Nonny de la Pena is doing just that, while running a VR company and giving TED talks. Go get ‘em, Nonny.

Geek Girls Shine at Book Passage Event

TheBridge co-founder Jamie Corley, Sam Walravens, and Kristen Koh Goldstein, CEO and founder of HireAthena

Friends, family and Geek Girl Rising fans came out in force at this week’s book talk at Book Passage Corte Madera, California where an amazing panel of women in tech– Sona Dolasia, UC Berkeley computer science student and founder of Reaching Out with Robotics, Jamie Corley, co-founder of TheBridge, and Kristen Koh Goldstein, CEO and co-founder of HireAthena, talked about the need for more women in the startup world, and strategies for inspiring the next generation of girls to pursue STEM studies and careers, particularly in computer science and engineering.

Sona Dolasia, founder of Reaching Out With Robotics

17-year-old Dolasia,  who is graduating from Tam High School this week and heading to UC Berkeley to study computer science in the fall, started Reaching Out With Robotics in 2014, during her sophomore year. ROWR is a STEM program where she and a group of  teen mentors teach middle schoolers how to program semi-autonomous machines.  A fan of math and puzzles since she was a kid, Dolasia said she was introduced to STEM and technology through her middle school robotics club. But when she got to high school, she realized that not everyone had had those same opportunities. “Bayside MLK (a local middle school) does not have a very strong science and math department. By introducing them to different aspects of engineering, like robotics, we hoped to get the students more engaged in interested in these subjects.”

Jamie Corley, a relative newcomer to Silicon Valley and the tech world, started her career in politics as a staffer on Capitol Hill, as national press secretary for U.S. Senator Bob Corker and communications director and spokesperson for Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. She founded TheBridge to connect Silicon Valley and Washington, DC. The bi-weekly newsletter and jobs board reaches inboxes at the world’s top tech firms and political power houses, including Google, Facebook, Slack, The White House, U.S. Senate and political campaigns. ncisco, C

Kristen Koh Goldstein, co-founder and CEO of HireAthena, an accounting and human resources platform for small businesses, talked about the challenges facing women in our society and her mission to “bring a million moms back to work.”  “To initiate  change in our society, we need options for moms (and dads) to work flexible hours while their children are young. Today moms often leave the workforce just as they hit their professional stride.” Her San Francisco-based startup matches small and medium sized business with stay-at-home talent.

Jacqui Thier, Gigi Walravens, Matthew Walravens play with Goldieblox.

The event included a hands-on “makers stations” where kids played with Goldieblox engineering toys for girls, Blink Blink electronic circuits kits, and MagnaTiles.




Women in Tech Take on Silicon Valley’s “Bro” Culture

Geek Girl panel at Book Passage San Francisco, from L to R: Samantha Walravens (moderator), Samara Trilling, Teresa Ibarra, Aparna Pujar, Maci Peterson

You would never have guessed that Silicon Valley is a land of “brogrammers” and “boy geniuses” last night at Book Passage in San Francisco. Four pioneering women in tech– Samara Trilling, a software engineer at Google, Teresa Ibarra, 2nd-year computer science student at Harvey Mudd College and software intern at StitchFix, Aparna Pujar, Founder and CEO of Enfavr, and Maci Peterson, Co-founder and CEO or OnSecondThought— joined Geek Girl Rising co-author Samantha Walravens to discuss strategies for succeeding as a woman in tech and ways to inspire the next generation of women and girls to join the digital revolution.

Samara Trilling, who entered Columbia University as a Political Science major and graduated with a Computer Science degree, said that young women discount computer science and engineering as a potential field of study because they think it’s too hard or that they won’t like it.

“People (often girls) think that if they don’t get something immediately, computer science is not for them, and they’re not cut out for it,” Trilling explained. “This is the biggest misconception in the tech world. I loved the recent post by Amy Nguyen called “I need more terrible female engineers.”  The only question you should have to ask yourself when deciding if you belong in CS is, “Do I like it?” If you really do, then you belong here.”

Teresa Ibarra and Samantha Walravens

Teresa Ibarra explains the importance of having people “who look like you” in your network to serve as role models because, as the saying goes, “you can’t be what you can’t see.”

“It’s important for young women of color to see that tech is a career that’s possible for people that look like them,” Ibarra explains. “One of my biggest deterrents to learning how to program was that I thought programming was reserved for white men, and not for ‘people like me.’ I had never met another Filipina in tech until about two weeks ago. Not only was she also a Bay Area native, but also planned to start her own company as a technical founder. After seeing her go for it, I’ve decided to focus my time on preparing to become a founder.”

Aparna Pujar, who has worked in various executive roles at Yahoo! and eBay and has recently launched her own tech company, Enfavr, encouraged women to speak up and ask for what they want, be it a promotion at work or funding for their startup. She credits a few key mentors and sponsors in her career for believing in her and pulling her up to senior positions.  She also credits her time at the Women’s Startup Lab (WSL), an accelerator program for female founders, with providing her a network of other entrepreneurs, mentors and investors who have helped her navigate the startup world.

“I found within my (WSL) cohort a group of friends whom I can trust,” said Pujar. “I can go to them when I’m struggling with a problem, which is so important because being a founder and CEO is a very lonely role. Having this group of friends who can guide you and help you navigate the issues is very, very helpful.”

A panel of “geek girls rising” speak to a packed audience on May 31 in San Francisco.

Maci Peterson received a round of applause when she announced that she was the 14th black women to date to have raised over $1 million dollars in funding. “As a black woman founder, there aren’t that many investors who look like me,” she explained. “The ones who funded me were minority or women who get what I am doing.”  Peterson is closing a $1.2 million seed round and is licensing her patented messaging delay/recall technology to wireless carriers and social media platforms the world over.

For more advice and stories from women on the front lines of the digital revolution, buy Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech today.

Party Like a Geek Girl!

Sam & Heather signing books

Watch out, Silicon Valley, the Geek Girls are here!

We couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate the launch of our new book, Geek Girl Rising, than last night’s gathering of friends, family and “geek girls” from across the country at Manhattan’s Civic Hall.

Good Housekeeping Editor-in-Chief Jane Francisco led us in a lively fireside chat, where we discussed the rise of the “sisterhood” in the tech industry and the grassroots movement of women blazing a trail through the male-dominated startup world.

Good Housekeeping Editor-in-Chief Jane Francisco with Heather & Sam

We were thrilled to have a number of the “geek girls” featured in the book with us to raise a glass, including Bea Arthur, founder of In Your Corner, Ayna Agarwal, founder of she++, Stanford University’s women in tech group, Adda Birnir, founder and CEO of SkillCrush, Nicole Messier, founder and CEO of Blink Blink, and BBG Ventures founder and partner, Susan Lyne. Check out our gallery of photos from the evening here.

Thank you to our event sponsors, Good Housekeeping magazine, Perkins Coie, Civic Hall, and Francis Coppola Winery for donating its wonderful new Sofia Rose sparkling wine.

Sam, Heather & the team from St. Martin’s Press

If you’re wondering how you, too, can join the digital revolution, start by buying a copy of Geek Girl Rising and posting a review on Amazon.

In sisterhood,

Sam and Heather


Moving the Needle on Diversity in Tech: What More Needs To Be Done?


Stephanie Lampkin, Founder and CEO of Blendoor, is taking steps to increase diversity in tech.

In 2015, African American leaders came to Silicon Valley to demand that tech companies hire more black people after figures showed that a mere 2% of the tech workforce at companies like Google and Yahoo are black. That same year, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich pledged to spend more than $300 million to diversify talent in the tech industry, and invest $125 million in companies run by women and underrepresented minorities. Two years into this heroic diversity push, and the numbers of women and underrepresented minorities in tech have not budged.

In this interview, we talk to Stephanie Lampkin, Founder and CEO of Blendoor, an app that aims to take bias out of the recruiting process. Lampkin graduated from Stanford University with an engineering degree and received an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Business. When she started interviewing for a job in tech, she was told by recruiters that she wasn’t “technical enough” and should look for a job in marketing or sales instead. Here, Lampkin discusses why diversity numbers in the tech industry are not moving, and what her company is doing to help solve the problem.

There’s been a big push in Silicon Valley over the past few years to create more diverse workplaces through greater Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) efforts, but the number of women and underrepresented minorities in tech is not budging. Why is this?
Stephanie Lampkin: I only see evidence of it diversity efforts working where there is true buy-in and prioritization from the C-Suite.  Without that buy-in, middle management will stifle any real opportunities for improvement if they aren’t properly incentivized. Hiring and rewarding talented people equally important, if not more important, than a company’s investment in new technologies, and it has to be regarded as such. Why? Because there are talented people who can solve these problems who aren’t even able to get in the game, or who get there and aren’t treated well. Change will happen when we invest as much in education, the STEM pipeline and human resource management as we do in R&D.

What is Blendoor doing to move the needle on diversity? 
SL: Our big-picture vision at Blendoor is “Inclusive People Analytics.” As we’ve seen with yet another reported case of discrimination on AirBnB, it’s clear we have a problem with how identity (gender, race, age, height, weight, ability, nationality) can limit opportunities for people on various technology platforms. The Internet, which is supposed to be the “great equalizer,” is perpetuating the same social limitations (bias, racism, sexism, xenophobia) that happen in real life. Whether it’s hiring, compensating, finding an AirAnB, getting an Uber, or crowdfunding on Angelist, my goal is to create technology that removes bias that leads to poor decision-making and replace it with technology that helps establish an individual’s credibility, trustworthiness and qualifications in a proven and consistently reliable way. We want to match candidates based on merit, not molds.

How will your new tool, BlendScore, raise transparency about how companies are doing in their diversity efforts? 
SL:Tech companies in the U.S. have been publishing their workforce diversity statistics for almost 3 years now, and the numbers are relatively unchanged. Many of these companies are hoping to create change by hiring a chief diversity officer or giving money to nonprofits, but they are notl putting underrepresented people in positions of real power and influence. I believe that behavioral change and  prioritization will happen through data, transparency, and accountability. We’re ready to peel back the onion. BlendScore will be for companies what the U.S. News World Report is for colleges & universities or the LEED certification is for buildings, which rates how “green” and sustainable they are. BlendScore rates companies on bias, diversity and inclusion.

What are you doing to help companies recognize unconscious bias?
SL: BlendScore is a public-facing rating of a company’s transparency and effort to drive equity, diversity and inclusion. BBI, on the other hand, is a company’s private “unconscious bias credit score” where they can see where and how bias is interfering with sound business practices and how they measure up against similar companies. BBI offers benchmarks and analytics that help management see the “blindspots” that human bias creates.  The BBI score itself does not factor into a company’s BlendScore.

What is your reaction to Susan Fowler’s recent allegations of sexual harassment during her year as a software engineer at Uber?
em>SL:I think it was a bold move and much needed, and I believe there will be more stories like this to come.  We are drawing closer to an era where it will be expected that tech companies are transparent and accountable in how they treat people.

How has the fundraising been going?
SL: In the past 12 months, we’ve raised $120,000 from Elevate VC and angel investors, bringing our grand investment total to $155,000. Fundraising has been by far the hardest and least meritocratic process I’ve ever gone through. My advice: if you’re not going anywhere after 6 months and you can afford to, find another way. I am now turning down meetings from top VCs because it’s a waste of our time. We are looking towards crowdfunding, foundations, and social impact focused funds.

Why We Need More Women in AI

VC Lolita Taub focuses on AI technology companies

As a child, Lolita Taub was fascinated with Rosie, the female robot on the cartoon show, the Jetsons. She’s taken that passion and funneled it into a career in technology. Lolita is a TEDx speaker, a cognitive computing & artificial intelligence researcher, and a UN Women’s Empower Women Global Champion for Women’s Economic Empowerment. She has worked for companies including IBM, Cisco Systems, and Glassbreakers and is a member of the Cognitive Computing Consortium. In this interview, she explains how AI is changing our world and why it’s critical that more women and people of diverse backgrounds take part in the AI revolution. Read the full story on Forbes.


Startup Tips for Founders Who Don’t Look Like Mark Zuckerberg


Anyone who’s started a business without resources– financial or otherwise— knows what it means to “bootstrap.” But according to Tara Reed, founder and CEO of AppsWithoutCode, bootstrapping doesn’t look the same for black, female, non-techie founders as it does for others. We know the startup world is overwhelmingly white and male. According to the #ProjectDiane report, black women run just 4% of women-led startups and get basically zero venture capital funding. Between 2012 to 2014, black women founders raised an average of $36,000 (per company) in funding — compared with an average $1.3 million (per company) raised by white male founders. In this interview, Reed shares her tips on how to fund your startup without venture capital, and how to build your network and “took kit” to succeed in Silicon Valley as an “unconventional” entrepreneur.  Read the full story on Forbes.


5 Daily Exercises to Strengthen Your Confidence Muscle

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg speaks at the 2016 MAKERS Conference. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for AOL)

Do you ever feel like everyone around you is smarter and more accomplished? Don’t worry, you’re in good company. Even rock star women like Sheryl Sandberg suffer from self-doubt and what has been dubbed the “impostor syndrome” — the nagging fear that plagues many high-achieving women (and men) that they aren’t as smart or talented as the people around them. The good news is that confidence is not a fixed state, but more like a muscle that can be strengthened with regular workouts, as shown by authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in their book, The Confidence Code.

Here, we share 5 exercises that Sheryl Sandberg and other Silicon Valley do each day to build their self-confidence.

1. Write down 3 things you did well that day before going to bed.
After the tragic death of her husband in 2015, Sheryl Sandberg felt like she would never be able to bounce back and accomplish the things she had done in the past. Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist and professor at the Wharton School, convinced her otherwise. He suggested she make a daily practice of writing down 3 things she did well every day, at night before she went to bed. “Focusing on things I’d done well helped me rebuild my confidence. Even if it was small, I could record something positive each day,” she explains. Now, instead of focusing on what went wrong, she ends the day by reflecting on her successes.

2. Push yourself outside your comfort zone. 
Carol Carpenter, VP of Product Marketing at Google, had gotten used to being the second-hand person in her role as Chief Marketing Officer at ClearSlide. So when she was tapped to be the CEO of ElasticBox, a cloud computing company, the negative voices began to creep into her head. “Taking the CEO role was uncomfortable for me. I had convinced myself that I was a great supporting actor, never the final decision maker, in spite of my prior experience running a $580 million global business with over 400 people.” Carpenter exercises her confidence muscle by pushing herself into uncomfortable situations on a regular basis. “Both success and failure contribute to muscle growth, ” she explains, “My mom-in-law has a saying, ‘Fly into the teeth of the shark.’ I remind myself of that every day!”

3. Speak up in the first 15 minutes of a meeting.
Alison Wagonfeld, Vice President of Marketing at Google and a former venture capitalist, was used to being one of the only women in the room. For her, speaking up early on in meetings helps her combat her fears and feel more comfortable participating in the conversation. “In group discussions, like board meetings and investment team meetings, I try to speak up in the first fifteen minutes,” she says. “If I get involved in the discussion early, I feel more confident contributing throughout.”

4. Get a pep talk from your peeps.
Karen Catlin, a former vice president of Adobe Systems and advocate for women in tech, relies on what she calls her “myth-busting posse” – her husband, good friends, and trusted co-workers – “to stop her impostor syndrome in its tracks.” “These are the people I can be vulnerable with, those I confide in when I’m lacking confidence,” she explains. “They help me check my insecurities at the door by reminding me of past accomplishments and why they know I’ll be great at whatever I’m struggling with.”

5. Don’t let failure stop you.
Dona Sarkar, a software engineer at Microsoft, failed her first computer science class at the University of Michigan. As one of the only women in the class, she was afraid to raise her hand and ask questions for fear that her classmates would think she was stupid. Surrounded by guys who had taken AP CS in high school and who were far ahead of her in their coding skills, she felt deflated. But she didn’t let failure stop her from pursuing her dream. “I told myself, I’m not going to let one failure hold me back,” she said. “It took me a long time to ride a bike, too. I fell off. I skinned my knees. I cried a bunch and said I’d never do it again. Then I got back on two days later and did fine.” Sarkar re-took the class, got a B+, and landed her dream job at Microsoft She discovered that exposure is the key to learning, whether it’s computer science or any field. Most people don’t grasp a concept on first try. They need to be exposed to an idea three times to fully get it. Her advice?  Try something. Fail. And do it again.

Read the full story on Forbes.

Rewriting the Playbook for Black and Brown Founders

Tinsel CEO & founder Aniyia Williams, creator of the Black and Brown Founders Project

In an exclusive interview with Aniyia Williams, CEO and founder of tech hardware startup Tinsel, we learn how she went from opera singer to tech entrepreneur, the secrets to her success as a black female founder in a predominantly white male startup world, and what she hopes to achieve with the Black and Brown Founders Project, a 2-day conference for black and Latino/a entrepreneurs that debuted in San Francisco this week.  Read the whole story on Forbes.


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.


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

November 17, 2016

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

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.

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

February 16, 2016

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.


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.

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

October 19, 2015

sam and telle
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.