Blog - Geek Girl Rising


Geek Girls Workin’ It Coast to Coast

Sam with Jamie Corley and Kristen Koh Goldstein

With Sam in the Bay Area and Heather in New York, Team GGR has been busy, busy, busy! We started off the week with a reading and panel in Sam’s neck of the woods: Book Passage Corte Madera. Friends and family enjoyed a discussion and a demo of some of the cool tech toys for girls we feature in Chapter 7 of the book. Speakers 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 engineeringSee more here.

Then, it was off to Nashville for Heather and a reunion with some of the managing partners of The JumpFund, the Chattanooga-based investment firm featured in Chapter 3.  The fund invests in women-led tech startups from across the Southeast. Heather had the pleasure of sharing the mission of the book at their “Women Investing in Women” cocktail party where she met female angel investors and entrepreneurs from Memphis, Knoxville and Atlanta.

Women Investing In Women

And the next morning, she moderated an incredible panel at Launch Tennessee’s 36:86 tech and startup conference, addressing the growth of tech and entrepreneurial hubs far away from Silicon Valley and WHY that can be a boon to diverse founders.  Among the rock star line up: Lori Feinsilver, head of corporate responsibility for the investment bank, UBS and the architect behind Rent the Runway Foundation’s Project Entrepreneur, the pitch competition, accelerator and summit for female founders; Leslie Miley, chief engineer of Slack, who also runs Venture for America’s program that matches tech execs with cities that have burgeoning startup hubs like Detroit and Baltimore; and Nick Smoot, founder of Mountain Man Ventures and the Innovation Collective, a boot camp to help communities stimulate local businesses and recruit local talent. Their advice to founders outside of the Valley? Don’t chase funding. First find champions in your own backyard who can help you build the fundamentals of your business first. And, recognize the distinct advantages to building a company outside of the “group think” of SV.  Lots of food for thought.

Heather with Nick Smoot, Lori Feinsilver and Leslie Miley at 36:86 in Nashville

Later in the week,  Heather was honored to be featured in a live interview with Grown and Flown‘s Mary Dell Harrington while Sam was interviewed on Femgineer, the web interview show hosted by its founder Poornima Vijayashanker. We kicked off our Coach of the Month series with ELLE, CSPAN’s Book TV featured GGR and our very first book talk and finally, GGR capped off a fun week with Heather’s fireside chat at the Rye Free Reading Room on Thursday night!

And there’s more to come! Heather will be speaking at the BooksNJ Festival on Sunday, June 11th at the Paramus Public Library. Team GGR will reunite on the West Coast next week with events at Visa, Google and Facebook!  It’s been whirlwind and we are ever so grateful to our friends and family for all of your support.

Thank you!

Heather and Sam


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.

What a Launch!


Well, our book celebrated its birthday this week and we were overwhelmed by all of the love you sent our way. Thank you for making this occasion a special one for us co-authors and for all of the people who helped make the project a reality.

With Sam in from San Francisco, our big week in New York was packed with events and media interviews. One of the coolest things that happened was getting to listen to the new Geek Girl Rising trivia game on the Google Home, powered by Google Assistant!  Check out the video above.

Fireside chat with Jane Francisco, Editor-in-Chief, Good Housekeeping

We also had the honor to speak to dozens and dozens of women in technology, entrepreneurship and law this week. From a book talk at IAC Apps and Vimeo to a Lean In lunch with the women’s organization at law firm Simpson Thacher& Barlett to our fireside chat with the amazing Jane Francisco, Editor-in-Chief of Good Housekeeping at our book party (co-hosted by GH, Perkins Coie, Civic Hall and Sofia Coppola Rose),  the reaction to our message and mission was energizing.

Our culminating NYC event,  presenting at Google on Thursday afternoon to a crowd of Googlers and members of the Harvard Business School Women’s Alumni Association of Greater New York, could not have been more exciting.

Fireside chat at Google
Fireside chat at Google

In addition to a fireside chat about GGR, we also were honored to host a dynamite panel of leading women in entrepreneurship and venture finance. Tiffany Pham, founder and CEO of Mogul; Kay Koplovitz, cofounder and managing director of Springboard Accelerator and Springboard Fund; and Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten, weighed in on the ups and downs of leading a startup and what it takes to be successful. Persistence, focus on solving a problem and always being open to learning new things were key takeaways and we are grateful for their willingness to share their wisdom with the packed audience.

We had some cool media coverage this week, including a great interview on Yahoo Finance and were featured in Glamour magazine! WATCH US on Good Morning America on MONDAY 5/29 in the 8:30 half hour when we unveil the top toys to inspire a new generation of Geek Girls!!

Thanks again to everyone who helped us get to this point – especially our husbands and children. It was a long road and we are grateful!

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


LISTEN: Preview the GGR Audio Book!

One of the fun things we got to do to prepare for the publication on May 23 was to narrate the audio book. We have just a few days left until Geek Girl Rising hits the streets and along with Kindle and hard cover options, we are psyched to let you know about the audio version. We just got the chance to take a listen and are excited to share it here with you.  Enjoy!

WATCH: Geek Girl Power in Action!

In preparation for the big book launch on May 23, we gathered a few of the hundreds of women we’ve interviewed through the years to talk about the code among women in tech to help each other advance.  The result is this uplifting video that really portrays the spirit of Geek Girl Rising — and also includes some of the cool early accolades the book received.

Thank you to our stars: Tanya Van Court, Ayna Agarwal, Adda Birnir, Diana Murakhovskaya, and Natalia Oberti Noguera for taking the time for Heather and Sam to interview you on-camera. We are grateful to Nadine Gilden of Curious Light, who created the beautiful graphics, Andrew Schutzman for editing the piece, Tommy Hawkins for videography and also to WeFest, WOC Tech Chat, and the Anita Borg Institute/Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing for the beautiful images that reflect the diversity and energy of the landscape of amazing people succeeding in technology.  Oh – and that funky track is by Polyrhythmics. Thank you, all!!

Geek Girl Rising Hits The Apollo & WOW Festival This Sunday!

Our children and their insatiable appetite for all things tech sparked some of the initial ideas for Geek Girl Rising. Heather has tween twins: a boy and girl.  Sam has four children: two teenaged boys, a teen girl and another daughter in elementary school.

Over the years we worked on this project together, we lamented the lack of computer science education in our suburban school districts on opposite coasts and the dearth of after school classes and camps that offered programming.  So much has changed in five years — but there is much still work to be done to reach ALL children and to expose them to the tech skills they’ll need for 21st century careers.

The search for new role models to inspire our girls and boys to think of themselves as the builders and inventors of the future drove us early on in our reporting process. We learned about the efforts inside public schools, by inventors and entrepreneurs and by non-profit organizations to smash stereotypes about coding and engineering and to ignite kids’ and especially, girls’ imaginations around their potential to be creators and problem solvers.
This is one of the reasons we spent years following the trajectory of Debbie Sterling’s company, GoldieBlox, and why she figures so prominently in the book.

So it is a true privilege to be able to continue the conversation and to share the knowledge we gleaned from leaders who are on the front lines advocating for gender equality in tech — but also those fighting to close the digital divide in underserved communities. We are thrilled to take part in the WOW Festival THIS Sunday, May 7th.  The Women of the World Festival is a FREE event at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem celebrating female thought leaders, creators and performers.  We’re proud to lead the discussion called Digital Dames: The Future of Women and Girls in Tech.

Speakers include tech education advocate and Geek Girl Aruna Prasad; Sonya Magett, founder of Code and Content Academy, a non-profit that provides free training in computer science to youth in undeserved communities; Alex Tosti, co-founder of the e-textiles crafting company, Blink Blink; and Opeyemi Olukemi, senior director, Interactive at the Tribeca Film Institute.  Please join us at 6PM for a conversation and Q&A.

We hope to see you!! We’ll be signing books at 4PM, too!



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.

Launching A Book is Like Launching a Startup

Hot off the press!

Writing a book is an entrepreneurial endeavor but promoting it and pushing it out into the world is truly like running an early stage venture.  There’s too much to do and not enough time and resources and yet so much passion for this project on our team. It’s all hands on deck 24/7 East Coast and West.  Our families are feeling it so please let us take this opportunity to say thank you to our husbands and children for supporting us in this crunch time. Please know we love you even if we are still answering email at 11pm.

The good news is that the hard work is paying off and this was a HUGE week for us at Geek Girl Rising.

First off, the physical books arrived at the St. Martin’s Press offices! Editor Vicki Lame snapped this photo as soon as they arrived. Thank you!!

Next, Heather spent the bulk of her week narrating the audio book in Manhattan and happily reliving her broadcaster days in the booth.  

Reading the book aloud actually felt more reminiscent of the years she competed on the speech team in high school rather than reading a news story.  Heather spent her teen years competing in the “serious prose” category in which she had to change her intonation to make the voices of the “characters” come to life and that’s a bit like what narrating the book entailed. Coached along by supportive producer and engineer Matie Agiropolous, Heather found that recording a book takes a tremendous amount of focus and work.  After the first day,  and reading 100 pages, she was told to rest her voice and drink tea with honey.

Heather and Matie worked on it over three days and in about 12 hours (with breaks) they managed to get through all seven chapters. The audio book will be released on May 23 with all other editions of GGR.   We hope you like it!

And if narrating the audio book wasn’t thrilling enough, we were humbled to receive two fantastic shout outs in the press this week.  The Wall Street Journal named GGR one of the books to read for geeks this spring and Marie Claire dedicated a whole page to some of the female tech bosses in the book.

Finally, we got serious about our pre-order campaign and kicked off a fun bonus giveaway to anyone who pre-orders the book.  We’ll send you an autographed book plate and two adorable laptop decals.  Please pre-order and help us spread the word! Thank you!

Preorder Giveaway Decals & Book Plate

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.


Geek Girl Rising Goes Hollywood

Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, Co-Executive Producers, Milojo

When we began researching this book starting in 2011, we had one big goal in mind: to share the untold stories of enterprising women forging a new path in the male-dominated world of technology.  Imagine our delight and surprise when we learned last fall that our project had caught the attention of talk show host, actress and TV producer Kelly Ripa, her husband, actor and TV producer Mark Consuelos and their team at Milojo productions.

We are delighted to share with you some big, big, big news: GGR has been optioned by Milojo as part of its overall deal with ABC Studios to develop the book into a scripted TV series!  Kelly,  Mark and Albert Bianchini will executive produce the project, along with Michael Halpern, Milojo’s manager of development.   Variety broke the story on Friday.

After reading an early copy of the manuscript, here’s what Kelly had to say:

“I don’t know much about tech, but I do know that these pioneer women are pretty dope.  Geek Girl Rising gives a much needed voice to the fearless women paving an important path in the tech world, while forming a lasting sisterhood along the way.”

Thank you to all of the women we interviewed for the book who shared their hopes and dreams and day to day lives with us.  We hope the visibility of women in tech and entrepreneurship that we aspired to accomplish with the book will only grow exponentially with this amazing opportunity.  And a huge shout out goes to our publisher, St. Martin’s Press, our ever supportive agent, Lisa Leshne of The Leshne Agency , her fantastic colleague, Elizabeth Newman at CAA and attorney Andrew Hurwitz at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC.  Go Team Geek Girl Rising!!

Why Did We Write Geek Girl Rising?

Writing a book is a labor of love.  It takes grit, discipline and passion. We spent more than five years digging into the stories of the “sisterhood shaking up tech” from coast to coast. We had no idea where it would go. But we knew in our hearts there was an important message we just had to share.  And we are so proud to bring it to you on May 23, 2017!

Please preorder your copy now.  And watch this video to find out more about Heather and Sam and what lit our fire to work so long and hard to make Geek Girl Rising a reality.



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.


Geek Girl Rising Debuts at SXSW ’17

Austin, Texas was hopping this week for SXSW (South by Southwest), the annual film, music and tech conference that draws attendees from around the world. Geek Girl Rising was there, on the ground, soaking up live music, eating shrimp and grits, and “soft” launching our upcoming book, Geek Girl Rising, which comes out on May 23. It was exhilarating to read from our book for the first time in front of an enthusiastic crowd! One audience member told us that he got teary-eyed when we heard about the many amazing opportunities available for women and girls in the technology world today and how excited he was to introduce his two young daughters to the host of strong female role models featured in our book. The day before our talk, Shelley Zalis and The Girls’ Lounge hosted a Geek Girl Rising panel in which Shelley, entrepreneurs Maci Peterson, Jill Richmond and Sarah Kunst joined angel investor Adam Quinton to discuss the funding crunch for female startup founders and how more women can help by becoming angel investors. Thanks you for the opportunity to share our book and our mission!  You can pre-order Geek Girl Rising today.

How This Roboticist Invented Her Dream Job

RockPaperRobot’s Jessica Banks with Geek Girl Rising’s Heather Cabot in Brooklyn 2015

One of our favorite parts of researching Geek Girl Rising has been the chance to look under the hood at some of the most interesting businesses and meet the geniuses behind them. On a chilly morning in November 2015, we ventured to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and into the workshop of scientist and MIT-trained roboticist Jessica Banks, founder and CEO of RockPaperRobot.  Jessica’s company designs and engineers “kinetic” furniture and home accessories that incorporate movement through the principles of physics.  Pieces like the “float table,” made out of “magnetized” cubes that levitate, tease the brain with its shape and functionality.

Jessica says her brainstorms come from everywhere – especially living and working in New York City.  But it was a dramatic change in her eyesight as a teenager that made her look at the world differently. She told us she suffered a two week period of blindness as a high school junior and when her sight returned, she developed acute peripheral vision, as well as a form of convergence dyslexia that made it hard to focus on reading.  It led her to spend more time on her math and science schoolwork.

“I gravitated more and more to the physics and the math books because they were easier to read since I could look at patterns. It was harder to read a block of history or prose, because if I looked up, I didn’t know where I was.  But if I got distracted and looked up when I [was] reading something from a math or science book, there was space, italics, numbers and letters,” she recalled.

Her unique vision led her to study physics at the University of Michigan with the goal of one day going into space.  But it was a chance viewing of the 1997 documentary, “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control,” which profiles the remarkable careers of a lion tamer, a topiarist, an expert in hairless rats and MIT roboticist Rodney Brooks that led her to apply to MIT where she eventually earned a PhD and even worked in Brooks’s lab.

“At MIT, as part of our robotics training, I learned how to do a lot of machining, and it became my favorite thing. When I learned how to machine metal, it was like, ‘Wow, you can take this thing that I thought before was impenetrable…and I realized that I could transform this thing and I was like, “I can make or break anything in the world.’ It was, basically, like I learned how to use my hands again or for the first time,” she told us as we marveled at the robotic chandelier and the “Brag” table, shaped like a diamond, that appeared to balance on its point.

RockPaperRobot’s latest project is the Ollie chair, a “shapeshifting” chair that folds up to save space inspired in part by tiny NYC living spaces.  Jessica and her team recently launched a campaign on Kickstarter to fund the production.

“I have notebooks everywhere and pieces of paper, ” Jessica told us of how she keeps track of all of ideas.  Then she and the team “play” with the elements. “There’s the initial stage of working out mechanisms where we work with Legos or foam and hot glue and really simple things to just see, “Well, how could this work?,” she explained.

As both an artist and entrepreneur, the woman who once also worked as a comedy writer for Al Franken and whose career followed an admittedly “curvy path,”  divides her time between dreaming up new projects and the nuts and bolts of running the business.   Doing what she loves keeps her going as well as the knowledge that she is owning her future.

“You don’t have to know exactly what you want to be when you grow up. You can create that thing. This didn’t exist as a job, right?” she said with a smile.  “I think it’s important to say this didn’t just happen to us, especially for a woman, but to say we made this thing happen and we can make bigger things happen, because of what we do.”

Yes we can!

Geek Girl Rising TV: Success Secrets From the CEO of CLEAR

For Caryn Seidman Becker, CEO of CLEAR, the biometric technology company that strives to make security seamless in an age of extreme caution, hard work and constantly asking hard questions is how she succeeded in some of the most male-dominated professions: finance, aviation and technology.

“Life is a puzzle. It is a maze and you have to want to be persistent…and have absolute passion for what you are doing,”  the New York City based executive told Geek Girl Rising’s Heather Cabot when we sat down with her in her office.

“[A] ‘no’ isn’t a ‘no.’ It is an opportunity to learn and grow,” the mother of three said.  We met in late January, the day before CLEAR’s kiosks would go on-line at LaGuardia Airport, bringing the total availability of its service to 21 airports and nearly 1 million subscribers.  In her professional life, she has often gravitated to a road less traveled for women. She co-founded the billion dollar asset management fund Arience Capital, which invested in Apple and Priceline as turnarounds.  The work fed her constant desire to find a “diamond in the rough. ” When she bought CLEAR out of bankruptcy in 2010, it was similar challenge.

“[I’m] always trying to think ahead [about] where the road is going in five to ten years and that means you are not playing for what’s now but for what will be,” she told us.

More in our sit-down interview!




Former Zynga VP Finds a Home in Hollywood

Silicon Valley collides with Tinseltown in the story of Maureen Fan, the trailblazing CEO of one of the few virtual reality animation studios. This is a woman who loves storytelling as much as she loves technology and spent her twenties trying to find a way to finally combine it all while pursuing her dream job: making animated films.  After a successful run at Zynga, Fan launched Baobab Studios in July 2015.

She is truly a Geek Girl Rising who defies labels as both a “techie” and a “creative.”  We got the inside scoop on how she launched on the eve of the premiere of “Asteroids!,” her latest VR project at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.  Thanks Maureen for sharing your story with us.  More on Forbes


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, 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

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.

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

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.

#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

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.

Geek Girl Rising: Inside The Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech



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