Feature Story

Women in Technology Seeing Gains

by Laurence Cruz

Men may still outnumber women in the technology world, but many female tech entrepreneurs report a groundswell of support from a growing network of mentors, advisers and investors.

If there were barriers to women entering the U.S. technology industry, you wouldn't have guessed it at a recent Social Media Week event in Los Angeles.

Dedicated to women in technology, the event was packed with young female entrepreneurs eager to pitch an impressive array of startups, from mobile apps and digital rewards programs to online dating sites. Anecdotally at least, the wind of change seems to be blowing in favor of female tech entrepreneurs.

"Every day there are more and more people encouraging women to get out there and achieve their goals," says Rebecca Ordoñez, CEO of a startup called PlanHop, a mobile app that lets users build and share multi-stop social plans with other people in their city. "The playing field is still a little uneven, especially if you want to have a child, but it's getting better."

Women in technology today can get support from a growing network of advisors and mentors through organizations such as Girls in Tech, Ladies Who Launch, PyLadies, Women 2.0 and 85 Broads, to name a few. And some of those at the Los Angeles event said the number of venture capitalists focused on investing in women is on the rise.

"It's awesome that there's so much interest and support," says Sarah McKinney, founder and CEO of a startup called AMP, a collaborative bookmarking site and file exchange for sustainability champions.

A Male-Dominated Industry

For all that, men overwhelmingly still rule the tech world. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, women held only one quarter of computing jobs in the 2011 U.S. workforce and just one-fifth of CIO positions at Fortune 250 companies in 2012. Women's representation in the U.S. computing and IT workforce, as well as in undergraduate computer science education, has been on the decline since it peaked in the mid-1980s.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize there are a lot more guys than girls in technology," says Anna Sergeeva, CEO and co-founder of Planana, a startup that enables event organizers to reward attendees for spreading word of an event.

In the startup arena, there's mixed news for women. First, the bad news: According to a recent analysis by Dow Jones VentureSource of more than 20,000 venture-backed companies in the U.S. between 1997 and 2011, less than 7 percent of executives holding top positions were women. That's less than half the number of women who are board members and corporate officers of Fortune 500 companies.

On the plus side, the study found successful startups have more women in senior positions than unsuccessful ones, with more than twice as many women in top jobs like C-level managers, vice presidents and board members.

Swimming Upstream

Other studies suggest a range of factors may play into this gender inequality, from different basic attitudes toward computers among the sexes, to different interest levels in computer science among high schoolers, to a degree of gender stereotyping among educators and others—some of which persists today.

Tech entrepreneur Phoenix Gonzalez says she has a triple-whammy of bias to overcome—being not just a woman, but also an African American "who is older than (Facebook co-founder and CEO) Mark Zuckerberg."

"I definitely feel those things when I walk into a meeting," says Gonzalez, co-founder and head of business development for Dotstudioz, a startup that creates tools and workflows to deploy and monetize video content across multiple distribution platforms.

And for many women, the childbearing issue is a persistent reality.

"I've had a lot of investors ask me, ‘Are you married?'" says Patricia Dao, managing director of the Los Angeles chapter of Girls in Tech and an entrepreneur whose social rewards platform startup, VoxBloc, was acquired by Dominion Enterprises. "They would make comments about having kids soon."

A Shifting Landscape

So what's a girl to do?

They might take heart from the fact that not all investors fit into the ol' boys' club mold. According to Stephen Block, an angel investor and venture partner in K5 Launch, there's a growing population of investors that are more open to women.

"A lot of younger men are just more comfortable around women," Block says. "They've worked with women in the workplace, they've reported to women in corporations. They don't resent it, they're not intimidated, and the women don't get intimidated by them."

Furthermore, Block says, women entrepreneurs often bring something to the table that men don't. They're better listeners, they're eager learners, they're often smarter and they're more driven to succeed, he says.

"There's not as much ego," Block says. "They've generally felt they had to work harder to get where they are, and therefore they're more focused. I prefer working with women for a lot of reasons."

And the childbearing question?

Block says it's one of numerous other unpredictables and therefore does not really matter. "A man could get sick, a man could lose interest, a man could have a breakdown," he says. "There are so many variables that asking if you're married and if you're going to have a baby is, in my opinion, stupid!"


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