On Women in Silicon Valley
Looking for Silicon Valley’s best and brightest emerging leaders in tech? Look no further than downtown San Mateo’s Hero City at Draper University.
The entrepreneur institute’s co-working space recently hosted the Valley’s leading women in tech for a frank discussion on that very topic. KQED’s Rachael Myrow moderated the event “On Women in Silicon Valley” with panelists, including:
- Sukrutha Bhadouria of Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners
- Meera Kaul of Germanium Ventures
- Laura Kolodny of Aspect Ventures
- Priyanka Shetty of YouNoodle
- Laura Weidman Powers of CODE2040
In a wide-ranging conversation on the life and times of being female and hitting it big in the Valley, the power panel talked about what it takes to get there and how to inspire the future women-in-tech globally to also reach for the stars.
Myrow kicked it off with the “bold assumption” that “Smarts don’t come with a gender” and posed the question: “In forward-thinking California, we sing the praises of women, so why is it that women are so under-represented” in the epicenter of the technology revolution?
The sold-out event attracted a diverse audience: From young, hoodie-wearing Millennial males to seasoned businesswomen and a wide array of Draper students with laptops. The room was buzzing with energy and rarely-told stories. The panelists recounted some cringe-worthy encounters with gender-discrimination along with anecdotes indicating a more subtle bias.
Laura Weidman Powers was the first out of the gate, discussing how subtly the gender-bias can emerge. Weidman Powers is CEO of CODE2040, a nonprofit that aims to create opportunities for top Black and Latino/a engineering talent in the innovation economy. “I’m the CEO, but it’s often assumed the man sitting next to me is the CEO,” she recounted.
The two VC panelists noted that it’s tough to crack the “old-boy” network in venture capital. “Men tend to share the deal with men pretty frequently,” noted Laura Kolodny, adding that only 4% of VCs are women.
Meera Kaul of Germanium Ventures had encountered blatant sexism as a successful businesswoman. “’Did you have a rich divorce?’” was one male VC’s response upon first learning of Kaul’s resources.
In discussing employment practices that rely on “culture fit” to explain away hiring biases, Weidman Powers quipped, “You’re in business to solve problems, not necessarily just to ‘hang with your friends.’”
And the panelists, being a group of strong problem-solvers themselves, were not all doom and gloom on the topic of gender or racial bias in technology. Etsy was offered up as a case-study in success. The crafting platform’s research revealed that, while their customer-base was largely female, their staff was male-dominated. Through a dedicated diversity plan that included examining its resume review processes when interviewing candidates, Etsy corrected course. Their staff is now 51% female. While their goals are not fully attained, the company stands out among its heavyweight tech counterparts.
Emboldened by leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg, the panelists were optimistic about the future for women in tech. “That’s why I love ‘Lean In,’” said Sukrutha Bhadouria. “You have to push yourself.”
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