Over the course of this semester, I have been struck by how incredible innovation and technology are, and have envisioned how impactful digitization can be to enhance our quality of life. It’s easy for me to get on board with disruptive tech and see all the benefits that innovation has. However, I’ve been thinking about the shortcomings of the tech/innovation space and what we as a society can do about it.
Last academic year I had the opportunity to take PULSE, one of the core classes Boston College offers that combines Philosophy, Theology, and a weekly 10 hour commitment to community service. In the course, I learned that success comes from the reality that society finds value in what you do, so it only makes sense to give back to the society that allows for your success. The tech space has curated an environment in which the Teds rule the world (please refer back to last week’s McAfee video). The shrinking middle class and the increasingly difficult life of the Bills is tough to grapple with, and the Silicon Valley/Cambridge world should be consistently discussing how to mitigate for such societal implications. While I completely agree that the Bills should be advocated for, I couldn’t help but wonder where the Jane’s are – in the hypothetical world of Teds and Bills, there is not a single mention of women or where women fit.
In addition to the lack of women in the Ted Talk, the lack of women in the tech world has struck me since participating in another favorite course, TechTrek West. Out of all of the executives my peers and I met with, an incredibly small percentage were women. This reality is showcased in the satirical “Silicon Valley” were all of the main characters are men. In a recent Business Insider Article, Alec Berg, one of the writers for the show, spoke on the backlash that the show has gotten from not highlighting many women. (http://www.businessinsider.com/silicon-valley-show-women-alec-berg-hbo-2017-4)
Berg stated, “The idea that we should somehow portray the tech business as it should be as opposed to how it is, I think is horsesh*t. What good do we serve? If the show was just 50% women, what good are we doing? We’re just masking. Part of the point of satire is to point out the flaws in reality.“
Incredibly dishearteningly, the lack of women in such a prominent, growing field is not getting much better. In a business insider article from earlier this year, it was stated that startups are seeing fewer and fewer women in leadership positions. The increase in the prominence of males in the tech industry not only limits diversity of opinions, but provides a hearty obstacle to women innovators looking for funding and executive support.
Last year, companies with all women founders only received 2% of venture capital funding, and companies with at least one woman founder only received 15% – and this statistic is not for a lack of women innovators. Many point to the fact that 93% of partners at top venture firms are men as the reason for why the number of women being funded in the start up world is so minuscule compared to their male counterparts. (Gizmodo).
I #D tweeted a video this week that highlights 3 women innovators. https://twitter.com/Gizmodo/status/930175678254759936?s=20 They spoke to their difficulty in communicating the value of their products and services to the “boys club” in Silicon Valley. Targeted towards women consumers, the products these women were seeking funding for fell short of the male executive’s threshold for perceived success. They talked to their experience of being asked different questions than they would have been asked if they were men. A trend in the VC world is that women get asked questions more along the lines of how their venture could fail, whereas men get asked questions with the perspective of how their venture could succeed. The lack of women and, more importantly, the lack of opportunities for women in the Silicon Valley driven world is fundamentally detrimental for society in its inability to provide platforms for impactful ideas, diversity of opinion in powerful positions, and opportunities for more people than merely the Teds.
I want to leave my blog on an optimistic note – people are talking about this issue. There are firms coming to fruition that dedicate themselves to the mitigation of the gender inequality that the tech world sees today. One in particular that I have learned about is X factor. Chip Hazard, a general partner at the venture firm Flybridge, has dedicated some of his time and expertise to creating a fund that is dedicated to the sole purpose of funding women. Chip states “As one of the 93% of VC partners who is male, a statistic that has actually gotten worse in my 23 years of investing, it was time to make a difference and try to bend the needle in the right direction.”
Talking about it is the first step! Let’s hope the innovation and digitization we have learned so much about over the course of the semester can lead its way into having a more positive societal impact.