Over the course of this semester, I have been struck by how incredible innovation and technology are, and have envisioned how impactful the digitization of so many industries can be to the efficiency of our society. It’s so easy for me to get on board with disruptive tech, to see all the benefits that innovation has. However, as last week’s topic brought to my attention a a potentially negative societal impact, 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 BC offers that combines Philosophy, Theology, and a weekly 10 hour commitment to community service. One of the biggest themes I took away from my experience in this class was, in an oversimplified explanation, that success comes from the fact 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 nature of 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 and ensured a high quality of life, I couldn’t help but wonder at the end of the discussion is where to the women fit into this – 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 TechTrek. Out of all of the executives we met with, an incredibly small percentage were women. This reality can be showcased even 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 horses—. 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.”
What is incredibly disheartening is that the trend of having a lack of women in such a prominent, growing field is that it does not seem to be 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 reduces diversity of opinions and provides obstacles for women innovators have to face in order for their products, especially if targeted towards women, need to over come in order to get their ideas out in
society – 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 this week a video that highlights 3 women innovators and they spoke to their difficulty in communicating the value of their products and services to the “boys club” in Silicon Valley. 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! Lets 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.