Being a young woman in tech has its problems. I heard about the issues before joining the tech scene and experienced them first-hand on multiple occasions. During the past two and a half years in the industry, I have attended numerous events where I was one of only a handful of women. The events had plenty of beer, foosball tables galore and anything else that enticed men. I found this to be frustrating because I felt that I didn't have people to relate to and the conversation was often very male-biased.
The founder of my company, Paolo Gaudiano, was very aware of this issue and the way it made me feel. To counter balance this, he started sending me to women empowerment events. While I found these events to be interesting and I met a lot of really amazing people, I always left with an empty feeling in my stomach. Where were the men? At certain events men were on the panel, which was great, but there was still a lack of men in the audience. The themes at many women-only conferences rarely changed. Stats were thrown out proving that having women founders and in executive positions is good for business, women have different issues to face then men (family, raising kids), women don't have enough confidence, they don't ask for enough and the list goes on. All of these points are valid and need to be addressed but the ideal audience should consist of not only women but men as well. We have seen great progress for women over the years but there is still room for improvement.
I am not knocking women-only events; they have their time and place and absolutely have their benefits, like women being able to express themselves in an environment that they feel comfortable and safe in. But if we want to progress and truly raise the power and voice of women, we must include men in the conversation! When the pendulum swings too far in any direction, problems arise. Having both men and women weigh in and provide feedback allows for a representation of different values. In a recent blog post about "The Rise of the Female Founder," Boris Wertz wrote: "Gender diversity, as with diversity of any kind, results in a fuller range of ideas, perspectives, and approaches to problems." This same mentality should be applied to events and conferences as well.
It is possible to talk about women's issues and showcase potent, successful women without having a women-only event. A perfect example of this was at Orrick's Total Access Panel Event this past April. The panel was full of hard-hitting, well-known women but not once was the event referred to as a women's event. The agenda did not mention that it was a women's panel (you could infer as much by looking at the list of speakers) but instead focused on the real issues that companies (of all genders) face like customer acquisition and building successful startup/corporate cultures. And guess what, this strategy worked! The event had the highest RSVPs to date for their NYC program with over 500 registered attendees and best of all, the turnout was almost exactly 50/50 men and women. This event should be used as an example for the future.
I am all for the progression of women in the workplace and the biggest advocate for women empowerment. I look forward to the day women founders, executives, and board members are no longer the exception but rather the norm.