girls in tech


TechCrunch, TitStare and a Tale of Two Silicon Valleys

This weeks spectacular display of bad taste by TechCrunch Disrupt has lit up the Twittersphere with more analysis of how hostile tech is for women. In case you missed it, TechCrunch Disrupt opened with not one, but two awful presentations (awful unless you are a teenage boy). An app designed so you can capture people staring at other people’s breasts, TitStare, and a demonstration of on stage masturbation (male masturbation of course), with an iPhone app counting the number of times you can shake your iPhone in 10 seconds. We have such a long history of bro-dom in tech, and such a lot of material, that the Atlantic has written a poem to it.

What I find so bizarre about this week’s particular brand of puerile presentation is that it is still going on. Are these guys living in a time warp?  Do they actually work in Silicon Valley or not? Twenty years ago I would have expected it, but not today!

In the real Silicon Valley today most people are so busy building products, users and revenue they don’t have time to make fun of women, or their breasts. If it doesn’t make me money, leave it out. Enterprise software is back in fashion, the Cloud and Mobility are turning the world on it’s ear – who has time for sexism any more?

In the real-world of Silicon Valley now we have strong sexual discrimination laws. Woe betide you if you work for a real company and you harass a female employee or create a hostile environment. And if you work for a real company pay attention – you can get fired in the blink of an eye if you put the company at risk by hitting on the women you work with, or worse yet who work for you.

In the real-world of tech we have more and more women in power – Meg Whitman and Marissa Mayer and Ginni Rometty and Christy Wyatt and Mary Meeker and Theresia Gouw and Arianna Huffington and many more, including me… and I sure hope the tech frat boys are smart enough to keep their breast interests outside of our offices.

In the real-world of tech we have women changing the way we think about sex. Cindy Gallop is changing the world through sex and challenging the way we even think about sex in today’s society. As she posted in Facebook “You’re absolutely right TitStare doesn’t get a thumbs up from me”. But in contrast the boys of Hacker News defended TitStare with “I don’t see the problem. Pornography is perfectly legal and big business.” At least they equated it to porn, which it is, but pretty boring and tasteless porn.

Two contrasting views of how tech power views women have been emerging for the last 10 years and there are two Silicon Valleys – two worldviews within the tech industry. First, there is the tech world 95% of us live in. Intense work on powerful technology, long hours, explosive markets, serious investors, growing revenue and creating long lasting products and customer engagement. Some gender bias in graduating degrees (yes I write often that we need more women in STEM), little gender bias in the workplace, no misogyny in the office.

And then there is the tech world that attracts press and discourse because it drives traffic — the world of the tech boy culture so perfectly captured by TitStare. But it’s rare. It’s now almost as unimaginable as a politician sending a text photo of his penis to a woman via social media — but wait, that was real too! Some people’s (lack of) intelligence boggles my mind.

But if you do run into the second tech world, the misogynistic one, and it makes you angry, remember: don’t get mad, get even. Smile and take over. Whether you are female or male, don’t tolerate the behavior and it will, eventually, die.


Three Disruptive Ideas

I love being asked to talk to groups of women or girls. Especially high school girls who are a future untapped resource for technology and so if I can move just a few of them to consider tech I’m happy.

Last week I had the opportunity to do just this at Wycombe Abbey in England. Wycombe is my alma mater and one of the top girls schools in England. Really smart kids (and definitely privileged, but that is not their fault). It was surreal for me to go back for the first time in 34 years as I had left swearing never to go back (yes, I was a terrible rebel in high school) but walking around the school and talking with staff, old friends and kids I was transported back and it was not all bad.

I took the opportunity to challenge the girls with three ideas that dramatically influence them today and will shape what future they craft for themselves. A few gasps, some embaressed laughs (yes, I said porn and pornification a few times) but overall I think they were intrigued by…

1. Software is everywhere – being able to write and understand software is as important now as being able to read and write. High school students spend on average 10 hours a day working with software, they just don’t know it.

2. You are being watched – every action you take is being stored and analyzed and this creates a fascinating area called Big Data. Understand it, tap into it and have fun with the technology. Build you own app.

3. Don’t believe what you see – women are objectified, hyper-sexualized and diminished by our media (advertising, TV and movies). Don’t buy into the stereotypes. Educate yourselves so you see it, and see through it, and then get involved in changing it – become a part of #NotBuyingIt. Yes this is where I showed some shocking images and said some shocking words, but my 16 year old niece told me afterwards it was “cool”.

A tame one from the Harrods children’s bookstore shelves February 7 2013 – hard to believe!

The rewards of taking risk – at Dreamforce 2012

I’m living in a Dreamforce whirl this week, and am reminded again and again of the importance of taking risk.

As T.S. Eliot said:

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

On the GirlyGeek panel last night – alongside of an EVP of salesforce, the CFO of Square (such a cool company), the VP running the party for 84,000 people, a very brave CEO of a salesforce consultant firm and an EloQueen – every panel member talked about the importance of taking risk. Leaning in, following the anxiety, taking on a challenge you don’t know if you can do.

Leading up to the show, my team and I came up with the idea of “Letters to Marc Benioff”, but based on the comment an SVP at one of salesforce’s competitors had said to me the first time I presented to him – he said “you had me at hello”. All about how having customer intelligence makes you more useful to your customer, and grows your revenue.

We put together the Letters tumblr on a whim, hoping to make a funny thread to bring attention to FirstRain and to my great surprise, I found not only do I get lots of positive feedback, I also enjoy writing it (yes I am the author, truly, it’s not ghost written). But it’s risky.

Daniela put together the hilarious S**t Dreamforcers Say video. She was sufficiently concerned about the risk that she didn’t tell me until it was done. She was concerned it would not work, or would be too lame. But for anyone going to the show it’s pretty funny – or as my son (who worked at FirstRain this Summer) said “Mom, you guys are SO DORKY”. No higher praise from a nerd!

And then there is the Carrot. Again feedback from a customer. Imagine an EVP of Sales, in a French-Canadian accent “Penny, you are ze carrot to my stick!”. Who knows whether our Carrot strategy will work at Dreamforce or not. It will reach it’s peak at my session on stage with Steve Kozek of GE Capital on Thursday. He’s game and has a great sense of humor. Should be fun, but it’s risky.

No one achieves great things without risk. No career grows without risk. As Sarah from Square said, you won’t grow if you are not uncomfortable in conversations with your manager. I know that if I am not feeling the anxiety in my gut I am not taking enough risk to move forward.

So onward into Dreamforce 2012. Carrots, S**t, Letters to Marc. We are going to channel T.S. Eliot and find out how far we can go in the next 72 hours.


Why Absolutely Everyone Needs To Be Software Literate

My opinion piece published in Forbes this morning…

The average American teenager spends six hours a day texting, 90 minutes a day on Facebook, and more than three hours a day watching TV on the computer – and every interface they experience and every interaction they have is being run by a software application developed by software programmers.

Teens aren’t the only ones being influenced by the vision of the geeks. On average, adults spend more than 10 hours a day intentionally interfacing with software applications and even more time interacting with less obvious apps such as those in cars, at stores and even at the movies. Today, as Marc Andreessen notes in “Software Is Eating the World,” the business of the world’s most influential companies is software.

This exponential software proliferation has set the stage for one of the most influential leadership positions in America today: the role of the software developer. Our software-driven digital world is at the beginning of a revolution that is as profound as the invention of the printing press. Are we – and more importantly, our students – aware of the impact this revolution is going to have on their ability to influence the world in the next 50 years?

For thousands of years, influence and knowledge were closely held by the intellectual elite. From Socrates’ writings on philosophy to Julius Caesar sending propaganda about his battles back to Rome to the Church using its literacy to control Europe, knowledge and influence were the privileges of the educated few. But all that changed in 1440 with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. That single – yet monumental – event democratized knowledge. Within 50 years, there were 35,000 book titles and more than 20 million books in print, and it became possible for anyone who could write to share their ideas and influence their world.

The book was the new technology that made rapid social change possible. Unless you could read and write though, you could not participate in the revolution.

We are now experiencing a revolution that is just as profound, a revolution that began 60 years ago with the computer and has been propelled forward with the microprocessor, the personal computer, software, the Internet and the great global leveler – the mobile smartphone. Software has changed the way we communicate, the way we shop, the way we listen to music, the way we create images, the way we find dates, the way we read books and watch movies, the way we work, the way our every action is stored and analyzed and the way we educate our kids. The democratizing effect of software in the Digital Age is becoming our shared experience as a species.

Software applications are changing the economic and political landscape, too. Just think about the role of mobile phones in microbusinesses in the Third World or, just last year, the role social networking software played in the uprisings of the Arab Spring. The teams who wrote the real-time social apps used to enable the Arab Spring helped change the world, and software accelerated that transformation.

I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to become an expert in C++, JavaScript or Ruby on Rails, but the ability to create algorithms and apply structured logic, whether by writing the code oneself or by learning how to use applications that translate structured logic into code, can make us all active participants in the Digital Age and the software revolution.

Unfortunately, in the United States, we are seeing a dramatic drop in technology interest. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of top-tier high school students who choose to major in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) has dropped from 29 percent to 14 percent. Equally disheartening is that the number of girls majoring in computer science has dropped since the 1970s, and girls now make up only 20 percent of computer science graduates. We’re losing a significant portion of our potential technical talent based on gender bias alone.

The truth is that anybody can learn structured logic and how to code, just as anybody can learn to read and write. And not surprisingly, the field is hot. CNNMoney just published a list of the top fast-growth jobs in America, and software developer came in at number one. It’s a high-paying gig and represents one of the fastest growing jobs around, with an estimated 32-percent growth rate over the next 10 years.

Technology, especially software, is where new U.S. jobs are being created. Students who graduate with STEM degrees will earn 26 percent more than those who don’t. By 2018 though, companies in the U.S. will be able to fill only 29 percent of the computing jobs available with students who hold bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. Companies from Wal-Mart to Disney to Apple are increasingly hungry for graduates who understand software and can think in a logical and structured way – we simply need more of them.

There is no denying that software is influencing every aspect of our lives and the information with which we are presented. So the choice for every student today is do you want to be a driver and influencer of the world around you, or do you want someone else to be in control? When I was a student, I chose math and software, and this decision has enabled me to become a tech CEO more than once. To lead a technology company, I don’t have to write code anymore, but I do have to understand it. I have to be literate in the language of the software revolution.

Technology’s impact is accelerating. It’s time to encourage every child, every student and every worker to take an interest, to understand the basics of software and computing and to be an active participant in the creation of our new software-driven world.