Great question- posed by Claire Cain Miller of the NY Times to start a group interview of Gina Bianchini (Co-Founder & CEO, Ning), Monica Morse (Board member, Astia), Rashmi Sinha (Co-Founder & CEO, Slideshare), Cindy Padnos (Founder & CEO. Illuminate Ventures and author of the well-researched white paper High Performance Entrepreneurs: Women in High Tech), Karen Watts (Founder & CEO, Corefino), Anu Shukla (Founder & CEO, OfferPal), Nina Bhatti (Principal Scientist, HP), Telle Whitney (CEO, Anita Borg Institute) and me.
The broader question really was why aren’t there more women entrepreneurs in technology. Given how many high tech firms have succeeded because of venture backing, the role of VCs is intricately related. While there were differences in opinions on a variety of topics, the attendees generally agreed on a few key things. First and foremost: there are not yet enough women entrepreneurs in technology. We need a critical mass for people to see women as likely technology entrepreneurs. The same tech business is more likely to be funded if attributed to a man than to a woman because men are perceived/assumed to be more successful in this area. This is often (usually) an unconscious bias. [Some orchestras obscure auditioning musicians from being seen by the conductor and other judges to avoid unconscious prejudice against women players.]
Numbers are also an issue in terms of role models. The more frequently girls see women as tech entrepreneurs, the easier it is for them to see themselves in those roles and the more likely they’ll prepare themselves accordingly. Similarly, VC firms with women partners were more likely to fund women entrepreneurs- whether or not the women partners were involved in the particular decision. Why? Because the inclusion of women at the partner rank meant these firms saw women as being adept at running businesses.
It was interesting to note that most of the Founder/CEO women in the room came from liberal arts, not technology, backgrounds. In each case, the woman had a vision of what should or could be done and worked with someone else (often the co-founder) to translate that into a technology solution. Sort of like Steve Jobs -the visionary- starting Apple with Steve Wozniak- the techie that made it happen.
There’s lots more to report- but I’ll leave that to Claire Cain Miller.