L’Oréal, New Coalition, & Others Seek Increased Role for Women in Tech

6/3/13Follow @jpruth

Campaigns to elevate the presence of women in technology have sprung up of late in New York, and one of the latest efforts was last week’s formation of the NY Tech Meetup: Coalition for Women in Technology. Co-founded by NY Tech Meetup, Control Group, and Girl Develop It, the new alliance wants to raise awareness among women in the city about education and career opportunities in the local innovation community.

The group also boasts a lineup of partners including Girls Who Code, NY Tech Women, Women Innovate Mobile, Per Scholas, Hack n Jill, and Change the Ratio/TheLi.st.

At its heart, the new coalition wants to address the imbalance of women who have knowledge and skills, yet make up a small minority in the city’s tech scene. When the alliance announced its formation, it presented a case for change by citing a report from the New York City Economic Development Corp. Nearly 40 percent of women in New York hold bachelor’s degrees in science, engineering, and related fields, according to the report, yet women hold only about 8 percent of the tech and scientific jobs in the city. About 18 percent of startups in New York have women founders.

The coalition plans to address this issue by creating a website to house information about education and networking opportunities in technology for women in New York.

Others with separate yet similarly themed efforts have also sought to highlight the roles women play in tech innovation—and the need to expand their presence. The recent Internet Week New York festival, for example, hosted a variety of discussions about this topic. Rachel Weiss, vice president of digital strategy and marketing for L’Oréal, and Natalie Zmuda, editor with Advertising Age, had a fireside chat on increasing the roles women have in developing technology.

The implications of not including more women in tech innovation, Weiss said, extend far beyond the beauty industry. “If you’re not properly speaking [through technology] to your female customers, then you’re going to lose your customers,” she said.

L’Oréal, Weiss said, has been examining what innovation looks like from a “go-to-market” perspective and saw a need for change. “We started to think about how women are our core customers, yet we’re not seeing a lot of women in technology-related fields,” she said. “There’s a huge gap and that became an area of focus for us.”

She said her company, which has its U.S. headquarters in New York, wants to develop new ways to connect with consumers, particularly women. “Who is going to create that path for women who are so engaged with technology, who spend the most amount of time online, who make purchasing decisions—especially in the beauty space?” she asked. “If we don’t figure this out, this is going to be a big problem for L’Oréal.”

The company, she said, wants to address this issue internally as well as inspire young women to consider careers in technology.

One of the steps, Weiss said, included last year’s launch of the L’Oréal Women in Digital program. The company had previously created an innovation fund to drive experimentation with L’Oréal brands, which unwittingly demonstrated a disparity in the tech sector. “We had over 99 companies come through the door [to participate],” Weiss said. “Less than 5 percent of them were operated by women.”

That raised questions about why more women were not in the room, she said. “It became an issue of convincing male executives at the top that this was important to L’Oréal,” Weiss said. In 2012, the company focused on getting more women to join the effort to experiment with L’Oréal’s brands.

“This year we’re very focused on encouraging the next generation and announced a partnership with Girls Who Code,” Weiss said, “spending more time with our women in IT group, and working with high school students.”

Girls Who Code is a New York nonprofit that launched one year ago with a goal of offering computer science education to 1 million young women by 2020. The organization plans to expand its program into Detroit, San Francisco, and San Jose this year. Weiss’s company is sponsoring young women to participate in this summer’s program.

L’Oréal also plans to award three women-led tech startups this year with the opportunity to work on a case study with the cosmetics maker as part of its Women in Digital initiative. “We want to fund women entrepreneurs, girls who want to go to school and study this, and encourage them to not only create a pipeline for innovation into our company, but a pipeline of talent into our IT and digital teams,” Weiss said.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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