Women Rising Offers a More Intimate Approach to Tech Networking

Kate Catlin is a former Venture for America fellow and Grand Circus employee who has decided to stay in Detroit and make a go of it. Her first venture, Assemble, didn’t really pan out, so she’s onto the next project: an organization for women in business and tech called Women Rising.

Though its goal is connecting women for peer support, mentorship, and solidarity, Women Rising is not your typical business organization. Instead of hosting large networking events, Catlin said Women Rising employs an algorithm to match three female Women Rising members, according to factors like career goals and industry, for monthly “mini meetups”.

If there’s no chemistry between matches, a Women Rising participant can re-apply for a new mini-group the following month. Women Rising members can also request a mentor, with the same rules: If it’s not a great match, try a new one next month. The goal is to initiate intimate, candid conversations and build lasting relationships. It’s free to sign up online, and Catlin held a kick-off event in Detroit Wednesday night that drew more than 100 attendees.

“At big networking events, I find I never say anything real—I’m just pitching my ideas and handing out business cards,” Catlin said. “Basically, I created Women Rising for myself and my friends. I’m not worried about monetizing it right now, but we’ll see what shakes out down the road.”

Also unique to Women Rising is the idea that anyone in the network can be a mentor. “We use the algorithm to make the match, and you just have to be a little further along in your career than the woman asking the question to be a mentor,” she explained.

When Catlin first surveyed women in the local tech community to find out what they wanted from a professional organization, many said they wanted to meet people in the same industry with similar career goals. With that in mind, Women Rising won’t match someone happy being a software engineer with a hard-charging executive who is looking to smash glass ceilings. The algorithm also takes into account interests outside of work.

Where she thinks Women Rising can particularly help is in attracting more introverted women, who may shy away from the glad handing that goes on at many big networking events but be open to a closer-knit setting.

Catlin says she chose the three areas of concentration—business, startups, and technology—because those are traditionally male-dominated fields where women tend to feel isolated and outnumbered. Though she feels Detroit does a better job than Silicon Valley when it comes to being more inclusive, there are still some pretty stark statistics about the need for better mentorship in general.

A recent McKinsey report found that women fill 53 percent of entry-level positions in the biggest U.S. companies. Yet women have only 28 percent of roles at a vice president level or above, according to a similar study by Catalyst, a nonprofit research organization. Catlin also cites a 2014 survey by Bentley University on preparedness and women in the workplace, which found that 55 percent of female respondents said women-specific mentorship programs could better help female employees succeed in business and 52 percent said that women-specific networking could help female workers thrive.

“Tech, in particular, has been so male dominated for so long that people forget it’s not like most other industries,” she said. “It’s a very competitive culture, and that’s not something women typically like to be a part of. So, there aren’t many women in tech in the first place, and then they’re not encouraged to stay. My hope is if we can find that solidarity, more women will stay.”

Catlin also feels there’s an opportunity to take a more egalitarian approach in the Motor City. “Detroit has the chance, as our tech scene grows, to take a stand against that attitude—to say, ‘In this city, we’ll stand together so we’re never like Silicon Valley,’” she said.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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