International Women’s Day: “How Do We Teach Our Girls to Be Brave?”

Today marks International Women’s Day, a celebration of achievements and aspirations, but the effort to bring more women to the fore in the innovation scene is year-round.

Last Friday, a pair of events in New York put the matter into perspective. Professional services company Accenture held its own International Women’s Day conference, and the annual New York University Entrepreneurs Festival convened a panel on “Getting to Equal: Women in Entrepreneurship.”

During the conference Accenture ran, Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, spoke with Paul Daugherty, chief technology officer at Accenture, in a fireside chat on the disparities and lack of gender equality in the technology industry. Girls tend to be socialized to be perfect, said Saujani (pictured above), while boys are socialized to be brave. She said it is time to change that cultural dynamic: “How do we teach our girls to be brave?”

Girls Who Code is a program headquartered in New York that encourages and helps train young women in computing and other tech skills. Saujani pointed out that some 30 years ago the industry was on the road towards more of a balance. Around that time, she said, 37 percent of computer science grads were women. “Today that number is less than 18 percent,” Saujani said.

There are women forging ahead in tech and entrepreneurship, but the community has room for many more examples, such as the founders seen at the NYU Entrepreneurs Festival.

Susan Zheng, CEO and co-founder of Planted, and Dagny Looper, CEO and co-founder of IndieLoop (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth.)

Susan Zheng, CEO and co-founder of Planted, and Dagny Looper, CEO and co-founder of IndieLoop (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth.)

Dagny Looper, CEO and co-founder of IndieLoop, Susan Zheng, CEO and co-founder of Planted, Casey Cohen, co-founder and director of hospitality at SALIDO, and Christina Anzalone, co-founder and chief product officer of startup RecoverLink, talked about some of the challenges and lessons they learned in becoming entrepreneurs. Lindsey Gray from the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute moderated the panel.

Getting past personal fears is part of being an innovator and a leader, Looper said. “When you’re the CEO and founder, you do your own talking,” she said, instead of deferring to male team members. “That came to light for me when we were pitching,” she said. “The guys on my team thought that maybe they should talk. And I was like, ‘Well, I started the company.’”

Looper will earn a master’s in May from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She already has a doctorate in astronomy from the Institute for Astronomy and a bachelor’s in astrophysics from the California Institute for Technology. While studying filmmaking at NYU, Looper said she saw filmmakers were having trouble connecting with production designers and others to work on set. That led to IndieLoop, a website for making connections in the filmmaking industry.

Zheng’s company, Planted, created a recruitment platform that matches recent graduates with high-growth companies for nontechnical positions. The idea for Planted came from her time working for Tough Mudder, where early on one of the challenges was finding the best junior-level talented professionals. Planted (previously known as Lynxsy) graduated in 2014 from Techstars NYC.

Christina Anzalone, co-founder and chief product officer of startup RecoverLink, and Casey Cohen, co-founder and director of hospitality at SALIDO (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth.)

Christina Anzalone, co-founder and chief product officer of startup RecoverLink, and Casey Cohen, co-founder and director of hospitality at SALIDO (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth.)

Cohen said SALIDO is building an operating system for the restaurant industry that combines customer relationship management, point-of-sale, inventory management, and other services.

RecoverLink’s mobile app and cloud-based software, Anzalone said, helps keep heart failure patients engaged in their care after being discharged from hospitals, to curb readmissions.

Despite their examples, there remains an overall shortage, if not downward trend, of women in tech innovation. There are various companies, programs, and organizations to encourage more women to get involved in the technology world. But it is not just that fewer women join this industry; they have also been leaving it at a higher pace compared with men.

Saujani said she is not pushing for gender parity solely for the sake of parity. “It matters to me as an American,” she said. “The reality is we have 1.4 million jobs that are open in computing and technology. Twenty-nine percent of them are … Next Page »

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