Tech diversity: Empowering women in the start up scene

Tech diversity: Empowering women in the start up scene

Filmmaker Nora Poggi talks her documentary She Started It

Driven by the statistics that only 3% of tech startups are started by women, 96% of venture capitalists are men, and women receive 12% of computer science undergraduate degrees and less than 13% of VC funds, French filmmaker and tech journalist Nora Poggi set out to change the culture of the world’s fastest growing industry. As she approaches the 2016 festival circuit for her debut documentary She Started It, Poggi takes a moment to talk about the importance of empowering young girls and women to work in tech, and inspiring the industry to rally behind the cause. Support her crowd funding campaign for post-production funds here and read on for other ways to make a difference.

What is She Started It about?
She Started It is a feature length documentary film about the day-to-day lives of four women founders at various stages of their company’s development. The film follows them on the road to start-up success. Through this journey we aim to share what it takes to start a company and explore the opportunities these remarkable women have tapped into. The film also features role models in technology and entrepreneurship, and sheds light on incredible women in the US and Europe.

Tell us more about your background starting from your experience with film.
I moved from Paris to San Francisco four and a half years ago. Originally I was working for a tech company and after that I decided to stay to focus on journalism here in San Francisco. The birth of the movie was through my journalism activities and interviewing people and covering tech in Silicon Valley and noticing the lack of women in all the conferences I was going to. One day I was covering a conference by Women 2.0 about women entrepreneurs, and I saw all those women on stage and all of them were famous entrepreneurs that no one had ever heard about. That was kind of the turning point where I realized we need to spotlight women in tech who are not being talked about.

How was the reaction of the women you approached that you wanted to interview for your film?
It’s a mix. The goal was never to make a movie about why its hard to be a woman in tech and talk about horror stories. It was more about celebrating. We reached out to some women who were not comfortable talking about being a woman in tech just because they didn’t want to be pigeonholed. There’s some women who feel like they’ve made it and they don’t want to talk about being the minority because they feel like it’s limiting. I personally don’t agree with that vision although I completely understand it. I think as long as we haven’t reached parity, it’s important to kind of play the part and have this launching pad for other women to reach out to.

We need women to invest in each other and promote each other. Put your money where your mouth is.

‘What has the male response to the film been like?
Our biggest backers are dads who have worked in the tech industry, have daughters, have seen how hard it is and think, ‘Oh wow we need to do something about this.’ That’s been surprising but a good thing I guess. I know a lot of guys behind closed doors are doing things like financing media and new initiatives but they’re not really out there talking about it and I think that would make a difference. Recently I read an interview by Chris Sacca who’s one of the biggest angel investors who invested in Uber and Twitter, and he did this interview saying, ‘We need to change the way we raise our girls and the way we treat women in this industry.’ For him to come out and say that, that’s really a big statement because as much as I love men who’ve been supporting this cause, it’s important to speak out about it, especially if you have a position of power and you can actually make an impact.

Did you experience any differences in the feedback coming from American, European, or Asian entrepreneurs?
Well the feedback was the same in the sense that most entrepreneurs, men or women, are alike. Entrepreneurs have this grit and this persistence and this passion and that’s pretty much the same all across the board. In Europe there are even less women doing tech startups and they’re even more of a minority and even more in the beginning stages especially because the tech industry is even less evolved. It’s harder to find capital. European women I met never really complained at all. They’re really enthusiastic about being at the forefront of a new European entrepreneur revolution.

How do you hope that your film will translate into real world changes in the tech industry?
That’s a good question because especially here where everything is about measurable goals and data, every step of the way we have to prove ourselves to show why a movie would be worth our time to change what’s going on. I believe it’s extremely important to focus on media because some of the people I talked to were like, ‘Hey why don’t we just focus on creating coding camps for girls to fix this pipeline issue?’ Well that’s not enough. It’s never going to be just one aspect of the problem and just one solution. You can’t just create coding camps and hope girls will start learning how to code and just jump to register. You need to change perceptions for girls who actually want to be interested in those fields. We really want to reach one million girls if not five million girls through screenings at middle schools, high schools, colleges, and also through community screenings and hopefully television if we get there. For the tech industry itself, we’re already planning a bunch of screenings in the Bay Area at tech companies and hopefully elsewhere. I definitely want to spark a conversation among tech workers to show what it’s like to fundraise as a woman. Just because you work at a tech company doesn’t mean you can be immune to that. You’re part of that industry. It’s important to know how you can change it and also how we raise our daughters is really important to being part of the solution.

How do you feel about affirmative action hiring processes for women?
Well that’s kind of a controversial solution but I personally am in favor of it. When we do have parity, when we do have enough women in executive roles and leadership roles and hiring positions at tech companies and VC, then I think we should hire whoever is the best without focusing on any of that blind recruitment, but I don’t think we’re there yet. 96% of venture capitalists are men and they control a majority of the money. Most VC’s invest in people who look like them because that’s human pattern recognition. Until we can diversify who holds the capital and really put in place some ways to get more women and minorities there, it’s going to be really hard. I was recently at a conference and someone was talking about using the Rooney Rule to recruit which is: you don’t have to have a quota as a recruiter, you can recruit whoever you want, but you have to interview at least one candidate who doesn’t look like the others. You don’t have to hire them, but you have to listen to them and give them the opportunity to talk to you. Apparently its been effective for some tech companies.
What do you think women who are already in the tech industry can do to make it better for other women?
I think women have a tremendous opportunity to make it better for other women. Women are really banding together and helping each other out but we need more of that. We need women to invest in each other and promote each other. Put your money where your mouth is.


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