Blind Auditions: Can it Change the Ratio of Women in Tech Journalism?

Backstage getting ready to pitch APPCityLife at the first MobileBeat conference held in San Francisco, July, 2010.

Backstage getting ready to pitch APPCityLife at the first MobileBeat conference held in San Francisco, July, 2010.

I am a huge fan of The Voice, especially the early episodes when a celebrity judge chooses a contestant based on talent and then discovers the person on stage looks nothing like what they expected. Sometimes the contestant isn’t even the same gender as what was assumed. So it was with great interest that I read a post by Dylan Tweney, the Editor-in-Chief at VentureBeat announcing Blind Auditions for his publication. He first noted the results of a study in which more women were added to top orchestras when blind auditions were instituted. Tweney went on to say that VentureBeat was implementing a similar approach for hiring new tech journalists. Based in the center of the Silicon Valley tech startup scene, VentureBeat’s new leader is hoping that his new approach will lead to more women journalists covering tech, but even he admits that only time will tell.

I am heartened by Twenty’s public commitment to finding ways to change the ratio of women tech journalists, if only at his publication. My first interaction with VentureBeat came when I was invited to pitch my brand new startup, APPCityLife, at the company’s first mobile event, MobileBeat 2010. Twenty startups were selected from the applications, and of those twenty startups, I was the only female involved. Among the rest of the teams, the judges, even the staff from VentureBeat – I was the only female to be found on stage.

I learned two very important lessons at that event. The first was that if I was to be successful as a female tech founder, I would have to be more resilient, more persistent – and willing to create an independent voice for our company, because I couldn’t count on coverage by the press if I was in such a minority. That realization created a sense of urgency for me, and over time, I’ve learned that having that kind of fire to your back gives you an edge. Sure, it’s higher stress, but it also is a great motivator. The second thing I learned is that being a woman in a male-dominated field has its advantages. When you’re in a field where women are scarce, I’ve found that some – definitely not all – women gravitate to you, want to create alliances and find ways to do business to help even up the playing field a little bit. Women also have the advantage of approaching their industry through a different filter than most of her competition, and the results are sometimes innovative solutions that meet a need in the marketplace in a very different way, setting her company apart from the competition. Female founders also have the ability to lead differently. I certainly found this to be the case for me. I was a mom tasked with raising toddlers before I became a CEO tasked with leading a team, and my years as a mother definitely shaped me into a different kind of tech founder. I’d like to think it’s for the better.

The lessons learned raising my children changed the way I approach the challenges of being a CEO.

The lessons learned raising my children changed the way I approach the challenges of being a CEO.

And, thus, I find it encouraging that one of today’s leading online tech and venture publications is taking a new approach to hiring that may possibly more women writing about tech and venture capital in the publishing industry today. I am hoping the results are promising, because I believe if the final outcome is more women on the VentureBeat staff, it may become a catalyst for changing hiring practices at other publications as well. I believe with more women journalists contributing, we could find more women founders getting a fair shot at coverage in the media. We’ll likely find that the topics covered change as well, since women journalists usually have different experiences which lead to different reference points and even interests when approaching the same story as a male colleague. I think it will even lead to different water cooler conversations and debates among the staff which may reveal biases and provide an opportunity for growth.

The changes at VentureBeat are an exciting first step in the right direction. Whatever the outcome, I’m hoping this isn’t the last thing VentureBeat or other publishers try. While print may reach far smaller circulations today than ever expected, online journalism has the potential to capturing a world-wide audience. The written word holds the power to change perceptions, reveal biases and bad behavior, drive the conversation and, sometimes, change the future of those who manage to gain the attention and interest of journalists. I, for one, am rooting for more of those moments in the public eye to be about women doing great things – not only for the sake of the women gaining coveted time in the public eye, but mostly for the barriers it will remove for younger generations.

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Are Women Entrepreneurs Better Off Than A Year Ago?

APPCityLife cofounder and COO, Lawrence Abeyta: Tech Fiesta ABQ Women In Technology Luncheon 2014 © Gabriella Marks

APPCityLife cofounder and COO, Lawrence Abeyta: Tech Fiesta ABQ Women In Technology Luncheon 2014 © Gabriella Marks

During yesterday’s second annual NMTC-WIT Luncheon, a reporter in the audience asked the panelists if things were getting any better for women.

In an article published this year in ForbesGeri Stengel predicted that 2014 would be the breakout year for women entrepreneurs. “While the number is still small —  nearly 20% of angels in 2012 invested in women-led businesses — the percentage grew more than 40% from the previous year, according to the Center of Venture Research, which studies early-stage equity financing for high-growth ventures. Even venture capitalists have increased their support of women-led companies. It’s still paltry, but the percentage of VC deals going to women-led businesses was 13% in the first half of 2013. That’s nearly a 20% jump over 2012, according to Pitchbook, a venture-capital research firm.” Encouraging statistics that point to better opportunities ahead. But the real question is, as individuals, do we see new possibilities or more of the same status quo?

The answers from the luncheon’s diverse panel of men and women, including our own COO at APPCityLife, varied from some panelists seeing no change at all to a few answers that, yes, things have changed. As a female CEO, I am well aware of New York Time‘s annual report that of the top 200 highest paid chief executive officers, only two are women. I’ve also seen first-hand at least one venture capital door close because of gender. I could easily see the glass as 87% to 95% empty (the percentage of venture capital currently funneled into male-founded companies in the US).

I choose to see it differently. In my experience over the past year, I’ve seen both significant and subtle changes that make me believe there is more respect, opportunities, and equality for women founders than ever before. Despite a few fairly disheartening experiences with investors, I’ve also found passionate support from others. Our company raised almost $500,000 in angel and family fund investments over the past twelve months, and we’ve been selected as one of only ten New Mexico companies invited to pitch for a larger round of investment at the upcoming Deal Stream Summit. Because of our focus on solving problems in the civic space, I’ve had the incredible privilege of being invited to meet with leaders from around the globe and participate in discussions about civic innovation. And I have yet to find an instance where my gender created any barrier of entry into any office when I’ve reached out to civic leaders – even in some of the biggest urban centers in the US.

But more than anything else, the topics of discussion at the luncheon were a strong indicator to me of just how far we’ve come as a community in New Mexico. Last year’s luncheon opened with the very uncomfortable topic of the jerk tech apps pitched from the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt. Almost the entire hour of conversation last year was focused on the unfairness, the bias, and the simmering anger of those who’d been passed over, ignored, and not taken seriously simply because of their gender. This year’s luncheon definitely covered some of the same challenges – the funding disadvantage, the challenge at being taken seriously – but what inspired me most was the questions that had to do with the real meat of running a business. Those questions were new. Topics ranged from the value of having Non Disclosure Agreements and Employment Contracts to implementing sales channels for international businesses. Instead of simply focusing on the problems women face, the panelists were able to share valuable insight and knowledge that were real takeaways for the rest of the crowd.

Perhaps the only reason we were able to focus on questions about business and expertise this year is because we did address the more uncomfortable topics in the past year. But I, for one, am heartened by the notion that as women, perhaps we’ve come to the place were the conversation can begin to change from how do we let women in at all to how do we help more women grow international, high growth companies.

It’s certainly what I and my cofounders have set out to do, and I am inspired by the growing support and opportunities making that more and more possible.

This was originally published on Huffington Post.

Why Successful Women Should Stop Hiding Their Emotions

Kym Hampton

Last year, at the National Girlfriends Networking Day main event hosted by New York Times in New York City, WNBA Star, Plus-Size Model and Actress Kym Hampton displayed some very raw emotion as she shared some of the downright cruel and horrifying experiences she faced during the early days of her career, both as a basketball star and as a plus-size model. She was part of a panel of highly successful, influential women including Loretta McCarthy, Managing Partner for Golden Seeds, LLC, Lesley Jane Seymour, Editor-In-Chief of More Magazine, Soledad O’Brien, the Emmy Award-Winning Journalist.

Almost 2000 miles away, our Albuquerque NGN Day attendees watched as those stories unfolded on Livestream Video, and there was hardly a dry eye in the room. To witness the pain these women experienced, and to see how raw those wounds still were after years of success – it was an extremely powerful moment of clarity for all of us and helped launch one of the most intimate, honest and catalyzing conversations among our own local panelist discussion which followed the Livestream event.

None of us saw the panelists’ tears and vulnerability as weakness. These women had, in their own pinnacles of success, made it possible for other women to be their true selves and not leave half of who they were as women at the door in order to be considered credible, equal or successful. They made it that much easier for women everywhere to be true to themselves without risking disdain, disrespect or misunderstanding in the professional world.

I make it a habit to consume articles from around the globe which address the challenges of women seeking venture capital, and imagine my shock and disappointment when I recently read Less Emotion, More Action Needed in Female-Led Startup Movement written by Laura Braverman, a columnist for USA Today and Upstart, as a follow-up editorial to a local SOAR women’s networking event held in the Triangle area of North Carolina, a hotbed for startup activity over the past decade. According to her piece, “IDEA Fund Partners and Bull City Venture Partners are two of the most active investors in town and BCVP has never backed a company with a female CEO (though 60 percent of its companies have one on the management team) and at least 95 percent of deal flow comes from male-led companies.”

Braverman wrote, “The tide won’t change until the women in the room can move past the storytelling and take advantage of the insights, experiences and knowledge of investors giving up their time to help move the needle. In the hour-long presentation, the panel received few questions about how to build more attractive businesses to fund, and more comments and stories about how hard it is to get funding.” She went on to say that women “need to prove that any bias is unfounded”.

I promise you, if I’d been in the room, there would have been even more emotion about the inequity of investments than was already witnessed there that night, although mine might have been more on the edge of anger than tears. I’ve been at this long enough that I’ve learned that anger usually brings power, whether that is fair or not. I don’t like it, and I don’t like having to project anger when what I feel are tears, but I’ve been growing a business in the middle of a male-dominated industry, and I’ve had to adapt even when it isn’t fair or reasonable.

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Anyone who has tried to raise investment capital knows that even when you have everything right – the team, the concept, the revenue, the projections – it is a very difficult process where only about one company among every 100 business plans submitted to a venture capital firm actually gets funded. If you’re a woman founder, you can count on it being even more difficult, since women-owned companies in the U.S. only received about 13% of that venture capital in 2013. So when you have a room full of women who have already discovered just how difficult it is to get their businesses funded, and a panel of local venture capitalists are addressing an audience that clearly understands that most of the panelists have no intention of funding their companies, I’m not sure exactly what could be expected as the outcome other than strong emotion and tales from the audience about their own difficulties finding capital. Isn’t the time better spent trying to impress upon him the error of his thinking than asking him for advice – when his advice is going to be biased based on his stated opinions?

It is an interesting concept that women fear the tears of another woman entrepreneur, believing that these tears will perpetuate a bias of women being weak. Why is it that anger and outright bad behavior are far more acceptable among men CEO’s and founders of startups than are tears among women? Tears are an outlet of emotion, whether that emotion is anger, sadness, fear or something else. And it’s usually a far less destructive outlet than it is when those same emotions are vented through anger. Why is it seen as a sign of strength for a male founder to have bursts of anger like it is some kind of badge of honor but when women release their emotions, everyone works very hard to shut them up? The recent firing of Jill Abramson from her position as the Executive Editor of the New York Times has sparked a national conversation surrounding equal pay and whether Abramson was fired for discovering she was paid less or for her management style, which was described as “pushy” and “brusque”. On a male counterpart, wouldnt those traits be described as “to the point” and “driven”?

Self Talk by Rachel Abeyta

We will be hosting our second Albuquerque event for the National Girlfriends Network Day on June 4, 2014, at our corporate offices for APPCityLife, and I, for one, am going to work very hard to make it one event where women are free to be vulnerable, honest and able to be true to their full self as a woman. It should be possible to be real – and really successful. If more women like Kym Hampton were brave enough to share the vulnerable, emotional side of themselves in national, public arenas, it would go a long way in making editorials like Braverman’s less common.

Not Bad For a Girl – Can Bias Give Women the Advantage?

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It was Sunday of a recent Startup Weekend event. Presentations had just wrapped up from the teams, and the judges were debating the merits and challenges of each pitch. The audience was drifting out of the auditorium, and I found myself chatting for a few moments with a colleague. I commented on the talents of a woman who was a mutual acquaintance, and his response completely took my by surprise.  He said, “She isn’t bad for a girl.”

I didn’t even try to hide my reaction. “No bad for a girl? What does that even mean?”

“Just what I said. She’s not bad for a girl.”

He laughed.

I didn’t.

“That is so sexist,” I told him. We’d know each other long enough that I felt perfectly in my right bringing him to task for his attitude.

“Yeah,” he laughed. “it probably is. Oh, well, I’m ok with that.” And with that, he walked away.

It wasn’t the first sexist comment I’d heard during the weekend. One of the competitors had made the joke on Friday night that their team only had one girl on it, so they’d placed her in the best possible position … outside. He seemed surprised when the room filled with audible gasps rather than laughter. He quickly moved on to his pitch.

While this interaction definitely didn’t rank up there with the horrific incidents that have happened at other conferences or to other women, I am still taken aback every time I am confronted with men who are not only comfortable but embrace sexist attitudes. Beyond the damage it does to women, it doesn’t serve men well, either.

I am reminded of the time my daughter decided to compete in the high school pull up contest. She not only beat out all the girls but every guy as well. The ROTC leader who was hosting the contest gave my daughter a huge trophy – the one that was supposed to be for the guys. He shook her hand and told her she’d earned it. Most of the competitors didnt know that she was a nationally ranked rock climber. Those young men had sized her up and dismissed her as any real competition because she was a small-framed girl. They had no idea she was stronger than all of them, and they’d severely misjudged her talents and strength. I still remember the look on her face when she walked through the door that day after school carrying a trophy half her size.

The next time you find the words “for a girl” going through your head when you’re assessing a woman entrepreneur or businesswoman, you might want to ask yourself if your own sexism might cause you to greatly underestimate a woman’s talents and strength. And if you find yourself on the receiving end of this attitude? It is worth considering that your opponents’ sexism may actually be an advantage, allowing you to operate longer under the radar until it is too late for your competitor to catch up. While this outlook certainly does nothing to address the inequity of funding for women entrepreneurs, it is worth asking ourselves if we’re going to face bias, are there ways to turn it to our advantage.