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.

Advertisements

Why We Must Help Bridge the Gap For Women In Tech

I remember you; you’re the one we used to bet when you’d fail.

The comment came from a former writer who, like me, had been a contributor for one of New Mexico’s most prestigious publications, The Albuquerque Tribune, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper which closed its doors in 2008 – only a year before I made the shift from well-known local writer to founder of a tech corporation. And not founder of just any tech company – I launched APPCityLife as a company tasked with forging a path in the brand new industry of mobile.

March, 2010 - in San Francisco to attend MobileBeat 2010, where APPCityLife was named one of the 20 Hottest Startups. I was the only woman in the pitch contest - the first time I realized the immense gender gap I was facing.

March, 2010 – in San Francisco to attend MobileBeat 2010, where APPCityLife was named one of the 20 Hottest Startups. I was the only woman in the pitch contest – the first time I realized the immense gender gap I was facing.

While I may understand why he, like many other former colleagues, believed a quick demise was eminent for a woman taking the leap from writer to tech startup founder, the discovery that they actually took bets on how long it would take me to fail was a bit of a shock. For me, the decision wasn’t any bigger leap than the one I’d already taken from stay at home mom to writer. I haven’t ever waited to be qualified to do something that I wanted or needed to do – not ever. I applied for my first real job the same day the state of Ohio deemed me legally old enough to earn a paycheck – and I got hired from the first store I walked into despite having no previous experience in retail. At sixteen years old, I’d already been babysitting for six years and selling and delivering newspapers (sometimes two routes) for eight years. Yes, eight years. I started selling Grit Magazine door to door to earn extra money when most kids my age were busy playing kick ball or riding bikes. I wasn’t afraid of stretching skills or work, and that was the only qualification necessary to learn the rest that was needed.

Over the past five years as we’ve grown APPCityLife into the civic tech platform it is today, I’ve wondered how many other women would embrace tech if they believed it possible to do so. Tech is so much more than being a full-fledged developer, scientist or engineer, and one of our goals has been to empower individuals on the fringe of tech to not just join the community but change the conversation by being part of it.

The Civic Entrepreneur Bootcamp with 40% Women Participants

The Civic Entrepreneur Bootcamp with 40% Women Participants

We recently hosted our first Mobile App Bootcamp, opening up our platform to the public for the first time. I was overcome with emotion as I looked out across the room of participants and realized that almost half of the room were women. Many, like me, possessed passion, vision, and innovative ideas but hadn’t taken the path of formal education in a STEM degree. And in that moment I realized the true, equalizing power of what we’d spent five years building at APPCityLife – our blend of civic tech and user-friendly access is a gateway for women as well as other under-represented groups to not only embrace but become active, contributing participants in tech.

Our bootcamp is the beginning of a new initiative we are spearheading at APPCityLife – a push to bring access to our platform to individuals and groups all around the world who already have the creativity, ideas and passion to envision valuable solutions to civic challenges within their own community. In fact, our second event is already lined up, and we’ll be opening our platform to participants at a hackathon in Silicon Valley aimed at solving transportation challenges for the region. If all that is needed to is access to a user-friendly platform which bridges the current gap between the non-tech and highly skilled developers, we can make that happen, and that is so exciting to me.

Screenshot 2014-10-09 07.53.48News broke yesterday of Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen and Marc Andreessen donating $500,000 to Girls Who Code, Code2040 and Hack the Hood, all nonprofits focused on bringing new opportunities in tech to women and black and Latino people. And while I admit to being sensitive to the subject after being on the front lines for the past five years, I found it ironic that the top search results for articles about the Andreessen’s donation all focused on Marc, many failing to even mention his wife’s involvement. In fact, the first result to include her name was penned by a woman journalist.

APPCityLife Founder / CEO pitching at the Deal Stream Summit, one of three women to pitch among ten high potential tech startups in New Mexico.

APPCityLife Founder / CEO pitching at the Deal Stream Summit, one of three women to pitch among ten high potential tech startups in New Mexico.

Our team was one of ten companies invited to pitch on October 7, 2014, at the Deal Stream Summit which brought together investors from New Mexico and the region. When I pitched with the group last year, I was the only woman. This year, there were three women presenters – a significant increase. In fact, one woman pitched on stage after having less than 24 hours to polish her presentation after her business partner landed in the hospital with a heart attack. She represented well, especially given the limited time to prepare. But since the event, not one news story published to date has covered or even named a single woman who participated in the event, although one online piece did at least post a photo. And of the women investors present at the event – not a single one was mentioned or included either. Please know that this is not about women wanting special treatment or not celebrating the successes of male colleagues, I do. This is about voicing concern over the insidious gender bias that is still happening today, where the men are taken more seriously, given more credence by the press.

Some days it gets wearying to face the additional challenges it takes for a woman to make it in the world of tech, but on days when it feels like that to me, I pull out the photo of all of the women that attended our first bootcamp. I remind myself how lucky I am to have not only a supportive, proactive spouse and cofounder but two other male cofounders who have all put their faith in a woman CEO and are giving everything they have to help change the possibilities for other women and under-represented groups by building a platform which will deliver access to tech and help bridge the gap. It’s impossible to stay discouraged for long with that much support and when that kind of promise lies ahead. If all it takes is stretching skills, hard work, and the courage to not play by the rules of the boys’ club, whether we’re men or women – we can all do that.

Originally published in Huffington Post.