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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Three Traits of Highly Successful Women Entrepreneurs

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Hautepreneurs Cofounders Jessica Eaves Mathews and Lisa Abeyta

I recently had breakfast with a group of women, all owners of their own businesses, board members on multiple charities, active volunteers in their community, and mothers who volunteered at their children’s schools – by all standards highly successful women. These women had already found success while living in one of the poorest states in the US and were gathered for the sole purpose of launching a nonprofit to lift up other women not yet equipped to create their own success. The ladies sharing breakfast that morning were smart, creative, and driven. But there was also a commonality of three other significant traits that helped them find success.

If you are wondering what it takes to lift your own career to the next level or to find the courage to launch out on your own, you might cultivate these three traits many successful women possess.

Be Generous

While it might make for a more interesting stereotype, truly successful women are not usually greedy. Sure, they put in incredible hours with the purpose of building a highly profitable business, but, by and large, these women are also generous. Earlier this year at an event honoring women who had been named the most influential in our state, a reporter asked me what it meant to be influential. My response was that influence is nothing more than a tapestry of relationships where individuals have supported or helped each other in some way. Influence is a result of being generous and accessible, not something that grows from serving self.

I well remember the first time I reached out to Joanne Wilson, the author of the popular blog Gotham Gal, and a renowned angel investor who focuses much of her efforts on investing in and supporting other women. I wasn’t finding the help I needed in my own back yard and decided to be brave and ask for advice. She wrote back almost immediately, not only to share advice but with an offer to introduce me to a friend that she thought might help. She offered expecting nothing in return, likely cognizant that there wasn’t anything I could give back in exchange. Not long after, I applied to an incubator for women in mobile, and while our company was not chosen to participate, the founder, Kelly Hoey, reached out to encourage me to continue my efforts. I not only gained a deep respect and sense of gratitude because of the generosity of these successful women, I understood the value of being accessible. When I am now asked to mentor, to speak at an event, to go to coffee, I do what I can to make it happen. I take time to mastermind with other women business owners, realizing that our collective experience and knowledge is of so much greater value in growing our businesses than working in silos in the same city.

If you want be successful, learn to be generous with your time, your efforts, your knowledge. This does not mean you let others take advantage of you or that you agree to so much that you’re overwhelmed and left with no time to meet your own goals; it means you give when and where you can provide value without expecting anything in return. The interactions will likely bring more value than you realize at the time.

Be Fearless

There was a pivotal moment I had as a woman entrepreneur that taught me the lesson of being fearless. I was sitting alone in our board room with a potential business partner. We had already met numerous times, completed due diligence, and all that was left was to negotiate terms. He knew I had my back against the wall with several looming deadlines that were dependent on outside help, and he was counting on this being my weakness. What he didn’t count on was my understanding that if I agreed to his predatory terms, I would be setting our company up for eventual failure anyway. In the end, I walked away. It was the scariest decision I’d ever made, because it wasn’t just my future but the future of every person who’d believed in my vision enough to work alongside me. Within days, we developed a solution that not only avoided a bad partnership but assured our independence moving forward.

If you want to climb higher in your career, don’t let your fear rule your decisions. Be brave, take calculated risks, learn to say no when you know you should, even if it is the scariest thing you’ve ever done.

Be Intuitive

It just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes, even when it isn’t apparent what specifically is right or wrong with an opportunity, we need to trust our intuition. When we do, we often make choices that prevent future difficulties. A fellow entrepreneur was recently weighing a partnership opportunity, worried what she would miss if she passed it up. Despite the upside, she expressed that something about it just didn’t feel right. Eventually, she followed her instinct and turned down the offer. Not long afterward, news broke that several legal problems were uncovered in the business she’d been considering for a partnership. Instead of a missed opportunity, she’d avoided serious consequences.

Intuition can also move us to leap quickly when we know it’s right. I founded my second company with my current cofounder by the end of our first lunch together. Her vision and values aligned with mine, and I knew in my gut that this was the right move. We formed the company within a day, and over a year later, I can still say it’s been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made. One of the best measures that I’ve learned to trust is this: when it’s wrong, it won’t feel right event when it looks good on the surface; when it’s right, there is joy even when the going gets hard.

Success isn’t just about moving up in your career or making money. It’s learning what you can accomplish by facing your fear, making hard choices, being generous with others, and learning to trust yourself.