A 1.4-acre plot of land east of downtown Takoma Park has long been eyed for development. While a neighborhood food co-op has sat on part of it for 20 years, a new plan to redevelop the space envisions restaurants, cafes, a parking garage and office space.
Women are starting businesses, writing code and raising capital for tech start-ups across the country. But according to at least one recent study, they account for fewer than a fifth of computer science majors in the United States. And most recognizable executives and public personalities in the tech world are men. Kojo talks with local tech entrepreneurs, and explores whether a “glass ceiling” still exists for women pursuing tech careers.
- Jen Consalvo Chief Operating Officer, Co-Editor, Tech Cocktail
- Stehpanie Hay Co-Founder, FastCustomer
- Shireen Mitchell Founder, Digital Sisters; Social Media Consultant; Chair, Media and Technology Task Force, National Council of Women's Organizations
- Lisa Morales-Hellebo Founder and CEO, Shopsy
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. When James Brown cried out, "This is a man's world," he probably wasn't singing about the 10-million-tweets-a-second world of today's technology sector. But by some measures, the Silicon Valley scene is dominated by men like few other corners of the American economy.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWomen are still a rare sight on the corporate boards of America's most powerful and influential tech companies. Female students account for less than a fifth of computer science and engineering majors in the American university system. And female tech entrepreneurs often trade stories about how sexism and outright hostility have thrown obstacles in front of them at every stage of their careers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut women throughout the industry are pushing the envelope with innovative ideas, launching their own companies and breaking down barriers. And today, we're joined by four such women who have officially crashed the boys' club of today's tech community. It's a Tech Tuesday conversation that you can join by calling 800-433-8850, going to our website, kojoshow.org, sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet, @kojoshow.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us in studio is Stephanie Hay. She is a writer, project manager and information architect. She's the co-founder of FastCustomer. Stephanie Hay, thank you for joining us.
MS. STEPHANIE HAYThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Shireen Mitchell. Shireen Mitchell is the founder and executive director of Digital Sisters, a nonprofit that focuses on engaging women, minorities and diverse communities in the technology field. Shireen Mitchell, thank you for joining us.
MS. SHIREEN MITCHELLThank you for having me.
NNAMDIJen Consalvo is the co-editor and chief operating officer of Tech Cocktail, which follows emerging technology news, people, startups, products and innovations. Jen Consalvo, good to have you aboard.
MS. JEN CONSALVOThank you. A pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAnd Lisa Morales-Hellebo is the inventor, founder and CEO of Shopsy. Lisa Hellebo, thank you for joining us.
MS. LISA MORALES-HELLEBOHappy to be here.
NNAMDIOnce again, you can join the conversation at 800-433-8850. All of you have carved out spaces for yourselves in the technology sector. But it's a corner of the economy where a lot of women say you've got more to do than carving -- or you've got to do more than carving in order to make it, that it's more like beating down a door with a fire axe.
NNAMDIEven children's videogames seem to be designed to appeal more to young boys than to girls. Shireen, I'll start with you. At what point did you decide this was the kind of work you wanted to get into?
MITCHELLI actually didn't think about this as a field to get into, but I actually had a hobby of technology starting at the age of 10. And I was discouraged most of the time because, as a girl in the '80s -- I guess (unintelligible) tell my age -- it was not common to see, you know, girls playing tech or using videogames or building anything technological.
NNAMDIYour hobby, let's be clear about this, was hanging out in the video arcade, correct?
MITCHELLYes. That was it.
NNAMDIThat's the -- trying to make it sound more sophisticated than that.
CONSALVOPretty good hobby to have.
MITCHELLThat was my hobby, yes. And then, of course, because my mom thought that I was there playing with some boys and that I couldn't have possibly, you know, be interested in the technology, she got the first home game. And then it became a hobby at home, and I started with programming.
NNAMDIBut even in the video arcade, it was, at that point, a mostly male environment, correct?
MITCHELLOh, yes. It still was, mostly.
NNAMDIAnd it's been ever since for you.
NNAMDIJen Consalvo, how did you decide to make that decision?
CONSALVOYou know, I was actually a communication major. I was contemplating becoming a photographer, and then a professor introduced me to -- this was very early on -- but coding and making images move on a screen and doing all these things, and I thought that is the future. And I could not wait to get my hands on it, and I just figured out a way to get into an early stage company in Georgetown. And then it went from there. I just never looked back.
NNAMDILisa, you studied at one of the famous schools for people interested in engineering and techie kinds of things, Carnegie Mellon. Statistics show that fewer than 20 percent of engineering and computer science majors are women. You majored in graphic design. But what did you see on campus when you looked around at such a tech-driven place?
MORALES-HELLEBOA whole lot of geeks.
MORALES-HELLEBOYeah, you know, Carnegie Mellon was a great school and was just teeming with ideas and innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration. And that really is sort of, I think, what set me on the path of loving constant change. And that really is what the Web is all about, having to really love and embrace constant change.
NNAMDIWhen you were in that environment, did you notice that it was a predominantly male environment at all?
MORALES-HELLEBOYeah, of course, you know.
MORALES-HELLEBOYeah, it's hard not to. But...
NNAMDIYeah? But after you came out of school with training in graphic design, where did you pick up the other skills that gave you the tools you needed to make it in the tech field?
MORALES-HELLEBOYeah, I -- you know, I graduated in '95, right at the beginning of the dotcom boom. And doing graphic design, I quickly fell in love with Web design and development and was self-taught because I wasn't happy with developers telling me that things couldn't be done. No, that's not possible. You designed something that's not implementable.
MORALES-HELLEBOAnd so I would just figure out how to code it myself, you know, draft up the code and send it over to them and say, you know, I did it for you. Just plug that in.
NNAMDIHow did you first decide to get involved, Stephanie Hay?
HAYIt came after, I think, an early fascination with the technology, driven mostly by my two older brothers. My dad before I was allowed to even get my driver's license made me learn how to change a tire on my car, change my oil. So I was sort of always in the guts of things before I decided to pursue journalism when I was in college.
HAYBut when I moved here, I had the fortune of working at George Mason University for a group of women who were so smart and supportive. And, in fact, their Web manager at the time was a woman, and she basically taught me HTML and CSS. And so I started getting into the Web. And, like Lisa said, for me, the speed, the constant change of the Web was something that was fascinating.
HAYIt allowed me to get into the guts and build things now, see how it worked and be able to see how people use things. And so, for the past 10 years since I've been in the D.C. tech community, it's just been taking those initial learnings that I've had and going out into the community and finding out what people are doing and being a part of that.
NNAMDIJen Consalvo, it's fair to say that you had a front-row seat at one of the biggest companies in tech during the Internet boom of the 1990s, AOL. What was the culture like for women in that scene when you started? And how many other women were typically around you?
CONSALVOSo AOL was a really interesting place. Before AOL, I was at a company which was predominantly male. It was gaming. And going to AOL was actually very welcoming because there were so many women around me. And I feel like, for most of my career, that was the case. It was a very welcoming environment. I think the challenges came when you wanted to get to the upper echelons of the company.
CONSALVOBut other than that, I felt very, you know, in my element. There were very supportive women all around and in every different discipline.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you studied communications at American University...
NNAMDI...wherever that is...
NNAMDI...and that AOL offered you training opportunities while you were there to hone your skills. What were the kinds of things you picked up through that training?
CONSALVOCoding. That was one of the big reasons I went to AOL, was because they taught me anything I wanted to learn. And, throughout my career, it was that way. So whether it was coding, whether it was getting my MBA, whether it was taking other courses to hone some other skill set, they were very supportive.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday. You can join the conversation at 800-433-8850. We're taking about women in technology and whether or not there is a glass ceiling also in the tech world. We're talking with Jen Consalvo, co-editor and chief operating officer of Tech Cocktail. Stephanie Hay is a writer, project manger and information architect, co-founder of FastCustomer. Lisa Morales-Hellebo is the inventor, founder and CEO of Shopsy.
NNAMDIAnd Shireen Mitchell is the founder and executive director of Digital Sisters. What do you think accounts for the fact that so many more men are pursuing technology-related careers than women? 800-433-8850. What do you think would inspire more women to get into technology-related careers? You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us an email to email@example.com or a tweet, @kojoshow.
NNAMDILadies, please don your headphones because we're going to Janet in Fairfax, Va. Janet, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANETGood afternoon, Kojo and ladies. I'm enjoying the conversation. My daughter is a computer science and industrial technology major. And I also work for a large consulting firm here in the D.C. area. We have a large number of external technology consultants, as well as a pretty robust internal technology department.
JANETWhat I witnessed within my own firm is the difficulty for women to achieve milestones, director, managing director, partner-level positions. And so it was refreshing to hear that there are some nurturing environments.
JANETBut I was wondering if you have any particular advice that you would give to young women graduating who may -- whose first job may be in a male-dominated world where women are -- you know, may be dismissed or not thought of as quite as smart or sharp or quick or men are just more confident working around men? What advice might you give?
NNAMDIShireen? Oh, I'm sorry. Stephanie, you had your hand raised.
HAYYeah, I would say that, you know, women who are coming into -- right out of school and coming into the work environment, understandably, are nervous. They don't want to do anything wrong. They want to be sure that they're setting the best expectation for their skills and -- but what I found in my career, in my -- and some of my female colleagues, is that they're more apologetic, too.
HAYThey -- their -- when they make a mistake, they're really concerned about that mistake. They don't just say, oh, okay, I get it. I'm moving on. I'm learning from that. And then the same thing, whenever they have opportunities to take on more responsibility or potentially for promotions, they may be less aggressive than their male counterparts to take advantage of those.
HAYSo I would say, you know, encouraging women, especially women with technical skills -- it sounds like your daughter has -- to really lean on that and say, you know what, I've got this. I'm confident. I've got the background. I've got the technical knowledge. And I'm going to move forward, and I'm not going to be apologetic about my skills.
NNAMDINot being apologetic about your skills.
JANETThat's great advice.
NNAMDIHere is Shireen Mitchell.
MITCHELLI would say that I used to train girls in tech early -- in early days, in early '90s. And one of the common threads was that lack of confidence. But once they gain the confidence, the challenge there was that they would always sort of apologize a little bit in terms of what Stephanie said. What I would say is that I now tell all young girls and all women that, one, don't be apologetic, two, the boys are just not going to ever get nice. They...
MITCHELLIt's just the way they are, you know...
HAYJust being boys.
MITCHELL...it's -- they're being boys. And they tend -- and no matter how old they get, that behavior will not go away. So you have to go in with the confidence of what you have. And then, three, you always have to have a group of what I always said was my tech clique. I always have a tech clique. When I looked around, my tech clique, actually, was nothing but boys.
MITCHELLSo I would recommend that young women actually have their own little tech cliques and connect with other women in the field. And, you know, there are different groups out there that does that. But that will be one way to help them sort of keep moving along and looking at some career choices for themselves.
NNAMDIStephanie, you also told us some things about relationships with male colleagues and women being concerned about embarrassing a male colleague. Tell us a little bit about that.
HAYYeah, this is something I, unfortunately, have experience with, where, early on, I think I tried to fight battles that I shouldn't have fought, where, for example, a senior level executive in, I think, a more boys club sort of an environment, outside of my nurturing female pocket, had -- what I felt like -- spoken condescendingly to me and in a flippant way. And I attempted to point that out and say, this isn't acceptable.
HAYAnd what I learned from that experience is that not only was it not acceptable, but it wasn't going to work in my favor. I wasn't going to win in that moment. And the best thing that I could really do is continue to nurture the positive relationships that I had and just work my tail off to establish my credibility and show consistently through successes and hard work -- and potentially harder work than my male counterparts -- but not be slowed up by that, not be distracted by it.
HAYJust keep moving forward and try to show that in maybe a year or two years or five years, I could go back to that person, and that person would want to talk to me in a way that is due, based on the respect that I earned.
NNAMDIWell, there's a perception that a lot of people in the tech field can be dismissive of those who don't know as much about computers. Jimmy Fallon used to play a character on "Saturday Night Live" called Nick Burns, the company computer guy who would mock people to their faces when they couldn't follow what he was saying. Let's take a listen.
NNAMDITo what extent did any of you have to deal with dismissiveness (sic) as a woman when you were trying to make your way in this line of work? And how did you deal with it?
MORALES-HELLEBOYeah, I think, for me, a lot of it was early on when I was, say, you know, a year-and-a-half out of school. Here I was, this young, bright-eyed graphic designer. What does she know about code? And I get a lot of male developers telling me, oh, you've just designed something that isn't implementable, you know? And that's where it really just spawned me to pick up the code and learn it myself.
MORALES-HELLEBOSo, you know, the only thing, to your point earlier is -- the only thing that really speaks universally is proving yourself and delivering results and having the skills. You know, if you have some mad skills and you can deliver consistently, over time, everybody is silenced, you know? And that's the only way to really own the room and make your way and put a stake in the ground.
CONSALVOI had this aha moment years ago. This was early on in my career where this male colleague of mine, who was held in very high esteem by everyone for his technical skills -- I stayed late one day and saw him just going, plowing through these books and doing all these things. And I was like, what are you doing? And he's like, well, I don't really know any of this stuff.
CONSALVOI stay really late every night. I go through everything. I'm teaching myself as I go. And it was this aha moment of, oh, my God, maybe I'm too honest. You know, like, no one knows it all. And we all have this ability to work hard and, you know, and take the extra time and do what we need to do to figure it out. And, you know, you can do it on the way sometimes. You don't have to, you know, tell everyone what you don't know.
HAYAre you three all coding right now?
HAYNo. Shireen, you are, right?
MITCHELLI'm -- yeah.
HAYI think that's a big part of it, too. To be -- even to be able to have the conversation with, you know, a group of men, it's almost like you have to come to the table and say, I know how to code. And then, at face value, you're accepted. It doesn't matter if you can code well.
HAYIt's just being able to say I can code. And so I've definitely had -- because I did some front-end development code, but I have not actually -- you know, I'm not a hacker. And so I've thought, yesterday -- I mean, every day of my life I think maybe I should learn how to code.
HAYBut I think about the reason why I would do that is not necessarily because I want to know how to code, but because I want to be part of the conversation 'cause I can have the conversation. And so what I have to do is recognize that my ability to translate what you do as a coder to an end user -- so an end user actually wants to use it and you're not just creating some pretty thing that nobody will ever know about -- is really the value that I bring to the table.
HAYAnd as soon as I'm able to communicate that in a way that establishes my credibility, then the door opens for me, too.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break on this Tech Tuesday conversation about women in technology and the glass ceiling in tech. You can still call us. If you've already called, stay on the line, and we will get to your call. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Do you work in the technology sector?
NNAMDIWhat pulled you into that line of work? And when did you decide to develop the skills to do it? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's a Tech Tuesday conversation about women in technology with Shireen Mitchell, founder and executive director of Digital Sisters, a nonprofit that focuses on engaging women, minorities and diverse communities in the technology field. Lisa Morales-Hellebo is the inventor, founder and CEO of Shopsy. Stephanie Hay is a writer, project manager and information architect. She's the co-founder of FastCustomer.
NNAMDIAnd Jen Consalvo is the co-editor and chief operating officer of Tech Cocktail, which follows emerging technology news, people, start-ups, products and innovations. Here now is Nancy in Falls Church, Va. Nancy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NANCYHi. Thanks for taking my call. I have a little bit different perspective. I'm old. I'm 61. And I was an old-time graphic designer where an X-ACTO knife was my best friend. And I, a couple of years ago, taught myself to code because I loved the idea of being able to see the results of what I was doing quickly. You didn't have to wait for the printing process and have a whole bunch of proofs going back and forth. And it's been great.
NANCYIt's good for the old brain to learn it, too. But I've got a double -- doubly challenging thing convincing people that someone my age really does know how to code, and being female.
NNAMDIFirst you got to convince people that people your age, like you, are really your age.
NNAMDIYou don't even sound like your age. But I think Shireen wanted to say something.
MITCHELLYes. I find that conversation kind of interesting, especially in this day and age. But I remember having a very heated debate with a technology design for a project that we were working on. And after the debate was over, one of the gentlemen got up and said, oh, I thought you were 23. I didn't think you had enough knowledge to know anything. So I think it doesn't matter how old you are or what age you are.
MITCHELLAt the end of the day, someone will have some kind of judgment about what that means and your ability to code. And the reality is everyone has the ability to code if they want to do that. And your age is no -- there is no limits to, you know, for your ability to -- for your age to be anything to stop you from continuing to code. I think it is about mindsets that people have. And those -- and everyone has a pre-judgment about people in general.
MITCHELLAnd so when it comes to women in tech, one of the ways that we can help change those perceptions is to have more women involved from all different backgrounds and from every age group.
NNAMDINancy, thank you so much for your call. And speaking of mindsets, we got this email anonymously, who says -- from someone who says, "I've been creating art for high-end video games for 12 years. I love my job. Most of my co-workers are men. The atmosphere is generally very friendly and equal.
NNAMDI"But I will say that a woman artist with average skills will probably not get hired, whereas a man with average skills is more likely to get hired. Women need to be twice as good to be considered equal in the video game industry." Anyone care to comment on that at all? Jen.
CONSALVOI think that's in a lot of industries. I don't think that's unique. It's part of our challenge. And, you know, for everyone who calls in, the proof is always in the pudding. You know, I think that's something that we all need to -- you know, young women coming into this field, older women who are trying to grow their skill sets and become relevant, I think it's all about what you're doing, what you're creating and put that out there and be proud of it and promote yourself.
CONSALVOI thinks that's so critical, and we don't do enough of it. Men are great at it.
HAYRight. And the women in the tech industry, I know, recently, in fact, there's been a lot of debate about women on tech panels and speaking at events, that events are mostly male dominated. And I think what's -- the conversations I've had with my colleagues is really about not only should women be actively going after those -- if I see a conference that I think could benefit from me being there, I will ask the person to put me in the line-up, even if there is no solicitation for open speakers or anything, right?
HAYAnd that's because I recognize that I have a part -- I'm playing a role in trying to shift that dynamic. But at the end of the day, if I get up on stage and I say nothing of value, that's not going to work every single time I ask to be put on stage. So I've got to put my money where my mouth is and bring the substance, and that's ultimately, I think, back to the caller's point, you know, having to work twice as hard across industries.
HAYAnd every time I go up to the stage, I have to prove myself again. That's just part of my daily life.
NNAMDIWell, talking -- oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead, please.
MORALES-HELLEBOI think this goes back to sort of a universal issue. When people bring up the issue of women in tech and, you know, how you have to work twice as hard, and -- I think it comes back to just everyone, no matter what industry you are in, no matter what your background is, everyone has certain obstacles.
MORALES-HELLEBOAnd whatever you're born with, whether you don't have the money to go to the right college, whether you don't have the right color of skin to get into, you know, whatever sort of career -- you know, I've had -- I'm minority, so I've had all kinds of obstacles being a minority, a Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx.
MORALES-HELLEBOYou know, it just -- there are obstacles that everyone has in life, and it's just how you choose to deal with them and overcome them. And an obstacle can either hold you back or propel you forward. And whether you are a woman or a man or, you know, from poverty, people overcome all these obstacles every day.
NNAMDISpeaking of pre-judging, which leads me to the issue of stereotyping, a recent New Yorker magazine profile of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made the point that Hollywood often portrays tech as a man's game and that women in movies like the "Social Network" dance around in their underwear while men code and write programs. How do you see it, Shireen?
MITCHELLSo in the past -- and people tend to forget this -- actually, the original programmers -- or they were actually not called programmers. They were called computers. Actually, the people who did the programming were called computers. And times have definitely changed. They were all majority women. And at that time, it was considered women's work.
MITCHELLSo it's very interesting that we've moved into a timeframe where it's clearly a male-dominant environment. And I don't see it as that -- you know, depicted in a way that the "Social Network" has tried to depict it. But the challenge is that there are those instances where some of the guys are so used to being in their corners and coding with other guys, they're just not used to seeing other women in those same corners with them, that this kind of behavior is sort of a thought through or expected to see happen, with the women dancing around.
MITCHELLBut the reality is there are some hardcore women coders out there, and they do not dance around. They don't need to be, you know, dressed in scantily clad clothing to be in the tech industry. There are quite a few very smart and very, you know -- I was going to curse -- women.
NNAMDIYes, this is a family broadcast.
MITCHELLSome really high-profiled and women who know their stuff and can, you know, go the distance with any guy in the field.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Lisa in Bethesda, Md. Lisa, your turn.
LISAHi. I've been listening with a lot of interest in the conversation. I'm actually a scientist. And, you know, women have been pushing their way up through the ranks of science, you know, for so quite some time now. And I have to say, I reject this notion that women has to work twice as hard or three times as hard as the men just to get in the game.
LISAAnd, I mean, I got to say, aren't we beyond that? I mean, come on, I mean, you know, science is about thought. It's about thinking. It's about collaboration as well as knowing your facts. And I think women have a lot of wonderful things to bring to the game and can complement what the men are doing. And I think we need to fight against those, not -- you know, I'm interested to know, you know, what the callers had to say about that.
NNAMDIAbout? About the notion that women have to be twice as good in order to succeed? Are you saying that that either, A, should not be the standard or, B, that it is not the standard?
LISANo, I think that it's -- you know, I think your, you know, responding to this notion that women, you know, should just, you know, keep quiet and do the work and not challenge the men on their own stereotypes. I mean, we've heard that the tech industry is sexist and ageist. And, you know, somebody has to stand up and say, that's not right.
LISAI mean, you know, and, I think, in science, you know, we've been dealing with this. And I think, today, you know, women -- women's place in science has come a long way in their...
NNAMDIWell, if we have given the impression so far that the women in technology are simply sitting aside and being run over roughshod, then I'll take the blame for that. That is not at all what we are trying to say. In fact, what we are trying to say can be better said by Stephanie Hay.
HAYI've been -- to your point about -- in reference to that piece, The New Yorker, Sheryl Sanberg had said that the glass ceiling only exists if you believe that it exists. And I think that's really what -- that's certainly the approach that I've adopted. And maybe it's that I've just chosen to ignore it over and over again, and I'm working hard as part of my general work ethic. But to the point about not standing up for myself, that's never been the case, ever.
HAYAnd, in fact, I think for me, personally, I react to people who can't make eye contact with me, that I'm somehow not able to be part of a conversation if you're not actually even making eye contact with me. So I even pay attention to the most subtle forms of sexism. And I just recognize that by calling that person out, for example, in that situation, say, you're not looking at me.
HAYYou need to pay attention to me. What is that going to accomplish for me at that moment by saying, hey, pay attention to me? I'm going to do that through my work itself, and I'm making people pay attention to me. And I'm helping other women do the same, and certainly women and men alike have done that for me.
HAYAnd I think that there's a shift that's happening in Silicon Valley, too, where, for example, at 500 startups, being out there last month, I saw a room full of a sweet spread, 50/50, women, men. And that was -- that's something I don't see in the D.C. tech community yet. It's overwhelmingly immense. So I think it's happening, but it just can't happen overnight.
NNAMDILisa, thank you very much for you call. And, Shireen?
MITCHELLI just want to respond to what she was saying. I think that what she was trying to get to is that, when we start talking about that, there will be adversities and there are some challenges, no matter what our backgrounds are as women, and that we do need to kind of get through that. It's very true. You do. You still have to keep doing the things you need to do to get through that.
MITCHELLBut the fighting, I think, is what she was talking about in reference to, are we just letting this continue? I think that, one -- every woman -- the four of us here are actually saying, no, that's not the case. We're doing some, you know, some interesting things out there. But, two, that actually the culture needs to change a little bit to actually keep the -- to have the door open a little bit wider, and that placed judgments on people.
MITCHELLI say this all the time. The door is generally open, but if the room is full of nothing but young, white men, are they really inviting everyone else in the door? And I think that's what she was trying to get to. That culture has to change. They should be inviting more people there.
NNAMDIGlad you brought that up because, Jen Consalvo, to what extent do you think the culture within the tech community has changed since you have been in this line of work?
CONSALVOThat's a great question. I feel like, more than ever, there are opportunities, and it's because we're creating them. We're making them, and we're taking them. I see, more than ever, women supporting women, women promoting women, and that's key. I don't think that's always been the case. So I actually feel like this is a great space for women to come into. But, like anything, like we've just been discussing, it's not -- it's competitive by nature.
CONSALVOThis is a competitive industry. People have to promote themselves. No one's going to get ahead by just sitting down and doing a great job. You can discover and do great things all you want, but you've got to be out there. You've got to be competitive. You've got to promote yourself. As Stephanie was saying, you got to get onstage and talk about what you're doing.
CONSALVOAnd then find your support systems within the industry and work with them, and, you know, we'll lift each other up.
NNAMDIHere is Carmen in Arlington, Va. Carmen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARMENHi, Kojo, thanks for taking my call, and thanks -- this program. I was calling because I was a computer science engineering major, graduated in '97, but it was really my experience in high school that led me to go into that field. It was Career Day and seeing a woman, a computer engineer, get up and talk about her career and teachers who encouraged me to get on the computer team and the math team and that kind of thing.
CARMENBut there weren't many other women in that field, so I'm just wondering if your panel had anything to say about high school experience and helping them in -- go into technology careers.
NNAMDIHere is Lisa.
MORALES-HELLEBOI personally think that, throughout elementary school, through high school, we should have more curriculum that's emphasizing arts as being not just fine arts but more creative thinking. And this comes from a design graduate from Carnegie Mellon where I believe my degree was not in, you know, creating beautiful pictures. It was in a thought process and learning how to think creatively and creative problem solving.
MORALES-HELLEBOAnd I think this is a crucial skill to learn because it's the new, the most desirable commodity in the global economy now. This is what's going to separate great success and great companies in the new economy. And that's what I think should be taught in elementary school through high school.
MORALES-HELLEBOYou know, through -- from kindergarten, there is -- I think it was a TED Talk where they highlighted creative problem-solving curriculum, where they had kindergarten students try to create a tower from marshmallows using toothpicks, and the kindergarteners were much more successful at doing this than 30-something-year-olds. Why? Because they weren't afraid of failing.
MORALES-HELLEBOThey would try something, try something else. It didn't work. Try something else. They were creative problem-solving iteratively, and we train that out of our children. We teach them that there is a right way and a wrong way. And I think that creative problem-solving should be brought back into our curriculum.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this Tech Tuesday conversation on women in technology. If you have already called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking on Tech Tuesday about women in technology with Jen Consalvo, co-editor and chief operating officer of Tech Cocktail. Jen Consalvo, what is Tech Cocktail?
CONSALVOTech Cocktail is a media company focused on technologies, specifically early-stage tech innovations, entrepreneurs, how to use, et cetera.
NNAMDIStephanie Hay is a writer, project manager and information architect. She is the co-founder of FastCustomer, which is?
HAYIt's an iPhone and Android app that you can download if you never want to wait on hold again for customer service. I'm not kidding. You should get it. It's free.
NNAMDII've -- I have been -- I have actually been reading about this app, that it informs you when there is finally a live person waiting.
HAYYour phone rings once we've got someone on the line.
NNAMDILisa Morales-Hellebo is inventor, founder and CEO of Shopsy. What's Shopsy?
MORALES-HELLEBOShopsy is a search engine that delivers head-to-toe outfits that you can change by selecting filters. If you love an outfit, but its $10,000, you select the price point that works for you. And we'll remix it to your price from multiple retailers on one site.
NNAMDIMen, stop wearing uniforms.
NNAMDIShireen Mitchell is the founder and executive director of Digital Sisters. Shireen, what is Digital Sisters?
MITCHELLIt's a nonprofit organization that was designed back in the '90s, early days of the digital divide, to get more women and girls into tech. And we actually have programs that were in the school systems to change some of the conversation that we were talking about earlier. How early do you start to get girls involved in technology? And we actually start as early as the second grade.
NNAMDIAnd then there's this issue via email from Carol, "I would be curious to know to what extent the lack of women at the top of technology is as a result, as in much of the rest of the work world, due to a work environment that is inflexible and non-family friendly. Research is showing that the failure of women to rise up in many disciplines is due to this lack of flexibility in schedules and even in career trajectory.
NNAMDI"That is, women may need better on-ramps and off-ramps due to family care and sometimes elder care and, therefore, may not be able to climb a straight career ladder. Is there a point at which any one of you would consider dropping your career to start a family? Or is that a false dichotomy?"
MITCHELLWell, I have kids. Do any of you all have kids?
MITCHELLOkay. I have two little boys. And I have no idea -- I have mad props for all the other moms out there that have full-time jobs that do this mothering thing and full-time jobs. I have no idea how you do it. I'm an entrepreneur. That's the only way I can manage to fit it all into my schedule because I can set my own schedule. You know, you -- every day, we'll have constantly changing needs. Your kid is throwing up at school, so you have to go and get him.
MITCHELLOr there's a doctor's appointment or, you know, just things constantly changing. But I also think that these skills help make you a better business person because my time management skills and ability to reprioritize on the fly are exceptional. I call them my mommy superhero skills.
MITCHELLSo I think that businesses that aren't making flexible -- adding flexibility for working mothers are missing out on a huge asset in the workforce because we are extremely efficient and have great skills that really should be tapped into.
NNAMDIIndeed, Marie Wilson, the founder of the White House Project, which promotes women for leadership positions, says women are not dropping out to have a child. They're dropping out because they have no opportunity.
MORALES-HELLEBOWhich is -- one, it's not even about dropping out 'cause I think in many instances women are not dropping out at all. And I always have this moment of, who gets to drop out? I don't know who that is because it's not me. But I understand the conversation that women, if pregnant or get pregnant, will no longer be in the workforce for X amount of time.
MORALES-HELLEBOActually, VC had put a post out saying something about he was -- he wasn't concerned, but it came to mind when he invested in a women's company, then he found out that the CEO was pregnant and that, you know, a pregnant mom, a pregnant CEO is going to fail their company. And I -- and the response back from that CEO was, you know, no one ever says that about a man, a CEO father in the work field, and is in tech.
MORALES-HELLEBOSo it's interesting that it can be said to women as that expectation. I think what really needs to happen is the mindset. Parents are parents, no matter if they're the father or the mother. There's always work that has to be done at some point. The assumption that it has to be the woman doing that is a whole another conversation that needs to change.
MORALES-HELLEBOAnd that -- if companies were more flexible, you wouldn't have this thinking, in that when father's -- 'cause I know plenty of single dads who get backlash because they have to go take care of their children for whatever reason. And their comments are usually, where does that come from? I'm a father. Who says that, you know, there has to be a mother around to take care of the kids?
MORALES-HELLEBOAnd why is there an assumption that, as a dad, I don't have that as a responsibility as well? So I think it's the mindset that really has to change in general.
NNAMDIIndeed, when I was a single father, I couldn't afford to drop the career or the job. Here is Jen. Go ahead, please.
CONSALVOI think it's so much more complex than people make it. I think they've simplified it into this thing of, you know, women, when they're ready to have families, just drop out of the workforce. One of the effects that I've seen when I was at AOL and trying to, you know, climb the ladder and get to new places, one of the issues that I saw was my network was shrinking.
CONSALVOI had spent so many years networking with women. And, all of a sudden, women were leaving for whatever reasons, and men were closer knit. My network was shrinking. That, to me, was the bigger issue than just, you know, that I want to drop out for any reason. So there's complexities there that -- nuances that people need to understand better.
HAYAnd even as part of that, too, not having a family, I've found -- I've been asked by former employers when I'm going to be married and when I'm going to have children as if it's any of their business. Okay?
HAYBut, really, there is that stigma that, as a woman, at some point, I am going to drop out. And so I have to work harder to -- I think, actually, in that piece Sheryl had said, you know, lean in to that and say, you know, this is not going to slow me down. It's something that maybe is a priority for me, and it's something that I want to do in my life. But it does -- it's certainly not relevant to this conversation.
MORALES-HELLEBOYeah, I think the mindset that once a woman decides to have a family, they're going to get suddenly lazy or something...
MORALES-HELLEBO...is ridiculous. For me, personally, when I had my first child, that's when I started my own design agency. I literally was out on maternity leave for the first month, and I got calls from previous colleagues and clients calling me, saying, oh, I hear you're available for work. And I said, you know, I just made a human being. Can you give me a couple of months?
MORALES-HELLEBOSo I started my own agency and had just moved and had a child, all within a matter of a couple of months. I don't think that you can call that lazy.
NNAMDIThe real life experiences that the lazy people you want to drop out never do.
NNAMDIHere is Dave in Falls Church, Va. Dave, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVEHey. What I'm thinking is that what these ladies are saying -- and, believe me, at one point early in my career, I had a white female promoted to my same level, even though I had a master's in computer science and she only had a biology degree because there was so much of a push to bring women into the field. So, inevitably, it worked out to my advantage. I wound up at the Oracle Corporation.
DAVEShe wound up crashing the system 'cause she was just learning to program, and I had been programming for four years. So the point I'm trying to make is that it really touches both ways. And I'm a single dad. So the same prejudices that the women face, a lot of times an African-American male faces. And now the backlash against white males, they are facing it, too.
DAVESo until we start coming together and say, hey, pull me and I'll push you, we will always going to be at this divide. And the only person who's going to have an advantage is going to be the employer.
NNAMDIWell, you know, there's a level of competition in the field that you are in and the field that these women are in. So I don't think we're all ever going to get together and sing "Kumbaya."
NNAMDIWhat we try to make sure is that there is a level playing field so that the...
NNAMDI...so that the people with the better skills are, in fact, the ones who advance. And that's a part of the conversation that we're having today. I find that there's sometimes a danger in taking our individual experiences and generalizing or universalizing those experiences. But we do appreciate you sharing your experience with us, Dave. We'd like to move on to Tiffany in Greenbelt, Md. Tiffany, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIFFANYHi. I'm just calling because I did a recent career change. I'm coming from the nonprofit sector -- excuse me -- and I'm currently a computer science major student at University of Maryland University College.
TIFFANYSo I was just wondering, what would be some places the women would suggest for, you know, newbies just coming out of college, maybe, you know, working on their second degree? What job websites or resources do you -- they think would be helpful places for a woman like me to look for jobs at?
NNAMDIWho would like to respond to this? Stephanie?
HAYYeah, I would say get out of your house, get out in the community. Check out the D.C. Tech Events. They happen every single month. There are 500-plus people who go there. At the end, they spend 10 minutes talking about -- you know, they welcome people from the community to come up and talk about their companies and who -- what sorts of positions they're hiring. And so I'd check out D.C. Tech Events.
HAYI'd also check out Refresh DC, which is also a monthly get-together, and that has some technical underpinnings to the speakers they're bringing in. But, of course, it's the same sort of Web-based community that you really want to be a part of to help connect you to these sorts of jobs. There are definitely a lot of job boards out there, and I'm sure that the women here all have some ideas, too.
HAYBut, far and away, for me, the most beneficial thing about being integrated into the Web community has been finding the people who are there and asking them for help.
NNAMDIAnyone else? Here is Jen.
CONSALVOThere's two things I want to mention. One, there's a great Listserv specifically in the D.C. region called DC Web Women. Lots of opportunities flow there -- flow through there on a weekly basis, all different types of jobs. Secondly, something that my own company does, Tech Cocktail, we host mixer events, which are very much geared towards not only checking out the latest startups who are out there, but networking and meeting people in your industry.
CONSALVOAnd, as Stephanie said, I just think that's so valuable. Meet people, talk to them. Word of mouth is so important to finding a job.
MITCHELLI also would say -- I was going to mention DC Web Women, so thank you, Jen, for that. There are other groups out there -- there's Women in Tech. There's WITI -- that you may want to reach out to that also not only post jobs, but also have other women that get together in the tech industry.
MITCHELLAnd then we do something around town that we've been doing recently called Geeky Girls Night Out, that we sort of do once a month to get women from all different industries to kind of come together and hang out. And so women can share and connect at that -- in that way as well. You can find that on Meetup.
MORALES-HELLEBOI want to say something about networking. I think that it's a universal skill that everyone needs to practice...
MORALES-HELLEBO...on a daily basis. It's something that will serve you well throughout your entire career. If you're looking for a job, you need to get out there and flex your networking muscle. It's a hard skill to acquire for many people. And to just get out there, make your own business cards. Even if you don't have a company, just your own personal business cards, you could get them for free on Vistaprint.
MORALES-HELLEBOYou should have all your social contacts on there so that anyone in the community can find you easily. And as you establish more and more contacts, the more you'll be able to find connections that will lead to, ultimately, a job.
HAYAnd all you need to do to start the conversation is say, I'm an incredibly smart woman who can code.
NNAMDIAnd, finally, here's Cassandra in Silver Spring, Md. Cassandra, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CASSANDRAYes. I admire and respect the women on your panel for what they've achieved. But I'd like to roll the tape back for a moment to the notion of the glass ceiling, especially a concept that was mentioned earlier from one of your panelists about ignoring the glass ceiling and doing your thing in the workplace. My contention is that you ignore the glass ceiling at your peril, especially in the high tech field.
CASSANDRAAnd I worked in the high tech arena in the '80s. And one of the things that struck me was the stratification in the workplace, whereby the men have the glamour jobs and the highly skilled jobs...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly...
CASSANDRAMinority women were relegated to being operators of the equipment.
NNAMDIHere's Stephanie Hay in 30 seconds or less.
HAYI'll just say I'm -- I co-run a startup, so I'm not averse to risk, to start. But I will say that ignoring the glass ceiling is something that I choose to do, personally. I don't expect anybody else to necessarily do that or the notion of it because I feel like it takes energy away from me being able to do something productive. But it absolutely -- oh, go ahead.
MORALES-HELLEBOI want to say it's not so much ignoring it. It's choosing to just break your way through it…
MORALES-HELLEBO...because you have to be aggressive to do so.
NNAMDILisa Morales-Hellebo is the inventor, founder and CEO of Shopsy. Shireen Mitchell is the founder and executive director of Digital Sisters. Stephanie Hay is a writer, project manager and information architect, co-founder of FastCustomer. And Jen Consalvo is the co-editor and chief operating officer of Tech Cocktail. Thank you all for joining us. Good luck to all of you. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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