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Strong Female Lead

What It's Really Like For Women In Tech

The tech sector is still not a level playing field. Women continue to experience sexual harassment and blatant bias. Here are their stories.

What It's Really Like For Women In Tech

[Asian couple talking:Blend Images via Shutterstock]

It's a pretty safe bet that no male CEOs can match this story:

Heidi Roizen, cofounder and CEO of software company T/Maker, recalls working on a "company-defining deal" with a major PC manufacturer in 1985. The computer company’s senior vice president, who had been instrumental in crafting the deal, suggested they sign the paperwork and celebrate over dinner in San Francisco.

About halfway through dinner, Roizen says the exec asked her to close her eyes. He said he had a present for her and asked her to put her hand under the table so he could give it to her. Then, she says, he placed her hand in his unzipped pants. Roizen quickly left restaurant and the deal subsequently fell apart.

"For a long time, I never told that story to anyone," she says. "When I did tell it [on my blog], I didn’t tell it to shame or fault anyone, but to let people know that these things actually happen to women."

Roizen, now operating partner at Menlo Park, California, venture capital firm
Draper Fisher Jurvetson
, shared her story in the new book, Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology. Compiled, written, and edited by researcher Vivek Wadhwa and journalist Farai Chideya, the book includes interviews with more than 500 women, as well as personal essays from technology and innovation leaders like Roizen, Patriarch Partners CEO Lynn Tilton, tech exec Kim Polese, and new U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, among many others. The result is an unflinching look at what it’s like to be a woman today in innovative sectors like technology.

99 Problems And Gender Is One

Wadhwa says the book’s roots can be traced back to his attendance at the 2009 TechCrunch Crunchies Awards, which honor tech innovation. When his wife pointed out that the room was filled mostly with men, he had an epiphany.

"I came to an ugly realization that there was something wrong over here; that it was like the Twilight Zone for me," he says. "You come here and you notice something really weird. Where are the women?"

In 2010, he wrote a blog post for TechCrunch entitled, "Silicon Valley: You and Some of Your VCs have a Gender Problem." He says he received a great deal of negative feedback from men in Silicon Valley who said he was making a problem where they didn’t see one.

The more he wrote, the more pushed back he felt. When it was time to write a book on women in technology, he knew he needed women’s voices. When he discussed the project with his wife, Tavinder, she suggested reaching out to the very women he was trying to help.

The result was immediate, with dozens, then hundreds of women responding to the call for stories, then for funds. Wadhwa and Chideya crowdsourced stories and perspectives about women and innovation. In 2013, they raised more than $46,000 on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo in less than two months, as well as from organizations like the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship, giving them the money they needed to complete the research and writing. Throughout, the women participants shaped the content.

"We basically had a discussion forum where we posted the subjects of what the book was going to be about question by question and then women literally discussed with each other and voted on what the right answers were. Several of them wrote us lengthy essays detailing [the issues]," he says.

A Turning Tide?

In addition to raising awareness about the challenges women face in innovative fields, the book is helping in other ways. Wadhwa says all proceeds go to a fund at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley educational institution for tech leaders. It will also be used to educate women about advancing technologies and fund select women-owned startups.

While some of the stories and statistics in the book are grim, Wadhwa says the tide is turning. Technology leaders like Facebook, Google, and others are beginning to focus on gender and other areas of diversity; tracking their numbers and initiating programs to recruit more women and people of color.

Roizen believes that sharing stories also helps women become bolder about standing up for themselves because they see that other women have been there, and helps others see that this behavior does exist and must be addressed.

"One of the most responsive audiences has been men who have daughters who are entering the workforce," Roizen says. "It would never occur to them that something like this would happen. When they hear these stories, it helps them be more aware and, when women come to them with these stories, to take them more seriously."

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