On Monday I posed the question on the Fast Company blog “Who’s to Blame for the Digital Ceiling?“. Technology and social media change makers Lisa Stone of BlogHer, Shireen Mitchell of Social Media Women of Color, Amy Muller of Get Satisfaction, and Rashmi Sinha of SlideShare are not only transforming the way women, nonprofits, and consumers use the web, these inspiring women are putting cracks in the ceiling.
First up Lisa Stone, Co-Founder of BlogHer.
What Inspired Lisa To Start BlogHer?
In January of 2005, Kevin Drumm of The Washington Monthly asked a question that kept cropping up, “Where are all the women bloggers?” I didn’t want to just complain about the question, which was driving many women who blog crazy because there were so many of us, but I DID want to figure out a way that women blogging could showcase themselves. I’d been mulling the idea of a conference for women bloggers, but I wasn’t sure it would fly. I decided to go for it in February 2005 when I met Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins. They loved the idea and we began asking other women who blog if they wanted to join in.
In Spring of 2005 we blogged about the BlogHer Conference idea, suggesting it as a network for all women bloggers to draw on for exposure, education, and community. We added economic empowerment to that mission after our first conference, where users told us they also wanted a better business model. That’s our goal – greater visibility and autonomy for individual women bloggers — and, ultimately, for the community of bloggers as a whole. Since we suggested the idea, other bloggers have been running with the idea, making it better and smarter. That’s how we grew to reach 14+ million women each month according to Nielsen.
Has The Social Media Landscape Changed?
I can tell you that no one asks “Where are the women bloggers?” anymore! In the past five years, women have not only become the majority of Internet users, but power users of social networks like Facebook and status update technologies like Twitter. Here’s the data: Of the 42 million American women who engage in social media every week, 55 percent of women participate in some form of blogging activity; 75 percent participate in social networks such as Facebook or MySpace and 20 percent use Twitter. As a result of this increased activity, our study found that women are online now more than ever.
The Challenges Women Face In Social Media And Tech
I’ve had some terrific experience with men who are leaders in media and social media. David Siminoff invested in BlogHer when we decided two years ago that it was time to stop bootstrapping and really expand. People like Dan Gillmor, Dave Winer, Jay Rosen and David Hornik have always been incredibly collegial with advice, recommendations or just paying serious professional attention to what BlogHer’s trying to accomplish.
So I feel really fortunate — because at the same time, women in tech deal with the ongoing factor that women are just not invited to speak or attend conferences other than BlogHer in the same numbers and there’s what I’ll call the “round-up” target=”_blank”>pr0n factor“, the most recent example being the Golden Gate Ruby on Rails conference. Plus the fact that mainstream media has relegated women who blog to “mommy bloggers” or “other”, which is frustrating. My advice to myself and to other women whom this all drives crazy? Hey, we all know and work with people (including men!) who don’t play that way and never would. So focus on your product, build something extraordinary and successful that can be measured in metrics and/or revenues. It’s possible to earn the respect you’re looking for. Go for it!
Lisa’s Advice To Women Who Want To Launch Their Own Startups?
1. Ask your users, potential or existing, what they want. Don’t tell them. Look where that got the print newsrooms I used to work in.
2. Bootstrap for as long as you can before you consider outside funding. It gives you enormous insight and forward inertia, which will help you find the right people to invest who are enthusiastic about your actual business and real-live users. I will be talking about all of this in more detail during my session at Women Who Tech TeleSummit coming up on May 12th.