Much has been said and written about the lack of women in the tech sector. Is the problem the old boys network – or that success in technology is seen as a young man’s game? In this series, we speak with some of the top industry women in New York as they discuss the challenges they face, the perceptions that need to be changed and the work that’s being done – or not – to help to promote women in tech.
Today we hear from Amy Vernon, a 20-year veteran of newspaper journalism and top female submitter of all time on the late Digg.com, Amy Vernon is sought-after for advice on how to navigate the social web and has consulted to a wide variety of clients, from tech startups to international media organizations, on how to harness their community, develop shareable content and put in place best practices in their digital strategy. Vernon has blogged for many sites, including VentureBeat, The Next Web, Network World, AlleyWatch and Discovery.com’s Parentables, and has driven literally millions of page views through her work.
You speak on many industry panels and no doubt meet entrepreneurs of every stripe. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing female entrepreneurs?
It’s hard to say, because like any other type of entrepreneurs, there are all sorts of personalities at play. I wish it were as simple as saying that women aren’t confident enough, or as simple as saying that the mostly male VCs don’t pay female entrepreneurs the same sort of attention.
I think there’s a mix at play and in some cases either or both are true. I really believe we’re at a moment in time that is this generation’s Women’s Lib movement. There’s a widespread recognition that there is a problem here, and people of both genders appear to be working to do something about it.
Societal change doesn’t take place overnight, and though we’ve come a long way in the past 40 years, we’re really only a couple of generations removed.
That said, men and women are different in certain ways. Some societal, some perhaps deeper than that. When men are speaking with men, they understand the language and mannerisms. When men and women are speaking to one another, they may not interpret things in the same way.
We need to work harder to understand one another. And maybe, eventually, speak the same language.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurship in New York?
A more unified female tech community. While role models can come in any gender or race or age, there’s strong evidence that having role models who look like you is a very powerful motivator. It makes the goal seem more achievable.
There are so many different organizations working on different aspects of women in technology; we need to start working together more.
What is being done that you like presently?
Just 3-4 years ago, there seemed to be little interest in women’s tech organizations in uniting for a larger purpose. That has changed. I think part of it is that so many organizations were still relatively young and needed to cement their own membership and focus before perhaps “diluting” it by joining with others.
The willingness to join together with any and all other women’s tech organizations is terrific.
Are you involved in any organizations that help to promote female entrepreneurship? Also, do you do anything personally to help promote women in technology?
I’m a mentor for the Women Innovate Mobile Accelerator, on the board of Girls In Tech New York and an advisor to NY Tech Women and Bella Minds.
Do you feel investors have a different mindset when it comes to investing in a woman-run company?
Absolutely – the work-life balance almost always comes up, particularly if the woman is younger or has children. It just doesn’t come up for men, which I think is a mistake for all of us – fathers play such an important role in our children’s lives.
In my house, my husband is the primary caregiver of our two sons. So for me, the work-life balance doesn’t apply in the sense that would be expected. But I get asked all the time, “How do you DO it?” in reference to raising children and working full time.
The answer is, “I don’t.” My husband and I made a decision many years ago, that was the right one for us. There’s nothing wrong with making a different decision than we did, but don’t assume that I’m the primary caregiver or that I’m SuperMom just because I work and have a child.
Do you think that women in top roles at major tech companies are scrutinized more closely than their male counterparts?
Yes. Their clothes. Their hair. How they allow themselves to be photographed in magazines. How family-friendly their company is perceived to be (the attitude toward a woman in a situation where a company institutes a policy that some regard as being anti-family is far more negative than when a man is in charge).
Where do you and your company fit into the ecosystem?
I’ve worked for myself and for others over the last few years. I have written about tech for publications including Network World, VentureBeat and The Next Web. I’m not a technologist by trade, but I’m a hardcore beta tester. (I once got an error message that said simply, “Oh crap.” I’m very proud of that.)
Because of my background as a writer – 20 years as a professional newspaper journalist – I tend to be cast in marketing-type roles. But I’m at my happiest when I’m working on product and UX or designing website.