Much has been said and written about the lack of women in the tech sector, be it as investors (or associates), founders or in management positions at major companies. 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.
Marci Weisler has been working in and advising startups since the early days of the online industry in New York. Her latest venture is SWSI: Smart Women. Smart Ideas– a media brand and multi-screen show that helps women entrepreneurs of product and services companies anywhere to get their business to the next level through competition and crowd funding. Weisler and Co have launched a crowdfunding campaign to get it going, and are doing all they can to help get women entrepreneurs to the next level.
What was/is the biggest challenge facing you as a female entrepreneur?
I’ve spent much of my career in startups as the only woman on a senior management team. For the most part, I’ve had a voice in the room, but was often the minority. It’s better now, but early on, it was hard to find peers and mentors who were women to share experiences and provide advice.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurship in New York?
Women need to help women—collaborate, conspire and work together. There are so many smart, amazing women who just need urging and support to get ahead. Look at the ladies of the senate who got the country going again.
What is being done that you like presently?
I’m seeing a number of new organizations and initiatives that are pushing the effort forward. I think that both VCs and senior managers within companies need to learn to appreciate the value that female employees bring, not just checking the gender diversity box. Women often think differently and that perspective opens new conversations. Particularly in businesses that target women as clients, it’s SO important to have women in the room for customer-oriented decision-making, and it’s amazing how many stories I’ve heard where that is not the case.
I also love all the tech/coding initiatives targeting women—and kids– of both genders. These skills are so critical and I wish someone had inspired me to learn these skills. I will be encouraging my son to learn these and would push a daughter, if I had one.
Are you involved in any organizations that help to promote female entrepreneurship?
I’ve been part of Women in Wireless for a long time and Women in Digital Media. Over the last year or so, I’ve served as a mentor at WIM and think they are doing great work—both in terms of the incubator program and their events. Additionally, I meet young female entrepreneurs often and have casual discussions and offer advice.
Do you feel investors have a different mindset when it comes to investing in a woman-run company?
They definitely do. It’s not universal, but many investors are still more inclined towards men. There are so few women VCs in the room. That’s why alternative forms of investment are often interesting to women. And while the work/life balance is often unsaid, it’s sometimes felt—and it’s real—but there are ways to work smarter and better and still be successful, especially for those of us who have some experience already.
Do you think that women in top roles at major tech companies are scrutinized more closely than their male counterparts?
I’m not sure about scrutinized, but it’s often harder to be heard and harder to have achievements recognized and get compensated or promoted accordingly. This isn’t just about tech though.
Where do you and your company fit into the ecosystem?
My co-founders, Heidi Lehmann and Suzette Cabildo, and I started SWSI: Smart Women. Smart Ideas to promote women and entrepreneurship and help female founders get to the next level. It’s clear that women have a harder time raising money. Our first project is a multiscreen reality show for female founders of PRODUCT companies (as opposed to tech) who’ll compete to get access to capital, and the audience can also help crowdfund them and buy their products. Our research made it clear there was a big gap both in funding women and funding businesses that do not fit the metrics that VCs require. With digital distribution, participants get access to broad audience and can leverage global rather than local networks. We are practicing what we preach and just launched our own crowdfunding initiative with Plum Alley, the first crowdfunding platform focused solely on women run businesses. You can check out our project here.