Jun 30, 2017

Women in tech share advice for solving Silicon Valley's sexism

Courtesy of Y Combinator

After a week of upsetting headlines about sexual harassment in Silicon Valley, there's an undeniable theme as woman after woman took the stage at Y Combinator's Female Founders Conference in San Francisco. Being a woman in tech is hard — but there's some hope.

Why it matters: As a minority in the tech industry, women often shy away from speaking up for fear of losing out on opportunities to get a job, raise funding, or thrive in the Silicon Valley. But in recent months, after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler (who was in attendance at the conference) and several female entrepreneurs went public with their accounts of harassment and discrimination, there's a sense of small progress in the tech industry.

Some speakers addressed the recent news about Binary Capital's treatment of women and Uber's workplace issues directly on stage.

"I'm pretty pissed off but I think we have to use it — we can't just be mad — we have to use it as an opportunity to be constructive," said Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee. "And i don't think that this story is over. I think more sad stories will come out over the coming weeks about behavior in the industry that's unprofessional and unacceptable that will piss us off even more," she added.

Others took the time to thank the women who went public with their stories that triggered an entire industry to pay attention. "I cannot thank them enough, they're my heroes," said Y Combinator co-founder Jessica Livingston in her opening remarks.

The hard truth: Many shared their own stories and lessons about being a minority in a male-dominated industry.

"In the last year my attitude has changed — it's naive to think that if you work so hard you won't be discriminated against," said Shippo co-founder and CEO Laura Behrens Wu. "If you just look at that, nothing has changed," said Nio CEO Padmasree Warrior, who was previously Cisco's CTO. "The fact that we're speaking up is a change — that, I'm very proud of."
"It's happened to most women in this room and we just eat it," said Lee.

And of course, there was great advice.

"Dont ask for permission," advised Blavity founder and CEO Morgan DeBaun. "There's all this data and all these numbers that say that we shouldn't exist. If you looked at the data you literally wouldn't go outside."
"Why should we be making money for assholes?" asked Lee, adding that hopefully entrepreneurs and other investors can steer founders towards firms that are inclusive and don't misbehave.
Lee's advice: "Be confident but don't stretch -- if you're a little too arrogant they will ding you for being an exaggerator. Know your numbers -- women will get dinged for not being quantitative enough. Be good at following up."
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