2017 Women in Tech Symposium & Athena Awards

L-R: 2017 Athena Award winners Claire Shorell, Jessica Ladd, and Fei Fei Li (Laura Haas not pictured). Photo Credit: Adriel Olmos/CITRIS and the Banatao Institute

December 5, 2017 |

A number of recent studies confirm the increased effectiveness of diverse teams in the workplace. Despite such evidence, representation of women in the tech sector has barely increased. To explore reasons why, find inspiration, and celebrate those who aim to increase the participation of women in tech, 150 women and allies gathered in Santa Clara on November 30 at the Women in Tech symposium, hosted by the University of California’s Women in Technology Initiative (WITI@UC).

“Be the Token and Be Proud of It”, the keynote talk by Poornima Vijayashanker, Founder of Femgineer & Founding engineer of Mint.com

Keynotes from Poornima Vijayashanker, founder of the advocacy organization Femgineer, and Berkeley Haas professor Laura Kray, an expert on the roots of gender bias, were followed by panels of women in industry and experts on gender equity relating their own paths to success as well as challenges women face in the sector.

Founders of successful startups, representatives from venture capital firms, and executives from tech companies spoke to the symposium’s theme of innovation and entrepreneurship. CNote founder Catherine Berman, now developing her third social enterprise company, cited the statistic that women receive only 2 percent of venture capital, and pointed to a study in the Harvard Business Review on how differently women and men are treated when raising investment funds.

Attendees take part in a photo pledge to move diversity in tech forward

“Women are constantly asked to de-risk their idea,” said Berman, “while men are asked about the market.” She advised the aspiring entrepreneurs in the room, “Flip the question on its head. If you’re asked, ‘Tell me why you won’t fail,’ defend your company and then move on to its high-growth potential. Just that one tip has changed results.”

Many presenters emphasized the importance of networking and mentoring. Technology executive Sophia Velastegui described developing a personal board of directors, saying, “I think of myself as a company. When I face self-doubt and rejection, I’m not going to declare bankruptcy — I just pivot.”

Panel 1, “Making Strides”, with Catherine Berman (CNote), Sue Carter (UC Santa Cruz), Laura Teclemariam (Electronic Arts), Sophia Velastegui, and Caroline Winnett (SkyDeck)

Bringing women together to support one another was a driving force behind the symposium. Introducing the Athena Awards, WITI executive director Jo Yuen said the Women in Tech Initiative was founded to act “as a bridge between academia and the world our students will graduate into.”

Accepting the Athena Award for Academic Leadership, Stanford computer science professor Fei Fei Li first looked back to acknowledge “so many amazing women who have blazed a trail,” citing computing pioneers such as Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, before forecasting technology’s future.

The Early Career Award goes to Jessica Ladd, founder and CEO of Callisto, a software platform for survivors of sexual assault.

“We know AI will change the world, but who will change AI? If we want these technologies to serve all of us,” said Li, “we want all of us to be developing this technology, to be leaders driving the direction of its future.”

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Expanding Diversity and Gender Equity in Tech (EDGE in Tech) Initiative @ UC | CITRIS & the Banatao Institute + Berkeley Engineering http://edge.berkeley.edu

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EDGE in Tech™ Initiative at UC

Expanding Diversity and Gender Equity in Tech (EDGE in Tech) Initiative @ UC | CITRIS & the Banatao Institute + Berkeley Engineering http://edge.berkeley.edu