We just wrapped up the 5th anniversary of the Women in Tech Festival – and it was a celebration to remember! This event has been dear to our CEO’s heart since the beginning. Being a woman leader herself—and running an organization that supports global technology and the startup ecosystem—Denyse launched the Women in Tech Festival to not only honor women in business, but to inspire and empower more women to turn the tables in a male dominant world.
We launched our first Women in Tech Festival in March of 2015 in HP’s cafeteria with about 100 attendees. Since then, the Festival audience has grown to a two-day program that draws in over 400 people each year, taking over the entire second floor of the Computer History Museum for the past two years. “Supporting women with big visions and big dreams, and providing a platform so all these wonderful, diverse voices can be heard – tackling the hard conversations like gender equality, representation, and inclusivity – it’s a privilege and honor for me!” Denyse said in her opening remarks on Day 2 of this year’s festival.
Throughout this year’s action-packed two-day agenda, we heard from more than 50 inspiring speakers, panelists, and workshop leaders; their chosen topics ranged from inspiring to sobering. Inhi Cho Suh, General Manager at IBM Watson, showed us some pretty startling statistics on “how we haven’t changed much in 15 years.” The average percentage of women serving as top leaders in their organizations is only 18%—and a whopping 79% of companies worldwide do not prioritize the advancement of women. Inhi shared IBM’s Be Equal pledge with the audience, a call to arms for company leaders worldwide: I Pledge to Be Intentional and Recruit and Sponsor Diverse Candidates.
In keeping with our organization’s mission to support entrepreneurship, the Festival starts each year with a Startup Pitch Competition on Day 1, featuring hand-selected female-founded startups. This year, 10 amazing founders were given five minutes each to pitch their company to the audience and a panel of judges; the audience voted for their favorite by using Sli.do, while the judges selected an overall winner based on pitch, market potential, and product offering. This year’s Audience Favorite was Susie Kim with Pluto Money Inc., and the winner of the 2019 Female Founder Pitch Competition went to Riana Lynn with Journey Foods! It was truly a fantastic competition with many deserving companies.
Another memorable session was a powerful and energetic workshop “Brand Yourself Like a Champion” led by Pasha Cook, Founder of Pasha Cook & Associates. The road map to building a winning brand consists of 5 things, according to Pasha:
- Seeking personal mastery
- Know your core values
- Understand your UVP (Unique Value Proposition)
- Establishing a vision
- Knowing the purpose of it all.
At the end of the day, the unique person you are is the seat of your branding vision. “Personal branding creates opportunities,” Pasha said. “It’s about understanding who you are so you can show up fully.”
Both days consisted of many fascinating Panel Discussions. On Day 2, the Breaking Bad Panel discussed, The Bro-conomy and Taking Our Seat at the Table. They addressed the dearth of investments in women in everything from VC funding to recruiting. Despite some positive gains in the conversation around equality, the current progress is still not enough: tech companies are still struggling to meet diversity initiatives, and the pay gap persists. California recently signed a law that required public Boards to have at least one (yes, just one!) woman representative. We clearly still have our work cut out for us. Our expert panelists, Claire Lee, Head of Early Stage Group with Silicon Valley Bank; Y-vonne Hutchinson, CoFounder of Project Include and CEO of ReadySet; Chandra Mitchell, General Counsel with Yamaha Motor Ventures; Kim Polese, Chairman and CoFounder of Crowdsmart; along with Moderator, Debra Brackeen, CSO of CSAA Insurance, discussed the current state of women’s seat at the table, and the work still needing to be done to bring us even closer to a truly equal future.
After two days, we all left inspired and energized—and wanting more! We put heart and soul into all of our events and programs here at SVF, but the Women in Tech Festival is especially near and dear to our hearts. As a 36-year-old non profit organization, we understand the challenges, the competition, the team effort, and the commitment it takes to get things off the ground, to create space and diverse opportunities—and how important the support of our partners and community is to keep us going. The Women in Tech Festival is a unique and powerful avenue for our organization’s core mission: that entrepreneurship changes lives by empowering people—especially women—to create their own opportunities.
We hope all our Festival attendees were empowered to help change the statistics of women leaders in business and tech. Join us again in 2020—we can’t wait to see what next year brings!
Marketing and Special Projects Manager