Silicon Valley has its faults, but at the end of the day it assimilates and embraces the groups that break through its barriers. That is how Indians went from being low-level engineers to founders of 15.5 percent of its tech firms. This is despite the fact that Indian-born workers constitute only 6 percent of the Valley’s population. Indians learned that the way to succeed in the tech world was to network, and that you could uplift an entire community by mentoring others.
This is what women in the Valley are increasingly doing. There are groups like Women 2.0, Astia, Anita Borg Institute, and Iridescent, which hold frequent networking events for women, high school students, and disadvantaged groups, connecting them to mentors. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has made the issue one of their top priorities, providing financial support to Women 2.0 and Astia as well as other programs focused on fostering and supporting women entrepreneurs.
I attended one of these events on Nov. 2, at the offices of Andreesen-Horowitz—one of the Valley’s leading venture firms. I moderated a panel discussion, hosted by Iridescent. We discussed how best to help high school girls break the “Silicon Ceiling.” The panelists included some the Valley’s most successful women: Padmasree Warrior of Cisco, Marissa Mayer of Google, Freada Kapor of Level Playing Field Institute, Sandy Jen of Meebo, and Angela Benton of NewMe Accelerator.
All of these women volunteered their time to inspire others to provide mentorship. The organizers expected 80 potential mentors to attend, yet more than 130 came. The event was standing room only, and the atmosphere was electrifying—much like other women’s networking events I have attended in the Valley over the last two years.
Shaherose Charania, founder of Women 2.0, says that women entrepreneurship in the Valley has doubled over the last three years. She told me that her group’s surveys show that interest by young women in tech entrepreneurship is growing dramatically.
So it seems that things are moving in the right direction, and that we may be making progress in empowering the other half of our society to participate in tech entrepreneurship.
But we’ve got a long way to go.
The Iridescent event, like all of the other women’s events I have attended in the Valley, was open to all. But 95 percent of the attendees were women. Notably, neither Marc Andreesen nor Ben Horowitz participated. They, like other Silicon Valley men, should be far more active in mentoring and motivating women and minorities. After all, it is in their self interest to increase the size of the investment pool, and the quality of the companies they invest in.
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