Female Innovators at Work

DANIELLE NEWNHAM

Posted on December 28 2016

LinkedIn recently asked what my prediction was for 2017 and naturally, I said "The rise of women." The post I wrote on this was entitled Rise of the Women (in Tech): How the biggest disruption next year will come from women, not robots, and can be found here.

The reason I am so bullish on this is because I believe now is the first time in history that we have a voice. But it is still critical that we band together to support each other and tell the stories of female role models so that we create our own legacy, and to inspire future generations into fields which might once have been regarded as male-dominated.

This is one of the reasons I wrote Female Innovators at Work which came out this month. The book tells the back-stories of twenty amazingly inspirational women in tech and is available on Amazon. It was really important to me to seek these women out and tell their unique and compelling stories. The lessons they learned, the hurdles they overcame, the successes they share.

Here is an exclusive look at why I wrote it, taken from the book's introduction:

"In July 2006, I walked into the office of my very first tech startup and fell madly in love with the industry. Much like today, startups revealed a window into the future, which was, and still is, hugely exciting to me. That first startup worked on personalized search, NFC (near field communication), mobile payments, and mobile phone applications—all of which were several years ahead of their time. And although that company ran out of funding and closed down, as many do, I really enjoyed my time there and the experience taught me some valuable lessons. But there was something that bothered me. There were too few women.

Two years later, I joined the founding team at ubinow—a mobile apps agency set up by two members of the previous company’s mobile team. And the lack of women in the industry became even more apparent, especially when we started looking to hire more developers. This was not because women didn’t exist in tech, because they do. The issue was about visibility; a problem that persists today.

So I started to wonder, “How can we change this?” This, in turn, led me to ask, “Where are the stories about women doing well and thriving in this industry?” They were nowhere to be found. The press wasn’t covering women, the startups weren’t hiring women, and the industry wasn’t promoting women. So how could we possibly attract more or even retain those women already here if we did not champion them? I started conducting some research and began to uncover a treasure trove of female innovators. The more I discovered, the more I asked myself, “Why haven’t these stories been told?”

If one looks at the history of computer science, the overriding images of its creators have nearly always been men, despite some of its earliest innovators being women such as Ada Lovelace. Added to that, around the time that computers started arriving in our homes in the mid-1980s, advertising for personal computers mainly targeted boys. Magazines, films, and books at the time also focused on young males being the creators and consumers of tech, so the narrative shifted away from female programmers and focused almost entirely on men. And this was around the same time that the field saw a significant decline in the number of women taking courses in computer science.

But I knew that if more people learned these stories, they would be inspired too—and that by sharing them, we might have a better chance of changing the face of tech, in terms of its history, as well as its future. And these stories deserve to be told, so I decided to include some of them in this book. In Female Innovators at Work, I interviewed twenty inspiring women in tech; some just starting out but many with years of experience behind them. All are stories of women innovating. Each woman tells a different story about her personal journey, but there are some commonalities that are fascinating.

The first trait I found true for all was the unwavering grit and determination to succeed, often a trait built upon from childhood. Most would argue that all entrepreneurs share this trait—and they would be right. But what I find especially fascinating are the struggles that these women faced and how they used adversity to rise above it all. This includes Brenda Romero, who having been ostracized by her peers as a teen, decided to always “be one better.” And Ramona Pierson, who came back from death’s door to prove wrong the doctors who said she’d never thrive; she did just that and far more. And Judith Klein, whose father, an Auschwitz survivor, told her, “As a Jew, you must do even better than everyone else if you mean to get anywhere.” These women had a steely determination to make it, no matter what.

Another interesting commonality is how mission-led many of the startups are. This leads me to believe that with women at the helm, we will see an increasing number of tech-for-social-good businesses, which is something the world needs more of right now. Examples in this book include Majora Carter, who founded StartUp Box to both empower and improve the opportunities for young people in low-status communities such as her own, in South Bronx, New York. And Yasmine Mustafa, a refugee who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1990s and later founded ROAR for Good after learning her neighbor was raped on her doorstep in Philadelphia. And Judith Owigar, who both set up two organizations: AkiraChix to encourage more women into tech in Kenya, and JuaKali to change the face of manual labor. And Gwynne Shotwell, who is working with Elon Musk to realize a shared vision to save humanity and colonize Mars.

So why tell these stories now? The simple answer is because they should have been told already. The longer answer is that as the advancement of technology continues at an exponential rate, it has become necessary for our tech workforce to be as diverse as those it is being built for. The industry requires more skilled technologists, with different backgrounds and experiences, to take on the ever-increasing roles being created. And consumers and companies need a diverse range of workers building solutions for all.

In 2015, Intel pledged a $300 million budget to a “Diversity in Technology” initiative that aims to tackle both its own workforce diversity, as well as that of the tech industry in general. And they are not the only technology company looking to make a change. Facebook, Google, and other major players are also stepping up. They understand that it is the diverse workforces of tomorrow that will help shape the future of innovation and drive the next revolution.

And tech’s ability to empower and drive change makes it the perfect field for female innovators to lead in order to create a better world. So I hope that the stories inside this book inspire, inform, and encourage the next generation of women in tech. Because tech needs you. It needs all of us.

As women, there has never been a better time to stand up and to finally be counted."

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Hope you enjoyed this post and please feel to share your thoughts on this prediction with us on social media @teaseandtotes.

Happy holidays!

Danielle 

 Female Innovators at Work is available now from Amazon.

 

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