This year’s Launch Festival was a very interesting experience. Like previous years, Jason and the crew organized a great show. Brilliant pitches and launching companies with abundant opportunities. However, this year, what stood out to me, as a woman in tech, was that they had a “Diversity in Tech Panel” discussing gender issues facing the tech industry today. The panel had Freda Kapor Klein, Vivek Wadhwa, Danilo Campos and Adria Richards. Adria brought up the fact because she is female she isn’t given as much credit for what she knows but rather questioned. They brought up some great points about how we treat women differently and discriminate against them. Wadhwa shared how he was questioned if he “was just trying to get laid” by defending women in the industry. He’s writing a book on women in tech currently. Please contact Vivek Wadhwa (@wadhwa) if you have any personal stories to share.
I applauded the panel and the effort to bring this gender disparity to the surface. The Silicon Valley has been buzzing about this female revolution, especially with Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” International Women’s Day happening this Friday March 8th and the myriad of events surrounding women in tech.
My absolute favorite moment was when Jason publicly called out a booth who had hired booth babes, breaking the event’s rules. Via Twitter, Jason said “kicked out as$&hole who broke booth babe rule–banned 4life! @nayafia: this booth upset me” I obviously was very happy to see this sexist behavior squashed, so I retweeted, started telling all my friends and female founders about it. The next morning, the same booth babes tried to enter the event and were denied. They asked, “why aren’t we allowed in? Is it because we are pretty and wear high heels?” Sorry it’s so complex to understand, but if one is hired to be there as booth decoration that’s a “booth babe” not sales, but maybe negative marketing and PR.
That morning, Jason made mention of the “No Stripper Rule” and how this upset him b/c they broke the rules, it demeans women and he wanted to keep the integrity of this BUSINESS event. I was the lone supporter loudly cheering in the middle of the room. My husband and brother were sitting a few rows behind me and heard all the comments from men about my “volume issues.” I’m not sorry and NO ONE can shut me up. Seems like some men didn’t agree with Jason, they liked the booth babes. They cheered everything else that Jason said though. I thank Aron Solomon for his tweet.
There shouldn’t be sexual overtones in a professional setting. What was more appalling is that the founder/CEO is a woman. Shame on her for objectifying women. Thank you Jason for banning them from the event. We need more men in power to speak up about this bad behavior so we can effect REAL change.
Also at the event, there was a public pitch by a Singaporean startup, “YouCommentate,” that was offensive. The statements were off-colored and sexist. Think SF losing the Superbowl, Charlie Sheen comments and other unrepeatable things. I was frustrated…ok fine….I was pissed. Anyone who knows me, knows my close ties and love for Singapore. So I felt the need to publicly call them out on their bullshit. I named the company and gave all my unfiltered comments via Twitter. I called them out to meet me at “the blinking car” in the expo area so we could discuss this situation face to face. From the time it took for me to walk from my seat to the blinking car, I received a bunch of retweets b/c people agreed with my anger + a bunch of Singaporean responses since we all run in the same small tech circle.
I met with Ken McHugh and his partner from “YouCommentate.” We had a nice friendly discussion about their pitch. They were nice guys who got horrible advice on how to make their pitch more “edgy.” They apologized for their bad behavior and reinforced how they fully support the American 1st amendment of free speech so appreciated my comments. Given their name “YouCommentate,” they knew it was coming. We walked away from the discussion understanding each other better and I posted updated tweets given the situation and so did Ken.
The next day, when I found YouCommentate and I introduced them to the billionaire Angel investor I was roaming around with. YouCommentate appreciated the opportunity to pitch to and receive feedback from the Angel. The Angel actually liked the product so they continued to chat. We walked away shaking hands and smiling. We have followed up with each other after the event also.
This motivated me to gather a few of the female founders for a photo opp on the last day. Then at last happy hour event on the last day, I asked the DJ to ask the female participants to gather on the stairs, so we ALL did. I don’t know the official count but we filled the stairs in the center. I wanted us to be counted because WE DO COUNT. In this world, you never know who you might piss off and how. The tech industry needs “sensitivity training”…that’s the key to true diversity. Given the current issues with Women in Tech in the Silicon Valley and internationally, I hope more men and women in leadership roles make immediate and lasting change since it’s long overdue. We need more females to Lean In, take leadership roles and NOT SHUT UP as they help other women succeed.