Women on Innovation, Women on Technical Conference Panels

As program manager for the NCWIT Entrepreneurial Alliance, I get to contact many successful and accomplished women in the tech environment. I love it: it’s highly inspiring. It’s inspiring to hear their stories, learn about their challenges, see how they choose to overcome them, and know that, as time goes by, more women find themselves a part of this success.
So you can imagine my excitement the other day at the AlwaysOn Summit at Stanford as I sat down for “The Growing Pains of Innovation” panel.  The panel, moderated by Elizabeth Tinkham of Accenture, had four panelists: Polly Sumner, President of Salesforce.com; Marissa Mayer, VP of Search at Google; Rashmi Sinha, CEO of Slideshare; and Jasmine Kim, COO at ImageSpan.
All women.
Can you imagine? A technology conference with an all-women panel, assembled to talk not about gender, but about innovation. What a refreshing sight!
The lack of women at technical conferences is not a new issue; it’s been notably discussed here, and here, and here. A rough count of the AlwaysOn Summit participants yielded 25 women out of about 150 total, or 16 percent. This reflects pretty closely the number of women in corporate positions at Fortune 500 technology companies, but doesn’t come close to mirroring the percent of IT positions women hold in the U.S. workforce (24), or the percent of the overall professional workforce they comprise (57). It far surpasses  the 1.5 percent of the open source developer community that FLOSSPOLS estimates is women.
The conversation was exciting. Listening to these leaders, who are creating innovative technology for us every day, I couldn’t help but applaud statements like, “There is no recession on innovation”, or “Don’t kill ideas – morph them”. It took a while for the tweets about this being an all-female panel in a technical conference to show up, but maybe that’s not because people didn’t notice the gender of the panelists; maybe it’s because their gender didn’t matter as much as their contributions to the conversation. 
When it was time for questions from the audience, the first question asked about work-life balance and about being a female leader in this space. Each of the panelists answered differently with her own take on it, making it clear that there is no one answer, gendered or otherwise, and that in today’s world, there is room for everyone who wants to find a path to success.
Check out video of the panel at ZDNet.
Flickr photo by Philjeudy

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