I'm not one to voice my opinions publicly, but as a former Techweek vendor and a female business owner, the discussion around the recent Techweek email has led to many emotions that I would like to share.
First, the good. I can honestly say that without the support of Techweek, I would not have built a successful business that now employs multiple amazing female employees. The gratitude that I feel for what Techweek did for me as an entrepreneur with absolutely no experience is beyond anything that I can express. The Board of Directors is (or, at least was while I was there) comprised of three men and one woman, all of whom helped my career in some fashion. The female member of the board is someone I look up to and respect greatly, and was one of the first (if not the first) females to graduate from Boston University with a computer science degree. Basically, a badass woman in technology who advocates for other women, and who sits on Techweek's board. They were there to answer my questions, offer invaluable advice, introduce me to the right people and give me the confidence that I lacked to propel my company to the next level. This from a group that is now being labeled the villain for not supporting women in technology.
Another positive from my time at Techweek is the amazing women that I was fortunate enough to work with, and that I now call my close friends. The former Executive Director, Director of Business Development, Director of Operations and Director of Program Management are all incredibly smart and talented women that I wouldn't have met if I hadn't worked with Techweek. These incredible women all held Director level positions within the organization that supposedly does not support equality in technology, and all of them had men who reported directly to them.
Now, what bothers me. There are two things that bother me most, and I feel that they are much bigger than any individual organization. First, it bothers me that it took prominent men in the technology industry to call out a sexist ad before change took place and media paid any attention. I do not in the least fault these amazing men for supporting the cause, but this isn't the first issue women have had with Techweek programing, yet this is the first time their voices have carried beyond a private Facebook group and social media posts. Why didn't anyone care last year when women were offended by the fashion show? The same women who are writing about the email in Crains were publicly upset by the fashion show last year but that didn't spur any action from the media or Techweek itself. Is it because the fashion show was sanctioned by another female focused media company, or is it because no prominent men got behind the cause? How do we advocate for ourselves if we aren't taken seriously until prominent men stand up for us?
Another thing that really bothers me is the female name calling and fighting. Why must we resort to saying that other women are dressed slutty or to attacking each other for the way we choose to support femininity in a Facebook group? This frustration dates back to last year when I was incredibly embarrassed after a Techweek party when a strand was started in a women technology Facebook group that called out other women for dressing "like sluts" at a Techweek kickoff party. I believe it was something like, 'how are we supposed to be taken seriously when all of these girls show up dressed like sluts?'. Men can wear shorts, pants, casual, formal, a hoodie, a tank top or a tee, and they don't judge each other like that. Why can't we be happy that women showed up to a tech party in Chicago, and supportive of the fact that their style happens to be different than our own? I understand and agree that some of the dresses were tight and short, but I also think those girls looked great, and confident; publicly tearing each other down is not the way to move forward.
I'm not saying that Techweek isn't at fault, I think their oversight two years in a row shows that something needs to be done, and that (fortunately) the good 'ole boys club isn't going to cut it in Chicago any longer. I'm inspired by the group of women that rallied together to ensure change is made this time. I hope we are able to raise the bar to a much higher standard and move forward as a unified community focused on making Chicago an even stronger technology hub for everyone who chooses to participate.
I do, however, think that it's unfortunate that the story of what they do do for women in entrepreneurship and technology has gone untold. I'm proud of the 19 women who made the list of Techweek100 because according to Techweek's Chairman “The reality is, we look across lines; we don’t look at gender or race or anything, we look at leaders...". That means that these 19 amazing women are truly leading the way, doing and building amazing things and leading the charge for women in technology.
I want to reinforce two facts:
- The industry needs to change, and I am proud of the women who are working hard to change this every day. Thanks to them, the technology industry continues to improve for all women. Thanks to the men who found the email offensive, the discussion has been elevated to the next level.
- Techweek screwed up, but they are also incredibly supportive of females in technology and entrepreneurship. Again, I can honestly say as a female entrepreneur with 100% certainty that my business would not be where it is today without Techweek's support. I think they need to understand their faults, but I also hope that everyone can understand the invaluable support that they provide to entrepreneurs and technologists of all genders, ages and races.