Business

Bizarro world, and how women are helping each other

Vivek Wadhwa is vice president of innovation and research at Singularity University and Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University. 

At the Women 2.0 “The Next Billion” conference last week, I started my talk by saying that the event reminded me of the Seinfeld episode Bizarro World. That is the chapter of my favorite TV series in which everything is the opposite of what you expect — just as Bizarro, the polar opposite of Superman, is evil rather than good.

In the room in San Francisco were 1000 women entrepreneurs — including many blacks and Hispanics. They were humble, confident, assertive, and determined to change the world. They weren’t bullshitting about creating billion-dollar businesses through silly social-media apps or through giving things away; they were focused on practical, profitable, sensible startups. They were helping each other and providing encouragement to fight harder in a male-dominated technology industry.

That is the opposite of what you always see at Silicon Valley conferences—where practically all of the speakers and majority of attendees are male and arrogance rules the day. Indeed, the shocking reality is that hardly 10% of high-tech companies are started by women and that you don’t find many women on the boards or executive management teams of companies such as Apple. It’s even worse for blacks and Hispanics — they constitute hardly1.5% and 4.7%, respectively, of the Valley’s tech population.  Sadly, things are getting worse for these groups.

My message to the audience was the same one I have spoken and written before — that women should let the boys have their social media, while they save the world. Exponential technologies are creating new, trillion dollar market opportunities and women have an inherent advantage.  Entrepreneurs with experience and education — particularly in fields such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — have the edge, because they can work across disciplines and see the big picture. As the data show, girls now match boys in mathematical achievement, and in the U.S., 140 women enroll in higher education for every 100 men.

So, though Venture Capitalists in Silicon Valley shun women entrepreneurs — who are usually modest and trying to build socially and financially responsible startups — women are forming their own support networks. Women 2.0 is the best of these. I have witnessed the growth of this network from a small group of a few dozen women to a powerhouse of thousands in a short three years.

My team at Stanford Law School and Duke University, with the help of Lesa Mitchell of Kauffman Foundation, has been surveying women in tech to learn their advantages and obstacles. We just wrapped up a survey of more than 500 women founders. A preliminary analysis reflects what I observed at the Women 2.0 conference: women are becoming more confident and assertive; they are helping each other.  Whereas my previous interviews with women had shown them to have been lacking the mentorship and support that men had, the new research seems to show much greater confidence and support. My research team is still working on analyzing the results of the study, but it seems that things are changing for the better—at least in Silicon Valley. Now we need to replicate this magic world wide, to enable women everywhere to become entrepreneurs and better their communities.


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