Cydni Tetro, Women Tech Council: Contribute to Female Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Increases Success Fund Raising

Transcript follows & video below

Could you briefly tell me about the Women Tech Council & how it supports Women in Tech?

We started the Women Tech Council about 3 years ago. We sat down & said OK we’ve got 6600 Tech companies that are sitting here along the Wallsatch front. The majority of the people in the industry aren’t women but we started to find the women to be able to come together, to network, to mentor, to create some visibility. We actually did our initial testing & said you know we’re just going to go out & talk to a whole bunch of vcs, a whole bunch of executives, a whole bunch of senior women & see what kind of interest there is. So we did that, we held a couple of advisory sessions & took all that info, formed basically an organization. Six months later we launched & that was in October 2007. Since then we’re up to a community of about 4400 people. It actually includes in our community both men & women. In the Women Tech Council, we’ve really just grown it organically. We do physical events. We’ve got an online community. It’s really around this initiative of creating value for women in technology, bring relationships that they would never have otherwise, creating visibility for women in different ways. We launched a couple of years ago the Women Tech Awards which is this platform that lets us create awards programs. Because we found that if I’m a really great technology & business person chances of me getting recognition are significant. But if I’m an engineer that’s been coding for 40 years & I’ve worked on fuel things that are going to Afghanistan or patents in technology that are used for the stock exchange, chances are that I don’t get recognition because that’s not the normal path of those awards. We’ve created this whole program where we can highlight emerging women in technology, technology innovators, highly technical people, even service providers & give really this well rounded view into women. It’s been an amazing program that we’ve done over the last 3 years.

Cydni Tetro

Wow good work you guys, that sounds fantastic! Could you give me some figures about the percentages of women in technology compared to men?

I’ll tell you some of the numbers that I was thinking about, when I was thinking about this interview. The numbers of women in technology have actually declined over the last 15 years. We actually had more women in maths & sciences back in the early ’90s than we do today. I think it’s a tragedy partially because women add such a different perspective when you’re sitting inside a board room than when you just have a group that looks all the same. I think the root of it is girls (& this has always been a problem) don’t view maths & science as exciting as it is. So we’re seeing fewer girls go into those programs in college which means we end up with a lot fewer of them in the workforce. I believe that the general number is 18% to 20% of the technical workforce are women.

Cydni Tetro

Right ok & that is concerning that the figures have dropped rather than increase. I would have naturally thought that they would increase.

Yeah & even as part of the Women Tech we have an education sub committee that is specifically focused on, even we’ve partnered in some places that take us into the junior high arena (because we know if we can get them in junior high & have them think about how cool it is to be into computers & maths & science, they’ll go into it in high school & they’ll jump into it in college). So we try to actually hit all 3 of those sectors. Still there’s lots of awareness to be done because it’s not perceived as the cool job to be in technology when you’re younger.

Cydni Tetro

What do you see that needs to change to facilitate more women entering into & staying in technological careers?

Yes there’s both sides, what helps get women into that & what helps them stay. I think there’s significant advantages for women in technology. For me I was looking in college at all those various degrees & I went with computer science. One of those reasons was that it gave me a skill coming out of college but I also knew that it would give me this career flexibility. I think you’ve seen this also in your career where depending on whatever life stages you’re at or what you want to do, you get this ability to say I’m going to work from home sometimes or I’m going to be in the office or I’m going to travel around. If I go into other types of degrees, like if I decide to be a nurse, I’ve got to go do my 12 hour shift, you get limited flexibility. I think we need much better visibility, not only about what these types of careers afford, but what those types of careers can be. Because I think especially when you’re younger, & even early on, there are so many jobs in the world that noone ever talks about. You get this exposure once you get into industry of saying Oh Wait. Like for me I did a computer science degree but I do not have a passion for engineering or being a programmer. But once you get into industry there are thousands of jobs that are really exciting that don’t require you to sit behind a desk every day & program, that are valuable. I think we don’t create enough exposure for all the different opportunities you have if you have a technical foundation.

Cydni Tetro

Many say that it helps a woman entrepreneur’s position if she is technical when sourcing venture capital. Do you know any percentages on that compared to non technical women entrepreneurs?

That’s a good question. I’ve never actually seen a study related to that. I’ve seen a couple of studies from a couple of my friends who are professors that even validate what you already know, women getting venture is much harder than men. But I definitely know having been in front of lots of vcs & done lots of pitching that technical background gives you a ton of credibility because you understand the language, you understand the process. Especially if you can add the business components to that you know how the whole thing will be perceived. You know how to tell the story. You understand the financing components so I think because so much of a technical degree is critical problem solving that that also helps you to facilitate when you go to raise funds for a venture.

Cydni Tetro

I’ve heard from the vcs that they have much more faith & trust & confidence if a woman is technical!

Interesting, interesting.

Cydni Tetro

Have you noted bias or lack of openness from many venture capitalists as regards women entrepreneurs? I gather not only your own experiences but you may have heard many stories from your members?

Yeah it’s one of those topics that we talk about often because we’re all about seeing women succeed & creating that level playing field. And just making it part of who we are, right. Part of what in the Women Tech Council, we focus less on the women component & just on all these nice things that make us successful. But there are those stories out there, there are definitely biases that happen & it’s a tragedy but it does. Just an interesting point when I was thinking through this question. One of my friends actually ran a study on a business plan from a University. He created the exact same business plan & one of the business plans he put a male name & on the other a female name. Then he sent it out for funding. The plan that had the name of a man on it got funded 80% more than the female plan.

Cydni Tetro

Interesting I’ve heard about a similar study that a woman venture capitalist did & she did the same thing & similar results. It’s a bit scary & shaky to hear that though isn’t it?

It is, because part of me doesn’t really believe that that’s there, right? And you just go wait it’s this level playing field. You’ve got smart, capable people sitting in front of you, it just doesn’t matter.

Cydni Tetro

Yeah & I guess what it exposes is something very deeply ingrained & possibly unconscious in some respects.

I believe that to be true. I’ve been in a number of meetings where you could clearly tell, that even if a question got answered, that I was the one that asked, that I was the one that was going to answer, that eye contact didn’t come to me, because I’m the female in the room. I’ve had those experiences. To me it’s not a big deal but there’s definitely meetings that you sit in & you’re like wait that’s not supposed to happen? You’re supposed to have the conversation with me!

Cydni Tetro

Have you found that some successful women deny that there are any challenges or obstacles for women entrepreneurs? If they have achieved success they don’t want to note that there is anything broken in the system or that there ever was a glass ceiling. I ask this question because I have heard that both some women CEO’s & women venture capitalists that may take this position.

I definitely believe that that’s out there because at the end of the day you’re building this story about your career, your brand & who you are & you want it all positive. So you’re very, very careful about how you talk about things, about how you position those. I think it comes because what you don’t want is any back lash on you from creating any negative stories, which those are generally perceived as. So you just play the game of saying in general that hasn’t been my experience. By & large in general my experience hasn’t been that either. I haven’t ever really felt like my career has been limited by being a female. I’ve had point experiences where you say that shouldn’t have happened or that’s really frustrating but it really doesn’t define my career.

Cydni Tetro

Would partly that be because you haven’t let it define your career?

I absolutely believe that’s part of it. I believe that the core of that is your attitude about it. You can either watch for those problems & let it define you or you can just say it just doesn’t matter!

Cydni Tetro

We need more people like you, Cydni.

In a recent interview with Cindy Gallop, IfWeRanTheWorld, she quoted Madeline Albright: ‘There’s a special place reserved in Hell for women who do not help other women.’ Could you elaborate ways that women entrepreneurs can support each other?

You know I really believe in that statement, I believe in it not just for helping other women, but when you have opportunities to give back to communities, it always comes back to you tenfold. I believe it’s also one of the most valuable ways to build connections that help you as you go through your career. So for me even with things like the Women Tech Council because all of us are volunteers from the day we started it through all of the board that exists today. We do it because we’re passionate about giving back to the community & we’ve seen so many amazing things happen. Just as an example, the first year that we did the Women Tech Awards, we kind of ran it like the Ernst & Young, where we do 15 finalists & then we award some recipients. My judges were interviewing & one of my judges ran the women’s center for a bank. One of the finalists, she’d been in industry a long time, but had just branched out & started her own company so she didn’t have a year’s worth of tax returns to secure a loan. They finished her interview & were having this conversation & the banker said, hey give me 2 weeks & let me see if I can help you. So in 2 weeks this lady ends up having a loan so she can go move the company to a new office so that she can expand. She grows to 30 employees which she’s got now, she gets a new location & those are all relationships that wouldn’t have happened without us. Those are things that I view as giving back, those connections are not our glory but we help facilitate them & we’re willing to spend our time creating really cool experiences that are meaningful & making a difference in the lives of people building businesses & in technology. Just personally, I’m a huge believer in that, it comes back to you. You should never expect anything in return but it’s a vital component of being part of a business community.

Cydni Tetro

I bet your daughters & her girl friends will thank you down the line.

I hope so, my daughter is only 3 but I’ve got her on the iphone & the ipad so I’m training her on that.

Cydni Tetro

Good work, good work!

  • What can women entrepreneurs/startups do to increase their chances in sourcing venture?

I think there’s a ton of it that comes down to building strong networks of people. Because I think the stronger networks you have, it builds more credibility with you. I actually have found, kind of related to the last topic we were talking about, that women who are willing to spend some amount of time giving back to communities tend to have higher success rates in venture. Because they’re seen as these well rounded individuals where they’re giving time in certain places, they’re leading specific initiatives. They have business skills outside of the venture that they’re giving. So people see them in all sorts of fashions, so when you sit in front of an angel group or venture firm they get exposed to all these experiences that you’ve had because they start talking to people. And they say Oh yes I worked with so & so at this & it just creates these lasting connections that you can’t create if you’re just in a bubble. I think that dramatically helps women! It’s all just part of this ecosystem you have to build if you really want to play in the entrepreneurial community.

Cydni Tetro

Wow that’s a really good point. I don’t think anyone has brought that up to date, so I really appreciate it. I so appreciate you offering your time, I know you’re really busy & giving us this feedback. I really do look forward to hear what’s happening at the Women Tech Council.

Thank you for even doing this series. Interestingly over the next couple of years, this year when we did the Women Tech Awards 30% came from out of the region. We even had some internationals! So as we look over the next couple of years, we see lots of needs as we drop into communities in Silicon Valley, in New York City, in Austin & in Seattle so hopefully we can even leverage you & some of your partnerships as we do that because it would be great.

Cydni Tetro

Definitely, just let me know if there is anything I can do to support you.

You’re signed up!

Cydni Tetro

Thanks again very much.

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