Women and non-binary people are wildly underrepresented in the tech industry. One study has found that only 14 percent of keynote speakers are women, while 68 percent are white men. And research has consistently shown that women are also underrepresented in news coverage by a ratio of three-to-one.
Unfortunately, this problem is predicted to get worse as everything moves online amid the pandemic. Between taking on more caregiving responsibilities and not being able to get a word in on Zoom meetings, society’s shift to virtual life is silencing women even more than usual.
“From homogenous speaker line-ups and news stories, the talent pipeline myth, and event schedules that ignore the reality of caregiving responsibilities, if you’re a woman in the startup ecosystem looking to elevate your voice, you face an alarming set of obstacles,” Pam Kostka, the CEO of All Raise, wrote in a recent blog post. “It shouldn’t be this way.”
To help, the San Francisco-based company has launched the Visionary Voices speakers bureau, a resource that journalists, event organizers and curious individuals can use to connect with female and non-binary founders, funders and operators who are experts in their field. The database currently features 975 women and non-binary experts, and All Raise is actively seeking to grow the list.
By making these speakers readily available, the goal is to both diversify the industry’s representation and give women and non-binary people the kind of access that is kept from them when they are left out of the conversation.
“It’s really about access — to opportunities, to networks. And those opportunities help them build not only a platform for themselves personally, but often for their company. As they’re attending these events and being seen as experts, they’re building social and financial capital,” Steffi Wu, All Raise’s director of communications, told Built In. “It also reinforces gender stereotypes when you don’t see equal representation of people seen as domain experts and leaders in tech.”
For instance, Wu says research All Raise has collected found that only 22 percent of students can name a famous woman working in tech, while 66 percent could name a famous man working in tech. By not giving a voice to entrepreneurs who are women, non-binary and people of color, it sends the message that there are none out there or that their perspective matters less. That’s what All Raise is trying to change with Visionary Voices.
“We want the expertise of these female and non-binary leaders to be given equal weight as their male counterparts,” Wu said. “Ultimately, I think it would be amazing if someday women were described as iconic CEOs, founders, executives and investors without the qualifier of ‘the best female executive’ or ‘the best female board member,’ or ‘the best Black female founder.’ Of course, it’s important at this time to highlight the, honestly, strong differentiators that define the identity of these founders — that’s one of the goals of this project is to make them more prominent. But in the future, those qualifiers should be seen as unnecessary because they are amazing CEOs, amazing founders.”
To accomplish this, Wu emphasized that it’s on everyone to make uplifting underrepresented voices a priority. Especially white men because, for the most part, they’re the ones holding the microphone. For instance, they can boycott events that don’t feature diverse speakers, they can refer media requests to a female peer, and they can encourage audience members to ask questions on topics traditionally reserved for women, like childcare. It’s also important that the media amplify diverse experts.
“We really want this to be something that allows us to link arms and say together that we all care about this issue, we all want to make sure the sources we interview and the speakers we present represent a diverse range of life experiences and backgrounds,” Wu said. “Diversity really should be a shared goal.”