Grace Hopper, Female Founders & Structural Inequality

I recently got the opportunity to speak at THE Grace Hopper Conference 🎉. It was my first time attending and I didn’t quite know what I was in for.

I was blown away by the brilliant women I met there and the investment poured into the 3-day affair to make sure that they were supported. Parties, panels, job offers… You name it, Grace Hopper had it!

And to top it off, the programming featured legends like like Anita Hill, Emily Chang, Priscilla Chan and Gwynne Shotwell.

Our Panel
I joined a mix of investors and entrepreneurs to talk about Female Founders. We focused on the structural barriers facing female founders. We were pretty divided on this issue which made for a really juicy conversation.

Some of the investors argued that the venture capital firms are beyond repair and that we need to start from scratch. Some of the entrepreneurs argued that if we don’t improve the cultural realities that many entrepreneurs have to face, we won’t improve the outcomes for female founders.

I thought everyone on the panel had a point. The journey ahead is going to require a unique way of thinking.

Which reminded me of the importance of exploring how other historically underrepresented groups have addressed similar barriers. Being an African-American woman, the one that resonated most quickly to me was that of black people entering into higher education.

Learning from the Journey of Others
While I was at the conference I couldn’t help but getting struck with a little deja vu (twice!).

1. Grace Hopper felt like the National Black MBAA. The National Black MBAA was founded in the 70s to black MBA graduates access positions at top companies. I attended one NBMAA conference when in business school. I received a job-offer from Kimberly-Clark on the spot!

Grace Hopper encouraged the same behavior. There is a resume database set up in advance and it is common practice for recruiters to seek out female talent. I saw recruiters from Google, PayPal, Slack, etc. giving offers on site to women who they found to be qualified candidates.

2. Governor Jerry Brown signed an affirmative action policy. He passed legislation in California that mandates every board of a public company to have at least one woman. This sounded really familiar. Almost like affirmative action.

Affirmative action is intended to promote the opportunities of minority groups within a society to give them equal access to that of the majority population*.

All of this deja vu worries me because time hasn’t treated NMBAA and affirmative action well. Attendees at the NMBAA are now about 25% white and most growing industries like tech companies don’t make time for it. Prop 209 was signed into place in 1996 to overturn affirmative action.

So, I think it is important to see this moment of focus on and empowerment of women as fleeting – unless we take serious steps to ensure it is sustained. Giving one woman a job in tech and another a board seat will not save us. This was clear over this past week with the Kavanaugh confirmation. Just because we had enough women in the Senate to overturn Kavanaugh, didn’t mean we had enough votes to keep a sexual predator out of the Supreme Court.

We need to take our action a step further. Increasing diversity is a necessary, but not sufficient step to creating more equality.

What is it about government and corporate institutions that makes diversity so difficult, and how can we change that?**



**More on this in upcoming articles! Still teasing through my thoughts. I always welcome your opinions, you can find me here on Twitter @sydneypaige10.

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Sydney Paige Thomas