Journalism is dead!

Long live journalism!

And so it goes as we continue on through the process of Schumpeter’s gale of creative destruction. With pay walls that come and go and come again (or hacked with four lines of code) and linkbacks ever so briefly taking it on the chin, how is it that we continue to misunderstand the business of the news? We’ve got to get long past the “what, me tweet?” debate and must move on to a diversity of news-telling technologies that serve communities across the globe.

News needs new monetization models; to get there, we must broaden our nets to find the keen minds to shake things up. Yet literally half our population faces the closed-door treatment. According to a study from Kauffman Foundation, only 4% to 9% of venture capital has gone to women entrepreneurs. That’s right. So if you’re a woman who has been successful in this business, you have boot-strapped, dodged, darted, borrowed, begged and ultimately innovated past anyone’s wildest imagination. But, sadly, what this really means is that some of the smartest among us are simply not being fully utilized because they lack meaningful backing.

Bringing Women to the Table

Contrast this to Aileen Kleiner’s recent TechCrunch post, Why Women Rule The Internet. A rare female VC who works at Sand Hill firm Perkins Caufield & Byers, Kleiner’s myriad of statistics show that it is simply foolhardy to ignore what women can bring to the entrepreneurial table.

I was personally surprised to learn this is the reality that I am facing. Until now, my experience has been very different, including watching several of my female college pals ending up as high-powered Hollywood executives. One went from sleeping on my couch and working as a temp secretary to ultimately becoming president of a major cable television network. Whatever the difficulties of that path, the fact that there were others around her on a similar journey had to make it feel less impossible.

Unfortunately, I haven’t enjoyed a similar playing field. Our second place prize on our business plan was fantastic until you consider that of the 27 teams in the competition, I was the only woman. Often, developers or other potential interactive clients will send emails addressed solely to him, even after I have explained that I am an equal partner. In another setting, I was sent a survey intended to induce camaraderie by asking us to select which superhero would win a battle — except the list did not include a single hero of my gender. The jokes which can make me uncomfortable sit easy with all the guys in the room. And that’s really the truth of it — it is nearly always all guys in the room.

Teaching, Funding, Encouraging Women

So how do we shift the current unfortunate paradigm facing women behind technology startups?

  • The decision-makers need to be made aware of such an incredible disparity. It needs to be talked about loudly and frequently. I have had men and women I respect become astonished when they learn of the inequality. That knowledge might help create sensitivity in this important arena.
  • We need to encourage the women behind journalism-oriented startups. This past month, the International Women’s Media Foundation gave three $20,000 awards to women-run digital startups with significant sustainability models. Similarly, the McCormick Foundation’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs organization is in its fourth year of awarding $12,000 to female-headed start ups. Girls in Tech is also trying to help support and organize women innovators in general, hoping to offer leads and support.
  • We must encourage girls to start learning computer skills early. When our elementary school offered an after-school class for kindergarteners teaching simple creation of a computer game, only one girl was enrolled alongside nearly a dozen boys. That was a decision made by her parents and they were sadly unique in their foresight. Computers and gaming must stop being vilified (that is for another post), and we must break up the all-male computer engineering classroom so that girls are no longer the anomaly in tech.
  • We must shift the numbers at business schools. Men still dominate the MBA landscape even as business schools are making a valiant effort.
  • Finally, we must somehow teach women to ask for it, whatever it may be. In a disturbing blog post in the New York Times by Joanne Lipman, the former deputy managing editor at the Wall Street Journal and the founding editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Portfolio magazine, she wrote, “First, we can begin by telling girls to have confidence in themselves, to not always feel the need to be the passive ‘good girl.’ In my time as an editor, many, many men have come through my door asking for a raise or demanding a promotion. Guess how many women have ever asked me for a promotion? I’ll tell you. Exactly…zero.”

So I’ll start the ball rolling and head for Sand Hill Road. I hope to report back to you soon that the VCs I visited said “yes” to my request. I am confident Stroome is ready for that kind of growth.