By Renée La Londe
“I think I want to start a company after your speech.”
My heart leapt when I read this note a girl had written to me during GLAM last month. This is exactly why I founded GLAM (Girls Leadership Academy Meetup). Not only do I want to attract more women into tech, not only do I want to see more women in senior leadership positions, but importantly, I want to see more women founding and leading their own companies.
The gender gap in tech (and STEM in general) is a multifaceted issue that needs to be addressed on multiple fronts. Every initiative that contributes in some way to closing the gap is welcome and needed. But it’s not enough just to get more women into – and in leadership positions at – companies owned by men or a group of predominately male investors (activist investors are predominantly male, and men make up more than 90% of the decision makers at U.S. VC firms).
Who owns the company has a big impact on culture and what gets prioritized. Until we have more diversity in company ownership (and not just on company payrolls), society will not be able to fully benefit from the unique talents and insights that women contribute.
Female board members, female c-suite leaders and female executives all make a significant contribution to company performance – this has been demonstrated time and time again. However, the answer to the gender gap is not as simple as “add women and stir,” as Professor Robin Ely at Harvard Business School so aptly put it. How effective women are at shaping company performance has a lot to do with the company’s culture. For example, if women are in a work environment that is hostile to them, they are not likely to accomplish as much.
As a business owner myself, I know that culture is created from the top down. This is not to say that male-owned companies don’t treat women equitably – many do, and they are to be applauded. But if you think about it, how can we truly say that the tech industry is gender diverse unless there is also a diversity of ownership?
Each one of us has something valuable to contribute to the world, and the more diverse corporate ownership is, the greater the range of opportunities there will be for everyone. This goal is very achievable. If each of us could just convince one woman to start a company, think of the difference it would make in the world!
I tip my hat to powerful women that took time out to inspire the girls at GLAM. People have to see to believe, and when the girls see one world changer after another share their own stories, their perspective is heightened and their vision for the future gets broader. Each leader that came to speak to and mentor the girls made a contribution that will last a lifetime.
Over the past four years, GLAM has impacted almost 200 girls. If most of them come out of the program with increased confidence and courage, and if many of them choose a career in tech, and if one of them goes on to start a successful company, it will have been worth it.
Renée La Londe is Founder and CEO of iTalent Digital, a woman- and minority-owned international IT consulting and software engineering firm based in San Jose, California. She is also the founder and lead sponsor of GLAM.