Two ‘Geek Girls’ discover the sisterhood shaking up tech

Their young daughters are obsessed with technology, messaging their friends, and games like Minecraft, which made journalists Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens curious: with so many girls into tech, why was the number of women working in the field steadily declining?

Cabot and Walravens, working respectively on the East and West coasts, started collecting stories and comparing notes of women in Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley.

“We come at it from different points of view,” says Walravens, a veteran journalist who reported on the rise and fall of the dot-com boom for PCWorld magazine from San Francisco.

At the same time, back in New York City, Cabot was reporting on women in the tech sector for Yahoo.

“I’ve was working on something very similar,” says Cabot. “My beat was to cover how the internet was changing. I was meeting a lot of women starting companies and was wondering: What is it about these women that enabled them to persist in this male dominated field?”

Walravens says even before Ellen Pao’s headline-grabbing gender discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins, it was clear Silicon Valley had a big problem with sexism.

“Back in 2013, I was having lunch with friend who said: ‘You’re not going to be believe it, but I was told I’m too aggressive and wear too much lipstick,’” Walravens recounts. That friend wanted her to write about the sexism in Silicon Valley.

When Walravens reached out to a number of women in the tech field she discovered that yes, there was indeed sexism and bias. But she also discovered a different story: There was a powerful grassroots movement of female entrepreneurs, innovators, and creators within the digital revolution who were succeeding.

“I wanted to take a more positive perspective and tell their story,” Walravens says. As did Cabot. So the two decided to team up, and after five years of research, the result is the new book Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech.

So, what’s the secret sauce that sets these women apart?

“They were passionate about solving problems,” explains Cabot. “As an entrepreneur, that’s important. Second, they were fearless.”

They also couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Many had been encouraged to start tinkering at a young age.

“All of the women we spoke with were encouraged to take risks as girls, and take on projects,” adds Walravens. “For example, one woman, Madison Maxey, founder of Loomia, a company that creates smart fabrics, used to work on projects with her dad, who taught her how to solder.”

Another common trait: many of the female software developers had parents who were entrepreneurs.

Others, like Kay Koplovitz, the cofounder and managing partner Springboard Growth Capital, were able to succeed by embracing uncertainty.

Cabot says the tech field is all about “iterating,” and getting an idea out, even if it’s not perfect. For women, who are taught to aim for perfection, this can sometimes be challenging.

“One of the greatest takeaways we learned is just do it,” Cabot says. “So many people told us it’s really the idea of just starting. It goes back to this idea about perfection. It takes a lot of courage to get down the bones. You have to be comfortable with feedback and iterating.”

“The dirty secret is that it can be really lonely being an entrepreneur,” adds Walravens.

“Find your posse and a cofounder, you don’t need to do it alone.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge women entrepreneurs face is raising money. The Geek Girl Rising authors found many of the tech women they interviewed for the book are busy building their own funding networks. They found women were actually very supportive of other women in tech, and were trading intelligence on how and where to pitch to get funding.

“They are really trying to pay it forward,” says Walravens.

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