The Women Who Tech TeleSummit was like a gift that just keeps giving, and giving and giving. I attended three and a half panels and the after-party and discovered about twenty progressive, interesting businesses, news organizations, non-profits and email lists. Quick disclaimer, I love this stuff more than I love technology. I could eat ten progressive new developments in social justice for breakfast, every day. So my cup of tea may not be your cup of tea, but the fact that all of this is made possible by the agile new web technologies that devchix and women like us are building has got to be common tea. Eh?
Let’s start with the Launching Your Own Startup panel. The quote I can’t stop remembering is “Entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down.” Also, that failure has lots of virtues: it makes you smarter, more attractive to funders, can make you fearless and more willing to jump that cliff. They all heartily encouraged anyone interested in starting a business to go for it. On a practical level, they all made sure their ideas had legs before quitting day jobs or abandoning previous businesses. They recommended an iterative business model with some focus on revenue from day one; recommended bootstrapping then going for advisors and then angel funding before going for VC money. They stressed researching VCs very, very thoroughly to make sure they understood your product and market or community, then selecting one you have a viable, personal connection with. They also recommended having business partners, for the value of differing strengths, but also because it makes you more attractive to funders, helps with your power balance with them. They all recommended Steve Blank’s book Four Steps to the Epiphany.
The next panel I attended was called The Feminine Mystique. (See this for the historical context of that title.) Essentially, this one was about the level of satisfaction women are finding in the life of technology work. Issues of work/life balance, of qualities of nurturing being undervalued in the workplace were explored. —There was a nuanced discussion at this point, by the way. We recognized that not all women are nurturing, etc. The value of mentoring was explained thoroughly, however, both in the men-tee experiences of the eminently successful panelists and as an undervalued management tool used to grow workers. We discussed promoting tools for shared parenting and increased time off for fathering, that had been introduced twenty years ago and were succeeding but lost favor in the rabid conservatism of the past decade – job-sharing, for example. We discussed the need to consider ourselves experts with less qualification than studies show we currently do, to create more parity with the way men determine themselves experts, and then act on that accordingly. (Men will see a list of requirements for a job they’re interested in, know they have only two out of twelve, for example, and confidently apply; women won’t unless they have ten, for example.) I feel however, that a little of both is in order on this issue: it’s important to re-define “expert” so that men who may be undeservedly claiming the right to that title are discouraged, just as it’s important for women who aren’t doing so to be encouraged. This translates into behaviors like speaking in meetings, etc.
The Video Activism panel. The panelists were from Youtube’s non-profit program, Witness.org and Free Range Studios. Basically they discussed different methods of persuading people to act, but their relationships to video were very different. I thought the most interesting aspect of the discussion was the striking contrast between Witness’ and Free Range’s work specifically. Witness is a global human rights organization, while Free Range is a San Francisco-based design shop that provides creative services for nonprofits and socially responsible companies. Witness often works with user-uploaded video, it’s often brutal and they don’t necessarily have control over issues of style or sound or pacing, whereas Free Range is in the business of crafting and producing video as part of larger, sophisticated campaigns. Both are very effective organizations, both discussed tactics for targeting people in concentric circles from most passionate and likely to act to least aware and engaged, but with widely differing parameters. Witness gave an example of a very graphic video in which Egyptian police beating a man was produced and released by the police themselves in order to intimidate others, but it reached the notice of human rights bloggers and so has been widely used as a resistance tool. It’s this combination of raw footage used by bloggers that creates the successful activism in Witness’s case. (Witness licenses footage on a sliding scale from their archive of about 3,000 hours of video; it’s frequently used by documentary filmmakers, journalists, grad students, etc.) Whereas the Free Range spokeperson gave an example of using stop-motion video, which is time-consuming and a little expensive to produce, in a campaign called save the bay. It was also very successful: they achieved their targeted number of email signups and their funding goals for an environmental impact study. But they were able to control every aspect of the video and the microsite on which it’s viewed.
I listened to a bit of the Social Media ROI panel, which hit topics like how you measure success depends upon how you frame your criteria, slightly tautological but the example given illustrates the power of the point. Presidential candidate Ron Paul used social media to try to win the Republican party’s nomination but didn’t (obviously). What they proposed, I believe based on interviews with Mr. Paul, is that he didn’t believe or intend to win, though of course he would’ve welcomed that outcome. What he wanted was to make sure certain issues were part of the debate and by using social media, he achieved exactly that. And hence, success. I only listened to a bit, though, because I was getting ready to travel to the after-party, which I attended and thoroughly enjoyed. The bar was laid back, they provided meat, vegan & veggie pizzas, it was a comfortable number of people, the discussions were friendly, and I met a journalist who works for the Huffington Post. On top of meeting five or six women programmers and Deanna Zandt, a prominent feminist organizer and technology consultant in New York who turned out to be one of those really nice, fun, shots-for-all-buyers. Good times, chix. Maybe we should try to get involved with next year’s summit, as an entity.