My guest today on the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series, as part of our Women in Tech series is Allyson Kapin. Allyson is the founder of Women Who Tech, the largest network of women-led startups, investors, and allies working to increase diversity and funding in tech. Women Who Tech is a nonprofit organization working to build a culture and inclusive economy focused on accelerating women tech entrepreneurs and closing the funding gap.
In addition to founding Women Who Tech while concurrently running her own agency designed to power fundraising and grassroots movements, Rad Campaign, Allyson launched one of the largest global programs, the Women Startup Challenge, in partnership with Craig Newmark the founder of craigslist. As you might notice, Allyson rarely sits still, which is one of the many reasons she inspires me and countless other women in tech.
About the Study: The State of Women in Tech and Startups 2020
Women Who Tech conducted The State of Women in Tech and Startups 2020 research study to identify what barriers and challenges people face in the tech sector, and also to help track whether the systemic sexism and racism that respondents experience have shifted since the organization’s 2017 survey. Did the #MeToo movement play a role? What happened to gender parity, or investors’ perceptions around gender parity in tech and whether investors believe gender plays a role in access to funding? Has anything changed since 2017?
My conversation with Allyson revolved around the following:
- The Women Startup Challenge Grants Program and what the goals around that program and the Startup Challenge are all about.
- What the goals were in revisiting the State of Women in Tech and how taking a deeper look at startup founders, employees, and investors on their experiences in tech and startups can help identify trends and shifts. In the treatment of underrepresented tech founders and employees over the course of the last three years.
- The findings of the State of Women in Tech and Startups Report (and yes, there were some surprises). For starters, note that trust is a huge issue in the workplace, and this study revealed that fewer women report workplace harassment than they did three years ago as a result.
- What women of color founders experience in the tech and startup world and how that is often different from what white female founders experience.
- What impact the #MeToo Movement had on securing funding for female founders.
Allyson and I explored the findings that came out of the survey that surprised her the most, as well as what she believes is ahead for women in tech and startups, as well as some advice for female founders. You can get The State of Women in Tech and Startups 2020 Report here.
Watch my interview with Allyson here:
Stream the podcast on your favorite streaming platform:
The Path Forward – Thoughts from a Female Founder/Analyst in the Tech Space
My conversation with Allyson didn’t uncover anything I wasn’t already aware of as a woman in the technology space for decades, but I believe her work in this space is incredibly important. Whether you’re a woman in tech, a female founder, a man operating in the tech space, an industry analyst, a lead on a corporate analyst relations team, and/or an organization in the technology space, the information uncovered in Women Who Tech’s The State of Women in Tech and Startups Report should be required reading. The only way to make change happen is to know the facts, and to work together to effect change. Beyond mitigating harassment, changing the equation as it relates to a lack of funding for female founders, and from an industry analyst standpoint, paying as much attention to female founders and their startups (or at least a modicum of attention for starters) in the technology space as we do to male-founded, male-led startups is the path forward. And those are not unachievable goals.
Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.
Shelly Kramer: Hello and welcome to this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series. This is part of my Women in Tech series, and I’m super excited today to interview my friend, Allyson Kapin. And when I tell you about Allyson, the list of what she has done so long. It’s almost easier to say what she hasn’t done, which is pretty much nothing. But anyway, she’s been named one of the most influential Women in Tech by Fast Company. She’s been named a Tech Titan by the Washingtonian. She’s been named one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter by Forbes, which I think actually I’m on that list too. And she’s been recognized for her roles, her leadership roles in technology and social media and things related to the nonprofit space and social change and social justice.
I mean she’s just accomplished so much. She never ceases to amaze me. And before I quit singing her praises, I’ll tell you, she’s also written a bestselling book, Social Change Anytime Everywhere. Which is an action oriented guide that shows nonprofits how to build and mobilize their communities through multifaceted campaigns and essentially helping them learn how to integrate what they’re doing offline with what they’re doing online, which has been a lot of my work over the course of the last decade. And working with companies who need to digitally transform. Allyson is also the founder of Women Who Tech, and she launched one of the largest global platforms called the Women Startup Challenge in partnership with Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist. So Allyson, welcome. Introducing you is so hard. There’s nothing you haven’t done. Welcome.
Allyson Kapin: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here and talking with you today.
Shelly Kramer: I am excited to have you, and you’re one of my friends that I see on the internet all the time. And that I talk with all the time and that I always pay attention to, but you and I don’t get a chance to look each other in the eye very often. We certainly don’t get to see each other in person very often. So it’s really awesome. So tell me a little bit, let’s start with Women Who Tech and tell us about Women Who Tech and what your goals are with that organization. And just kind of let us get a little more familiar with that.
Allyson Kapin: Yeah, absolutely. So we started women who take about 10 years ago now, and I really focused on championing Women in Technology. And at the time when we launched 10 years ago, we also wanted to shine a light on the lack of diversity at tech conferences. And so we developed many campaigns and targeted many conference organizers to put pressure on them, to really diversify their keynote speakers and their panelists, because at the time, and it’s still an issue today, right? How far are we?
Back then I would go to these tech conferences and it would just be a sea of white men stage as if we women in tech that didn’t exist. And so that was really the catalyst behind Women Who Tech and then about four or five years ago, we took a step back and we began taking a look at other issues that have not really been addressed in the space. And we quickly realized it was a lack of funding for women led startups. So the funding for women led startups has hovered anywhere between 2.4% and 2.8%. We keep moving up and down by decimal points was just the biggest joke. And it’s incredibly frustrating because VC’s are in this industry to make money on startups who have disruptive technology, who are really developing these game changing products that solves some of the biggest problems. And they’re leaving out an entire gender and also many people of color in solving those problems. And so that’s where we came in with our women’s startup challenge program to really showcase and put direct investment into women led startups.
Shelly Kramer: You know, I might add that we see this dearth of diversity in spite of the fact that we know that there are volumes of research that exists that speak to the fact that women led organizations and women led campaigns and diversity, all of these things lead to success in the startup world. And yet here we are. And I will also tell you one of the reasons I’m doing this Women in Tech interview series with Futurum is because like you, I mean, I’m an owner of a technology company of an analyst and research firm and I still have to elbow my way to the table. I have to elbow my way into conversations. I have to wig wave flags in front of clients and say, “Hey, wouldn’t it be nice to do that campaign with a woman?”, “Or to have a woman’s point of view?”
And so like you, I have been the lone woman on a stage with the token woman, if you will. And given a presentation at a major tech conference about women in some fashion and looked out and the entire audience is filled with women who don’t really need this message.
We know what’s going on. So anyway, I live you and I walk in the same shoes in the same path. So I very much understand it. And I have been very honored to have been a part of your startup challenge and to have been able to judge some of the amazing people who have participated in that. And so thank you so much for including me in that. I’ve been able to mentor some of these people. So it’s been really terrific and I’ve enjoyed it.
Allyson Kapin: Thank you for being a part of it and such great supporter.
Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. We’re all pushing that same rock up the hill. We just keep pushing. So one of the things, and that inspired me to reach out to you to have a conversation today was because as you know, you just recently released your State of Women in Tech and startups report. And this is a report that you’ve done more than once. And I know that you did some extensive research, and I’m really interested in hearing more about this. So tell me a little bit about what your goal was in the beginning to even do this survey?
Sure. So we launched the survey first in 2017, just as the Me Too movement was really getting much more into the public eye. And it was also the same time around that Susan Fowler came out really documenting harassment that she faced at working at Uber. And we had been hearing from women through our women’s startup call out as over the years, just how much harassment that they had faced going into fundraising. Right? So not only do they have all the biases and challenges of raising money that men don’t, but we were also hearing about the severe sexual harassment that they were facing. And we realized that there was really no hard data on it. So we went out to our community and we surveyed nearly a 1000 founders and people working in tech. And we also surveyed both women and men because we wanted to be able to compare, was it us women that were facing this versus men? And what did that percentage look like instead of us making this assumption, we wanted to get some hard analytics.
So we learned some really devastating data that 44% of women founders said that they had been harassed compared to about like 10% of men. So huge disconnect. And then we surveyed it again. And we also added a few more questions this time, over the last few months. And the numbers they have not changed despite the Me Too movement, that got so much publicity where so many women came forward. We heard the biggest tech companies make commitments that they were going to really put policies in place and enforce those policies.
And on the investor side, we also heard a lot of diversity pledges that they were going to really pledged to diversify their portfolio companies. That they were also going to put practices in place at their firms around anti-harassment. And guess what, three years later, it’s the same exact statistic. It has not moved at all 44% of women founders said that they have been harassed. 65% of LGBTQ founders say that they’ve also experienced harassment, 47% of women of color have experienced harassment. And this harassment is not something that just happened four years ago or five years ago, 43% said it had happened in the last 12 months. So this is a very clear problem that the industry has had for many years. And it has not gotten any better.
Allyson Kapin: Yeah. This makes me sad. There’s my dog. It makes me mad. And I feel like, as I said, elbowing my way to the table is sometimes the way I describe the life that it is that I live. But when it comes to founders, when it comes to funding, when it comes to, I mean, I have a business vision that I’ve been able to bring to light and bring to fruition and build. And these are people who are trying to get to that point who have viable, disruptive, innovative technology, ideas, plans, proof, concept, all kinds of things like that. And yet here’s this major roadblock that’s getting in the way. So it’s really very frustrating. And it’s also very frustrating to see the little impact that huge public awareness has had in terms of the Me Too movement.
And, but in all candor, I think that we see the same thing as it relates to diversity and Black Lives Matter. And I think we see investment funds and we see companies rushing to embrace a party line and to kind of capture the headlines at that particular point in time about, “Oh, look what we’re doing”. And the reality then the execution of that. So I don’t really know what you do then, but…
Yeah. We call it Ally Theater, right? When these movements happen and they’re very public on the line. And they’re written about, and from the New York times down to TechCrunch. This is what happens, you see an outpour of very public support. You’ll even see huge advertising campaigns like that during Black Lives Matter. And yet many black women founders who are going out and trying to raise funding right now and going to those same VC’s and firms that have publicly shared their newfound support for black founders. They’re not raising money.
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Allyson Kapin: So it’s just Ally Theater and, it’s yes.
Shelly Kramer: It’s frustrating. What came out of this report that surprised you the most, other than the fact that things haven’t changed?
Allyson Kapin: I mean some of the things that came out that was really surprising, was a couple of things that actually increased since Me Too, right. You don’t expect when you have a movement things to get worse. So we learned that 32% of women founders were groped. I mean, that is so shocking and vial that went up 7%, 44% of women were sent graphic photos that went up 14% from our last study. And it’s just in many ways it’s shocking. But in some ways it’s not surprising, right? Because people in positions of power feel they can get away with this stuff. And that they’re not going to face repercussions because let’s face it, What repercussions have they been facing over the years? So a VC that publicly shame. And then they kind of kept the low profile for a couple of years. And now they’re back raising their next VC fund and everybody’s forgotten about it and they’re doing fine. There’s no repercussions.
Shelly Kramer: It’s really interesting. I know there have been people that we know in our industry who have been accused and of things that have been somewhat terrible and those claims have been validated, and these individuals have admitted their wrongdoing and everything else. And it amazes me when I see. And I don’t want somebody’s life to be over anything else, but I just feel like sometimes, are you serious? It’s like what you did never even happened. And by the way, this was three years ago. It’s so frustrating to me. And I just feel if you are or I had perpetrated some of the things that some of these people are accused of, our careers would be ruined. I mean, I think it’s really safe to say our careers would be ruined and we would be forever that woman who did that or he wouldn’t even be accused of it when it wouldn’t matter. And so I feel like the disparity there is very troubling to me. Although, again, indicative of our society. So what’s the path forward Allyson?
Allyson Kapin: So a couple of things on the investor side, I think it’s going to take honestly a new generation of investors coming in and with a very different set of values and starting to change industry based on those values. And I think it’s slowly starting to happen. We’re seeing a lot of new women led diverse led fund managers come into this space. I’ve started a new fund myself, a product of Women 2.0 about the W fund. And we have a very different set of values than your typical huge Silicon Valley firm. Right? So, and we’re starting to see more of these funds emerge. And I think that that is going to start to change the game. But it’s going to take time because emerging funds are working with less capital than the biggest investors. And so that it’ll take time for that space to really evolve. And we’re putting our stake in the ground.
And then on the tech side of big companies, that’s a tough question because they have had several years to try and get things right. We have seen some of the biggest companies when employees do rise up. We have seen the companies retaliate and fire some of these employees a few months later, they claimed that it wasn’t related to them protesting and speaking out. But it’s hard to really stomach that when you know that these people have been with the company for many years. Oh. And just suddenly, and coincidentally, they spoke out in a very public way and then were fired two months later for something else that just doesn’t add up. But at the same time, we are seeing a new generation of people in their twenties who are coming into companies and demanding a change that they will not accept working in toxic cultures.
And we are seeing them stage these walkouts. They’re happening like at smaller companies right now, but I think that it sends a message to some of the bigger tech companies out there that this generation of employees who are in their early twenties, they demand a very different culture. And if you don’t give it to them, they will walk out and they will find another job. And I am so psyched for this generation because we need that power. Right? And I think they’re going to do it and they’re going to make change and they’re going to start companies and it’s going to be based on their values. And that’s how I think we begin to change the culture.
Shelly Kramer: Yeah. I’m the parent of 14 year old twin girls and I’m also the parent of two older daughters. And so I’m constantly beating the drum. I’m beating the drum with them in terms of being empowered and using their voices and not settling and trying to explain to them what it was like when I was growing up. And one of the things that I was explaining, I’m having an issue with my kids’ school, which is a new school. And I don’t love the way this particular teacher is teaching math, because what I’m seeing is that she’s handing a worksheet out and she’s pointing the kids to a video. And so they’re sort of like do it yourself mathing, right? And I just made that term up mathing. But I’m a Math and Science geek. I’ve spent the last nine years developing and fostering a passion for mathematics and science in my children. And now that they’re involved in learning and their advanced math students are incredibly smart and they’re not flourishing in this way of learning. And so I’m asking the school, is this how we’re teaching math? It doesn’t really make sense to me.
But anyway, I think that when I see whether it is social change, whether I see how these kids, boys and girls treat one another and regard one another and what they’re willing to settle for, I think that’s important. But I will also admit that I’m constantly dragging my kids. I recently watched Good Girls Revolt on Netflix. I think it’s Netflix, it might be Amazon. Which is a story about young women journalists in the seventies and at particular point in time, and this is a true story fictionalized, but it’s a group of women who were very smart researchers, writers, and they were basically doing the work of the men and they were not allowed to have by-lines. They were not allowed to have any credit for any of the work that they did, but yet they were doing all the work. And so it’s a story of how they fought against that. And that was in the seventies, I mean that wasn’t that long ago.
But I feel it’s critically important for me to teach my children that, know that this happened and know that a very short period of time ago women were literally strong in every way possible. And we still have many ways to go, but I think it is initiatives like this, this research that you have embarked upon. And I know that you have allies from Craig Newmark and all the great work that he’s done supporting female founders and Women in Tech. And I think that’s great. Are there any nods that you can give us to great partners, great people who you see companies you see, investors you see they’re actually doing great as it relates to this? And I’m totally blindsiding you.
Allyson Kapin: Yeah, no. That’s okay. So there are definitely allies in the space and Craig is absolutely one of them. He has been with us from day one, since we launched the startup challenge and we are forever grateful. He was also big supporter of this ada and making sure that we had the resources to get it out there. So yeah, I mean, there are amazing folks at, they are women of course, UVG ventures is a fantastic investment firm and is probably one of the first out there who a few years ago, before also this trend of, “Yes, let’s be an Ally and invest in women led startups”. They were one of the first to raise the fund that focused on women led startups. And they really began to carve out this niche and then also take a very big stand, very publicly of how this is not about altruism.
This is not about doing the right thing. This is, if you want to make money, you are going to invest in women led startups. And you are going to diversify your portfolios. And so they’ve been very vocal on that. So kudos to them for kind of showing the VC world and some very powerful women, Susan Lyne an HR behind it, of opening up investor’s eyes.
I’d also would give a shout out to Jason Leader who heads up VC partnerships at Google, has also been one of our biggest allies in not only just partnering with us to showcase these women founders, but also just doing the work of like helping these women founders. How do they access more capital? How could they be leveraging more partnerships diving into their decks, in his personal free time, not as part of his job. And so I think he’s been a phenomenal ally. He’s also part of our W Fund. So those are just like a couple of people that I’ve had the privilege to know and have seen true allyship, or really carving out in a very important niche within VC and expanding it.
Shelly Kramer: You know, as you were talking it occurred to me. One of the things that I think is important is women helping other women, whether it’s mentorship or whether it’s participating in a fund, whether it is successful women who are able to reach down and extend that hand, I think that’s really important. But I think given your examples here, it’s so critically important to have men be a part of the equation. Can we do it by ourselves? Yes. Can we do it quicker more effectively better when we have male allies and male corporate allies? I think that leaders, male, corporate leaders is what I mean. I think that really is where you shorten the time to success. And I think it makes a big difference. So…
Allyson Kapin: I agree. We can’t do this alone. We really can’t. And I don’t think it’s the right way to do it. I don’t think these silos is how we get business done, right? The women are over here, the men are over here. I mean, it’s a little ironic that I have something called Women Who Tech and the women’s startup challenge and the W Fund. We only have it right now because we need to shine a light on this issue and deploy funding to startups that are completely underestimated and underrepresented in VC. And then once we can begin to equalize that right within the ecosystem, then you don’t have to have something like that. Right.
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Allyson Kapin: And so that’s the goal.
Shelly Kramer: That’s the goal. That’s the goal that we don’t need it.
Allyson Kapin: Right? Exactly.
Shelly Kramer: Well, listen Allyson, thank you so much for hanging out with me today. I always love when I have the opportunity to listen to what is you have to say and the great information that you have to share. And for people listening today, I will include in the show notes, I will include a link to Allyson’s report The State of Women in Tech and startups. And I encourage you to take a look at it. And if you are watching or listening, and you are part of an organization and you want to get involved with Women Who Tech and support this organization, I encourage you to do that. And the way that we affect change is many hands make short work or whatever that adage is. I don’t know.
But if you’re listening and you want to help. We’d love to have you. I know Allyson would love to have you, on behalf of every woman in tech, everywhere, we would love to have you. So I’ll close with that. And Allyson, thank you so much for joining me. And I look forward to what’s next around the corner from you and I’m sure it’ll be something big.
Allyson Kapin: Thanks so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”