A few nights ago I moderated a panel sponsored by Step-Up, a group designed to empower and help young women. They do many things: mentor girls in need, provide learning programs, and offer moderated panels designed to help further the career advancement of women by exposing them to thought leaders. This Panel was called "Plug-In," and featured some extremely successful women in tech. I, and the large assembled audience, were eager to hear these women's experiences, and learn more about a business in which gender didn't matter as much as a great idea and nimble approach.
Turns out we're still waiting to find that industry.
To set the stage there were four extraordinary women in the tech world. And while none of them complained, it was the sum of their statements that made me wonder why in some ways we've come such a short way.
* Gina Binchini co-founded Ning.com. She's witty, smart, gorgeous and virtually every idea she has is a good one. She left Ning about 3 weeks ago and the entire tech world is buzzing about what she'll do next knowing it will be a big success.
* Carrie Nedrow has the unassuming title of "Staff Program Manager" at Intuit. It's the kind of title that lets her slide in under the radar and affect change. She's making decisions as to what companies to buy, and how to grow divisions and fix divisions. As she explained, some groups are thrilled to see her walk through the door -- others cower in fear.
* If your kids only want to play their board games on the Wii, you may want to talk to Cynthia Neiman about it. As Vice President of Marketing & Business Development, Mattel Digital Network, she not only handles Barbie's online persona (ChatRoulette, Barb?) but how to take games like Uno, Scrabble or Pictionary. Instead of the shark I imagined steering this impressive company's foray onto the web, she preferred to show pictures of her puppy than her newest site.
* You will at some point thank Michelle Crames. When you forgot to send a gift and use GIIV.com to send a last minute bouquet of flowers, massage, or movie tickets to someone's digital phone, you can thank her for saving you. She found the idea in Korea and sold it to top brains like Eric Schmidt -- with almost no more than a smile. A company about giving is the perfect match for her.
But even in all their success, there were a few things I was surprised to hear.
* Turns out that if you want to get investment funds right now, your best chance is not so great as a well-educated woman with proven experience. Nope, better to be a 21-year-old boy fresh out of an Ivy league school with a cool idea scribbled on a bar napkin. Why? Because that's where the successes have been coming from, and investors look to repeat patterns, not start new ones.
* Think you can break the glass ceiling and fight the boys club? Good luck! According to Bianchini you should try to make sure your company has at least 30% women, ideally in the executive team. It will take that many before women (or any minority) truly have a voice and feel represented.
* Think being Type A is an asset? Whoa there, Becky Sharp. It's no surprise that strong men are powerful and strong women are 'bitches,' but who knew that women should plan to check in more with their employees and superiors just to take the companies temperature to avoid being seen as a "She-Tiger"? You think Steve Jobs worries about yelling once or twice? I doubt it.
* If men talk, they network. If women talk, they gossip. Women are not only not supporting each other -- they are more likely hurting each other. Instead of wasting time sabotaging each other, they should probably be out there meeting new and more people. Women need to network more -- not run errands during lunch hour or worry about who's sleeping with whom!
Now by the end of the panel I was ready to start my own tech panel. The bad news was that I wanted to dress like a 21-year-old college grad to do so. Truth is, women may not have it as good as we may have hoped in the year 2010, but things certainly aren't as bad as they could be. And at least we have organizations to give us a leg - or a Step-Up.