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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Foundry Women’s Exec Summit

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A few weeks ago we had a summit for the women execs in our portfolio. About 40 women attended. Overall we identified about 70 women in our portfolio in leadership positions, which I estimate is about 15% of the exec positions in our portfolio.

The event was organized by three of the women – Joanne Lord (until recently CMO at BigDoor, now at Porch), Nicole Glaros (Techstars Boulder Managing Director), and Terry Morreale (NCWIT Associate Director). Like many of our internal summits, the agenda was organically developed and the event was a lightly structured, high engagement day. It was an all female event until 4pm, when I joined for a 75 minute fireside chat followed by a nice dinner at Pizzeria Locale.

This morning I’m heading over the NCWIT annual employee retreat and participating in the first session, which is a retrospective on the past year and current state of NCWIT. I’ve been chair of NCWIT for nine years and am amazed and what Lucy Sanders and the organization has achieved. Personally, I’ve learned an incredible amount about the issues surrounding women in technology and have a handle on what I think are root causes of the challenges as well as long term solutions.

Last night I gave a talk at Galvanize on failure for Startup Summer, one of the Startup Colorado programs. About 10% of the people in the room were women. After almost 90 minutes of talk and Q&A, the last question was an awesome one about the women in the room and what we could do to encourage more engagement by and with women in the startup scene.

About a year ago, we realized that none of our active companies had a female CEO. Today, three of the 58 do: Moz (Sarah Bird), littleBits (Ayah Bdeir), and Nix Hydra (Lina Chen). If you are looking for a percentage on that, it’s 5%.

5%, 10%, and 15% are low numbers. But at least we are looking at them, measuring them, talking about gender dynamics in tech, and taking action around it.

Resources for Girls Learning to Code

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This morning littleBits released their Space Kit. I’ve been on the board of littleBits since last year and am just in awe of what the team, led by Ayah Bdeir, is cranking out. Ayah is an example of an amazing female entrepreneur and CEO. I first met her via Joanne Wilson who wrote about here here. I hope to work with her for a long time.

Seeing the launch inspired me to go dig up a list of resourced for girls learning to code. Ever since I first got involved in National Center for Women & Information Technology, I’ve been deep in the problem of underrepresentation of women in computer science and entrepreneurship. Lucy Sanders, the CEO of NWCIT, has taught me a huge amount about this and I’ve worked closely with her as chair of the organization to try to make a difference around this issue.

I regularly get asked for resources for girls who are interested in learning how to write software. Following is a list curated by Lucy.

While many of these apply to boys as well, it’s a great list if you have a daughter who is interested in learning more about coding. It’s by no means comprehensive – if you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

Girl and Women Specific

Concepts

Learn to Code

Intro to Computer Science

NCWIT Awards for Aspirations in Computing

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Several years ago on a Saturday I found myself at Bank of America Corporate Center in Charlotte. I was attending the second National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Awards for Aspirations in Computing event. I had gone for a three hour run early in the morning on a beautiful spring day in Charlotte and my mind was wandering all over the place.

As I entered the ballroom for the event, I encountered 32 young high school women and their parents. I wandered around and talked to most of the young women. They had a range of backgrounds, came from a bunch of different geographies, and were a mix of ethnicities. But they all had one thing in common – they loved computers.

As I got to know a few of them better, I learned that they did things like lead their First Robotics team. Write software for local businesses. Help out on systems for their schools and local governments. Hack on open source projects.

I was absolutely and completely blown away. And inspired. These young women were completely net native. They were from all over the place. They had a wide variety of teenage girl interests. But they were all fascinated with, and extremely competent with, computing. As much – or more – than I was in high school, and I spent an enormous amount of time with my head in my Apple ][.

On the spot, I called Amy and asked her if we could give each young woman a $1,000 scholarship in addition to the award they were getting. Amy said yes and Lucy Sanders, the CEO of NCWIT, announced it shortly thereafter. The scholarship was given to each Aspirations in Computing winner when they entered college as a freshman.

At this point, 100% of the women have gotten their scholarship. Many have already graduated. It’s incredibly rewarding to look at the list of schools, and the accomplishments, of these young women.

So Amy and I decided to do this again. We are giving another $1,000 scholarship to each winner of this year’s NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award. There are going to be 35 this year, so that’s a $35,000 gift to NCWIT. Hopefully that will encourage some additional young women to apply.

I’ve been chair of NCWIT for a number of years and I am very proud of what the organization has done to encourage women at a young age to get involved or continue pursuing STEM fields. Each year, NCWIT selects a set of high school girls that show remarkable promise in the fields of computing or IT and recognizes them for their aptitude, leadership, and academics. This award also creates an environment for those students to succeed in college by offering them scholarships, internship opportunities, and much more. The business community and the academic community, nationally, have really come together to make the awards substantial and impactful. I encourage you to jump in and help out, and here are a few ways how:

  • If you’re a young women, who’s applicable for this award, apply!
  • If you’re not, tell a young women you know, or a few, about this award. The knowledge that there are people rooting for them to succeed in STEM fields can have a powerful effect. Here’s an easy way to encourage a student to apply.
  • Offer a scholarship or host an award.
  • Start a conversation about NCWIT and the work the organization is doing. What we need is more discourse around the issue of inequality in computing and IT. Bring it up at dinner. Start a discussion with your daughter, niece, or friend about it. Learn more about it.

These awards are a few steps in the right direction but there’s always more work to be done. If you have thoughts about how to get more young women in this generation into innovation field, I would love to hear them!

The application for the NCWIT Awards for Aspirations in Computing is open until October 31, 2013. Apply here.

Startup Phenomenon: Women – Event in Boulder – 9/3

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SP-Women-Banner

As many of you know, mentoring women in startups and STEM careers is important to me, so I’m very pleased to be a part of the Startup Phenomenon: Women program, a one-day event in Macky Auditorium at CU-Boulder.

The speaking line-up for the day is really outstanding. It includes author Amanda Steinberg, founder and CEO of DailyWorth; Margaret Neale, management professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business; and Michele Weslander Quaid, chief technology officer (federal) and innovation evangelist at Google. If you’d like to see all the speakers scheduled, you can check out the website.

We’ll be covering topics of interest to entrepreneurs like startup financing, mentoring by and for women entrepreneurs, alternative business models and resources available for women-led businesses.

The conference is open to the public, and and a line-up like this doesn’t come along every day. Tickets start at $25 for students and $100 for the general public. I’m looking forward to an informative and inspiring day, and I hope you’ll consider attending.

Dilbert on Cultural Fit

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I’ve written before about hiring for cultural fit, and about the importance of prioritizing cultural fit over competence when hiring at startups. I started thinking about it again when I saw this Dilbert comic, because it pokes fun at the culture of startups and their propensity only to hire people who fit into them. But what are we talking about when we talk about cultural fit, anyway?

You’re probably familiar with some of the stereotypes around startup culture (free massages and dry cleaning, craft beer, cool art on the walls and dogs at the office, pulling all-nighters to ship on time) and the kinds of people who work at startups (according to Dilbert, “self-conscious hipster” types with “an earring and headphones.”) Stereotypes like these give you a picture of what startup culture might look like to an outsider, but they don’t reflect the intrinsic values that define startup cultures.

Gnip CEO Chris Moody explains this distinction really well when he talks about values vs. vibe. He defines values as “the guiding principles or code-of-conduct” that inform a company’s daily operations, whereas vibe is “the emotional side of the company … highly influenced by outside factors.” To figure out whether an aspect of your startup culture is a value, he says, try asking yourself these questions:

-      Is this aspect of the company important to our long-term success?

-      Does this aspect need to be maintained forever and is it sustainable?

-      Does this aspect apply to all areas of the company and to all employees?

-      Will establishing this aspect help us make important decisions in the future?

So, for example: riding your fixi to the office or playing foosball between coding sessions are vibes. Treating people with respect or being passionate about your work? Those are values.

Your company values should be clear, accessible, and pervasive – take, for example, Zappos’ 10 core values. Having clearly defined values is important because they drive your company culture, not the other way around. It’s also important when you’re hiring for cultural fit, because without clear company values you run the risk of making poor hiring decisions: hiring people because they look or act or talk like you, and not hiring people because they don’t.

Here’s an example: Businessweek says hiring managers are now asking candidates questions like, What’s your favorite movie? Or, What’s the last book you read for fun? If you’re asking interview questions like these at your startup, you need to make sure you’re screening for values and not for vibe. Just sharing your love of The Big Lebowski doesn’t make someone a good cultural fit for your company: in fact, it’s often the people who give unexpected answers who end up being your company’s most creative problem-solvers.

I chair the board of directors for the National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT), whose Entrepreneurial Alliance works with startups to help them recruit and retain more women in tech roles. There’s strong ROI for including more women on technical teams: women improve collective intelligence, make startups more capital-efficient, and bring the perspectives of half the population. But if you’re a “dude brew” startup, you may not even know why you don’t hire more technical women, and you might need help from NCWIT removing gender bias from its portfolio companies’ job ads.

Gnip recently told NCWIT that they added three women to its engineering team. They credited this in part because the VP of Engineering, Greg Greenstreet, attended every local women-in-tech networking event, recruited on campus, and talked to as many female candidates as possible. But fundamentally they succeeded in hiring more women because, like Etsy, they made diversity a value. Gnip assigned strategy, money, and resources to their recruiting efforts, and factored diversity into evaluations of cultural fit.

Every startup is going to have a company culture, by design or by default, so you might as well design yours with values that attract and keep the best possible talent. Once you’ve distinguished between your values and your vibe, hiring for cultural fit won’t just be easier; it will give you better – and likely more diverse – employees.

If you’re interested in more information about joining NCWIT’s group of startups, let me know.

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