Monday, March 17, 2014

Rarity is overrated: How we're helping to bring more women into tech

Rarity is overrated: How we're helping to bring more women into tech

By: Courtney VanLonkhuyzen March 17, 2014
As a woman working in a tech company, I notice the lack of other women. Recently, I was both stunned and excited to realize I had two all-female meetings in one day — at Motorola, of all places.
While that was wonderful, it was enough of a surprise that I was moved to mark the occasion with a celebratory email to my talented female peers. How many men would be surprised by an all-male meeting in a tech workplace? I suspect none.

Having women well-represented in tech is something worth working to change, especially now, during Women's History Month. That's why the Motorola Mobility Foundation is proud to partner with 1871, Google Inc. and the Lefkofsky Family Foundation to help launch FEMtech, an incubator designed to facilitate opportunities and foster growth for women-owned tech startups in Chicago.


To achieve meaningful change we must make strides within Motorola and help the broader community do the same. Internally, our engineering organization recently launched a women's affinity group with a mission to empower women, and it is quickly gaining members from across our company. Externally, our foundation, driven by employee volunteers we call the Team4Good, is advancing several objectives, including bolstering STEAM (science, tech, education, arts and math) education, fostering tech entrepreneurship, increasing community outreach, and improving tech accessibility.
FEMtech is the intersection of our diversity, inclusion and philanthropic priorities, and reflects our desire to help anchor the growing tech community in Chicago. And what better place to support this change than from Motorola's new home in Chicago's Merchandise Mart — the epicenter of Chicago's startup and tech community, and the home of 1871 and FEMtech.
To increase women's opportunities, we must focus on all stages of development by improving STEAM education, increasing mentoring from male and female professionals, improving access to funding for women-led ventures and providing access to a variety of career paths, leadership roles and advancement opportunities. FEMtech will achieve these goals by identifying, developing, mentoring and supporting largely untapped talent to create opportunities and growth for women.

According to a Kauffman Foundation study, only about 3 percent of tech companies are started by women; and, when combined with the University of North Carolina's findings that female entrepreneurs start their ventures with about one-eighth of the funding compared with their male counterparts, a core part of the problem seems to be lack of access to opportunity rather than lack of female talent. What excites us most about FEMtech is that it will provide women with an environment that fosters the necessary skills and maximizes their unique strengths to secure success in the “last three feet” for their emerging businesses.
There is more to be gained here than just improving the number of women in the tech industry, though. Startups that went public, were acquired or turned profitable had twice as many women in senior roles than unsuccessful ventures (Dow Jones VentureSource, 2012). And companies with the highest representation of women in their management teams have a 34 percent higher return on investment than those with few or no women (National Center for Women and Information Technology). Investing in Illinois, tech, 1871 and women is good business. Like 1871 itself, FEMtech will create a positive impact that ultimately extends to both men and women, and will help spur our company, our state and our economy to success.
It is hard to imagine 1871 making an even bigger impact, but it has done just that with the launch of FEMtech. Well done.

Courtney VanLonkhuyzen is executive director of the Motorola Mobility Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Motorola Mobility LLC and Lead Procurement Counsel for Motorola Mobility LLC. She is a member of Crain's 40 Under 40 Class of 2013.

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