Women in the New Economy Seminar
Featured speakers included Patricia Hewitt MP, and Baroness Jay MP
I am so pleased to be able to be here today to participate in a discussion of such important issues. I come today wearing three hats. The first hat is as a woman entrepreneur, who has started, and run companies, including Marcus Venture Consulting and HighTech Women. Secondly, as an advisor to entrepreneurs, as Marcus Venture Consulting works with entrepreneurs and investors, to help them start and run and build strong foundations for their companies. As we all of course know, the technology sector is a constantly changing landscape, and it can really mean so many things – anything from hardware, to software, to content, websites and beyond.
The last hat I wear is as the founder of a group called HighTech Women — an on-line and off-line meeting and mentoring place for women in technology and technology related sectors. Bringing together an impressive and diverse group of women in a congenial atmosphere to talk and write about their work and to do business, the objective of HighTech Women is to facilitate the advancement of women in technology and technology related fields, and to create an opportunity for women to help one another foster their ambitions. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years. I found that I would go to a conference, and they would be these sort of highfalutin conferences that investment banks would hold. 400 people would be there, and four of them would be women, and I made my best friends in the ladies room. I kept having women following me into the loo, and then we would be washing our hands and having a chat. I thought, it is time to get out in the open. So, I decided to start something called HighTech Women. It started with an email that was sent to 100 people. Within three days, we had over 1,000 hits on the website, so clearly there was some interest. Now we have over 500 registered members, and it is just about three and a half months old now.
The make-up of the group I find rather extraordinary. It’s more than 40 women CEOs, quite a number of students, and then everything in between. The object of the entire thing is about meeting and mentoring.
It is intriguing to hear what Baroness Jay was saying about the needs of women entrepreneurs. It clearly demonstrates that the listening sessions that are being conducted are working, because everything that she was saying is being echoed in what we hear from the members of the HighTech Women.
Women Supporting Women
Somebody asked me recently, what is it that makes HighTech Women unusual? I think it is something that relates to the benefits and barriers of being a woman entrepreneur. It is the way that we talk to each other. It is the frankness with which we speak to one another. It is how productive we are when we feel comfortable, and being able to use humour and to let down our guard. I usually get up at the beginning of the session and tell everyone a little bit about the ups and downs I’ve had since the last meeting, and then everybody feels okay to do the same thing. And because it’s all about meeting and mentoring, people come to the meetings with open minds and intent to help, and instead of thinking, “What can you do for me?”, they all say, “What can I do for you?” They are actively supportive of one another.
We have a couple of different types of meetings – the first is our monthly meetings called 360º meetings. The purpose of these meetings is to pick a topic and look at it from a 360º perspective. Rather than being lectured at, the panel is there to facilitate what always proves to be a lively discussion and debate about all aspects of the topic. We also have started to have roundtables – these are intimate gatherings of people in a similar profession, job, or common interest to come together to talk about their work, shares ideas and skills, and generally meet and mentor. So far we’ve held a CEO Roundtable and Financier’s Roundtable, and we planning roundtables in telecoms, public relations, technology, law, as well as a CFO/controllers roundtable
The CEO Roundtable proved very interesting, as it was an opportunity for women CEO’s to come together and talk. Running a company can be a very lonely business. It is hard, but very rewarding, and it surely has its ups and downs. Oftentimes as a CEO, there is no one to talk to, because you always have to have the face of success. You can’t talk to investors all the time, and it is important to have a face of success and self-confidence for them. The roundtable provided an opportunity for CEO’s to exchange knowledge and build a close network of friends who can support and help one another.
Somebody wrote an email to me recently that said, “I am a big believer in equality, but I don’t believe in discrimination, even positive discrimination. Why should we have something for just women?” Well, recently one of the big banks invited a group of some of the most influential venture capitalists and financiers away for a golfing weekend, and they had about 40 people there, and all of them were men. I have to tell you that until there comes a time when there are enough senior women in financing positions, enough senior women sitting on boards of companies and in positions where they can help other women (and help the economy as a whole), we need groups like this. We are trying to accelerate the opportunity for women to be success in business and to gain access to senior positions and board positions. One of our initiatives towards this end has been the HighTech Women Pool of Directors. Capable mentors, advisors and non-executive directors are fundamental to the success of any business, be it a start-up or a mature public company and this in an opportunity for those of our members who are capable and competent to sit on boards to make themselves know and available and for those who are trying to achieve diverse and knowledgeable boards to find these women easily.
In many ways, I started HighTech Women to pay homage to the women who have helped and mentored me, and who have been and continue to be kind to me during my career. It is my way of passing this opportunity on to others, as it is one of the biggest contributions we can make to help women achieve success. Mentoring is a big part of what we do, both peer mentoring, with activities like the CEO roundtable, and student mentoring, with such initiatives like out internship out reach and members who are available to speak to schools at all levels. Next year we’ll be launching the HighTech Women’s Skills Bank for Society to act on one of the key tenants of the group – that of doing good and doing well.
So, in terms of the challenges, and the benefits and barriers of starting and running businesses, I suppose there are a lot of barriers, but the benefits can far outweigh the barriers, and there is much to learn each time the barriers are overcome. The benefits indeed include the constant learning and the people that you are able to meet along the way. HighTech Women has been one of the most exciting and the most beneficial things that I have ever done – I have learned so much from running it and from the members themselves. It is days like today where we are able t come together and talk about common issues and come up with constructive ways of addressing the issues at hand where we all learn the most.
So, I hope the day will be an opportunity for active learning and contribution and I invite you all to join us at HighTech Women – everyone is welcome and the more the merrier.
Thanks very much for having me.