Celebrating Women in this New Age of Innovation: The 4th Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference

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What happens when you bring close to 400 women entrepreneurs, seasoned professionals and students together for 3 days? Based on our recent experience at the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference, nothing short of magic.

Girls in Tech is an organization focused on the empowerment, entrepreneurship, engagement, and education of women in technology. According to the Founder and CEO of Girls in Tech, Adriana Gascoigne, “The Catalyst Conference was created to provide attendees with an environment that allows for true and honest conversations about important issues including gender diversity in the workplace and how we can better support girls in tech.” This past week, the three-day Catalyst event showcased women at the forefront of the technology and start-up spaces, providing inspiring keynotes, workshops, panel discussions, and networking events.  Many of the speakers are part of the Athena Alliance, a non-profit whose mission is to help qualified women (of which there are many!) make the needed connections to secure Board of Director positions.

We put together the key themes and highlights from the Girls In Tech Catalyst Conference:

Drive relevance and avoid extinction:

Yvonne Wassenaar (CIO at New Relic) focused her talk on how to maintain relevancy in a world where change is the new constant. She noted that the difference between success and failure can boil down to two leadership skills:  the ability to innovate and the ability to lead during times of change.  Though both of these skills are intimidating to use and execute successfully, success requires that you face your fears. This sentiment was echoed by Mary Cranston (former CEO and Chair of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman Law).  Mary shared that she doubted her ability to lead Pillsbury effectively when she was first appointed CEO.  Mary emphasized that acknowledging your fears enables you to separate yourself from them and be effective in achieving your full potential.

Innovation is both a planned and spontaneous exercise.

Chrissy Vonderach (previously CIO at Blackhawk Networks and recently VP of IT at Clorox) pointed out that innovation is difficult to deliver on-demand yet cannot be over-planned.  Her perspective is that a balance of discipline (do your homework), knowledge (be curious and be current), and serendipity (the openness to let things happen)clears the path for innovation.

A few more of our favorites:  Amy Bunszel (Vice President, AutoCAD Products, Autodesk) shared her approach of “aiming high, taking risks, and being curious” as the keys to her success in innovation.  Yanbing Li (Senior Vice President and General Manager, Storage and Availability Business Unit, VMware) spoke about being an ambidextrous leader who incrementally innovates in one piece of her business while radically innovating in others.  Yanbing’s key to success is her ability to drive action after determining whether a product line should be optimized or transformed and incubated.

Be bold and take risks.

Almost every speaker touched on the importance of being bold and taking on risks.  Failure can be an important step in achieving success.  In fact, a few speakers noted that if you (or your team) are not occasionally failing sometimes, you are probably playing it too safe and are not pursuing enough stretch assignments to keep you team engaged and high-performing.  Bev Crair (Vice President, Data Center Group General Manager, Storage Group) shared some great examples from her time at Intel, where she learned that what matters more than failing is being smart enough to quickly shut down and learn from efforts that are failing.  Sarah Bird (CEO of Moz) had bold advice – surround yourself with people who see your real potential and will push you to deliver at your true level of impact.

Redefining what it means to “do it all”

Work, Family, or Self?  Amy Jo Martin (Founder of Digital Royalty, NY Times Best-Selling Author) was told at one point in her career that you could NOT have all three, so she had better pick one. Amy refused to give in and was one of many at the conference offering advice on how to do it all. One method is to create your own definition of success rather than letting others define it for you based on their value system. Leah Busque (Founder & CEO, TaskRabbit) suggested that you avoid looking at wins & losses by day. Instead, understand your priorities and periodically assess your performance (e.g.  weekly or monthly) to ensure you are getting the right mix.  Several other speakers highlighted the importance of leveraging the support of your network in order to have it all –  share duties with a stay-at-home partner or outsource some of the day-to-day tasks that need to be done.  As Mary Cranston put it in her talk, focus on what matters most and, for the rest of it, use the “strategic no.”

Go for it!

The overarching message of the conference was “go for it;” you are more qualified than you think.  Coco Brown (CEO of the Athena Alliance) drove this message home with her appeal to have more women come forward and raise their hands for Board service.  Coco’s perspective, shared by many of the women speakers, was that the small number of women on Boards is not a pipeline problem.  Instead, the challenge is encouraging already qualified women to raise their hands and make the right connections. After hearing all the amazing speakers at the Catalyst conference, we heartily agree.

Want more?  Additional reading on the conference talks and referenced articles/books:

Girls in Tech do “Hashtags For Thought”

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The 2016 Girls In Tech Catalyst Conference took place in beautiful Phoenix this year, and we left Arizona with the memories of so many inspirational, powerhouse speakers buzzing through our heads.   

Back at work in San Francisco, we convened around our “hashtag whiteboard,” where we record small phrases that inspire us, dare us to be great, and occasionally let us be silly. As we took notes at the Tech Catalyst conference, we found ourselves translating the most inspiring thoughts and advice we heard into hashtags and jotting them down in the margins of our notebooks. Marker in hand, we set off on an impromptu brainstorming session to revisit these memorable moments. The white-boarding session was on! Here are some of our top Girls in Tech “hashtags for thought.”

#PowerPose — Arms wide and expansive, head up, and chest projected high to the sky. Kym McNicholas, Emmy Award-winning journalist & CBS Tech2 Host, reminded us that a good power pose can instill confidence, especially before a big meeting or stress-inducing event. Power posing physically turns up the confidence in how we speak, how we feel, and how we are perceived by others – fake it til you make it!

#Moxie — The conference kicked off with an interview with Kara Swisher, Co-Founder at Re/code, who confidently and unapologetically told us what’s what. Silicon Valley has been a “mirrortocracy” and not a meritocracy. Things don’t change if we don’t call attention to them, she said, so speak up and challenge what Kara calls ‘idiotic assumptions;” have the moxie to tell it like it is. #KaraForMayor

#SweetSpot — Did you know that it takes six months of boredom before one considers leaving their role and/or company? Bev Crair, Vice President and General Manager of the Storage Group at Intel, shared the importance of finding a job that hits our “sweet spot” by truly leveraging our passions, skills, and interests. Bev calls whatever truly feeds our soul and gets us out of bed in the morning “the juicy part of the sweet spot.” Once that is found, work doesn’t feel like work, it feels like joy.   

#FireStarter —  Find people who see your potential more clearly than you do! Sarah Bird, CEO at Moz, reminded us that nobody really knows what they are doing and to get out of our own way. She noted that she was asked to take the CEO position at Moz multiple times before she realized that it wasn’t a joke. We should not succumb to imposter syndrome and have self-limiting beliefs. Let’s all light that fire and inspire everyone around us to explore the compelling world of technology!

#ReframingTheGoodGirl — Many of us grow up as the “good girl” who gets A’s and does what is expected by following preconceived notions of success. It’s easy to get caught up in living a life that society approves of but that lacks authentic vision. Mary Cranston, Former Senior Partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, shared how that “good girl” lens framed her career decisions and her experience as a successful lawyer. Mary challenged us to authentically determine our paths, know when to say no, think like an optimist, and take risks in order to achieve success in a gender-biased world.  

#LiveLikeYouWereDying — A sobering thought implanted in our heads by Jim McCarthy, Motivational Speaker on Happiness, that had many of us feeling vulnerable and emotional. It is difficult not to think about our legacy and the mark we want to imprint on the world before our time runs out. Jim’s advice was to live each day with thoughtfulness and purpose so that we make decisions that make us happy personally and professionally.  

#GoCognitive — A theme throughout the conference was to keep learning and developing our skill sets. Sandy Carter, General Manager of Developer Ecosystem and Startups at IBM, introduced us to the cognitive space and urged us to start getting familiar with technologies that will power a new cognitive era. Do not be afraid to pivot into a new vector and learn something new! Tools like Watson Developer Cloud empower developers to get hands-on experience with Artificial Intelligence and continue the innovation of ourselves.

#Bliss — Work, family, self…can we really only choose two? Amy Jo Martin, Founder & CEO at Keynote Speaker, says we can have all three if we find the intersection of our purpose, passion, and skills. That intersection is bliss, Amy says, but don’t let it blind you from paying the necessary attention to family and self. Sometimes the key is to simplify life and get rid of the distractions so that you can focus on a life of meaning.                                                                                                    

#ReputationalPower — We are all unique creatures, no two of us alike, and we should celebrate those differences by building a personal brand. Scarlet Spring, President and Chief Commercial Officer at VisionGate, urged us to step into our brands and live it out loud everyday by understanding our strengths. Our brand is like a life code, a set of values and attributes that we back up with our actions. Let’s unlock that reputational power!


Final thoughts:

We were so privileged and grateful to Coco Brown, Founder & CEO at Athena Alliance, for introducing us to Girls in Tech and for providing me (Alvina Antar, CIO at Zuora) the opportunity to share my father’s advice to #BeAn800PoundGorilla in all you do! The conference reminded us to follow our passion and our heart and to believe that success is warranted not because of luck or hard work, but because #IAmWorthy.

Thank you, Adriana Gascoigne, Founder & CEO at Girls in Tech, for putting on such an amazing, thought-provoking event that left attendees with new perspectives on how to live a life of authentic purpose.

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Please Join Us at The Catalyst Conference

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Girls in Tech To Host Fourth Annual Catalyst Conference and The Athena Alliance is a major partner in this event with 14 of our members speaking. Athena members recieve a 25% discount. Please use the code ATHENA

Girls in Tech is proud to announce the fourth annual Catalyst Conference, a three-day event designed to celebrate women in this new age of innovation. The event will take place at Hotel Palomar in Phoenix, Arizona on April 17-19, 2016. Click here to purchase tickets!

“The Catalyst Conference was created to provide our attendees with an environment that allows for true and honest conversations about important issues including gender diversity in the workplace and how we can better support girls in tech.” said Adriana Gascoigne, Founder and CEO of Girls in Tech. “We look forward to hosting another great group of attendees with a solid lineup of workshops and conversations in Phoenix in April.”

The Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference will include inspiring keynotes from female leaders, as well as multi-media presentations and networking events. The conference also offers attendees exciting discussion and sage advice on innovation and technology, and will provide them with a platform to exchange ideas, connect with other influential women, and create lasting business relationships that could have considerable impact on the technology industry at large.

“As an advocate for innovation in government, I know how valuable it is to collaborate with techies outside my organization,” said Laura Williams, Catalyst speaker and eDiplomacy Officer, United States Department of State. “I’m looking forward to connecting with the women of Girls in Tech, hearing their stories, learning from their perspectives, and brainstorming new ideas.”

There are more than two dozen speakers confirmed for this year’s event, including:
Amy Bunszel, Vice President, AutoCAD Products, Autodesk
Leah Busque, Founder & CEO, TaskRabbit
Sandy Carter, Social Business Evangelist & General Manager, Cloud Ecosystem & Developers, IBM
Mercedes De Luca, COO, Basecamp
Debra Jensen, CIO, Charlotte Russe
Rashmi Kumar, Vice President of Information Technology, McKesson
Fran Maier, Founder & Chair of the Board, TRUSTe and co-founder of Match.com
Monique Morrow, CTO, New Frontiers Engineering, Cisco Systems, Inc.
Cheryl Porro, Senior Vice President, Technology & Products, Salesforce
Kara Swisher, Executive Editor & Co-Founder, Re/Code
Jennifer Tejada, President & CEO of Keynote
Kristen Wolberg, Vice President of Technology, PayPal

Featured discussion topics include:
Fuel­ing the She-Economy: Why It Matters
Build­ing Your Brand, Net­work­ing, and Show­cas­ing You
Prac­ti­cal Prod­uct Mar­ket­ing: Engag­ing your Cus­tomers to Drive Advo­cacy and Growth
Diver­sity and Inclu­sion: Lever­ag­ing The But­ter­fly Effect
What it Takes to Build a Great Com­pany: Mis­takes Entre­pre­neurs Make That No One Talks About
How the Accel­er­ated Learn­ing Model is Help­ing to Alter the Gen­der Dis­par­ity in the Tech­nol­ogy Work­force
This is the second year that Girls in Tech has held their flagship event in Phoenix, acknowledging the area’s potential to harness and support women as they pursue tech and entrepreneurial endeavors.

“We’re excited to welcome the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference back to downtown for the second year in a row,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “Some of the world’s most innovative women in technology will come together in Phoenix to empower other women to lead and succeed in this critical field.”

Catalyst Conference is sponsored by Automattic, IBM, H&R Block Small Business, Wells Fargo, Axosoft, Infusionsoft, City of Phoenix and Downtown Phoenix, Inc. Athena Alliance is also a proud partner for the event. Television and radio show host Kym McNicholas will emcee the event.

For more information about speakers and schedule of events and to register to attend, please visit: http://phoenix.catalyst.girlsintech.org/

Click here to purchase tickets!


The Inside Story on Board Service

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Diverse & Deep: Words of wisdom from our Athena Alliance BoD Panel


In March 2016 we had the unique opportunity to host a deeply skilled and diverse set of leaders who sit in various board of directors (BoD) positions to get their inside stories on board service. Our amazing panelists which included Gerri Elliott, Sheri Anderson, Marilyn Nagel, Caroline Tsay and Debra Chrapaty brought to the table experience across the public, private and non-profit spectrum. Their collective experience includes sitting on boards such as: Bed, Bath & Beyond, Whirlpool, Puppet Labs, Rosetta Stone, Little Passports, Raley’s, Remedy Corporation, Imperva, Charlotte Russe, Watermark, UPWARD, nQuotient, and TravelZoo. Read on to learn what they had to share about the journey of getting on a board, and resulting responsibilities such as finances, lawsuits, and more.



There is a tremendous amount of diversity across boards based on the type of company (public, private, non-profit), the size of the company, the stage, the industry, the leadership and more. Directionally, our panelists noted that public boards tend to be the most structured and focus on providing strategic direction and overseeing key areas of management such as compensation and audit. Private boards often meet more frequently than public boards and can be a bit more hands on in nature; particularly in smaller private companies. Non-Profit boards can vary tremendously and the nature of them will often depend on the size and maturity. Marilyn pointed out that the biggest difference with non-profit boards is you will typically be expected to support their fundraising efforts (versus public and private boards where you are typically compensated in some fashion for BoD service with cash/stock). Important note: all board seats come with fiduciary responsibility, even the non-profit ones, so pick carefully.



According to Marilyn, larger non-profit boards provide some similar experiences to serving on private/public boards though you don’t usually get “board” credit when it comes to your public board search. What you can achieve, however, is forming great connections if you pick the right non-profit boards. These connections can be great leverage points as you go on later to find a public/private board seat.



Across the panel there were a couple key themes: (1) be clear about your board “value proposition” (2) work your network – make sure everyone you know is aware you are looking and knows your value proposition. Other key words of wisdom: Carolyn reinforced the importance of being known publically by blogging and speaking at conferences and on panels. Gerri reminded us that while there are some exceptions, the “C” title matters. Gerri actually asked Juniper to change her title from being an Executive Vice President to being Chief Customer Officer because she knew the C-level title would open doors to expanded opportunities.



Yes! Gerri pointed out that it is important to make sure your CEO knows you are looking for a BoD position and ensure s/he is supportive. You may find that your company does not support executives being on boards. The recommendation of the panel is to push back if this rule exists. Everyone agreed that being on a board can broader your perspective and make you a better leader in your current role. Your company may want to limit your board service but being on at least one board is great for continuing your education as a leader. You also should consider the powerful role that your own company board can play in your board search. If you are still looking for your first public/private board role, you can use your experience with your own board as a “bridge,” and the panel recommended seeking out opportunities to present/engage with them if you don’t already do so. Your own company board can also be part of the network you leverage in your search.



Unfortunately, board service does come with legal liability and you should go into your board service with eyes wide open. Doing your homework ahead of time is always important but sometimes there are things you can’t avoid. For example, Sheri shared how a company BoD that she was on sold to another company for a very good price. The BoD was dissolved after the sale was complete, but that did not prevent the BoD from being sued a year later. Fortunately they had followed due process and had Director & Officer (D&O) insurance so the story had a happy ending. Marilyn shared how she was on a couple non-profit boards that ran into financial trouble. On one of the boards the CFO was embezzling money. These are unfortunate situations but you can minimize your risk doing your homework in advance, ensuring that you have D&O insurance, and making sure you follow good process in the running of the board meetings.



The panelists suggested that if you are not a finance expert yourself it makes sense to take some classes and/or have someone help you. Stanford’s Rock center has a good director college for public and VC-backed boards (http://stanford.io/24YHklE). Further, it was suggested that most companies cover the cost of this training for their BoD members. What are other avenues for help? Debra has called on the risk committee of the company board she serves on to help her answered questions. Gerri has hired a financial tutor in the past to help her understand the financials for some of her companies. No matter how smart you are, there will be things that you don’t know and you should never be afraid to get help!



Always remember that when you are interviewing for a board seat, you should be just as aggressive in interviewing the company as they are with you when talking about the board relationship. All of the panelists stressed the importance of doing due diligence, getting to know the other board members and making sure there is good relationship fit. Gerri took us through her the key elements of her board search process, which included what questions you should be asking of yourself and of the other board members. There is a good accounting of Gerri’s more detailed search in her Fortune interview: http://for.tn/1vLQOyk. Additionally, some great questions to ask on Boardrooms: http://broadrooms.com. Sheri also highlighted some great training for private companies and angel investors via Golden Seeds: http://bit.ly/1SLiJMf.



  • Debra Chrapaty: BoD: KCG Holdings. Debra has years of experience managing and growing companies in the enterprise and consumer sectors. She is currently COO of Declara.
  • Sheri Anderson: BoDs: Little Passports, Raley’s, Remedy Corporation. Sheri runs the training program for the Silicon Valley chapter of Golden Seeds after many years as an information technology executive in financial services and high tech companies.
  • Caroline Tsay: BoDs: Rosetta Stone, TravelZoo. Currently Caroline is the Chief Digital Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise where she has P&L, strategy, and operational responsibility for the online channel.
  • Gerri Elliott: BoDs: Whirpool, Bed Bath and Beyond, Imperva, Puppet Labs and Charlotte Russe. Gerri is founder of Broadrooms: an informational resource for executive women who serve or want to serve on corporate boards. http://broadrooms.com. Over her career Gerri had leadership roles at Juniper, Microsoft and IBM.
  • Marilyn Nagel: BoDs: Watermark, UPWARD, nQuotient. Marilyn is Co-Founder of NQuotient and CEO of Ready-Aim-Aspire. Previously Marilyn was CEO of Watermark, Chief Diversity Officer at Cisco and has worked with numerous non-profit and private companies in advisory roles.


For more great insights from this panel, look out for our video posting, coming soon.


Exercise Your Social Impact Option; Pursue Board Service

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The statistics for women serving on public and private boards of directors (BoDs) in the U.S. are depressing by most any measure. I believe that if we care about the world we are creating for future generations, this ratio needs to change. With the degree of social change being driven by technology today, we need a more diverse set of leaders influencing the strategic direction of both public and private boards.

Why don’t we have more women on BoDs today? Press headlines tout great intent to drive change, but progress is slow. The most common excuse is an inadequate pipeline of qualified women. My observation is different. I believe we have more than enough women who have the potential to fill the pipeline. From my viewpoint, the root cause of the issue is that women have not historically had the incentive to put themselves forward for BoD positions and hence haven’t finished rounding out their profiles to do so. Additionally, they do not have the critical connections to the board opportunities themselves.

Are you ready to pursue getting on a BoD? Unfortunately, if you are similar to many of my qualified friends, your answer might be “No.” Why? In my experience, the answer ranges from “I have not really thought about it” to “I am not sure I am qualified” or “My boss tells me I shouldn’t because it takes a lot of time and there is a lot of fiduciary risk.” Well, now is the time to think about it. I’ve heard all of these concerns and you have to get past this way of thinking and get started on your journey. You are more qualified than you think. And, while your boss or colleagues’ concerns about fiduciary and time commitment is legitimate, it is my experience that with the right education/process for BoD selection you can manage the risk and drive impact that is well worth the time commitment.

I’m hoping by now you’re thinking, “Yes! How do I get started? How can you help me?” The role of the BoD is to provide strategic guidance for an organization’s executive team and ensure that they are looking out for the best interest of the common shareholders. Today, the right strategic direction for companies and the regulatory/social implications are less clear than ever. Your experience and thoughtful approach to the debate are important.

Take as example companies who are fueling the “gig economy” (i.e., freelance workers who work for companies like Uber and Airbnb rather than pursuing fulltime jobs). What is the right way to address and protect (or not protect) these workers’ rights? What about the explosion on big data analytics? Where do we draw the lines around personal privacy when more everyday actions are recorded and analyzed to the extent that a retailer may figure out when your daughter is pregnant before you do? These are just two examples of social consideration among the many new issues that are coming up in areas such as bitcoin (a new form of money), drones, cyber-security, biotech, encryption and the like.

In addition to providing increased social consciousness at the BoD table, as a woman you also have the ability to help make companies more competitive and help other women take on leadership roles. Research has shown repeatedly that more diverse teams make better decisions and companies with diverse boards tend to outperform their peer set. Research also shows that role models are important to fueling the dreams, beliefs and motivations of others. In my experience, having women in leadership roles brings forward more action to bring women into the company at all levels and provides the organization with access to rich and diverse employee networks. In going after the BoD role, show how you can be that role model for others and strengthen the diversity agenda for the organization you’re working with.

There are great personal benefits associated pursuing BoD service. You will undoubtedly learn a lot and build a more diverse perspective by exploring different issues in the marketplace, which you can bring to your current and future roles. You will also have the opportunity to strengthen the impact of your current role based on your position of leadership and extended network. Finally, the BoD service you do is compensated with stock and/or monetary payment depending on the size and nature of the company.

Are you ready to jump in? I hope so. Joining a BoD is a great opportunity and there are lots of resources to help you round out your experience, mitigate the risks associated with BoD service, and help you get the right connections.

Join me in exercising your option to drive positive social impact. Start, accelerate, extend your board service journey today!