TiECon, Silicon Valley’s annual mega-networking conference, is leaning in big time this year.
For the second year in a row the event, which draws entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, technologists and journalists from around the world to panel discussions and on-stage interviews, is featuring a special Women’s Forum, a nod to the relative lack of women founders and women in high places in high tech.
That Silicon Valley and the tech industry are male-dominated worlds is nothing new. In fact, it’s one of those issues that is frequently talked about and written about, but never seems to change.
But TiECon is offering an alternative reality. Panel after panel of women, successful women in tech, offering war stories, tips and encouragement for other women.
“Last year, the TiE Women’s Forum, we launched that very specifically, and we have brought that again this year also, says Vish Mishra, venture director at Clearstone Venture Partners and one of the early organizers of the 19-year-old TiE conference. “The people on the panel were all women. We made sure of that, because you can’t lecture unless you’ve done it yourself. You have earned the right to give people advice because you have been there.”
When it came to advice there were plenty of gems delivered from the stage. Here’s a sampling:
Neerja Raman, who worked for years at Hewlett-Packard and is now a researcher at Stanford University, recalled how when she was starting out, women in technology, particularly in software, as she was, were pretty much ignored.
“They just tolerated you, right,” she says. “You need the support. Find a girlfriend to support you. It doesn’t have to come from work. You just have to find support and stick to your guns and do it.”
When it comes to balancing work and family, Raman, who has three kids and a husband, who like her works long hours, she’s big on priorities and making lists.
“I make a lit of all the things I have to do. I keep making it until I get it all out of my system. Then, at No. 10, I draw a line. Everything under that isn’t going to happen. From 3 to 10, outsource. And do the top three,” she says. “It really works because it’s about your own discipline.”
June Riley, Founder and CEO of VC Task Force, which hosts pitch events among other things, says in general women are much better prepared than men when they make a case for funding. Even so, she suggested the most important thing an entrepreneur is selling is herself.
“A lot of people think pitching is primarily telling someone how great your product is,” Riley says. “What it’s really about is talking to an investor about how you’re going to give that investor five to 10 times his or her money back and how your company is going to achieve that and how you are the person to make that happen.”
Practice your pitch, a lot, she says, with people who you trust and who can poke holes in your ideas.
“Don’t prepare your pitch in a vacuum,” she says. “Basically you have people tearing apart your pitch, which makes you a stronger person. When you’re presenting to an investor, you’re not so shy because you’ve been through everything that can go wrong with your pitch.”
For Beth Styles, director of customer success at start-up Biba Systems, sometimes leaning isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to leap, she says.
“Take the risk,” says Styles, who’s made a few career changes. “Just being open to things changing and being passionate and asking, ‘Well, why not do those different things?’ I really think being about being open and taking those risks has helped me.”
Letha Mclaren vice president of product management at iControl Networks, a home automation software company, says she balances work and family by going all in on both sides of the equation.
“I try to have as much energy at home as I have at work,” she says. “When I get home, I try not to turn it off. We’re a play hard; work hard kind of family. We spend a lot of time making sure the time we spend together is very quality time.”
Preeti Somal, vice president of R&D for VMware, talked about turning what might be perceived as a negative into a positive.
“I was the only girl in my engineering college class” says Somal, who had a class of 40 in India. “I went through four years of engineering college being the only girl. It really taught me, as well, to not feel shy as I walked into a room full of men.”
And she still does walk into rooms full of only of men.
Yes, like the other speakers she works at building a fulfilling work life and a fulfilling home life.
“I’m doing all the balancing and leaning that I can do,” she says. “I’ve got two kids, 12 and 8.”
And she has some advice for women who want to advance in their fields.
“Be yourself,” she says. “A lot of times as women advance in their careers they think that they need to become somebody different, but they don’t. You need to be confident in the abilities that you bring to the table. You are capable and you should be confident and you should go ask for what you believe is truly within your ability and that you can deliver on.”