Stop fixing, mentoring and supporting women – just invest in them, says Astia CEO

6 Nov 2014

Sharon Vosmek, CEO, Astia. Photo by Conor McCabe Photography

Astia CEO Sharon Vosmek discussed the gender gap in STEM, Gamergate and why venture-capital culture – not women – needs to change, during a Q&A at the Women Invent Meet-up in Dublin.

Astia is an organisation committed to engaging men and women in business together and investing in female-led companies. Over the past a year and a half, Astia Angels – a network of male and female angel investors – has invested more than US$5m and Vosmek said there are more than 1,100 companies in the pipeline at any given time, so the next step is to raise a fund to invest after the angels.

“We’re kind of tired of waiting for venture to figure out that the business case is there. We’re going to join venture, and we’re going to sit side by side and do deals, and we’re going to have those killer returns, and then that’s our change-the-world play,” Vosmek told Silicon Republic CEO and editor-at-large Ann O’Dea on stage at NDRC’s headquarters in the Digital Hub.

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable

Following Vosmek’s keynote address to the Women Invent Meet-up, O’Dea expressed her own feelings of frustration at the attitude that women need to be ‘fixed’ or adapt to join STEM industries, rather than adapting the culture of these industries themselves.

“I will never again attend another leadership training session. I am a leader,” Vosmek stated, advising the women in the room to be true to themselves and not what they are told about themselves.

As the conversation turned to ‘brogrammer’ culture and the threats of violence against women speaking out about Gamergate, Vosmek was keen to highlight this as a violence issue, not a gender issue.

“I think we conflate the two as a means of shortcut, and this is messy stuff, and I think we should stop trying to shortcut and start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, call things what they are, be OK that it’s going to make people uncomfortable, and we as a society have to figure out what the answers are,” she said.

Women Invent Meet-up: Q&A with Sharon Vosmek, CEO, Astia – Part 1 of 2

Women Invent Meet-up: Q&A with Sharon Vosmek, CEO, Astia – Part 1 of 2

Lack of public awareness of female success stories

A recent World Economic Forum report claimed bridging the gender equality gap will take 81 years at current progress rates. Discussion around this led Vosmek to highlight the lack of knowledge of female contributions to the tech sector.

She illustrated this using Diane Greene as an example. As the co-founder and former CEO of VMware, Greene is arguably on par with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Larry Ellison in terms of achievements and impact in the tech world, but a paltry show of hands in the room showed how little-known she is.

“Diane Greene, who now sits on the board of Google, is a name we should all know,” said Vosmek.

“Her name should roll off our lips right when those other male names roll off. She’s an innovator, an entrepreneur, who’s created incredible numbers of jobs, an incredible impact to the GDP, and, as a woman, she has inspired many – talk to any engineer who has ever worked with her. And yet, we don’t know her name.”

After her discussion with O’Dea, Vosmek took questions from the floor and closed up the Q&A with a call to business leaders to stop ‘fixing’, mentoring and supporting women and to simply invest in them.

Women Invent Meet-up: Q&A with Sharon Vosmek, CEO, Astia – Part 2 of 2

Women Invent Meet-up: Q&A with Sharon Vosmek, CEO, Astia – Part 2 of 2

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.