Local entrepreneurs and leaders across various industries convened Tuesday to discuss the presence of women in the tech industry at the Women of TechBloc luncheon, which included a sold-out panel discussion hosted by local TechBloc, a tech advocacy organization, and held at Rackspace headquarter’s event center.
The event was the first of its kind in San Antonio, and served as an opportunity to spark discussion about the roles of women in the evolving San Antonio tech and entrepreneurial communities.
"While women's opportunities in the past have been limited, our contributions have been significant, so we have made a lot of progress. There's a lot more that we need to do, though, to encourage more women and our younger girls to be involved," said Mayor Ivy Taylor, who gave the opening remarks of the afternoon. Taylor mentioned that her own 12-year-old daughter, Morgan, strives to be a scientist or an engineer in the future.
The panel was moderated by Rackspace Chief Marketing Officer Carla Sublett, and formed by local women executives in the tech industry: WP Engine Chief Financial Operator April Downing, VentureLab Founder Cristal Glangchai, and Strasburger and Price LLP Partner Debra Innocenti.
In addition to their discussion of women's roles and challenges in the tech workforce, the panelists aimed to raise public awareness of the tech world's influence on a number of disciplines and fields.
"Whether you're a software developer, a project manager, recruiter, designer, we all play critical roles in San Antonio's tech ecosystem," said Marina Gavito, executive director of TechBloc.
David Marquez, executive director for economic development for Bexar County, spoke in place of Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff who was out sick.
"We believe in you and really want you to look at the County and the City as partners for whatever it is you need to advance you as far as your minds can take you," he said. Marquez encouraged attendees to apply for the County's innovation fund which assists "entities that support the innovation-focused digital information technology sector."
The tech and STEM fields have always largely been dominated by men, and women have historically had a tough time making names for themselves as respectable leaders in their workplaces. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 76% of STEM workers are men, and women earn $0.86 for every dollar earned by a man working in STEM. Each panelist, whose innovation and determination has established them as leaders in their respective fields, shared their own experiences of gender discrimination encountered at work.
Women face adversity in fundraising efforts as well, Downing said, which is related to the makeup of venture capitalists in the country who provide funds for startups and small businesses looking to expand. About 96% of venture capitalists are men, she added, and 86% of investments are given to management teams without a single woman.
"That's crazy," Downing said. "What I've found is that you have to really stand your ground."
Among other things, Sublett cited a lack of exposure for young girls to the STEM field as a reason the female presence in tech is low. Her own experience in the industry directly related to this.
"If you haven't had that exposure when you were young, and you're an adult (who wants) to break into the industry it can seem very intimidating," she said.
There are a number of hurdles for women to jump over to change the male-focused culture of technology and entrepreneurism, said Innocenti, but basic mentoring is a viable option for women hoping to excel in their fields.
"Women need to connect with other women more," she said. "We really need to develop those micro-ecosystems of women where we teach each other. You've got to talk to people who have gone before and connect with someone who can guide you through it."
San Antonio women, like the TechBloc panelists, are pushing to make San Antonio a leading tech community in the country, but it's going to take hard work to change the culture, Glangchai said.
"We really are at the cusp and there's got to be a continued, muscled, big push to make this happen -- and it can -- but it's going to be an all hands on deck effort," she said.
Helping San Antonio's emerging tech community grow is not only important for those at Tuesday's event, but it's essential for the success of the city, Innocenti said.
"Tech is the rails on which every single industry runs. It affects every single segment of a city and everything benefits when you've got a hub of innovation and jobs,"she said.
But what puts San Antonio at the cusp of true growth and innovation, Sublett added, is having a strong core of women leading the way.
"What other city has done that?," she said to applause.
*Top image: WP Engine’s CFO April Downing, VentureLab Founder Cristal Glangchai, Strasburger and Price LLP Partner Deborah Innocenti, and panel moderator Rackspace CMO Carla Sublett cheer as they speak about standing their ground. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone