Women haven't broken the VC ceiling

Summary:WITI group says that women-owned companies receive only 4 percent of venture funding; a new program aims to address such gender-related inequities.

SANTA CLARA -- Women In Technology International is looking to software and schools these days to give women a leg up in the tech world.

The organization, which is dedicated to promoting women in technology and providing networking opportunities for them, unveiled plans to start a women's technology incubator in conjunction with Smith College in Massachusetts and to launch software that will help companies gauge their sensitivity to gender issues.

The incubator at Smith -- the only women's college to offer an engineering degree -- is set to launch in the fall of next year.

Through the program, women students and alumni of Smith and four other colleges in the school's network will have access to mentors, business resources and, eventually, a multimillion-dollar fund to help them get their fledgling tech companies off the ground.

Recent studies show that women-owned firms receive only 4 percent of venture funding even though they make up close to half of all new companies.

'Our position has always been, we'll make it happen ourselves.'|WITI founder Carolyn Leighton WITI founder and Chairwoman Carolyn Leighton said the incubator is an example of how women can work to solve such problems.

"Our position has always been, we'll make it happen ourselves," she said during WITI's sixth annual conference here.

WITI executives also showed off new software designed to help companies learn about and deal with gender issues.

The Gender Gap Assessment Tool, designed by Human Facets, a division of teacher training manual maker The Master Teacher, allows companies to pose 120 statements to employees and executives in order to gauge attitudes related to gender both inside and outside the workplace.

Those statements include, "I often let comments which stereotype men and women go unchallenged." Respondents can give answers ranging from "agree strongly" to "disagree strongly."

Leighton said that women often thwart the efforts of other women by ridiculing them or abandoning women's issues once they've broken through the glass ceiling.| At the end, companies can get group or individual scores, which they can compile to see if the company is discriminating. WITI has copyrighted the software.

Through the tool, Leighton said companies and groups like WITI can learn how to change environments to provide equal opportunity.

"We need solid data to back up what we intuitively feel is happening," she said.

But she cautioned that the test isn't designed to bash men.

"This is not a tool to check up on men," she said, adding that women often thwart the efforts of other women by ridiculing them or abandoning women's issues once they've broken through the glass ceiling.

"Women have a lot of work to do," she said.

Leighton also said companies that have been hit with gender-bias suits are less likely to have to pay damages if they can show they're addressing the issue, as they could do with this software.

In the future, WITI plans to open a research center, where it will slice and dice data gleaned from the software surveys, the incubator and other projects to develop strategies to attract and retain women who have a technology calling.

Topics: Tech Industry

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