Sitting half-alert in eighth-grade civics class, I once had a moment that rocked me to the core. The teacher was sharing stats regarding the representation of women in US government. The tiny percentages took my breath away. I could not believe that in a relatively modern era, 50% of the population was just plain missing in every form of government. I was not shocked on a personal level–I had the full blown optimism of youth that things would be better and different for me. My reaction was a practical one. I could not understand how our country could be so short-sighted as to not tap the talents of half the population.
Fast forward to today, and I find I can’t easily forget an equally disturbing experience.
In April I attended a deeply impressive tech conference in Tokyo. The CEO of Rakuten had assembled a killer-great “who’s who” of prominent tech founders, representing Skype, Twitter, Pinterest, AirBnB, Evernote, Android, Line (fastest growing social network in Asia), Fab, Uber and Square. It is impossible to imagine such an assembly of modern luminaries together in a room in the US.
At the after-party, I was introduced to the Ambassador to Japan, accomplished tech lawyer John Roos. We marvelled over the caliber of the event, but then he leaned over to me and said, “But I couldn’t help but notice there were no women on stage.”
That night, at dinner across from Rakuten’s CEO Mickey Mikitani, I passed along my conversation with the Ambassador. I said, “Mickey if you do this again next year, and there are twelve speakers on stage, two of them should be women.” He immediately and enthusiastically agreed, and said, “OK who should they be?”
And that’s when the air went out of the room for me, like when I was 13. I could not think of a single female founder of a hot, contemporary company that an international audience would automatically know. Not one. Four months later, and I still can’t.
I can think of One King’s Lane and TaskRabbit. But would a Tokyo audience really know these companies, like the above company names? I don’t want the first women on that international stage to be any less qualified. Or, even worse, from an “old” company.
I really can’t believe the world of high-stakes entrepreneurship is no different than government was when I was a girl. I MUST be forgetting at least a couple very well known companies with female founders still at the helm. In any event, I am taking suggestions. It is crazy to finally be in a seat of influence with nothing to offer. I am really disappointed with myself, and the world if that is the case.