NYC’s Silicon Alley must include women

WSN Editorial Board

In an attempt to create more opportunities for development in its booming tech industry, New York City is working to make itself more business-friendly. Building on the already lucrative Silicon Alley — a Manhattan area for tech industries that was modeled after California’s Silicon Valley — officials have hosted several events to entice investors, aspiring entrepreneurs and startup companies. Among new initiatives to increase New York’s tech presence is Digital.NYC, a website meant to connect the entrepreneurial community with the tech industry. Mayor Bill de Blasio officially launched the program on Oct. 1, saying New York City is “a natural and strengthening tech hub.” Despite this call for community, there has been a tangible bias against women, who are a minority among investors and new innovators.

Investors and venture capitalists infused $3 billion into the city’s tech industry in 2013 — up 275 percent since 2009’s $799 million. The new website Digital.NYC aims to raise this number by providing a cohesive source for business and technology event listings, shared workspaces, courses and funding resources. It is a public-private partnership backed by groups like IBM, which is opening a Greenwich Village facility to house the Watson cognitive computing business this week. De Blasio emphasized that the site is meant to help newcomers to the field. Ideally, New York City’s commitment to open platforms like this website will provide not only an economic boost to the tech industry, but also level the playing field where there has previously been discrimination.

Even though Silicon Valley is the progressive technology hub of the United States, it is consistently under  fire for sexism. According to a recent study, female representation is lacking in Silicon Valley’s programming positions, as well as in its executive suites. For example, 98 of the largest 100 companies in the United States have at least one female director, compared to a meager 56.7 percent of Silicon Valley’s top 150 companies. In an effort to address the divide, Brooklyn-based e-commerce site Etsy has increased its number of female engineers by nearly 500 percent in one year. Etsy CTO Kellan Elliott-McCrea attributed  the improved equality to structural changes, such as prioritizing diversity in the hiring process.

Etsy’s hiring policy changes are commendable, but the online retailer is a small entrant in the massive tech industry. Only when larger companies replicate Etsy’s reforms will the employee reports that come out of Silicon Valley improve. Women account for 57 percent of the U.S. workforce, yet only 14 percent in tech. New York City officials’ commitment through initiatives like Digital.NYC to strengthen the tech industry’s presence can create an ideal environment for female innovators to thrive. Until real changes are made in Palo Alto, startups and established players should come to New York.

A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 6 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]



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