The View from a Female Collegiate Athlete Turned Tech Entrepreneur

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    To say that a woman has to be incredibly driven to become highly successful in a male-dominated industry like technology, let alone start and run a fast-growing tech company, is a huge understatement. But here’s an understatement that’s even huger: Joanna Weidenmiller is driven.

    Weidenmiller is the CEO of 1-Page, a provider of talent acquisition and retention software in San Francisco that’s the first Silicon Valley company to be listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. She’s also a former nationally ranked collegiate rower and a former FBI recruit.

    I recently had the opportunity to speak with Weidenmiller about the gender gap in the technology industry, and I began the conversation by asking her if she felt she had been at a disadvantage by virtue of being female in pursuing her tech entrepreneurial dream. She said not at all:

    Did I feel disadvantaged as a female athlete? No, because I held a national record. Whether I was female or male, I would have been an athlete—I would have received a full scholarship to college, though because I’m female, I [had to rely on] Title IX, which basically says all men and women are created equal when it comes to scholarship opportunities in collegiate athletics. Was it harder, and did I have to knock on more doors to get done what I wanted to do? Yes. But I also think there are a lot of assets to being a female. As the CEO of a public company, I have the opportunity to sit across from a lot of institutional investors, and one of the things they say to me is, ‘You’re just a breath of fresh air.’ Females have an incredible ability to connect with people when it’s a man and a woman—it’s just a different dynamic than if it were two men. So there is a lot of opportunity, and a lot of wonderful things that come to women, especially when you’re leveraging what you’re building and how that relates to your life. I was always confident in what we were building.

    I was blown away to learn that nearly half of 1-Page’s employees are female, so I asked Weidenmiller how she managed to accomplish that, given that the percentage of women in other Silicon Valley tech companies is so paltry. She said it’s all about creating an inclusive culture:

    My whole team helps to operate and run this company. We make decisions together, and it doesn’t matter whether someone is female or male—whoever is most qualified for the role is who we’re going to end up selecting for the job. Something that has made us very successful is having a good balance, and a good half-and-half dynamic, because you want both [genders] to contribute. So we do make an effort to continue to work on diversity, not just in terms of male/female. If you come to 1-Page, [you’ll see] we have all sorts of ethnicities, and people from all over the world. We care about it, and we invest in it.

    The success of 1-Page notwithstanding, a solution to the gender gap in technology remains frustratingly elusive. So how, I asked Weidenmiller, is the gap ultimately going to be closed? She said the effort to close it simply has to be made on a much larger scale, on several different levels:

    Female CEOs and the media need to come together to present this as a very interesting opportunity. That’s why I’m very positive when it comes to my own experience as a female CEO. I want little girls to say, ‘I want to be just like Joanna—I want to start a company in my pajamas in my apartment, and I want it to go public.’ I want those little girls to be influenced—it’s the same reason that I make sure that I present myself well, and that I look relatable. … On a higher level, I spoke at the G20 Summit [in Brisbane last November], and there’s a lot of support at the government level in the G20 countries around how we’re going to bring women into the work force. … The initiative is that all G20 countries have to close their gender gap by 25 percent by 2025, from the higher levels all the way down. I think watching that, and making sure they’re held accountable, is really important. … I don’t know if a quota is going to work—I have no idea. Do we put in a quota that says how many females corporations need to have? There’s already a lot of controversy around whether a female is in a particular role just because she’s female. In my own case, I was a female recipient of Title IX. I will say that even though I held a national record, as a female, if it had been before Title IX, I would not have gotten a full scholarship to college, and I wouldn’t be able to push through that dream. It changed my life, and because of it, so many other females have had their lives changed.

    I asked Weidenmiller how she thinks the culture of 1-Page would be different if the CEO were male. She said she never thought about it. But never one to shy away from a challenge, she gave it a shot:

    When a CEO leaves a company, there’s often a dramatic shift in the company in general, whether or not it’s a shift in gender. … This may be the female in me, but I always try to hire people smarter than me, and I get the hell out of their way. … I am fearless when it comes to worrying about whether I’m female or male. Build something great enough, and it doesn’t matter.

    And if she could have one do-over as CEO of 1-Page, what would it be? Weidenmiller said she would have brought in more help a lot sooner than she did:

    If I could do it all over again, I think that there’s a lot of stress when you go from being a private company to being a public company. I definitely could have put in more people earlier on. I took a lot on as a small company, and we grew really fast. I would say if anything, we would have put more people in the company faster—we would have hired more support faster.

    Finally, I asked Weidenmiller what advice she has for young women who aspire to be tech entrepreneurs. Her response:

    Never believe the status quo. Whatever people tell you you can or cannot do, it’s not true. Women see things that are different from what a man might see. The greatest products come from identifying a problem, and building a solution. If you see a problem, take it all the way and try to solve it if you’re passionate about solving it. Leverage the fact that you’re young, and you have so much going for you, and use support systems. There are so many people out there who want to help women—go find mentors, whether they’re female or male, who will help drive you further and further and help to make you successful.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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