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Women Flock to Startups While Trailing in Computer Science: Tech

Women Flock to Startups While Trailing in Computer Science: Tech
Bloomberg Television reporter Willow Bay, from left, moderates a panel discussion with Theresia Gouw Ranzetta, partner with Accel Partners, Jessica Herrin, chief executive officer of Stella & Dot, Carolyn Everson, vice president of Global Marketing for Facebook Inc. and Selina Tobaccowala, vice president Product and Engineering at LLC., participate in a "Women To Watch Round Table" for Bloomberg Television in San Francisco. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Women in technology say they have plenty of opportunities to start Web-based companies and raise capital, though there are still too few of them studying computer science and taking engineering roles.

That’s the message from a group of female executives on “Women to Watch,” which aired yesterday on Bloomberg Television. The special features Facebook Inc. Vice President Carolyn Everson, LLC Senior Vice President Selina Tobaccowala, Stella & Dot founder Jessica Herrin and venture capitalist Theresia Gouw Ranzetta from Accel Partners.

“For the first time, I actually see male co-founders and male co-founding teams who are explicitly looking to bring women into the executive team or the founding team,” said Ranzetta, whose investments include Imperva Inc. and Trulia Inc. She said companies are saying, “‘You know, two-thirds of my users, my most valuable users, are women. We’ve got to get a woman into the boardroom here, right?’”

Herrin created fashion startup Stella & Dot after previously starting and selling Stella & Dot is among a crop of e-commerce companies started by women that also includes ModCloth Inc., another one of Ranzetta’s investments, as well as Gilt Groupe Inc., Rent the Runway Inc. and One Kings Lane.

Solid Ideas

Stella & Dot raised $37 million in 2010 from high-profile venture firm Sequoia Capital. Herrin said that investors have been on board from early on, even as she’s been raising her two daughters.

“I fundamentally believe that venture capitalists are interested in good business ideas,” she said. “They’ll take you, whether you’re -- whatever color, whatever gender. They’ll take you if your idea is sound and solid.”

Still, even with more females joining the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial ranks, the computer science field remains dominated by males, and the numbers have been getting worse. Women accounted for 12 percent of U.S. college graduates in computer science last year, according to the Computing Research Association. That’s down from 14 percent five years earlier.

The dearth of women in computer science shows in the workforce. Tobaccowala runs the engineering department at SurveyMonkey, a provider of online surveys, and previously founded the website Evite Inc. Of the 26 people on her team, only one of them is female, she said.

“There’s still a pipeline problem of women in computer science and engineering, even from 10 years ago,” Tobaccowala said.

Mentoring Program

Two female computer scientists addressing the problem directly are Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe and Piazza Technologies Inc. founder Pooja Sankar. They teamed up to create a program, which began yesterday, called WitsOn (Women in Technology Sharing Online), connecting women who are pursuing computer and science degrees with mentors in the industry.

“It’s going to take a decade or more to be more representative” in these fields, Ranzetta said.

Everson, who joined Facebook from Microsoft Corp. last year, has been working in advertising and business development since 1996. While she’s not a technologist, she said she “thrives on new technology and really loves to see how new technology can transform businesses.”

And as the world of marketing merges with the Internet, there’s a bigger role for women to play because of the amount of time they spend online.

“They’re key decision-makers,” she said.

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