Shining a light, leading the way
— by Dawn Putney, President & CEO | Toolbox Creative
Tech industries are innovative by nature, by necessity. The tech innovation I'm most passionate about is the movement to educate, empower and advance girls and women in tech industries. The Toolbox team and I are dedicated to initiatives that advance women in each of our areas of expertise: 3D Printing, AgTech and Clean Energy. It's not just a passion project for me; it runs deep to the core of why we do what we do here at Toolbox.
Girls are natural problem-solvers, leaders and innovators. They outperform boys in high school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects worldwide, and they thrive when they're actively engaged and can talk out technical problems.
So why are women chronically underrepresented in tech companies? The problem is that girls lose interest in math and science as early as grade school. When girls lack confidence, feel anxiety and get teased by their peers for being nerds, they're more inclined to opt out. What starts in grade school continues through higher education, the workforce and all the way up to the boardroom.
"When we encourage girls to pursue science and technology, we double our potential to solve problems." — Microsoft's 2016 global workplace report
The path to advancing girls and women in technology is paved early and by many hands — teachers and administrators, parents and community members, businesses and nonprofits. We’re all in it together. Engaging STEM curriculum, project-based learning and real-world internships give girls hands-on experience and plant the seed of a lifelong love of technology. Then it’s up to tech companies to help that seed flourish. The result? Empowered, successful female innovators who make our world a better place.
MISSion Innovation champions the voices of girls and women
If you don't see anyone who looks like you in the profession you want to pursue, it's hard to see yourself succeeding, or even getting a foot in the door. Like begets like. As much as I love old white dudes (I'm married to one), if the only people you see in an industry are old white dudes, you're less inclined to see a place for yourself.
I've been at this long enough to understand that small changes make a big difference. By exposing girls and young women to successful female role models in STEM fields, we cultivate a sense of belonging for women in technology beyond the administrative and marketing roles they often fill. Mentorship takes this one step further.
Mentors are more than just role models, they're people who will actively help women advance their careers. Mentors are more than someone to look up to, they're someone to talk to. How many more women in tech would there be right now if we could go back in time and make up for all the missed mentoring opportunities?
Men have a critical role to play here, too. For example, women make up 35% of the Clean Tech workforce. If Clean Energy leaders stay strictly in their gender lanes when mentoring young professionals, women have fewer opportunities to advance, and gender disparity remains a vicious cycle. Cross-gender mentorships and sponsorships provide a powerful opportunity to break that cycle, break down stereotypes and blow up the status quo.
Talk is cheap, and free advice is worth the price you pay. While I am always happy to speak about women in technology, I'm much more interested in GSD — getting sh*t done. It’s important to me to put my time, talent and money where my mouth is.
I serve on the board for Pretty Brainy, and Toolbox donates work to MISSion Innovation, an all-woman innovation marathon that pairs high school and college students to solve challenges related to sustainable cities and communities. Toolbox built the Colorado C3E brand, and I serve on their board. We recently launched WomenInCleanEnergy.com, the pilot program for a larger Colorado C3E initiative to shine a light on the women doing innovative work in Clean Energy and to broaden the pool from which panelist and conference speakers are chosen.
Colorado C3E celebrates innovative women in clean energy with the She's in Power initiative
Implicit biases are real, and we all have them. I didn’t understand implicit bias early in my career. I’ve become more aware of how I make decisions and work hard to recognize and interrupt those implicit biases in myself and within the Toolbox team. Yes, they may be unconscious biases, but they still occur. By owning and freely discussing those biases, we can work to lessen their influence within our own company. We work hard to make sure that, as part of the process for developing positioning, messaging and brand identity for our clients, we uncover whatever implicit biases might exist. This helps initiate a different kind of conversation and engages a more diverse group of people in that conversation.
The Moxie Exchange breaks down the costs of unconscious bias
Dismantling the manel
We've all been there. You're at a tech conference awaiting a panel discussion on a topic you're passionate about. But as the experts take the stage, something's wrong. Wait, one of those old white men on stage is not wearing a tie. Oh, the humanity! Also, there are no women. The all-male panel, or manel, is a perfect example of fishing in one's own pool. It's definitely not that there are no women qualified to speak on the topic, and it's likely not a deliberate, malicious action. It's that old white dudes roll with old white dudes. That's the definition of the status quo.
Allison Kopf, CEO of Agrilyst, was frustrated with attending manels that didn't represent the female leadership and expertise she knew existed in the AgTech industry. So she created an open list of women leaders in AgTech. She started with 75 names. As of this writing, the list has 410 names and continues to grow. Leaders throughout tech industries are taking the panel pledge, promising not to participate in or attend panels that do not include women. The movement has worldwide momentum. Among other groups, 500 Women Scientists and Women in 3D Printing are working to make the voices of their industries more inclusive.
Elevating the conversation
When tech companies make gender inclusiveness part of their brand story, they not only build better brands and stronger companies, they disrupt the status quo and build a better world. That's true innovation.
Our future depends on how we utilize innovative technology to improve the way we produce food, engineer our world, power the planet and take care of each other. Here at Toolbox, we've made it our vocation to use the power of branding to help innovative technology companies build the future we all deserve. Let's GSD.
About Dawn Putney:
Dawn is Toolbox's founding president and lead strategist. Dedicated to building a future where women can more easily climb to the top of the business ladder, Dawn knows the future looks brighter and kinder when built by women. Dawn serves on the board of Pretty Brainy, Colorado C3E, the Fort Collins Museum of Art and is a past board member of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. She's also a founder and fairy godmother of Art Lab Fort Collins.
About Toolbox Creative:
Toolbox Creative is a B2B Brand Engineering firm, helping the 3D Printing, Ag Tech and Clean Tech industries change the world. We distill complex technologies into powerful identity systems, websites and marketing tactics that align sales and marketing efforts, create lasting impact and build brand love.