There’s a black hole that we’re in danger of being sucked into, and it’s more treacherous than Felix Baumgartner’s space jump. The danger I’m talking about is the echo chamber.
Usually when I reference the “echo chamber,” I’m talking about social media. I’m in complete agreement with many of the contemporary thought leaders and pundits who have written and spoken at great length on the issue (see Eli Pariser, Elizabeth Lesser, Clay Johnson and Rebecca MacKinnon). They all warn us of the dangers of filtering out a variety of voices and listening to only one point of view. Social media and a curated web experience are enablers of this, but it’s not just social media that is responsible for that closed perspective. It’s us. And I want no part in it.
While attending the Techtoberfest event at Communitech last week, I realized a number of things.
Out of Techtoberfest’s 15 breakout sessions, only two were facilitated by women.
Out of a total of 19 companies that pitched, only one team had women on the stage. One.
I sat in one of those breakout sessions, titled “Y Entrepreneurship,” and while it certainly intended to be a take on the Y generation, it could have been more representative of the gender in the audience. Besides my colleague and myself, the only other women I saw in the room were part of the hard-working team that actually work for Communitech to make these events happen.
One of the facilitators asked the audience to participate in the conversation regarding “Why entrepreneurship?”—and he encouraged us all to participate. He asked about six audience members (who he all knew by name) why they were drawn to entrepreneurship. Those six people were all male, all (seemingly) in their 20s and all Caucasian. All of the panellists were also Caucasian and male. I took the opportunity to share an observation.
Do you see the danger?
The point I made to our facilitator was thus: literature exists ad nauseam stating that businesses that have women in roles of leadership perform better. They have more longevity and they realize more financial success. Whether we’re talking about entrepreneurs, the whole startup ecosystem in Ontario or each one of us as individuals, the threat is the same. When you don’t have the diversity of views and experience that come from people of different ages, different races and different genders, you’re living in that echo chamber of “Aren’t we great? Aren’t we great? Aren’t we great?.” You may be great, but without a broader scope of input and ideas, you’re about to stagnate. Thankfully, there were a lot of nodding heads in the room in support of this discussion.
There are definitely two parts to this. I tweeted my observation about the lack of women represented, and author, speaker and columnist Julia Moulden and I had a great dialogue online about the need for women to be invited into the discussion, but also about how many women don’t ask to participate or don’t say “yes” to opportunities to speak.
From that, we’ve started a new hashtag campaign. It’s time for women to stop wondering if they have something important to say or share. It’s time for them to take the mic and #BeAYesWoman.
This experience is certainly not limited to the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I see it in Toronto and, quite literally, in every startup community—both online and in real life. The startup community needs to include more women as speakers, it needs to draw more women into the entrepreneurship fold and it needs more women as leaders in their businesses if they want to succeed.
If there is anyone who can realize this, it’s the community of people I’ve met at our fellow Regional Innovation Centres and universities, and in our extended startup communities. We’re the ones changing things because we’re talking about it, we’re calling it out and we’re reaching out to do something about it, too. But this will not change through and by women alone. And it shouldn’t—because that would just be an echo chamber of a different kind.
We need everyone involved in this conversation. Everyone calling for change. Everyone striving for something more for each and every Ontarian.