E: Lesbians Who Tech is a fantastic idea! Tell us a little about it including what led you to become the founder of this groundbreaking organization.
LP: My road to Lesbians Who Tech started when I was a “professional gay”, working at Equality California. I saw first-hand that the majority of donors were men, and men donated at higher levels than women. As a result, men held much of the power in the LGBT advocacy movement. It’s no secret that in the LGBT movement, like other areas, money equals power and influence. I also realized that women, especially lesbians, are at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to earning and translating that earning power into donor power, and influence. Women on average make 77 cents to the man’s dollar. If you follow that logic, then two women together make far less than two men together, and their donor power is far lower. Thinking more about the realities of money and influence, I looked at my own role in the organization and the movement. Here I was, working away as a director at Equality California, but I realized I could have more of an impact on the overall movement if I started my own business and donated financially to nonprofits, than if I worked at an actual nonprofit.
That’s how I started my own business, Start Somewhere that provides design and technology support to social good organizations and ended up on the Board of Startout, an organization focusing on entrepreneurship in the LGBT community. One of the programs I led was the creation of the Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program, which I co-created with another Board member. Unfortunately the organization struggled to get women to attend its events, which were 80% to 90% men.
I realized that to truly provide value to women and make it sustainable, it needed to be led by women. At the same time, I was introduced to someone in Google’s LGBT group, The Gayglers. The same thing I saw in the LGBT world, with events being 90% men, they saw in the tech world.
We decided to see if we could get together a group of LGBT women in tech, and that’s how Lesbians Who Tech was born.
E: What is the Lesbians Who Tech Summit at the Castro Theater this year all about?
LP: The Lesbians Who Tech Summit is about bringing together Queer Women in Tech together for a day of inspiring talks, groundbreaking conversations and increasing the visibility of Queer Women in Tech. For the past year we’ve hosted happy hours around the U.S. and internationally, and the group has quickly grown to over 3,000 members, and we believe it’s because there’s truly a need to connect with other queer women in the industry. The Summit takes the community to the next level, bringing queer women together to hear from amazing queer leaders, and connect with one another.
Our mission is to build a strong community of queer women in tech and increase the number of queer women in tech and leadership positions. The Summit is just the beginning of making that a reality.
E: Have you experienced any members’ hesitations about being OUT in the tech field?
LP: Every now and then I get emails from members asking to be taken off the registration list for our events, because they’re not out at their company or to their family. I was really surprised about this, considering most of our events happened in progressive places like San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C. at the time.
When I get emails asking me to remove people from the list, I’m dismayed, especially since our goal is to increase the visibility of queer women in tech. Visibility is the first step towards acceptance and equality. I understand that people have their own situations, but it does nothing for the movement if people remain closeted.
E: I’ve read about your amazing travels and the unique proposal you made to your wife, Leah Neaderthal. Will you tell us a little about that?
LP: Leah and I are have a business that allows us to work remotely, so we live in a few cities outside the U.S. every year. Last year we lived in Thailand, Vietnam and Berlin. We also spend a lot of time in New York. We’ll be spending more time in San Francisco this year because of the Lesbians Who Tech Summit and our wedding. But we’re hoping to go to Africa towards the end of the year.
E: What’s in the future for Lesbians Who Tech?
LP: I have a lot of ideas as do our members, but it really depends on the success of the Summit and the type of value our members want. We’re considering a mentoring program, a summer of code and many other ideas. We’ll be making decisions after the Summit depending on the funding we raise and the feedback we get from Summit attendees. It’s very exciting though and I can’t wait to find out!
Leanne Pittsford is an entrepreneur, technology strategist, UX designer, and tech investor. As the Founder and CEO of digital agency Start Somewhere, she helps nonprofits and social enterprises use technology to look great online and build better relationships with donors.