It was one of those gloriously spectacular fall days, when the
sun shone brightly, a breeze gently wafted through trees, and
between the emerald lawns and ruby and topaz trees, Boston was
bursting with beauty. I was in this fair town over the weekend,
and on Saturday, October 14th, was honored to speak at the Radcliffe
College Alumnae Association conference on "Women and the Web:
Navigating the Cyber Revolution." I was lucky to share the stage
with five exceptional women: Mary Moon, Pathways Ventures VP ('91);
Diana Post, a pioneering physician with Brigham and Woman's Hospital
('67); Eileen Shulock of Webgrrls International and Knowledge
Strategies, and June White, Burst.com engineering VP ('61). Our
panel was moderated by the esteemed Ilene Lang, Alta Vista
Before we began, we were treated to an introduction by RCAA
president A'Lelia Bundles and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced
Study's Acting Dean Mary Maples Dunn. When posed with the question
"what do you think was the most important impact in changing
women's lives" she told us of her own mother's response to this
question. After her mother recounted all the advancements she's
seen from a generational point of view and her life span, she
After a resounding laugh and a brief pause, iVillage Co-founder
and Chairman of the Board Candice Carpenter (MBA '83) took center
stage and began her presentation. Sitting in a distinguished
Radcliffe chair, she spoke on a friendly and compassionate level
about how the Internet is changing and affecting our world and
women's lives. She spoke of the benefits of communicating online,
using the dozens of channels and hundreds of bulletin boards and
community features highlighted by personal stories. Sitting
comfortably in her Chinese patterned, silk pants and faux fur
collared sweater, Candice was the image of hipness. Her lean
figure was a testament to her philosophy of women as efficiency
machines-she's a runner and professional rock climber. In
addition to her stories of global access and building her
company, I was inspired to hear that she pulled all-nighters
twice a week for a while (I don't feel so lame anymore), and
that to be a good leader you must be a good servant and never
show your fear.
Ilene Lang started off our panel with facts on women in business.
While the number of women-owned businesses that received VC funding
is still about only 5%; that is the first increase (from 2.5%) in
three years. I spoke on the power of networking and the opportunities
that still exist, thanks to the access we now have to virtually
anyone in the world. Eileen Shulock spoke about the advantages of
an international networking forum for women and on the power
inherent in e-commerce capabilities (women are, after all, the
primary spenders in households). Mary Moon offered her thoughts on
the e-commerce capabilities and the disparity between perceptions
in Silicon Valley: young male entrepreneurs who seek funding are
considered "enterprising," while their female counterparts are
called "silly." Coming at the Internet topic from a user's
perspective, Diana Post spoke about how she has offered email
capabilities to her patients for years. While they would love the
convenience of getting diagnosed over the Internet, it is not
medically safe without the aid of digital cameras and the like.
Soon though! Rounding out the panel was the pioneering June White,
who spoke of the amazing opportunities with streaming audio and
video, and about how her career has gone from technical to managerial.
She keeps in touch with her staff by holding half-hour staff meetings
each week. This helps employees keep in touch with what is going on.
Our Q&A period included compelling questions on how to preserve
humanity, what boundaries should be set around on and off line
etiquette, and what the future of communications will be like.
The hundred or so women -- Radcliffe Alumnae from 1935 to 1999 --
who came for the day's conference dined on a delightful salmon dish,
while Dr. Moira Gunn, producer and host of NPR's Tech Nation and
columnist for SiliconValley.com, spoke on how technology has evolved
in the world thus far. Her premises, "everyone is essential,
everyone holds a piece of the puzzle," was right on target with the
true development of our global community. She told us about how
African communities are utilizing pay systems with finger imprints
- an example of how parts of the world can use the Internet wihtout
literacy being an obstacle. We learned of penetration of the Internet
and technology in European countries, starting with Canada and the
United States out in front with 136 million people online. That's
approximately 40% of the population! Europe came in 2nd with 72
million (11% of the population). The breakdown of countries with
the highest to lowest penetration is Germany, France, Spain and
Greece. The Nordic countries, as one would expect, were at 72%
penetration. Asia/Pacific and India had less than 2%.
South America, Africa and the Middle East each came in at less
Dr. Gunn explained that in the future there will be an erosion of
the nation state and increased power of the individual. Technology
will be ubiquitous and invisible. In a global village everyone will
be accessible. And more and more American companies' revenues and
valuation will rely on their data. She went on to say that the
basic conflict in this Information Age is that laws are national
and technology is global. Returning to the theme of the day,
Dr. Gunn pointed to research showing how women can sense
imperceptible differences in people's faces. This signifies that
as companies continue to grow, women are better equipped to see
if a presentation is going well, or if your market research needs
We retired back to Askwith Hall for Justine Cassell's speech.
Justine, an associate professor at MIT's Media Laboratory, directs
the Gesture and Narrative Language Research Group and authored
"From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games." We were
treated to a discourse on how there still is a dramatic divide
between men and women who pursue careers in math and science.
That's true despite all the changes and efforts being made to get
girls to study and advance more in math and science. Justine told us
that most companies that develop games and toys for children create
two distinct types of toys - those for boys and those for girls.
Boys' toys are for fighting, skill, adventure, challenges and power.
Girls' games are about gossip, diaries, dolls and communicating.
The companies also did studies on children's perceptions of
computers, most of whom classified computers as boys' toys.
Ireland is the only country where equal amounts of boys and girls
think of a computer as something for both genders. The only reason
analysts came up with for this was that Ireland is predominantly a
country of same-sex schools.
Justine's presentation brought the day's events and discussions
down to a very subtle, unconscious and dramatically important level:
the socialization of young girls versus boys, and how it is still
archaic in so many ways. We all enjoyed a day rich in information
and perspective, from Candice Carpenter's accounts of personal and
corporate development and women's use of technology, to our panel
with a variety of perspectives on women in the tech work world.
Moira Gunn's thoughts on how global development will form segued well
into Justine's points about young girls' development via exposure
to technology, computers and games. The resounding notes were that we've
come a long way, and yet still have a long way to go. Everyone left
hopeful and inspired to see that some changes are coming about. I
know I am committed to increasing visibility of women in the
technology world and to doing my part to effect change for women,
girls and our world at large.