In recent years, the plight of women in tech has been been plainly highlighted by the widening pay gap in Silicon Valley, the funding disparity for female entrepreneurs and the serious absence of female executives in the industry.
This stems (pun intended) from the lack of girls getting involved in computer science and engineering from an early age. This is not news. What is news, however, is the push from select corporate big shots to engage girls with tech in their youth in order for a company's gender divide to shrink in the next decade.
Initiatives to combat the divide are slowly starting to emerge across corporate firms to encourage female involvement in these industries. But the progress is slow, and the programs aren't getting a ton of press coverage. Girls in the gaming industry may not be the most common occurrence, but according to experts is the proactive impetus many need to get engaged with the world of tech beyond their Instagram newsfeed.
Laila Shabir (second from left) at the Girls Make Games workshop at Thomson Reuters HQ
The fact that the gaming industry currently only employs 8 percent women greatly troubled tech entrepreneur Laila Shabir, who launched her response to the disparity, an educational summer camp called Girls Make Games she founded in 2014, which teaches girls aged 8 to 16 how to code their own video games in 2014. According to the Shabir, at the end of the camp, girls were crying at the prospect of returning home. “My eyes just popped," she says, underscoring the hugely underserved population of young women interested in tech, but feeling left out due to its male-oriented positioning in many schools. “I had no idea this was so important to so many girls, and this was something they weren't getting."
“You go to a games convention, and it's like walking into a fraternity,"
- Laila Shabir, Founder & CEO, Girls Make Games
It wasn't long before Shabir's innovative concept caught the eye of Katherine Manuel, Senior Vice President at Thomson Reuters, who had a similar passion project. After climbing the ranks at the international media and financial firm, Manuel has decided that rather than resting on her laurels, she wants to advocate for changing the status quo, hoping for a “trickle up" effect that would eventually hit corporate America.
“It was time to use my platform for good so I was sort of searching for 'what is that good?' and 'what are opportunities to give back?' I think we have to push to have more women in higher roles in technology to create that sense of community here and we will continue to promote people who are more diverse."
- Katherine Manuel, Senior Vice President of Innovation, Thomson Reuters
In a moment of happenstance meets chance, Manuel's husband forwarded her an email from one Laila Shabir, thanking him for his contribution to a GMG Kickstarter campaign (which he decided to support after coming across on social media). “I read it, and it was just so inspiring that I wrote her an email," Manuel says about her reaction to reading about Shabir's powerful vision. “She laughs now but I think the subject line was something like, 'Let's Change The World Together.' And so she immediately responded back and I thought I had reached a star."
Manuel then began a dialogue with Shabir about how TR could be helpful to Girl Make Games and spread the word of her work. “I think gaming is an entry point for girls to get excited about broader computer sciences and even STEM in general," says Manuel. “That then led to me really look at creating that umbrella of the Future of Innovation, and how important it is to have inclusivity, diversity and innovation in the pipeline." Out of their discussion came a vision for creating pop-up GMG workshops, which saw outfits as far as TR offices in Toronto, Canada, and most recently at the company's space in Times Square in Manhattan. Given the company's large global footprint, and GMG's need for both space and lots of computers, it indeed proved a symbiotic relationship. And one, both say, will continue into the future.
Katherine Manuel, SVP of Innovation at Thomson Reuters, says "we've got to get these little girls excited about technology and not thinking it's a 'boy thing'"
According to Shabir and Manuel, the push to get girls more interested in STEM will eventually help push our global economy into the future, not to mention give a leg up to companies looking to bring a more diverse workforce into the fold. For Shabir, it was an HR discrepancy that first led her to identify the issues faced women in STEM.
“As we were building our games studio (she also runs parent company LearnDistrict), we were trying to hire women and it was almost impossible," says the young Pakistani immigrant who faced an uphill familial battle in her own life when she decided to go to MIT. Looking for 20-something graduates to help build out her team- an integral part of Shabir's vision- proved immensely more difficult than she expected. “When I asked people why it was so hard, the response was 'women don't want to do this. Girls don't want to play games.'"
For Manuel, bringing girls into the fold means a more diverse workplace and a broader spec for innovation. Outside of her work for the company, she mentors women in computer science at undergraduate level. She notes that while most computer science entry level courses begin at a 50/50 gender ratio, by course end, the number of girls graduating is a mere 18-20 percent. This, coupled with her work with GMG is indicative of a bigger and longer-term vision at Thomson Reuters, who last year committed to 40 percent female leadership across the company by 2020.
And according to Manuel, the impetus to this realization was a personal one, namely one she noticed when her children hit 4th and 5th grade and began to be leveled into math class. “The teachers were leveling math and didn't really think much of it, just sort of like who is picking things up at this level or that level and this speed and that speed," she says. “And I just started asking questions, like 'I would like to see the gender break down of how you're doing this.' The data was appalling."
“I sat with teachers and the head of the school and had them walk through the data and teachers jaws were dropping," she says, continuing, “they didn't realize that they had subconscious bias themselves, they see it in others but don't do it themselves, I think looking at collections of data and putting it in front of people, the more awareness it brings. "
This is an unfortunate but glaring truth. Girls begin at ages as young as five years old to disassociate themselves with concepts or activities that are viewed as 'for boys.' So Shabir decided to take upon herself to make gaming fun, appealing, and specifically targeted to young ladies between the ages of 11 and 16.
Unlike others, who have presented a meagre lip service of the women's movement Manuel, is very much putting money where her mouth is. “It's corporate responsibility in a sense of, how are we going to build diverse and inclusive workplace," she says. “Not necessarily next quarter, but in the next 10-15 years."“And, it's hard for corporations," she continues. “I think we are on the hook so often for quick results and quick turns and so again, so much focus seems to be on the later stage recruiting of diverse talent but [we have] to care more about that pipeline and have a longer-term vision around those messages - it's good business."
One interesting takeaway from her still-growing concept, Shabir has found, is the girls create games with a grander worldview, specifically changing the gaming space to be more inclusive of women, not to mention more impactful. “Girls want to make games more meaningful than just entertainment," she remarks. “They make games with a purpose, like 'I want to teach this, or I want to make my player happy or I want to my mom play this because she's depressed." Rather than simply creating a game, for example, to imagine war scenarios or grand fighting scenes, the games the girls create begin to address issues, which in itself is an exceedingly hopeful indicator of things to come.
Universally loved, and, (especially at this time of year) drunk merrily and in excess, wine is the answer to much if not all our prayers, on a regular basis.
The wine industry also happens to be home to some major female leaders, and it's become apparent, that the barriers to entry women face in almost every other industry don't apply here, as long as you've the work ethic and brains behind your operation.
"This is a people's business," says Delia Vader, CEO of Viader Wines, who's vehement about the gender neutrality of the wine industry, and hopeful for it's future, (even with the hefty factors of global warming, and recent wildfires, contending with the grape-producing vines).
Naturally, we were all too excited to sit down with five leaders in the industry working throughout the globe, that are innovating and shaping the future vintages from California to Italy and beyond. Below are five such women, ranging from vineyard to store owners, and one woman who's completely shifting the way we think about wine consumption.
Francesca Planeta, Wine Director, Planeta Wines
Francesca Planeta has been a rising star on the Sicilian wine scene for the last few years. Planeta is devoted not only to promoting her own vineyard, but promoting all the wines of Italy's largest island, which is most famous for the wonderful, Nero D'Avola.
Sicily's wine scene veritably boomed around Planeta as she was growing up. So when she finally began working on the Planeta Wines vineyard in her early twenties, she quickly learned the nuances of the land and the grapes she would ultimately come to produce. “I had begun to help out at the winery, using a graphics studio to create the logo and the first labels, and then I returned to Sicily, during the time of that first harvest. (This) was the moment when I decided that I would take on the challenge of working with the business that bore our family name."
Given that the business was family owned, Planeta did not encounter any barriers to entry because of her gender, but instead made sure that women are integral to the process on the vineyard. “Women have a fundamental role in our business," says the winemaker. “They are entrusted with many responsible positions; from wine making to directing exports and from the hotels to the entire marketing and communications office."
A worrying factor for both Planeta and the women at the vineyard however is global warming, something which has plagued wineries across the globe in recent years. Given that the taste and production of wine depends heavily on its “terroir" (or, surroundings), changes in environment are immediately a factor for anyone in the industry to consider when its coming to harvest season. “It generally seems to us that global warming presents not only a problem of warming in itself," she comments. “But in extremes of weather phenomena, with heavier rainfall – when it occurs, and rather longer periods of drought. (However), living and working in the centre of the Mediterranean gives us better conditions and the last twenty years have shown greater climatic stability."
Selling upwards of 2.3M bottles of wine a year, her chief markets (apart from Italy), are the United States, Germany, England, and Russia, followed by Canada, Switzerland and Japan. And she recommends that for the chillier months, if you're drinking a Sicilian wine, to go for Merlot, Syrah, or Burdese.
Delia Viader, CEO, Viader Wines
Argentinian-born Delia Viader was in the midst of an M.I.T degree, with three children at home, when an opportunity arose to purchase a vineyard in Napa Valley. “The timing was perfect for relocating my very young family," she says, who quickly got to grips with their new surroundings as their mother began constructing a powerhouse wine team to launch Viader Wines.
It hasn't always been easy for Viader and her team however. Before the financial crash of 2008, Viader was sold in every state throughout the U.S, and exported to 24 countries abroad. Since the crash, and an arsonist fire at a warehouse of theirs containing the entire 2003 vintage, they've changed their business model drastically. Now, they sell 90 percent of their collections direct-to-consumer, with the remaining 10 percent sent abroad or to the bigger markets of New York, California and Texas.
She has also become naturally concerned by the Californian wildfires of late, and their threat to both the vines, and the warehouses where the barrels are kept. “The biggest impact on our vineyard has been the change of weather pattern we have been experiencing for the past 35 years that we can speak of," says the CEO. “We are learning a lot about how resilient affected vines can be, and how wine made from those grapes needs to be processed to perhaps reshape stylistic performance of the resulting wine. The winegrowers as an industry will be learning a lot from this."
Learning and innovating are at the core of Viader's vineyards, where her son, Alan is championing new ways to irrigate their 92-acres of land, and fine tuning an understanding of “the exact optimal time to harvest at each vines' peak ripeness." And while she may be the CEO, she heavily depends on him for his expertise and blending capabilities. “I am the owner and CEO but I call myself the wine mother because I am the mother of the vines (I had them planted myself, my way); the mother of the wine (I 'created' our Cabernet-based wine to be highly influenced by the terroir with a high dose of Cab franc and remain, highly influential at the final assemblage-blend); and I am the mother of the winemaker, my son Alan Viader."
What is Viader most likely to be drinking at this moment? “I am very susceptible to a vibrant Pinot Noir from Burgundy most times," she says. “But my choice really depends on two variables: the food I am going to have and the company, the people I am going to share that bottle of wine with. I love harmony in the wine, the food pairing and the conviviality that springs from sharing a great wine."
Julia Jackson, Propietor, Jackson Family Wines
As one of the largest family-run wine groups in the U.S, The Jackson Family has garnered quite a name for itself. Leading the way within the group is Julia Jackson, daughter of mother Barbara Banke and Jess Jackson who built the group up from the ground, which is now worth an estimated $2.3 billion.
Today, their portfolio boasts wines from 52 wineries throughout the world, and integral to that is building relationships from within and amalgamating abroad. For Jackson, that means working in almost every facet of the business in order to cover all the projects she wishes to pursue. “I wear a few hats in my family business," she comments. “I'm spearheading my first acquisition project in another country, (and) I work with our international sales team to be one of the faces for Jackson Family Wines." On top of this, she's also involved with the group's environmental and philanthropic efforts, which, given the wildfire situation in California, will be work much needed in the years to come. “All my philanthropic efforts are focused around our environment and I created a charitable program that gives grants to women within the eco-space through our Santa Maria based winery Cambria."
Jackson's favorite wine at this time of the year? Gran Moraine from Willamette Valley Oregon.
Hortense Bernard, General Manager, Millesima Wines
Hortense Bernard was working with global industry leaders Moet Hennessy Diageo in Paris as a brand manager before she made her big move to the U.S. Now, she stands as one of the youngest female General Managers in the world of a large international firm, atop the Millesima USA group.
Millesima, a leading retailer in Europe, who branched into he U.S in 2006, owns upwards of 2.5M bottles of fine wine that are housed in the company's cellars in Bordeaux, France, (which is also the largest AOC vineyard in the country).
Bernard, who had her first glass of wine at eight years old, works primarily with direct-to-consumer retail and educating the U.S market about Bordeaux wines from their shop on the Upper East Side here in New York. "My goal is to educate as much as I can," she says. "In store, we speak about Bordeaux, and try to explain (because Bordeaux wine can be really complex), the wine."
"When I arrived here, I didn't know anything about American consumption," she laughs. "So it took me quite a bit to learn about it and understand how Americans see wines, and what they mean when the ask for a Chardonnay."
On top of chatting with customers, Bernard plays host to a lot of cultural events throughout the city, accompanying her wines whenever there might be a chance to express the history and significance of the wine for both France, and the industry at large.
So naturally, when asked what she'll be drinking on the celebratory occasions of December, it will be a big full-bodied Bordeaux " because that always takes me back (home)."
Marian Leitner, Founder, Archer Roose
Once it dawned on Marian Leitner that Millennials were drinking more wine than beer, she saw an opportunity to modernise the way we purchase, consume and enjoy wine.
"In the U.S, you actually pay more for the shipping and the packaging than you do for the wine itself," says Leitner. "So I started to ask why and learn more about the alternative packaging market."
Branching away from bottles, Leitner looked to packaging wine in every way beer is packaged - from cans and kegs, and then also, in boxes.
"You have to separate consumers into two buckets - the super high-end collectors, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, and then you have people who are drinking, "value" wines. And then the rest of America are basically beer drinkers."
Upon the realization that Millennial wine drinkers are more than beer drinkers, she also came to understand that they're also very brand-loyal. Brands that represent qualities and values they share, are the ones they're consuming the most. "So we decided to leverage the alternative packaging movement (which is keg, can and box), to cut through all the noise of the bottles in the wine store, and really connect with consumers." In doing so, she launched the company, Archer Roose Wines.
This move means, that apart from the ultra-hip way the wine is presented, you're also economizing. One box of Archer Roose wine contains the equivalent of 4 regular bottles. And inevitably, the kegs contain a huge volume.
Wine kegger, anyone?