We already knew the deck was stacked against women in tech — 2017 just made it abundantly clear how bad things still are. No industry went untouched by stories of sexual assault and harassment long covered up this year, as women and men alike came forward to expose predators in positions of power. The outrage didn’t come from a place of surprise, but from the fact that this behavior has been not just allowed, but actively enabled for decades.
We don’t know if things will change after 2017, but at the very least, this year has made it clear that predators can and should expect to be held to account for their actions. If that scares them, then they only have the smallest taste of what they’ve inflicted on the people around them.
But, we don’t want to leave 2017 with just anger. Despite the gender disparity in tech, and despite the emotional and psychological barriers that have to be overcome to accomplish anything, some women in tech are not only finding success, they’re doing so while making the world around them a better place. There are, of course, too many to list, but these five women are the ones that have left the deepest impression on us this year.
Kimberly Bryant founded Black Girls Code in 2011 after taking her daughter to a computer science camp and realizing that the gender and race gaps weren’t getting any better in the new generation. Starting in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood in San Francisco, the organization’s mission to get more African American girls interested in programming has expanded nationwide, providing workshops, mentoring, and instruction in programming languages to thousands of girls. In 2017, Black Girls Code kept up the momentum, continuing to work with major tech companies like Dropbox to bring more education and career opportunities to girls in 13 states and in South Africa. Underrepresentation in tech can only get better by giving the new generations a new set of circumstances, making Bryant’s work some of the most important in tech.
Telemedicine isn’t intended to replace doctors, but it can replace doctor’s visits — visits that many women might not be able to make time for while managing work and family life. Katherine Ryder, previously a venture capitalist, is now the one securing venture capital for Maven, a startup that connects women to vetted medical professionals for remote consultations. Maven was founded in 2015 after Ryder realized how few options women had for trustworthy, professional medical advice. While Maven can be quite expensive, with 10-minute consultations costing $35, Ryder is working on connecting more women to Maven. The company got another $10.8 million in funding in August and has successfully partnered with companies to add Maven as a work benefit — currently, Snap offers Maven Maternity as a benefit, which women can use to seek remote advice about pregnancy and childcare.
We’re going to name Susan Fowler because she was the most prominent example from tech in 2017, but really, we want to celebrate all of the women in tech who have been belittled, faced sexual harassment, or been sexually assaulted — the ones who came forward and the ones who, because of their circumstances, feel like they can’t. Fowler revealed the culture of harassment, lies, and enabling at Uber, in what was to be one of the first of many scandals the company would face in 2017. Fowler’s blog post about her experiences with her harasser and a complicit HR department turned many users against the service, and eventually, Uber’s board of directors decided the man who oversaw it all was no longer worth the trouble — former CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to step down in June, although he still remains on the board of directors. Fowler is a self-taught woman who made it into Arizona State University and later transferred to Penn despite growing up in a rural town and not graduating from high school — she’s not the only woman who’s had to overcome immense hardship, but you couldn’t find a better hero to rally around in 2017.
Lea von Bidder is the CEO of Ava, a women’s health startup that saw its first product, the Ava Bracelet, come out in 2016. Ava took technology from fitness trackers and found a new way to use it — by monitoring skin temperature, heart rate, and other metrics, the Ava Bracelet is able to identify when a woman’s fertility window has opened, helping her and her partner to conceive. Unlike previous fertility tracking methods, the Ava Bracelet is non-invasive and doesn’t rely on approximations or trying to identify cycles, making it particularly useful for women with irregular cycles. This year, Ava has been working on adding features to help women who have become pregnant get advice and information to help them better understand what happens to their bodies during those nine months. And, most importantly, von Bidder recognizes the importance of scientific research — she has the backing of medical professionals and researchers who are running ongoing clinical trials that have supported Ava’s claims and help to further improve the app that works with the bracelet.
Rent the Runway is no secret to anyone at this point — the clothing rental service has helped countless women keep their wardrobes fresh without having to spend a ton of money on clothes that they might not wear often enough to get the full value out of their purchases. By offering multiple plans and one-off rentals, it’s possible to rent clothes for long or short periods of time, then send them back to be reused. We love how much it cuts down on waste, but Rent the Runway has been doing that since 2009. More recently, they’ve been making a big difference in the lives of lower- or middle-class women who need to dress for success when going to job interviews. By expanding their collection of business attire, women are able to rent outfits for far less than it would cost to buy them outright, allowing them to better stretch their money before landing the job they’re seeking.