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Cracking the gender code

Not even the threat of the snowstorm that ultimately spared New York City managed to keep more than 150 women (and a significant number of men) from gathering at the Ford Foundation on January 28 and 29 for an unprecedented global summit, Cracking the Code: Success for Women Digital News Entrepreneurs.

As Darren Walker said in his welcome remarks, because technology has lowered the barriers to entry, “women everywhere (and men, too) have an on-ramp to an information superhighway. New people have put new ideas and new perspectives in the driver’s seat. And they are delivering content to our desktops and mobile devices faster than ever before.

“And yet,” Darren said, “for all that has changed—for all the barriers the Internet has toppled—at least one thing remains troublingly familiar. Across this country, and around the world, women do not have an equal seat at the table … equal space in the media … or an equal voice in the boardroom—especially in the technology industry.”

Working with our grantee partner the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), we brought together key players in the digital news space—journalists, storytellers, entrepreneurs, “intrapreneurs,” funders, academics, and other leaders—to highlight the work of women in digital news globally. Together, we wanted to create a powerful opportunity for learning and networking, and to spearhead a meaningful and necessary dialogue around the importance of gender equity and the inclusion of diverse voices in the digital news industry. But we also wanted to tap into the collective wisdom of summit participants to find tangible solutions to the challenges women working in digital news face, especially those launching start-ups and seeking funding.

As IWMF executive director Elisa Lees Muñoz told summit participants, “The current imbalance in the digital news field cannot be addressed one woman at a time. It is critical to identify the factors contributing to this disparity in addition to supporting the innovation women are bringing to this field.” She said she hoped the summit “will be the beginning of a real revolution in digital news.”

The summit’s jam-packed program included an all-star lineup of speakers from the US, Colombia, Egypt, the Philippines, France, Ukraine, Brazil, and more, along with interactive panels, short “ignite” talks highlighting women’s innovative digital pursuits, and networking sessions.

Among the many highlights: Mariana Santos, founder of Chicas Poderosas—“Powerful Chicks”—spoke about her work creating a corps of tech-savvy women in newsrooms across Latin America, and about the gender gap in technology in all newsrooms. Renowned digital media futurist Amy Webb presented her perspective on the top trends in digital news, such as the value of putting “audience first, not mobile first,” and focusing not on the size of the audience, but rather, on an audience that’s engaged. Journalist Farai Chideya moderated a conversation among successful entrepreneurial women at the forefront of digital news around the world, including Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Nataliya Gumenyuk from Ukraine. IWMF executive director Elisa Lees Muñoz debuted Reporta, a new digital app designed to keep reporters safe on field reporting assignments. A panel of women leading digital innovation inside established newsrooms—“intrapreneurs”—offered their views of work in the trenches, a conversation led by Amy O’Leary, recently lured away from the New York Times to be editorial director at Upworthy. Two sessions entitled “Where’s the Money for Women Digital News Entrepreneurs” featured funders, venture capitalists, and “angel investors.” And, to close the two days of the on-site convening, successful BlogHer entrepreneur Lisa Stone teamed up with Ford grantee Alisa Miller of Public Radio International to announce the debut on February 2 of Across Women's Lives, a digital news initiative that will highlight coverage of global issues about and important to women and girls.

 

But wait—there was more!

On Friday, January 30, a group of about 65, most of them from the prior days’ summit, participated in a third day of collaboration and problem solving during a daylong “hackathon,” designed to empower women by developing technology solutions that address the digital news gender gap. Nine teams comprising journalists, technologists, and entrepreneurs tackled problems unique to women in the digital space, and competed for $10,000 in prize money donated by Google. Winners included a project called Trollbusters, a tool designed to shut down harassment against women online, and PitchCoach, an app designed to help women entrepreneurs refine their pitches to potential investors.

The energy and solidarity and excitement of Cracking the Code inspired a robust conversation on social media, including on Twitter, with the hashtag #Code15. Check out more coverage on Eventifier.

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