Book tech: Time to step up

Book tech: Time to step up

"I’m calling for more women to start up and step up next year." Bec Evans, co-founder with Chris Smith of Write-Track and head of innovation with Emerald Group Publishing, noticed that while our FutureBook 2015 (and Author Day) programming was well-balanced in terms of men and women—something we were very proud of—our inaugural BookTech Showcase had only one female-led startup of eight. And, as she notes, only two of the 31 original applicant companies have women at the helm. Today, Evans champions a change in #BookTech 2016, calling on us all to "encourage early-stage founders to put themselves forward, mentor those too shy to step up, help women apply and pitch." Count us in.—Porter Anderson

'Tech’s got problem with women'

That line gets bandied about as often as the death of publishing.

But has book tech got a problem with women?

As the only female who pitched alongside seven male founders in the FutureBook 2015 Conference's BookTech Showcase, I’m calling for more women to start up and step up next year.

Startups: The future of publishing

FutureBook 2015 introduced the new BookTech platform to showcase the most exciting publishing startups. It pitted eight finalists against each other in a live pitch-off for a dragon’s den judging panel and an audience of industry peers on 4th December.

The publishing industry has much to learn from startups, but it must not reproduce the gender inequality that exists within many tech companies. BookTech is a glimpse into the future of publishing. It’s vital that the companies competing not only represent the best ideas and exciting digital opportunities, but that they also are representative of society and the people who read, write and produce books.

Hidden from view

My co-founder Chris Smith submitted our startup Write-Track to the awards programme and was the main point of contract throughout the process. It was only at the conference that I found out that I was the sole female competing.

Despite reading all the company profiles at The FutureBook, it had passed me by that all the other founders were male; indeed, Chris had been the "spokesman" for Write-Track. I stayed hidden until the very last minute: I was the last to pitch that day.

The session was the only one of the conference that didn’t have an equal gender balance. It was also the only session that the conferences organisers had no control over–they could only shortlist from the companies that applied. Out of the 31 applications, only two had female founders or CEOs.

What is tech’s problem with women?

I asked Molly Flatt, the brains behind BookTech, what she thought was going on. It’s an incredibly complex issue, she explained, with “intransigent inequality at the top of the business world as a whole, "brogrammer" culture, the lack of women taking STEM subjects, and narrow models of entrepreneurship that make it harder to balance children with startup success.”

The drive to get equal representation at tech events is being led by initiatives such as the 50/50 pledge.

Humour is another approach: All Male Panels on Tumblr enlists the help of David Hasselhoff to shine a light on the problem.

But there are no simple solutions. Flatt says we need to tackle this issue from a whole number of angles—educational, cultural, legal—to see a real change.

One approach: Put yourself forward

Earlier this year I attended a conference staged by Y Combinator founding partner Jessica Livingston to address the lack of female-founded companies getting investment. The stats are shocking; one study found that of 6,517 companies that had raised venture funding in the US, only 183 (2.7 percent) had a female chief executive.

Y Combinator dug into its investment history and found that only 23 percent of the companies they invested in had female founders. However, this was the same percentage of applications that had female founders. There was no bias in their portfolio against women. Livingston’s solution to getting more female-led companies funded was to get more women to put themselves forward for investment programmes.

It sounds so simple.

BookTech 2016 needs you

If we want to see more diversity in the future of our industry, we can work together to encourage women to put themselves forward.

Over the next year we can take action to find the brightest and best startup talent, to encourage early-stage founders to put themselves forward, mentor those too shy to step up, help women apply and pitch.

The BookTech Showcase (#BookTech) was a new element of the FutureBook Conference for 2015. Hosted by tech and culture journalist Molly Flatt, the session invited eight book tech companies to take part in a live pitch-off for a panel of industry and tech experts. A real-time vote then determined the winners of the bronze, silver and gold FutureBook Awards. The overall winner, Reedsy, was named The FutureBook BookTech Company of the Year 2015.

The judges of the showcase, who interrogated attendees from the selected book tech companies, were Hannah Telfer, Group Director of Consumer and Digital Development at Penguin Random House UK; Dan Kieran, CEO and Co-Founder of Unbound; and Eileen Burbidge, Partner at Passion Capital and one of the UK’s most influential tech venture capitalists.

In Molly Flatt's series on the contenders (in order of publication):

Here is the FutureBook Conference site.

Main image - iStockphoto: Hedya