BBC Dialogues: Meet The Queen of the Electric Car, NextEV

BBC Dialogues: Meet The Queen of the Electric Car, NextEV

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Today began with news that Apple was in talks with British carmaker McLaren about a possible acquisition, linked to Apple’s “Project Titan” electric car. Rumors were later squashed by McLaren, but attention is still on Apple’s autonomous car plans and speculation is mounting.

Meanwhile, my friends at the BBC invited me to share my (verified) interview with new electric vehicle company, NextEV. This Chinese startup, with a growing R&D facility in Silicon Valley has just come out of stealth mode and plans to reveal its “supercar” in November. When I interviewed Padmasree Warrior, CEO of NextEV USA last month, she couldn’t reveal the specs of the car, but my investigations concluded that it would be autonomous. This week, her spokesperson confirmed that both the first generation NextEV cars, to be manufactured in China, and those to be made at a manufacturing facility in the U.S. will be autonomous.

Listen to my report at the BBC’s Business Matters. Our electric/autonomous car discussion starts at 32:46.

Here’s a transcript of our discussion and my report (edited for length and clarity)

BBC Host, Anu Anand: Apparently Apple is NOT in talks with McLaren as reported by the Financial Times. This all underscores the feverish speculation about driverless car technology and where the major tech companies like Apple are putting their chips and what they’re doing to prepare products for this market. This is something you’ve been looking at too, isn’t it Alison?

Alison van Diggelen: Absolutely. Apple is notoriously secret…It’s well known they’ve been working for two years on the electric car (Project Titan). The latest speculation says they may be in talks with a San Francisco startup called Lit Motors. There is a race for electric vehicle talent and Apple recently laid off dozens of its team and is looking to fill that gap. I’ve been talking with NextEV, a real electric car maker that’s just coming out of stealth mode. Its CEO, Padmasree Warrior, invited me to visit its brand new R&D facility in San Jose. Here’s my report:

The race for affordable electric vehicles is heating up around the world. Here in Silicon Valley, just 10 miles from the factory where Tesla makes its electric cars, NextEV, an electric vehicle startup is racing to get on the track. Former CTO at Cisco, Padmasree Warrior now leads the U.S. facility of this global startup with operations in China, Germany and the UK. Despite her lack of car experience, Warrior’s bold approach to beat Tesla in China is earning her the name: “Queen of the electric car.”

Padmasree Warrior: When you think about cars in the old paradigm…people used to talk about Horse Power…we think in the future people will talk about ease of use, user interface, Artificial Intelligence. And so the shift from HP to AI is one of the shifts that we will embrace much more rapidly. Our opportunity within China is to combine all of the capabilities from the mobile Internet to focus on user experience – from ownership, to maintenance to post ownership services.

NextEV US HQ, photo by Alison van Diggelen for BBC reportNextEV US headquarters in San Jose is 85,000 square feet. When remodeling is complete, it will house a 10,500 square feet auto lab.

Alison van Diggelen: Energized by NextEV’s $1Billion in funding, Warrior and her Silicon Valley R&D team has gone from zero to 160 employees in about 9 months. It has attracted auto and software experts from the likes of Tesla, Apple and Dropbox. It’s this focus on the software that Warrior hopes will differentiate her products in a crowded race. She suggests that the touch screens on NextEV cars will be more actively utilized than Tesla’s and the car will automatically “know who’s driving it.”

New team member skill-sets suggest that features will include voice interaction and autonomous driving.

I asked her if building an attractive car was important too?

Padmasree Warrior: This is why we have a design center in Munich; we have an amazing industrial design team and styling expertise… We believe European design is unbelievably superior in the consumer product space.

Alison van Diggelen: NextEV’s founder, Chinese Internet billionaire William Li has a global strategy that aims to leverage each location’s comparative advantage and use virtual reality tools to make sure that all its teams are driving forward together.

Padmasree Warrior: Silicon Valley is obviously the place to be for looking at technology, looking at disruptions. China’s expertise is manufacturing, supply chain…obviously the market is there.

NextEV hopes to make a flying start in the Chinese market next year, but is keeping the specs of its cars under wraps, until the “supercar” is revealed before the year end. Co-President Martin Leach confirmed that their cars will definitely be cheaper than Tesla’s.

He spoke to me from NextEV’s London office:

Martin Leach: We’re not making a company for ultra millionaires and billionaires and then trying to transition the company to a more affordable solution…the supercar plays a role in our overall strategy, and is being developed alongside our other mainstream products… from day one.

Living wall at NextEV HQ, photo by Alison van DiggelenThe “living wall” in NextEV US Headquarters in San Jose, CA

With about 200 electric car companies in China alone, NextEV’s William Li has put his company’s chance of success at just 5%, but that doesn’t deter Warrior.

Alison van Diggelen: Although the odds are against her, Warrior – who’s known as a champion for women in tech – is following her own advice to women in business:

Padmasree Warrior: Be confident, go for what your dreams are. Sometimes, we second guess ourselves, we stay with what is comfortable rather than what we really desire to do. Take risks wisely, but take risks.

Alison van Diggelen: Her team in Silicon Valley is putting pedal to the metal to make it happen…

Continue listening to the podcast (@38:00) to hear our discussion about driverless car fears and the impact of this week’s Department of Transport guidelines for automated cars.

Find out more about Tesla’s plans and other Electric Vehicle developments at Fresh Dialogues

NB: As with all my BBC Dialogues and Reports at Fresh Dialogues, the copyright of this report remains with the BBC.

BBC Report: TaskRabbit CEO Shares Tips on Pivoting, Diversity

BBC Report: TaskRabbit CEO Shares Tips on Pivoting, Diversity

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

What’s it like to be a black female CEO in Silicon Valley? How should you handle a powerful backlash when your company does a major pivot? I explored both issues with TaskRabbit CEO, Stacy Brown Philpot and my interview aired last night on the BBC World Service program Business Matters.

BBC host Roger Hearing, Seoul Bureau Chief for the Economist Stephanie Studer and I had a lively conversation about the gig economy, as well as fashion fumbles (like cargo shorts) and cool alternatives (like utility kilts).

Listen to the podcast at the BBC (Episode titled: Bank of England Lowers Interest Rates): TaskRabbit segment begins at 26:46

Or listen to the TaskRabbit segment below:

 

Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity)

Roger Hearing: Alison, I know you’ve been looking into something that is a strange concept: the gig economy. Tell us, what is the gig economy?

Alison van Diggelen: It’s been borrowed from the music industry, Roger. Workers who work in the gig economy don’t have regular full time work, but work in “gigs” like at Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Etsy, Upwork and TaskRabbit. I’ve been speaking with Stacy Brown-Philpot. She’s the CEO of TaskRabbit. It’s a website and app that matches job seekers with jobs – like house cleaning, shopping, delivery and handyman jobs.

It was founded in 2008 and was one of the first companies in the gig economy. Stacy told me how the company launched its international operation in London in 2012, and it did a pivot. It changed its “bidding for a job” model to a “direct hire” approach. This was a huge success in London but when they tried it back in the United States, they faced a severe backlash from contractors here. Yet, they stuck to their guns and last year the business grew 400%.

I first asked Stacy what advice she would give to other businesses about staying the course, when they try to pivot and face similar challenges.

Stacy Brown-Philpot: Know exactly what it is that you are focused on and don’t lose track of that. Stay laser-ly focused on what that goal is…despite the noise that comes into the market place, stay focused and believe more than anyone else and you can get there.

Alison van Diggelen: There are a lot of critics of the on-demand economy saying that it doesn’t offer a living wage, benefits to workers…this whole “Uber issue” of independent contractors not employees…Can you give me your perspective?

Stacy Brown-Philpot: Our Taskers are independent contractors – they can work in a flexible way and that is the No.1 reason why they stay. We have a very low churn: 10%. The flexibility that we’re able to offer our Taskers is unparalleled and necessary.

What needs to happen is that the regulations and policy has to change…to support the sharing economy. When you look at structures we’re working under…these were created in the 1900’s and they no longer apply…we need something that adapts to the technology-enabled businesses that we operate under today.

Alison van Diggelen:  What specifically would you like to see as far as regulation change?

Stacy Brown-Philpot: One of the tradeoffs we face is the ability to offer training and more transferable skills to our taskers…We’d love to see regulations evolve to support that. We’d also love to see opportunities to access healthcare and retirement.

We empowered this community to create a social safety net for Taskers who really want the flexibility to work in a meaningful way, so we have a responsibility to also partner with them to do other things like have health care and retirement savings.

Alison van Diggelen: Let’s talk about diversity – you’re a rare person, you’re black… you’re a female CEO in Silicon Valley. Talk about the pros and cons of that.

Stacy Brown-Philpot: The pro is that I stand out…whenever I walk into a room and try to meet somebody…I say: trust me, you’ll find me…you’ll see who I am. (laughter)

But the con is that I stand out. Sometimes I look around and wish there were more people who look like me. At TaskRabbit over 58% of our staff are women, we have 11% African Americans – It’s a stated goal to increase those numbers. I feel a responsibility – just to feel more welcome wherever I go – to increase those numbers, and encourage everybody in our industry  – not just for the sharing economy – but the tech industry overall to do the same.

Alison van Diggelen: What specifically do you do?

Stacy Brown-Philpot: We have goals around targets that we measure in hiring, so whenever we bring someone in that we want to hire, we want to make sure that population of people we’re interviewing is a diverse population of people. We also do things culturally in terms of our off-sites and events to make sure everybody can bring their whole selves to work because many of our new hires come from referrals….if you feel you can bring your whole self to work and bring someone who’s different and they be a great candidate for the company.  (Brown Philpot also told me TaskRabbit has teamed with the Congressional Black Caucus to help increase the company’s diversity.)

Alison van Diggelen: Talk about your wildest dreams for where TaskRabbit can be in 5-10 years?

Stacy Brown-Philpot: Task Rabbit should exist everywhere in the world. We’re creating everyday work for everyday people – this is a phenomenon that is global and so I want to be global as a company.  Millions of families are time starved, countless people are looking to find work, and they’re looking for an opportunity for growth and creating a meaningful income. That’s an economic responsibility that we take seriously. We’re shaping the future of work.

Roger Hearing: Does it change the future of work? These kinds of companies: Uber, Etsy etc?

Alison van Diggelen: There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence… and according to the US Census, the gig economy was the fastest growing employment sector last year. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40% of American workers will be these independent contractors – it’s currently about 30% – and this will have knock-on effects. Here in the U.S. we don’t have a national health service so these people working these gig economy jobs don’t have health benefits through their employment, so there are things that will have to change.

Roger Hearing: It hasn’t all been roses, as you alluded to in the interview. There was a revolt against TaskRabbit. Tell us more about that…

Alison van Diggelen: They originally had a bidding process and the Taskers felt they had more control that way. After trying out this new on-demand service they got a huge backlash. They learned a lot of lessons -one of which was: you can’t overdo the communications. A lot of people didn’t understand the changes.  Stacy Brown Philpot worked previously at Google for almost 10 years and she used her product experience there to stay the course. She recalled when a new version of Gmail came out, people hated it and hated Google for introducing it…People are opposed to change she found.

In the end, they’re saying the Taskers benefited and TaskRabbit benefited and it was a win win. It was a vocal minority who opposed the change.

***

Continue listening for more discussion…

The Economist’s Stephanie Studer explains why Uber was effectively banned in South Korea and why gig economy companies like TaskRabbit may face cultural and other challenges if they try to launch in the region. We also discussed trust and safety issues; and what TaskRabbit is doing to ensure Taskers are trustworthy and reliable.

And finally, Roger Hearing explored the business fashion trends in London, Silicon Valley and Seoul and was surprised to learn about the popularity of the utility kilt here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Modern Utility Kilts

Find out more

Meet more strong female leaders like Instagram COO Marne Levine and Wholly H2O’s Elizabeth Dougherty from our Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series

BBC Dialogues: Why Is Instagram Growing, While Twitter Plateaus?

BBC Dialogues: Why Is Instagram Growing, While Twitter Plateaus?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Instagram recently announced it had reached a big milestone: half a billion users. The BBC asked me to interview the company’s COO, Marne Levine to explore the company’s appeal and find out why video – and new products like Boomerang – are helping fuel that growth.

“We’re certainly marching towards a billion…and even beyond a billion. Today, video is exploding on Instagram… In the last six months, consumption increased by more than 40%…Sometimes people want sight, sound and motion to tell their stories. ” Instagram COO, Marne Levine

Listen to the Instagram interview and discussion below or at the BBC’s Business Matter’s podcast (Instagram segment starts at 26:40 on BBC podcast).

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Here’s a transcript of the conversation, edited for length and clarity:

BBC host, Fergus Nicholl: Do you use Instagram? A new study says that half the Fortune 500 companies use it for marketing. Alison, you’ve been talking to a bigwig at the company about its recent announcement that it’s reached the magic number of half a billion users?

Alison van Diggelen: That’s right. I interviewed Marne Levine. Instagram is very well known as a place where youth congregate, especially teenagers…they use it to reach their friends and share cool things…a lot of these users are women. But they’re not the only ones making up this figure of half a billion users. I asked Marne how entrepreneurs are using Instagram to attract more business…

Marne Levine:  There are so many different stories of small businesses, big businesses that have grown through the Instagram community. A woman named Isha Yuba in Germany – has “Art Youth Society.” She started by designing a bracelet, she posted a photo of it. Somebody inquired and suddenly she has a thriving business. She has turned her passion into livelihood. A lot of businesses have started to advertise on Instagram. We now have more than 200,000 advertisers…the vast majority of those are small businesses.

Alison van Diggelen: You’ve added about 100 million users in about 9 months.  Obviously the next milestone would be one billion…Any ideas when that might happen?

Bay Area Women's Summit panel, photo by Alison van DiggelenMarne Levine: We’re certainly marching towards a billion…and even beyond a billion. When we have more people on the platform, it really benefits the Instagram community – we get a wide range of perspectives, new windows into different things that are happening around the world.

Those could be big events like the Olympics…that’s probably how I’m going to experience the Olympics, through Instagram. Lots of people are sharing ordinary moments, epic moments and everything in between.

Alison van Diggelen: Why do you think Instagram is doing so much better than Twitter, that seems to have plateaued?

Marne Levine: We’re constantly trying to thinking about: what would add value to the community? We listen to feedback, continue to innovate so people can tell their stories in different ways. When Instagram started it was really all about photos. Today video is exploding on Instagram… In the last 6 months, consumption increased by  more than 40%.

Sometimes people want “sight sound and motion” to tell their stories. Sometimes it’s not necessarily just a straight video….I don’t know whether you know Boomerang? Cool little looping videos that take ordinary moments and turn them into fun and delightful moments.

Alison van Diggelen: You posted one of your son going up and down the stairs?

Marne Levine: I did!  Somebody once said this to me and this is how I now think about it: Motion is the new filter.

Alison van Diggelen: Your CEO persuaded the Pope to go on Instagram. Tell us about that…

Marne Levine: The Pope is looking to inspire lots of people. What he told our CEO, is that a lot of times….people will show him an image to get over the language barrier…Images are the most powerful way to connect, because they transcend borders, language, cultures, generations. You look at the image and instantly connect. He understood that there’s a new global language of images. In this case 500 million people are contributing to that new global language of images – it could be images that are documenting the plight of refugees… images of hope and opportunity. That can be really inspiring…

(End of interview)

Fergus Nicholl: She could be VP for sales, as well as COO. She does a pretty fantastic job of selling…But just to zoom in on one of the questions I thought was very sharp: this question of plateauing.

You were talking about Twitter, and people might also think about Snapchat…I wonder whether Instagram is doing really well just because it’s in vogue.  Maybe, in a year’s time there’ll be something else?

Alison van Diggelen: I think that’s the constant challenge of Silicon Valley companies, of social media companies in general. They have to keep innovating. They can’t just put out this cool platform and assume that people will come to it. She talked about how they listen to feedback…because not everyone loves Instagram. They recently changed their algorithm to make (the feed) not just strictly reverse chronological order and that caused push-back from certain users, so she underlined how they try to listen to their users and please as many users as possible.

They’ve also launched “business profiles” to allow businesses, like the entrepreneur mentioned, to get the word out and reach their target audience. And of course, over 50% of the users are in this very sought after demographic of under 35-years old. So it’s a great way for companies, business and media outlets to reach this young demographic.

Continue listening to our discussion on the BBC podcast (Starts at 33:00):

What can be done to increase the number of women in business?

How has Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg influenced Marne Levine?

The interview took place at the Bay Area Women’s Summit on June 21st. The Women’s Foundation partnered with the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland to host the event.

Find out more

Re Brexit: BBC Dialogues: What does it mean for the United States, globalization and Hillary Clinton? 

More BBC Reports at Fresh Dialogues: Re Tesla, Solar Impulse, Code for America and Mexicans in Silicon Valley, etc.

Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series

BBC Report: How “Make the World Better” Mantra Drives Silicon Valley Tech

BBC Report: How “Make the World Better” Mantra Drives Silicon Valley Tech

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Making the world a better place.” This popular mantra of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is regularly ridiculed by HBO’s popular series, Silicon Valley. For sure, the valley is full of hyperbole and idealistic exuberance, and to many outsiders that may seem completely irrational, insane even, but perhaps it’s a necessary mindset for this innovative region? Are there some entrepreneurs who genuinely want to make the world a better place, not for PR reasons, or to boost their social media following; but just for the sake of it? I attended the 19th annual SVForum Visionary Awards to explore the question.

This is my first report for the BBC World Service tech program, Click.

Listen at the BBC Click podcast (Silicon Valley segment starts at @13:33)

Here’s a transcript of the segment, edited for length and clarity:

Click Radio host, Gareth Mitchell: This is Click from the BBC in London. We talk about technology every week and Silicon Valley is often on the agenda. It’s the kind of place where if you’re a company CEO, and you clock up, say a billion users, most people would say, ‘well that’s incredible,’ but in Silicon Valley, people are likely to say, ‘Oh really?’ It’s almost like a billion seems like a small number, such is the ambition about that place. But Silicon Valley likes to tell us it does have a beating heart through its Visionary Awards and this is where the valley recognizes CEOs and developers who really do want to make the world a better place. From the awards, we have this report from Alison van Diggelen.

Alison van Diggelen: Talk of revolution was in the air in Silicon Valley last week at SVForum’s Visionary Awards. With past recipients like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Esther Dyson, these awards have earned a reputation as the Oscars of Silicon ValleySam Liccardo, the mayor of San Jose, welcomed guests…

Liccardo: In Silicon Valley we do a great job of innovating; we do a terrible job of celebrating. And it’s important that we stop every once in a while and recognize those who’ve been leading the way and perhaps allow them to inspire us.

van Diggelen: Jennifer Palka is one of this year’s visionary award winners and wants to inspire a revolution by transforming the relationship of the American people with their government. She’s founder of Code for America, a nonprofit that leverages the innovative power of SV technology to help make government work more efficiently, cheaply and openly.

Jen Pahkla, Code for America, interview by Alison van DiggelenPahlka: We’ve been trying to make the guts of government… as sexy as making Facebook. People are buying it… by coming into government, they can change the world.

van Diggelen: Remarkably, Code for America has managed to attract many top techies from companies like Apple, Adobe and Google who apply the SV playbook to government.

Pahlka:  We believe that government can work better “for the people and by the people” in the 21st Century…the thing we are doing is bringing the practices of SV – user centered, iterative and data-driven approaches to solving problems – into government…by asking people to come and do a year of service.

van Diggelen: Code for America “fellows” make open source apps to address local issues. These are being scaled from local to national level. It’s now easier to apply for food stamps, connect with city hall via text, and get access to public records online. In San Jose, it helped inspire a (waste no food) app that helps hotels and restaurants redirect excess food to feed SV’s homeless. Pahlka’s innovative model has even been adopted by governments around the world. There’s a Code for Japan, Germany, South Africa, and Pakistan. But what really animates Pahlka is how it’s helping redefine SV’s role in the world.

Pahlka:  Silicon Valley gets bad rap – we’ve transformed the world, but increased the inequality in our country.

Silicon Valley isn’t just about wealth creation; it’s about bringing people into our institutions in a profoundly valuable way that connects to the history of our country.

van Diggelen: The history of the United States and the need for an open Internet was also top of visionary award winner Tom Wheeler’s mind. A former tech entrepreneur and VC, Wheeler is now Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, which regulates US phone and cable companies; and fights for net neutrality on behalf of consumers and innovators. Wheeler describes broadband as a major driver of economic growth and likens it to coal during the industrial revolution.

Tom Wheeler talks net neutrality at SV Visionary Awards, photo by Alison van DiggelenWheeler: Broadband, high speed Internet is the essential “commodity” of the 21st Century… You can’t be in a situation where you’ve got gatekeepers deciding which innovators get on…

van Diggelen: The European Union is in the process of following a similar model.

But like many tech innovators, Wheeler has a long list of ambitions, including the fight for consumer privacy.

Wheeler: A network gets to see every place you go on the Internet, everything you do. In the phone world, they couldn’t sell that information without your permission. That doesn’t exist today for networks in the high speed Internet, so we’re proposing that it should. The consumer has right to say whether that information can be productized and sold by their network provider.

van Diggelen: As the celebrations come to a close, I asked serial entrepreneur, Kevin Surace to reflect on the evening.

Surace: We’re living in a time when the innovations are coming faster than we’ve ever seen – in the history of ever – we’re now seeing inventions as powerful as the fire or the wheel every month…the pace of innovation is unbelievable.

van Diggelen: A fitting end to an exuberant Silicon Valley evening, where everyone was pumped by the same revolutionary fervor: to make the world a better place.

Ambi –audience exuberance…fade out

Gareth Mitchell: Not that I want to bring the party down, but do they really want to make the world a better place? They might be nice people, but they’re running businesses, they’re pretty hard hearted entrepreneurs at the end of the day, aren’t they?

LJ Rich: There’s something called corporate social responsibility…it’s nice in a way that some companies would like to give back to the community, but it can’t hurt their social reputation, to be seen to be good, especially when you look at how a company’s social behavior is analyzed online and people will suffer if they’re behaving badly or in a way people aren’t impressed by. So yes, I think it’s very nice and altruistic, but there are always pluses to behaving in a responsible manner and some of these will definitely be impacting the bottom line.

Listen to the whole Click program, featuring reports on the future of the Internet; Wonderlab at London’s Science Museum; and a new virtual reality film called Valen’s Reef (about climate change’s impact on our oceans)

 

 

 

BBC Report: How to Get More Women in Tech?

BBC Report: How to Get More Women in Tech?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Why aren’t more women in tech? That was the main topic for discussion yesterday on BBC’s Business Matters. I shared my report from Google’s I/O conference, where almost one in four attendees were women. The Women Techmakers team managed to increase female attendance from 8% in 2013 to 23% this year. How did they do it and what can other companies learn from their strategy?

Listen to the podcast at the BBC World Service (Women discussion starts at 26:40) or use the clip below:

Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

BBC Host, Roger Hearing: Have you thought how many women there are in the new high tech industries? Not enough is the general verdict. Have a quick listen to this:

Google CEO, Sundar Pichai: Welcome to Google I/O and welcome to Shoreline. It feels really nice and different up here. We’ve been doing it for many many years in Moscone and in fact we’ve been doing I/O for 10 years, but I feel we’re at a pivotal moment in terms of where we’re going as a company…. There are over 7,000 of you joining in person today.

BBC Host, Roger Hearing: That was the boss of Google, Sundar Pichai, opening a recent conference held near the tech giant’s headquarters in Mountain View, Silicon Valley. Alison, you were at that conference. Tell us more about it….

Alison van Diggelen: Google I/O is the annual Google developers’ conference. I/O stands for Input/Output and Innovation in the Open. It attracts thousands of developers from around the world who use Google’s open platforms, such as Android and Chrome, to build apps for your smartphone, smartwatch, or computer.

Google has been battling to increase the number of women in its tech teams, and I was pleased to see a decent number of women making presentations on the keynote stage. The company managed to triple the number of women attending the conference by partnering with other tech organizations like the Anita Borg Institute, Women Who Code and Hackbright academy.

At the conference, I spoke to Natalie Villalobos. She’s Google’s Head of Global Programs for “Women Techmakers.” I began by asking her WHY Google is seeking more women in tech…

Natalie Villalobos: We need everyone to contribute to make the most innovative technology. The more diverse voices we have, contributing, participating, and building the technology, the better technology we’re going to have…We always need more diverse voices at the table: for women, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities because the people building the tech should be as diverse as the people that the technology serves.

Alison van Diggelen: You went from 8% female attendance in 2013 to 23% this year, almost a quarter today. How did you do that?

Natalie Villalobos: ‘What could only Google do?‘ is a big rallying cry of my work and it was partnering with community organizations, locally, nationally and internationally to bring women to the conference, by providing travel grants, access to tickets and so we wanted to create these lasting partnerships…And one of the things we worked really hard at is how can we really engage women across the spectrum? We welcome all types of women: whether you identify as non-gender binary, women of color, Latinas…Also geographic diversity: We have women from South Africa, Taiwan, Tunisia, China…a lot are coming here to the U.S. for the first time for Google I/O.

Winnie Chen, Nancy Hang, Android auto team at Google IO 2016, Photo by Alison van DiggelenAlison van Diggelen: What makes you special, is it just deep pockets? (Google has earmarked $150M this year for its diversity programs)

Natalie Villalobos: We’re really looking at how we can engage and meet developers, designers and entrepreneurs wherever they are. Diversity and inclusion in the tech industry is not just in the United States. There are people all over the world who want to be here in this industry who can’t move to Silicon Valley. How can we meet them where they are and share our new platforms, our technologies?

People who can’t come to Mountain View can join a local extendedI/O event – I believe we have over 400. Our biggest this year is in Sri Lanka with over 2000 attendees. It’s about reshaping the industry and supporting people where they are.

Roger Hearing: Alison, we’ve heard this a lot before…there aren’t enough women involved in the high tech industry. But it doesn’t seem to get any better.

Alison van Diggelen: It seems to be moving in the right direction but it’s very slow going. I actually had the chance to speak with Sundar Pichai and he said that this is a long long road. He’s talking about 10 years, 15 years before they can get close to equality. It’s a pipeline issue, it’s a role model issue. There are inherent biases in companies that make it more difficult for women to get into tech companies and thrive in tech companies. He did point out an encouraging fact that at Stanford University in Silicon Valley, the most popular major is no longer Biology but Computer Science.  So anecdotal evidence like that says that perhaps we’re reaching a critical mass, perhaps a turning point, where women can feel at home in that geeky, computer science world.

Roger Hearing: Let me posit that maybe that’s because it’s Stanford…it’s California. Simon, let me come to you (in Singapore) In the high tech world where you are….where some of the most cutting edge stuff is going on. Are there many women involved?

Simon Long, The Economist: I’m struck when I visit multinationals (in Singapore) like Google and local startups how dominated they are by the young…and men. Alison put her finger on one of the main problems: who’s studying what at university? Who has the right skills? There are these ingrained prejudices…people recruit people like themselves.

Ellie Powers, Google interview by Alison van Diggelen for BBC Report May 2016Alison van Diggelen: The pipeline issue is not the whole excuse.  I did speak with Ellie Powers, a product manager at Google and she was on the keynote stage. It’s a lazy excuse, she says, “if you’re looking for gold, it’s rarer, you have to look a bit harder” and you have to figure out how find and connect with people outside your network. She put a challenge out there to Google and beyond for any company looking for women, in order to make a better team.

Roger Hearing: Perhaps the women are not there, they don’t want to do it? Is it a cultural bias?

Alison van Diggelen: I think there is a bias…there’s the stereotype of the geeky coder, but I think that’s changing. After being at that conference for an entire day, and seeing that one in four of the attendees were women. It was different from other tech conferences I’ve been at where if feels more like 10%.

Unconscious bias training will help. I think role models like Ellie Powers, up there on stage, wearing a dress, talking tech, being geeky…that will help get more young women to say, maybe coding is for me, maybe computer science is for me?

Roger Hearing: Simon, does it matter what the gender balance is?

Simon Long: I think it probably does…if everyone had equal access to do what they’re good at, the world would be a better place. As Alison says, if the problem is not just a pipeline one… If there are biases inhibiting women from doing as well as they might, then we’re all losing out.

Roger Hearing: If women were involved in designing the Apple Mac, would it be different, better?

Alison van Diggelen: Natalie’s point is relevant here: if your end product is for the world – 50% of which is women – you have to include women in the process. By attracting a more diverse employees base, you’ll get a better workforce. I talked with Steven Levy, a well-known tech author and he said, the days when a credible company can have an all-male conference or panel are just “way over” – it’s about sending a message to all people that they’re welcome. It’s about getting a better workforce and building better products. That’s the bottom line.

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