Tech startups are often associated with Silicon Valley and men. To contrast that perception, we went on a quest to find some of the women interning at Boston startups this summer; to talk to some of the people hiring them; and explore how these companies are creating a positive environment for women interested in tech.
Over the course of the summer, we spoke with nearly a dozen women graduate students from local universities, including MIT, Olin College, and Babson. All are interning for local startups. Most of the women surveyed found their summer internship through career fairs at their respective schools, though a few got their gigs from personal networking.
The results: Boston is a welcoming place for women in tech, and there is plenty of opportunity for technical women to find high-impact summer internships right here in Boston. This is no surprise; recently, NerdWallet named Boston seventh for the “Best Places for STEM Graduates.” (That’s graduates who have studied science, technology, engineering, and math). In addition, the Commonwealth is pushing to keep technical talent local, made evident by Governor Patrick’s recently-created Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence Program.
There is clearly support of this effort from founders as well. “Our primary goal is to build a team that is passionate about the arts,” says Kathleen Stetson, Co-Founder and chief executive of Trill, a live show discovery startup currently at MassChallenge. “But as a female-founded company, we also believe strongly in bringing more women into tech, whether in business or engineering roles. While we don’t actively look to hire women over men, we are constantly seeking out talented and motivated women — often at meetups and from Boston-area schools — and we are designing a company that is supportive of women at all stages.”
We were curious to find out what was important to these women when selecting an internship, and how they view their contribution to the company. Seventy-five percent of respondents answered that hands-on experience and working with a great team was more important than compensation. In fact, one woman told us, “Living a comfortable life isn’t as appealing to me as working on something that I’m passionate about and love doing.” On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being very hands-on and 1 being more of a support/admin role, the average rating was a 4.2 when asked to describe their contribution to the technology of the company.
When asked about women role models and mentorship, most women answered that it is important to them, but not a factor in their decision-making. “After working this summer, and talking to my engineering friends who are interning elsewhere, I’ve realized that having female co-workers and employers is very important to me, especially in an engineering job,” says another woman. Similarly, local startups are making a point of emphasizing their female leaders and mentors. “The best way to find more great women for your team is to enlist existing women on your team to help find candidates, and to help interview them,” says Paul English, chief executive and co-founder of Blade, LLC. “Men interviewers often value traits that are different than women interviewers, so I’ve found it is important to have women on the interview team.”
Whether it’s a local startup or one of the ever-increasing startup incubators, the focus is on the best talent. Ben Einstein, managing director of Bolt, said that “100 percent of Bolt’s interns [this summer] are women and they kick 100 percent ass.”
The bottom line is that Boston startups are attracting talented technical women and these rock star women are making an impact. Know a great technical woman making an impact at your company this summer? Give her a shout-out in the comments below!