23Sep

Lesbians Who Tech Summit SF // Leanne Pittsford

Founder of Lesbians who Tech, our own Leanne Pittsford took the stage at the summit. Prior to starting Lesbians who Tech, Pittsford worked for Equality California on the “No on Prop 8 campaign.” Pittsford, (as you will see in her talk) has always been ambitious and driven and since starting Lesbians who Tech has started Start Somewhere where she helps nonprofits and social enterprises grow and achieve. Additionally, she founded When You Work at a Nonprofit Tumblr Blog (workingatanonprofit.tumblr.com).

Pittsford begins her talk by asking the audience, “What’s the first risk you remember taking?” She shares a personal story of a time when she was 5 years old and asked her mother if she and her brother Tim could go climb a mountain a few miles away from their house. Her mother said yes and went back to what she was doing. Her mother realized about an hour later that her children were missing and that the small figures in the distance were her children climbing said mountain. Pittsford says that her main message is about how important risk taking is, especially to women, “I believe that taking risks is the key to advancing women’s rights, LGBT rights and closing the gender gap in the tech sector.”

She shares some hard and scary statistics about the gender gap, “In Silicon Valley, women make $.49 compared to the man’s dollar.” and “Almost half the top Silicon Valley Companies have 0 women in executive leadership roles and 0 women on their board.” She asks us to envision a world where there is a black queer woman president and women make as much or more than men and the next Mark Zuckerberg is a lesbian attending the summit. She points out that she doesn’t have the magic solution to solve all of these problems. She does however, believe that solutions to these problems come in the form of big brave bold risks! The first thing we must do is redefine what the word risk means, risk by definition includes words like hazard, failure, and loss.

Pittsford encourages us to think differently about risk and let go of the fear and focus on the opportunity and learning that could arise from it. “Risk,” she says is “making the decision to get out of our seat.” Pittsford turns personal again and recounts a moment when her fiance, Leah Neaderthal, chose to get out of her seat and take a big risk. After a short time dating long-distance Pittsford tried to convince, Neaderthal, not a natural risk taker, to get out of her seat and spend a year traveling the world with her. Neaderthal had saved up money every month to spend traveling and for someone her age had a significant amount of money. Fear kept Neaderthal in her seat, questions like, “What if I couldn’t get a job when I got back?” and “What if we broke up?” and “What if I need that money for something else?” kept replaying in her head. The day before Pittsford was set to move to Chicago to be with Neaderthal, Pittsford’s brother died in his sleep. While it had a large impact on Pittsford, it had an even larger impact on Neaderthal and encouraged her to get out of her seat by seeing that life was short.

Pittsford asks the audience if there is a “what if” question lingering in their heads; on their deathbed people say the thing that they regret the most is not taking a risk over regretting a risk they did take.

When Pittsford’s brother died, he gave her his life insurance money and she recalls how it didn’t feel right to keep the money. Simultaneously, Pittsford’s friend was starting a software company and she invested $100,000 in her friends company. She notes that this is- to date the scariest risk she has ever taken, as it is all that she has left of her brother. The experience in taking the risk was a great learning opportunity for Pittsford in that it opened up new areas of growth and exploration and led her to understand the power of investing. She notes that we need to pay attention in talking about risk to privilege; what may be a big risk for her “may be another thursday afternoon for someone like Kara Swisher,” but, that risk is relevant for every person no matter the circumstance.

Pittsford begins to close out her talk by sharing, “studies show that the fear of loss is twice as powerful, psychologically, than the opportunity for potential gain.” She encourages us to take more bold risks and asks the audience to take two risks today, a risk on ourselves and a risk on someone else, “if we don’t take a risk for our own lives, happiness and careers, who else is going to do it for us?” Pittsford sets the stage for us to take risks, the first risk she takes is asking Kara Swisher to lunch, and the second risk she takes is a commitment to investing at least $10,000 a year for 3 years in a women owned company. She closes by saying that there is a 100% chance we will learn something when we take risks, and finally a quote by Pittsford’s favorite athletes, Michael Jordan “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not tr