“We Have To Go Beyond Gender:” Diversity And Inclusion To Headline At W.IN. Forum

“We Have To Go Beyond Gender:”

Diversity And Inclusion To Headline At W.IN. Forum

After twenty years as a woman in STEM, Catherine Barba knows a thing or two about diversity  and inclusion.

The French native, who has been based in New York since 2015, is running her third Women In Innovation Forum this May 21st, and touts this year will push beyond the gender aspect that its predecessors have focused so heavily on. “My event is evolving from women to diversity,” she notes. This year’s one-day forum will center on how a culture of diversity, whether ethnic, sex, age or otherwise, will benefit not only STEM in the future, but the entire workforce.  

Her familiarity with this necessity of inclusion stems way back to when she was beginning her entrepreneurial journey as a young woman in an extremely male-dominated industry. The dot-com boom was just beginning, and Barba had to go out of her way to get a seat at the table. While that same industry has since opened itself up to more women, tech sector pay gaps remain to be some of the worst in the world, and seeing little to no advancement in recent years.

It was in this knowledge that Barba, now a serial entrepreneur and investor, launched the first W.IN. forum in 2016. “I’ve heard the statistics, it’s like 2.2 percent of [VC funding] going to women. That’s crazy!” she emphasizes, knowing the uphill battle these female entrepreneurs are facing in order to make it here. “Here, there are very, very few female investors,” she comments, making it difficult for burgeoning female talent, because male investors, “tend to invest in people like them.”

“Fear is a very, very bad advisor, Don’t do things out of fear, because when you fear something you can’t think, it blocks everything.”

-Catherine Barba

This is something Barba counteracts daily when female entrepreneurs present her with their decks. Having started her first business in 2001, Barba now invests in digital retail among other projects, and recommends that when women set out on their entrepreneurial journey and are looking for investment, to start with female investors first, not because it will guarantee them funding, but because they will be more receptive to providing feedback.

“Whenever I receive a deck from a woman entrepreneur, I read it, and I take the time to give feedback,” she says. “Whether it’s negative or not, I think it’s useful, it makes them feel valued.”

While feedback will certainly help any female entrepreneur on the path to funding, Barba notes that there is also a collective responsibility from everyone, including the media, to get these stories told so representation and thus imitation can occur. “It’s hard to be what you haven’t seen before,” she comments. “If we highlight those kind of women who show us the way, and tell younger generations, ‘you belong here.’ Well I guess more and more girls will go that way.” She uses the major impact her daughter’s computer science teacher is having on her school life as a small example of this, but one that will have a lasting impression on both her daughter’s future and all girls in the class that might have previously shied away from the male-concentrated field. “I’m very grateful that she has that female teacher and [that] she’s so good,” says Barba.

“We have to take this to the next level, we have to go beyond gender. I’m not sure it’s a good thing to do events, by women, for women,”

-Catherine Barba

Catherine Barba. “There are less female entrepreneurs, less female investors, but I am very optimistic about the future."

This year the forum won’t simply be focusing on girls and women however, with Barba realizing that to completely welcome innovation and inclusion, the workforce must be as diverse as it can possibly be, and that indeed goes beyond gender gap.

“We are at a tipping point today,”

-Catherine Barba

“The last few years, I was very much supporting and promoting women, women in tech, women in business, women entrepreneurs, but I think that now we have to take this to the next level because of what happened last year with #metoo and everything,” she notes. “I think we can all agree that things have to change, now we have to include men in the conversation and we have to think broader and think of diversity, difference of gender, age, culture, ethnicity.”

In light of this, the dynamic of the event has shifted, in order to move away from the traditional focus of a ‘woman’s conference’ to incorporate a larger audience and a bigger message. “The theme this year is ‘Diversity powers innovation,” says the CEO. “Diversity increases our ability to innovate. If we surround ourselves with people who are different, that’s the only way to survive and [feed] the innovation economy.”

Speakers this year include a broad range of talent from across the traditional sectors like Beauty, Fashion, Finance, Politics, Media, and newer frontiers like Blockchain and AI, and indeed are representative of the diversity Barba is pushing for. “They are women, or people of color, or people who are actually different kind of leaders,” she comments. “When you see them and they share their learnings with you, you [will] understand that you too can make it, and that’s the main message.”

Having personally hand-picked the speakers for this year’s line-up, Barba is assured of their lasting impression on the audience. A quick skim of their titles and profiles prove a different tone and nature to the litany of conferences that head up New York’s stages every year. Executives and personalities from all walks of life and different sectors are to be seen, from the President of Vera Wang, to a research scientist from Facebook’s AI lab, to multicultural media leaders and beyond. And what’s perhaps the forum’s most enticing bait, is that it’s all neatly packed into a one-day spectacle. Barba knows we’re very busy.

The 2018 W.IN. forum will take place on May 21th at Parsons New School. You can find the agenda and a list of the speakers here. Register here for discounted rate with code SPECIALOFFERSWAAY for 60% off.

Amy Corcoran

Head of Content at SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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