Leading from the Top: How Female Mayors are Helping Women in Tech
October 27, 2014 | Focus on Women
By Lisa Wirthman
When it comes to attracting more women to technology, location matters. On average, women make up less than one-third of the nation’s tech community, according to a recent study by RJ Metrics. But in cities run by female mayors, the picture is different.
In Las Vegas, women make up 65 percent of the local tech community, RJ Metrics found. In Oakland, California, it’s 47 percent; and Houston beats the average with 34 percent. All three cities have female mayors.
That’s no coincidence, according to the study, which shows a positive correlation between cities with female mayors and cities with a greater number of women in tech.
So what’s the connection? According to Anita Andrews, vice president of Client Analytics Services for RJ Metrics, cities that elect female mayors generally are more open to gender diversity. “Any society that selects a female mayor has demonstrated a willingness to embrace female leadership,” she said.
That’s certainly the case in Las Vegas, the only city to have more women than men in its tech community. Nevada ranks fourth in female leadership among all states, with women holding half of all elected executive offices, reports the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The state is also highest in the nation for gender paycheck equality, according to Forbes’ analysis of the 2012 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, with women earning 85 cents for every dollar earned by men.
At the local level is Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who has held her office since 2011. The Las Vegas city manager and half of the city’s municipal court judges also are women.
“We are a city that is constantly looking at inventiveness and creativity and where the waters are very equal for everyone,” said Goodman. “The female portion of our population is just as equally engaged as the male portion.”
A 2012 MIT study found that when females lead in local government where they are highly visible to the community, girls set higher goals for themselves, and parents set higher goals for their daughters.
“When girls and women see a woman doing something that’s not the norm, it strikes them,” said Andrews. “Implicitly it makes their minds open to the possibility of that being a path for them.”
Las Vegas has plenty of female leaders in business as well as government. A recent report by American Express Open found that Nevada ranked third in the country for women-owned firms.
Vegas is also home to online shoe retailer Zappos—a $1 billion Amazon subsidiary known for its diverse corporate culture and inclusive attitude.
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is extending that spirit of inclusiveness into the local community with his $350 million Downtown Project, which aims to revitalize downtown Las Vegas and plant the seeds of a thriving start-up culture. The project includes $50 million to invest in tech start-ups and another $50 million for small businesses.
As a result, gender diversity is easy to find in Downtown Vegas—from the female founders of local tech start-ups such as Zirtual, LaunchBit, Digital Royalty, and Moveline, to local entrepreneurs like Natalie Young, a longtime Vegas resident who received funding from Hsieh to start Eat, a trendy downtown restaurant.
“When you look at Zappos and Tony Hsieh … they are without eyes to any sex differentiation, which encourages our girls to go out there at a young age and try new things,” said Goodman.
A well-known educator who founded and ran the Meadows School in Las Vegas for 26 years before she became mayor, Goodman said technology is equalizing: “It’s non-discriminatory, and it’s available for everybody.”
It’s important to give girls exposure to technology at an early age, said Andrews, also a founding trustee of TechGirlz, which provides technology programs for middle-school girls.
“Girls are great consumers of technology, but they haven’t thought that they could be great creators of technology,” she added. “What’s working is to provide exposure to the fact that technology exists in all of these different places, but it has to be created—and you, too, can create it.”
In Las Vegas, that lesson is clearly visible for girls of all ages to see.
Lisa Wirthman writes about business, sustainability, public policy, and women’s issues. Her work has been published in The Atlantic.com, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company, Investor’s Business Daily, the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal.
Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.