Nearly 60 percent of women contribute to the U.S. workforce and they account for more than half of all workers in management and professional occupations. Over the next decade women have the potential to add trillions of dollars to the growth of the global economy. Yet gender inequity continues to create significant hurdles for women in the workplace. These obstacles are particularly evident in the technology industry, where women hold just one-quarter of the jobs and only 8 percent of leadership positions.
Women in tech are paid less and promoted less often than men—disparities that have contributed to nearly 60 percent of women leaving the industry at midpoints in their careers. Additionally, women-led tech firms receive less funding, despite studies that show they get an average 35 percent higher return on investment than their male counterparts.
These issues have inspired several women in Minnesota to devote their lives and careers to breaking down barriers, overcoming obstacles and transforming the technology industry. “Women in Leadership Transforming Tech” is a series of feature articles and a white paper that highlight these extraordinary individuals and their journeys.
Blazing the Trail for Women in Tech
StarTec Investments President Joy Lindsay is a pioneer for women in technology in Minnesota. She graduated from Carleton College in 1978 with a degree in mathematics and immediately began her career at Twin Cities-based West Publishing (now Thomson Reuters). She was one of just three female programmers in the business application division.
During that time, only men held leadership positions at the 100-year-old publishing company. Lindsay focused on building trusting relationships with her colleagues, and she was fortunate to work with transformational leaders who encouraged innovation and embraced diversity. Her first manager was someone who “didn’t have any bias at all, in any way,” she said. “He didn’t think of [the workforce] in terms of men or women, minorities or not; it was all talent to him, and he just wanted people to be successful.”
In the 1980s, computer usage and marketing messages were heavily targeted at men, and many female programmers were required to work in male-centric laboratory environments where they were not welcomed—factors that led to steady decreases in the number of women coders entering the workforce. But Lindsay’s experience at West was not typical of women working in tech during that era. Her bosses supported her growth and helped shape the leader she would become.
As she worked her way up the ranks, Lindsay noticed the lack of women and diversity in leadership and began advocating for herself and her contemporaries. She developed a reputation for asking tough questions but didn’t spend time worrying about the stigma associated with being a woman who was too tough. “I think part of toughness is passion and confidence,” she said. “And if people trust you they will know it’s well intentioned.” Lindsay approached roles in customer support, sales, account management—and ultimately as senior vice president—the same way she tackled her work as a programmer, with analytical problem-solving and creative solutions. She continued to focus on relationship building and hired exceptional people.
Investing in Women and Technology
Lindsay left West in 1997, shortly after helping to prepare and pitch the sale of the company to Thomson Reuters. But she never stopped working. Lindsay earned her MBA and continued crusading for women and entrepreneurs, partnering with former West colleague Tom McLeod to launch StarTec Investments, a private venture capital firm focused on supporting early stage technology companies in Minnesota.
Today, Lindsay is sole owner of StarTec and has provided capital for dozens of local businesses through the firm and as an angel investor with Sofia Fund, an organization she helped form that is dedicated to funding women-led ventures. She is particularly passionate about leveling the playing field for female entrepreneurs, who currently receive only 7 percent of venture capital to start businesses, due largely to the significant lack of women leaders in investment firms.
Lindsay receives emails daily from women with new business concepts. Hearing entrepreneurs pitch their ideas energizes her as much today as it did when she made her first investment nearly two decades ago. “These are entrepreneurs who are solving real problems,” Lindsay said. “They have found some gap that exists and said, ‘I can build a product that fixes that, that adds value, that really serves a market need.’ And that’s the kind of thing that gets me excited.”
A Role Model for Girls and Women
In addition to investing financially in women and technology, Lindsay believes building a network of support is critical for tipping the balance for women in the industry. Though the data is stacked against girls and women who aspire to have careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), female mentors and role models play an integral part in advancing future generations.
Lindsay supports local nonprofits like the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA), for which she has served as board chair and a member of the board. The organization recently launched Women Leaning Into Technology (WLIT), a program that provides interactive groups and other resources for women. WLIT is also tackling the challenge of getting girls excited about tech jobs at a young age. “We lose a lot of young women in middle and high school,” Lindsay explained. “We have to start with that foundation to get them interested in working in technology.”
Additionally, Lindsay has served as an advisory board member at the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota and as a judge for the MN Cup, a program at the Holmes Center featuring events, educational opportunities and an annual competition for startups. She’s also a philanthropist at heart, and numerous local organizations have benefited from her generosity.
Her dedication to the community has been recognized with many honors, including the 2016 Titans of Tech Hall of Fame award from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.
Lindsay’s advice for women in leadership: “Surround yourself with good talent—people who do things differently than you, [with] strengths that are different than yours. That’s why companies with women on the executive team do better. It’s why we need more minority voices,” she said. “It brings an important perspective to problem-solving that a group of people with everybody nodding their head in the same direction doesn’t.”
About the author: A strategic storyteller and an inspired graphic designer, Chris Olsen has devoted her career to connecting individuals and organizations using the power of words, images and experiences.