From style to substance

Thank you to Carla Guerra for her comment on the post about La DressCode. Her nomination of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg for our informal female style awards got me musing about another of my passions – the world of fast-growth entrepreneurs, especially game-changers and technology superstars.

There has been a heated debate for some time about the lack of women at the leading edge of technology in general, and in Silicon Valley in particular. I write about these things, and unfortunately it’s true. It’s a bit like the debate about women in the boardroom: some think it’s a result of Darwinian selection while others argue there’s a nasty, boys’ club culture that is off putting to bright, female geeks. (I find myself, as is often the case, on the fence and taking a position somewhere in the middle).

Ms Sandberg is chief operating officer of Facebook, hired in 2008 by Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the world’s most popular social networking site. She has held positions at the World Bank and US Treasury, is credited with building Google’s AdWords and AdSense programmes, and is a women with serious tech credentials – as well as knowing what to wear to work.

In a laudable attempt to highlight successful women in technology, we are all encouraged to blog about women we admire who work in this space on March 24 – which has been named Ada Lovelace Day.

Lovelace was, of course, the only child of Lord Byron, and a regular correspondent with the mathematician Charles Babbage, whom she met in 1833. Lovelace devised an encoded algorithm for calculating Bernoulli numbers for Babbage’s analytical engine, which is widely acknowledged to be the world’s first computer programme, albeit for a machine that wouldn’t actually be built for another 150 years.

Last year, JP Rangaswami, one of the most erudite chroniclers of the internet and its societal impact, wrote about Lovelace on his blog as he listed all the women who had inspired and helped him in his career.

In the post, Mr Rangswami, chief scientist of Salesforce and before that at BT, tips a hat to two women whom I happen to have met: Esther Dyson and Julie Meyer.

Ms Dyson is now primarily an angel investor, but was founder of EDventure, which sold to CNET Networks in 2004. She has managed to combine investing in companies such as Flickr, the photo-sharing site, and de.licio.us, the web bookmarking site, with weightlessness training for an eventual space flight and sitting on the board of WPP, the global advertising group.

Ms Meyer runs Ariadne Capital, the advisory and investment company, is a regular columnist for City AM, the London free sheet, and a frequent speaker on technology and entrepreneurship. She is also an investor on the BBC’s Online Dragons’ Den. She is well-known for co-founding First Tuesday, a networking organisation that brought together Europe’s leading lights of the first wave of internet entrepreneurs before the bubble burst in 2000.

Women who lead in the world of innovative technology, whether at the conception stage, like Lovelace, or at the global domination phase, as Ms Sandberg, are rare for whatever reason.

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