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Column: Why is tech such a boys’ club?

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Several Charleston tech leaders spoke at the Charleston Women in Tech panel discussion about workplace gender issues. (Photo/Thomas Heath)

“Less than 20% of women represent tech employees.”

That was an opening statement by Christina Lock, CEO of Catch Talent, who moderated a panel discussion at a recent Charleston Women in Tech meeting titled: The Male Perspective on Women in Tech.

For the first time at one of their meetups, CWIT invited some of the top male tech leaders from the Holy City to answer questions on why they thought there were such a limited number of women working in their industry.

Sitting on the hot seats that night were: John Mistretta, executive vice president of HR at Blackbaud; Marc Murphy, CEO of Atlatl; Chad Norman, chief marketing officer of Catch Talent; Chris Rickborn, COO of BoomTown; Fred Robinson, chief architect Benefitfocus; and Don Taylor, CTO of Boxcar Central.

As a father of two daughters and a big supporter of women’s empowerment in our community, I went to this event curious about the real reasons for the lack of diversity in the tech world. I have to say, I was surprised at what I discovered.

After asking the panel to name some of their personal women tech heroes, Christina inquired:  “What do you feel women bring to an executive team?” 

Chris Rickborn of BoomTown, a real estate-focused tech company with 110 female employees to 130 males, answered: “Women bring diversity, which brings different opinions and perspectives.” Chris went on to emphasize that his company’s rapid success could have never occurred without the contributions from their strong female leaders.

When the men were asked whether they had witnessed any gender bias in the tech industry, all of them said they had not seen it personally in Charleston. And I believed them. I’m sure it exists in other communities, but my impression was that these male leaders were sincere in their support of wanting more women in tech.

“What solutions has your company taken to improve gender disparity?”

John Mistretta of software manufacturer Blackbaud mentioned that they recently had an executive women’s conference and a women in tech event, which more than 200 women attended. Blackbaud also recently rolled out conscious bias training. “It really opens up your eyes to how you think and how others think,” John said.

“I think the easiest way to move the needle is maternity policy,” is how Marc Murphy of Atlatl, a sales optimization software company, answered the disparity question.

When he came on board, Marc polled all the tech companies in Charleston and discovered that Atlatl was on the lower end of leave time. “So I went to 12 weeks of maternity leave immediately”, he said. “You can get a huge return on that because it allows more women to stay with you. It has played a role in us hiring some really great women this year.”

Look for a Part Two on this series in the next edition of the Business Journal. What I can say I discovered that seems to be the main issue here: Lack of pipeline. Stay tuned.

Thomas Heath, CLC, is a business coach, strategic advisor and founder of Thomas Heath Coaching. Have a question? Planning a great startup event? He loves to respond to our readers. Contact him at or on LinkedIn at

Startup Roundup

An insider’s view into Charleston’s Startup community.
Curated by Thomas Heath

If you’re looking for one calendar to find the best startup, tech, digital and entrepreneurial happenings around Charleston, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are my picks for the most worthwhile events coming up:

One Million Cups
9-10 a.m. May 3, 10, 17, 24, 31
Do you love to be inspired by new businesses? Then come join the growing Charleston community of 1MC for free coffee, great ideas and new connections. Each week a dynamic entrepreneur presents about their startup business for feedback on how to grow it. No need to register, just show up. The Harbor Entrepreneur Center, 1505 King St. Extension, Suite 110, North Charleston. Free.

SBDC Workshop: “How to win grants to develop your product”
1-3 p.m. May 5
Do you have an innovative concept that needs to be built and tested to determine that your idea has market potential and can turn a profit? Then you might want to check out this workshop from the Charleston office of the Small Business Development Center. You’ll learn about 11 federal agencies that have a $2.8 billion annual budget to award and $1 million in grants to develop your product to take it to market. Location: 6296 Rivers Ave., 1st Floor Conference Room, North Charleston. $20 Register: 

Snapchat for Business — 
AMA Monthly Meeting

12-1:30 p.m. May 11
The Charleston chapter of the American Marketing Association is a diverse group of professionals who provide marketers with a forum for growth and success. This month’s meeting will feature social media expert Jennifer Bilbro talking about how to use Snapchat for your business be sure to download the app and create a profile prior to luncheon, as this will be an interactive session. BoomTown, 1505 King St. Extension, Suite 100, North Charleston. $20 Members & Students, $30 Non-Members (includes lunch.) Register via Eventbrite:

DisruptHR Charleston
5:30-8:30 p.m. May 17
This groundbreaking human resources and talent attraction movement is built on the belief that people and workplaces are constantly evolving, so the ideas and methodologies we use to engage, energize, and inspire them should adapt and change too. DisruptHR takes the brilliance of TED Talks, adds a pinch of energy from Pecha Kucha events, and finishes it with a dash of HR professional “talent” who each get 20 slides and 5 minutes to share their disruptive ideas on how to move our collective thinking forward when it comes to the workplace. Lots of opportunities to connect with other business professionals at this event. The American Theater, 446 King St. Charleston. $15-20. Register on Eventbrite:

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