Tired of 'Manels'? All Raise's Database of Female, Non-Binary Speakers Hopes to Improve Tech & VC Panels

Tami Abdollah

Tami Abdollah was dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer. Follow her on Twitter.

Tired of 'Manels'? All Raise's Database of Female, Non-Binary Speakers Hopes to Improve Tech & VC Panels
Courtesy All Raise

For years, study after study has shown women — and especially women of color — are underrepresented in tech conference panels, as keynote speakers and in news coverage.

The pandemic has not helped. Instead, as companies have taken their events virtual the "manel" — or all-male panel — has made a comeback, especially in VC and the tech world.

Frustrated that the trend drowns out important female perspectives, CEO Pam Kostka of All Raise, a nonprofit that advocates for female founders, operators and funders in tech, announced Monday a new "Visionary Voices" speakers bureau. In her blog post, headlined "No more manels, no more excuses," Kostka described the bureau as the creation of the tech industry's largest database of female and non-binary "founders, funders and startup operators" so that event organizers and reporters can more easily find them.


The bureau includes speakers like Rebecca Kaden, managing partner of Union Square Ventures; Iman Abuzeid, the CEO of Incredible Health; YooJung Ahn, the head of design at Waymo; Sumaiya Balbale, the CMO of Sequoia Capital; and Miriam Rivera, co-founder and managing director of Ulu Ventures.

Kostka said that the pandemic's forced transition to virtual events has exacerbated exclusion. She's seen anecdotal reports of more manels and speaking opportunities for men that, in the end, blocks women from accessing crucial networking and profile-building opportunities. Reports have also shown that women are less likely to raise their voices in virtual meetings and are frequently discounted when they do speak up, because of the manner in which men and women communicate.

"Virtual meetings have made it harder for women to be heard in group settings, aggravating gendered differences that already exist in traditional in-person spaces," Kostka said in an emailed statement. "We are just a few months into the pandemic so see this as a currently developing trend, supported by research and a growing body of anecdotal evidence."

"The consequences of this run deep in tech and VC: a lack of access to the same profile-building opportunities strengthens invisible and insidious structural forces and stereotypes. Particularly, pattern-matching that reinforces white men as the experts in the room," Kostka wrote. But, "it shouldn't be this way."

To date, the bureau includes more than 975 female or non-binary founders, investors and operators from across the VC-backed tech ecosystem. The nonprofit is also continuing to accept applications for those who want to be included in the speakers bureau.

As part of their overall effort, All Raise said it has partnered with Fast Company, Protocol, SaaStr and Startup Grind to commit to Visionary Voices "principles" for equitable representation in coverage and events.

The best practices include:

  • Not hosting all-male panels (a female moderator doesn't make it less of a manel)
  • Strive for a 50-50 split of men and women speakers
  • Avoid all-white speaker panels and aim to include a large percentage from underrepresented groups in the tech and VC world
  • Track the demographics of speakers by asking them to voluntarily self-identify and be up front about keeping that information strictly confidential. Use aggregated data to improve future events.

"It's critical that we keep finding ways to increase access to speaking and thought leadership opportunities that elevate women and people from underrepresented groups to raise their voices and be heard," Kostko wrote.

"Visionary Voices is about ensuring that powerful publicity and networking opportunities aren't simply reserved for a select few and that female and non-binary leaders have an equal shot at becoming the architects of tomorrow who will build, shape, and fund our future."

___

Do you have a story that needs to be told? My DMs are open on Twitter @latams. You can also email me at tami(at)dot.la, or ask for my contact on Signal, for more secure and private communications.

tami@dot.la

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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With Its First EV Launching at the End of the Month, Fisker’s Manufacturing Strategy Sets it Apart

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Fisker
Fisker

I’ve spilled considerable ink on California-based electric vehicle companies like Rivian, Faraday Future, Vinfast, and Tesla. But one company that’s flown under the radar is Fisker. Backed by the charismatic auto industry legend bearing the same name, the company is planning to start delivering its first model, the Fisker Ocean One, at the end of the month.

So what distinguishes Fisker from its myriad competitors? Their path to market. Specifically, Fisker has handed off the manufacturing of its upcoming EVs to partner companies Magna Steyr and Foxconn.

Shirking the responsibility of, you know, actually building your own car, comes with a host of pros and cons. Fisker’s eventual success or failure in the EV space may come down to how it balances and manages each.

From the highest level, outsourcing production lets Fisker do a couple of things. First, it allows them to get to market a bit quicker: building a factory can take years. Second, it reduces the risk and headaches that many other EV makers run into as they get manufacturing online. Magna Steyr, the manufacturer of the Ocean One, is an established company with an excellent track record in the industry, assembling cars for brands like BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar. Previous reports have even revealed that the Ocean One will be built on a modified version of a Magna Steyr electric vehicle platform.

The existing expertise has helped Fisker get to market quicker, and as more and more legacy automakers join the EV space, expedience may pay dividends. Avoiding the high upfront capital expenditure may have also helped the company keep their prices low. I’ve spent many paragraphs complaining about the high price of entry into the EV world. But at $37,499, the Ocean One would be among the most affordable plug-in options on the market–especially in the crossover/small SUV category. If the car is even close to competitive with offerings like the Ioniq 5 or the Kia EV6, that price should look very attractive to budget conscious consumers.

The exact terms of the deal between Fisker and Magna Steyr aren’t public. But Daron Gifford, Leader of Plante Moran’s Mobility Practice, says that assembly plus labor and overhead usually accounts for 15-20% of an automaker’s cost structure. But the price of relying on outside manufacturing is, of course, relinquishing control of how many cars you can make. “As you scale up, you reach a point when there's more of a tendency to want to be in control of your own production,” says Stephanie Brinley, Principal Analyst at S&P Global Mobility. “What you risk–whether you're working with Magna or Foxconn or someone else–is that your ultimate capacity is going to depend on what they're doing.”

Gifford agrees that outsourcing manufacturing might make it difficult or cost prohibitive for Fisker to make changes to its manufacturing processes on the fly. He also points out that the process adds a lot of complexity and operational risk for the company. “It’s going to be a management challenge,” Gifford says. “But the bigger problem on top of the management challenge is the supply chain.” Sourcing the parts from around the world, shipping everything to Magna Steyr’s plant in Graz, Austria, assembling vehicles, and then loading them onto boats to send back to the US is likely both costly and slow for Fisker. “If they sourced everything in Europe, it’s a shorter supply chain, but I suspect they did not,” says Gifford.

Outsourcing to Austria also complicates the picture with regard to the Inflation Reduction Act. Biden’s new infrastructure legislation includes language that requires EVs be assembled in North America to be eligible for the full discount. As such, this would exclude the Ocean One from qualifying. However, last month Magna announced its intent to set up a manufacturing plant on US soil, meaning that future runs of the Ocean may be eligible for the full rebate.

This isn’t to say that Fisker couldn’t add its own manufacturing further down the line once the brand is more established. That option, according to Brinley, is certainly on the table. But as it currently stands the company is already under contract with Foxconn for its second model—the Pear. The vehicle marks theTaiwanese electronics company's first foray into automotive manufacturing. And the agreement is more difficult to assess since all that is known about the Pear is that it will be built in Foxconn’s Ohio factory.

If Fisker’s partnership with manufacturers sees considerable success, other brands may seek to emulate their model. But up to this point–at least in the EV world–no one’s yet decided to outsource production to a third party manufacturer, making Fisker’s example the largest-scale experiment of its kind. Which is why, Brinley says, we may not be able to evaluate the success of the strategy for years to come. “It's not a sprint, it's a marathon,” she says. “I think that if you take a broader view, the winner isn't necessarily decided in the next three years. A brand could stumble at the beginning and still be just fine in a decade. But it's easier to start off with a success than with a stumble.”

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