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  • Katica Roy

10 Ways SXSW Is Creating Gender Equity

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Was it just a coincidence that SXSW 2018 launched the day after International Women’s Day? Regardless, the momentum gender equity has been experiencing for the past year was evident at SXSW by the variety of amazing panels, speakers, and initiatives.

Here are 10 ways SXSW put gender equity front and center in 2018.

#1: By Promising to Do Better

In 2015, SXSW botched its attempt to promote gender equity with the Gamergate incident, which was surrounded by violent threats and online harassment toward women. It resulted in the ultimate cancellation of gender equity panels.

Things looked much different in 2018 when SXSW committed to addressing sexual harassment and gender discrimination head-on. There was an even split between male and female keynote speakers in addition to 50 panels and events focused specifically on gender discrimination and sexual harassment. SXSW’s increased commitment reflects the broader increase in awareness around gender equity.

Beginning with Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, in 2013, to a 2017 that included the Women’s March; Ellen Pao; Susan Fowler; and addressing sexual harassment in venture capital, media, and Hollywood — whether it’s #MeToo, #TimesUp, #WhatAboutUs, #PressForProgress or #HeForShe, the world is awakening to the importance of gender equity.

SXSW’s increased commitment is a reflection of that awakening — both on a global and economic scale.

#2. By Taking a Stand for Equitable Support

U.S. hockey player Hilary Knight used her platform as an Olympic gold medalist in women’s hockey to improve funding for sweat equity. Sweat equity, or equity in sports, is important for boys as much as it is for girls.

For girls, sweat equity means increased confidence and well being. For boys, the implications are equally important. We must work to overhaul the culture of sports and what it teaches our boys about “being a man.” They need the resources and support to break out of the “man box.”

#3: By Calling Out Venture Capital

SXSW did not shy away from the fact that, in 2016, only 5 percent of VC funding went to women. In response, they included a panel on increasing venture capital funding for female founders.

Funding, especially venture funding, matters to startups. Venture funding typically comes into play during Series A funding (and beyond), once companies confirm their product-market fit and start looking for larger infusions of capital. The capital enables these startups to grow and scale during critical times. But VC funding provides more than capital — it also provides access to networks, customers, and expertise.

Female founders need access to these networks and resources if they hope to take their startups to new heights. VC money is a virtuous circle, and right now the economic power is tipped in male founders’ favor.

When founders make money, they typically reinvest in other startups. This creates an ecosystem (hello Silicon Valley) of capital that continues to build on itself. We need female founders to receive their equitable share of capital in order to achieve gender equity in startups. We must balance economic power.

#4: By Including Men in the Equation

Gender equity is a two-way street. SXSW understood that men need it too.

The SXSW panel “Redefining Masculinity in Sports” highlighted the dangers of toxic masculinity for boys and men, as well as the importance of respecting women in this environment. From rethinking locker room banter to talking about “soft” issues, we need to remember that our boys and men are suffering from a lack of gender equity.

#5: By Scaling Globally

SXSW invited London Mayor Sadiq Khan to the stage, where he spoke on gender equality in the tech revolution. In his words, “This fight for gender equality is a fight that affects you whether you are from Austin, San Francisco, New York, London, Seattle, Delhi, Karachi, Singapore, Hong Kong…”

Mayor Sadiq Khan touched on an important point that’s fundamental in the fight for gender equity. Gender equity is not just a social issue, it’s a massive economic opportunity to the tune of $2T in the US and $12T globally. Having more women in elected office results in better policy and an expanded economy.

It makes sense that we should lean on party leaders to expand their networks for candidate recruiting to include more female candidates. They must light the path for women to run for office. Elected leaders can help expand the economic pie for everyone by embracing gender equity.

#6. By Inviting Men into the Conversation

Men strive for gender equity. Are we inviting them to a seat at the table? SXSW did. The session “Add Your Name: The Role of Men for Gender Equality” taught men different ways to get involved and the steps they can take to reach gender equality. By focusing on creating equitable opportunities, this session equipped attendees to become partners in gender equity.

#7: By Bridging Industries

We hear a lot about creating opportunities for women in STEM (which is great), but we must also remember women in other industries. They often experience harassment and discrimination at the hands of their managers, chefs, and even customers.

SXSW unveiled the Open Table initiative by Christa Quarles, CEO of OpenTable, noting “No matter who you are or your role in a restaurant, whether you work in the kitchen or front of house, everyone deserves a safe seat at the table.”

#8: By Confronting Media Bias

Media is skewed in men’s favor on a global level. This is true in the portrayal of women in media stories and distribution of coverage.

SXSW looked at the challenges journalism must overcome in order to create equitable coverage of issues.

#9: By Calling on the Workplace to Catch Up to the Workforce

Our workplaces have left our workforce behind.

The workforce is transforming at an accelerated pace. By 2020, minority children will be the majority of children in the United States; by 2043, the United States will become a minority majority nation; and by 2050, women of color will be the majority of all women in the United States.

Women are already the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households with children under the age of 18. Only 27 Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and over 79 percent of Fortune 500 boards members are men.

Women in our country are fast becoming the most educated cohort. They are also leaving the workforce at a time when the U.S. is facing a workforce shortage. SXSW knows the tremendous economic importance of ensuring the workplace is keeping up with the workforce.

#10: By Disrupting Pattern Matching

SXSW gave women the inspiration to go where few women have gone before in a panel by Dr. Patti Fletcher.

Fletcher is the author of a book titled, Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold, which highlights women who succeeded in breaking the glass ceiling.


Thank you to SXSW for moving the gender equity conversation forward this year! The first step is always awareness, and SXSW plays an important role in promoting the gender equity conversation in tech, film, and music.

This year marks the beginning of the impact and awareness that SXSW has on gender equity. Perhaps next year they’ll commit to gender parity (50/50) throughout all of SXSW — whether it be panelists, film directors, or musicians.


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