Emerging Tech Leaders Conference: How Can D.C. Make a Better Tech Sector?

The central themes that emerged from Tuesday’s Emerging Tech Leaders event, hosted by Politico in partnership with Microsoft’s Washington, D.C. office, were female leadership roles in technology, Congress’ role in the industry, and the importance of cyber security.

The event was frontloaded with the two female panelists being asked questions about women in leadership positions in the technology field, particularly in light of Sheryl Sandberg’s advice in her new book Lean In. Mindy Finn, director of strategic partnerships for Twitter, states the lack of women in the industry is a problem given that females outnumber men in most college majors, with the exception of computer science. Finn says it’s admirable that the lack of female leadership positions is recognized as a problem, which is why places like Twitter are doing more to encourage women to join the field by supporting groups like Girls Who Code.

Rad Campaign co-founder Allyson Kapin spoke about the importance of women fostering conversations online and maintaining their personal brand, rather than just re-tweeting and posting articles. She encouraged women to speak up about career advancements and seek mentorship, which was an inspiration for her Women Who Tech TeleSummit. Kapin has attracted big names in the industry such as Arianna Huffington, Tara Hunt, and Amanda Steinberg to champion topics like open-source communities, launching female-run startups, and maintaining engaged user bases.

One issue highlighted throughout the day was the importance of Congress stepping in to regulate the industry through legislation. While Kapin and Finn both mentioned the value in it, Andy Ozment, senior director for cyber security at the White House, went into further detail about the role government plays. An executive order issued by the Obama administration earlier this year highlighted the need to improve information-sharing across industries, and looks to Congress to enable those relationships. It also outlined measures to protect privacy and civil liberties and identify and promulgate basic cyber security. However, this order hinges on Congress’ ability to update industry standards such as the Federal Information Security Management Act. Harley Geiger, senior legislative counsel for Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s (D-Calif.) office, asserted that for such measures to make an impact, they will rely heavily on public engagement.

When asked about how this field attracts young talent, Eric Burfield, co-founder of 1776, discussed the need to train the workforce in skills that the tech field requires, particularly for start-ups. After all, according to him, “understanding the industry is a new form of literacy.”

Policymakers are just beginning to understand the importance of using technology, so as Mindy Finn pointed out, we will soon begin to see a closer fusion between the two industries.