In a Truly Inclusive World, Women-Only Won't Exist

WeFestival celebrates women in startups.

In April, the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival rolled out its sixth annual event at One World Trade Center in New York. I was struck by the setting, a tall and majestic building that offered participants a 360-degree view of the city.

Yet because WeFestival is, by definition, an event for women, we weren’t truly getting an all-encompassing view of the entrepreneurial landscape. I only saw one male attendee.

The theory is that when there are no men in the room women are free to be their authentic selves. Shouldn’t we enjoy that freedom in a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion, where every voice is valued, including men’s?

I heard smart, savvy and successful speakers at WeFestival. I met some terrific entrepreneurs and investors. And I wished that it didn’t need to be an all women event. But an inclusive ecosystem that truly reflects our world—that doesn’t currently exist.

I’m not usually a fan of all-woman events. Yet I go. If I don’t attend these conferences and seminars I will be stuck at events that are dominated by white men. I also would miss out on the opportunity to learn from great speakers, who typically aren’t on panels at predominantly male events.

At WeFestival, about 400 women gathered for panels, workshops, lectures, and a keynote address from Sheila Marcelo, founder and CEO of care.com.

One of the most engaging speakers was Adaora Udoji, a lawyer and journalist who is Chief Storyteller at Rothenberg Ventures where she works with entrepreneurs on strategic communications and marketing, helping them to craft their stories.

She is a terrific storyteller, interesting and accessible. She has proven herself as a journalist, covering stories fraught with personal risk, including Hurricane Katrina and the war in Afghanistan. Now she has turned her talents toward the innovation economy, helping entrepreneurs tell their stories. She was typical of the great, inspiring speakers.

WeFestival has grown a lot since it was founded in 2011 by Joanne Wilson, an angel investor also known as Gotham Gal. This year, more than 1,600 entrepreneurs and investors across all sectors and industries applied for only 400 slots at the event.

So WeFestival is hitting the road, going to Los Angeles in November 2016 and to Berlin in 2017. That tells us two things: women entrepreneurs and investors are creating a demand for all-female events; and we as a society have a long way to go in embracing people of all genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations and abilities.

The true measure of success will be when WeFestival and other events that serve special interest groups fade away because they are no longer relevant. We will live and work in a truly inclusive world.


Barbara Clarke