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At Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit: Leaders optimistic about fixing tech industry's gender disparity

Fortune last week hosted its annual Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, CA, bringing together leaders across various industries for three days of interviews, panels, and candid conversations about both the evolving business world as well as the influence and role of women in that evolution.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on stage with Michal Lev-Ram, senior writer at Fortune. Photo courtesy of Fortune.

Clara on CNBC -- Oct 2014
Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih interviewed by CNBC live at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit.

Attendees at the event included executives, entrepreneurs, and innovators from across the spectrum, including Warren Buffett (Chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway), Gary Cohn (President and COO, Goldman Sachs), Mary Callahan Erdoes (CEO, J.P. Morgan Asset Management), Mary Meeker (Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers), Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook), and Debra Sterling (Founder and CEO, GoldieBlox).
The agenda was packed with a wide-ranging set of sessions. On Monday afternoon, attendees heard about how (and how much) leaders should connect on social media. On Tuesday, another discussion addressed the challenges and solutions in motivating and inspiring workers across different generations. The last day featured special talks on philanthropy and entrepreneurship.

One core topic discussed by attendees was that of gender inequality, which still pervades executive and management teams across the Fortune 500 as well as greener sectors, like the technology industry.
Seeking to unpack this very issue, CNBC interviewed several women leaders closely involved in technology, including Rebecca Rhoads (chief information officer at Raytheon), Sonja Hoel Perkins (managing director of Menlo Ventures and founder of Broadway Angels), and our very own Clara Shih (CEO and Founder, Hearsay Social).
In the interview, Clara explains how she is hoping to impact change at Hearsay Social: “We specifically try to recruit women and we are open-minded about women who may not have a programming background.”
Clara also shared her broader perspective that a key way of nurturing a more diverse tech workforce is by making sure girls are confident in their technical skills from a young age. This helps set the stage for later in their lives, so they can be confident when faced with more male-dominated fields, like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Leadership lessons from Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit 2013

This October, I attended the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., and spoke on a panel with three other women under age 40: Warren Buffett’s financial assistant Tracy Britt Cool, Cinnabon President Kat Cole, and SunRun founder and CEO (and my Standford classmate) Lynn Jurich. Fortune‘s Leigh Gallagher moderated the conversation, which covered all kinds of inspiring and helpful leadership lessons.

Here are a few highlights I gleaned from my co-panelists:
Inexperience isn’t always bad. Jurich’s lack of experience in the solar and energy industries freed her to ask “dumb questions.” (Jurich’s company installs solar power systems in residential and commercial properties). This turned out to be quite smart. She was able to create her company’s energy-focused mission with a fresh perspective because she wasn’t weighed down by expertise — and the assumptions that often come with it.
Details and depth matter. Cool met her future boss, Buffett, when she was an undergrad at Harvard and organized a group visit to Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRKA) Omaha headquarters. Most students are in and out within the day, but Cool and her group stayed for several days to get to know Buffett’s businesses.
It’s okay to fail. Cole talked about the importance of risk-taking — and how different industries tolerate failure to various degrees. She reminds her Cinnabon employees that they “make buns, not bombs.” No lives are at stake when a batch doesn’t turn out. It’s okay to fail. That’s how we get better.
Respond to discrimination with grace. Gallagher asked if any of us had felt discriminated against in our careers or school years due to age, race or gender. I shared my philosophy that you can’t control what other people assume about you, but you can control how you react. It’s usually most constructive to give people the benefit of the doubt and respond with grace.
Following our panel, I caught up with two Silicon Valley friends who are under-40 influentials. Wildfire (GOOG) CEO Victoria Ransom (left) and Instagram (FB) director of operations Emily White (right) joined me, fittingly, for an Instagram:

This post originally appeared on Fortune: Leadership lessons from a top entrepreneur
Photo credit: Fortune.