A number of Silicon Valley's top tech women speaking at General Assembly's Women on the Rise symposium last week, did not pull their punches about how tough it was to succeed in tech.

The advice to the all-women audience from straight-talking Eileen Carey, founder of Glassbreakers, an enterprise software solution for diversity, was that women in tech should look very carefully at the gender make-up in startups they were approaching for job opportunities.

"Don't work for a startup that has not hired women in the first 10 hires," she said.

Carey, formerly of Citigroup and Thomson Reuters, speaks from experience, having interviewed for a Silicon Valley startup a few years ago where she was told she was not a good fit for the company after an extensive interviewing process.


"Everyone has hoodies and cons (converse sneakers) on and you are here in a blouse," the entrepreneur told her. "And that was my first job interview in Silicon Valley," she said.

Tia Ferguson, Innovation Architect at Cisco Hyper Innovation Living Labs, meanwhile confirmed: "Startups are absolutely male dominated."

Ferguson, previously director of strategic partnerships at two Bay Area technology incubators, has evaluated hundreds of new companies.

Part of it is that women are more risk-averse but also they find it harder to get funding, she said.

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"I know a lot of instances where those women attempts at pursuing their vision and making fund raising appeals, are falling on "deaf ears" in the VC community , she said. "And it's a real problem."

In a week when former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina trounced Donald Trump in a GOP Republican debate, Women on the Rise panel host, Heather McGough, co-founder of Lean Startup.co, said: "Sometimes I think the guys are afraid of us."

But women panelists talked about their propensity to talk themselves down and lose confidence. Anna Lindow, GM of Campus Education and Operations at General Assembly, advised women techies to cultivate women tech friends outside the office to help talk over challenges at work.


She has done this with a group of four women. "We do a group meet, we are on an email list, we are at each other's weddings," she said.

As well as having senior mentors, "it's important to have a peer group who are going through what you are going through now. Without them I can't imagine how I would have gotten through everything," she said.

It's important to have a peer group who are going through what you are going through now. Without them I can't imagine how I would have gotten through everything.

A panel of three tech women were asked for ideas about how to get more girls interested in working in the tech industry. Sherin Thomas, an Indian-born, software engineer at Twitter said girls need more information at a very early age. Educators need to design interesting courses and activities which will bring out the girls' interest in maths, technology and science, she said.

Of course you don't have to be a software engineer to work in tech. LinkedIn's senior product manager, Mollie Vandor, planned to make films after graduating from college but she went into startups as a temporary step, enjoyed the story-telling she could do there and hasn't looked back.