Women, Technology, Social Change, and the Spirit of SXSW

FEM Inc., Women in Technology

South by Southwest Interactive: Reflections

As the whirlwind of activity and avalanche of ideas fade into the distance, I still feel the buzz of energy that lit up the city, the community and the individual at South by Southwest 2015.

This year, I was especially honored to have been chosen to participate in an historic moment: the swearing in of the nation’s first woman to lead the USPTO, Michelle Lee, and the first time a Presidential appointee has been sworn into office at South by Southwest. In keeping with the whirlwind that is SXSW, I received the call from the USPTO only the day before: they were looking for a female entrepreneur and inventor (with patents) who would represent the American spirit of innovation and embody the power and potential of women in tech, all themes that director Lee had addressed in her remarks. It was a great honor to be considered and welcomed, for the ceremony and for the day that ensued.

Michelle Lee [right] is sworn in by US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker [left] as Rachel Payne, CEO of FEM Inc. holds the bible.  Source: Mashable.com
 United States Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker invited the SXSW community to witness this momentous occasion, and I was invited to join them both on the main stage, to hold the official USPTO bible that has been used throughout history to swear in all new directors. As Penny Pritzker took the stage and welcomed Michelle Lee and I to join her she said, “So I would like to use this occasion to officially swear in [the new director] today and I thought it would be fun to have all of you join us … I’d like to welcome Michelle back to the stage along with Rachel Payne, Co-Founder and CEO of FEM Inc., a female entrepreneur who embodies the power and potential for women in tech.”

Even before arriving in Austin, the festival was off to an amazing start for FEM Inc., thanks to the UTA-sponsored festival flight from LAX to Austin, which gathered fantastic L.A.-based entrepreneurs, investors and creators in the media and tech space, including innovators focused on changing the way women’s voices are heard in Hollywood and beyond.

This year South by Southwest Interactive was especially remarkable because it was one of the first times in my professional life that I looked around and saw nearly equal participation of women in every environment – at panels, parties, exhibits and events throughout the city. From the moment I arrived, I could feel feminine power present in full force – a truly exceptional combination of environment, community and ideas that felt balanced, with the masculine and the feminine mutually present. The representation of women as speakers was duly impressive as well. Conversations varied across an enormous range of topics, including investment guidance for startups, 3D printing advances, technology (and privacy) policies and creative consciousness in media that drives social change. The community was out in full force, integrated and aware, living and creating history.

I witnessed the passion and dedication of Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud, her words flowing like poetry as she conveyed the complex gender dynamics in her country, demonstrating incredible bravery in tackling structural barriers for broader participation of women in the labor market of Saudi Arabia, advancing better health outcomes through medical awareness campaigns, addressing taboos head-on and leading by example through her own corporate investment.

I listened to mind-expanding concepts of cyber-consciousness articulated with clarity and precision by the futurist, inventor, transhumanist Martine Rothblatt: “one life, multiple instantiations; your life and identity are not trapped in your brain.”

At the Springboard dinner on Saturday night, the brilliant Candice Brown Elliott, founder and CEO of Clairvoyante (now Nouvoyance PenTile / Samsung Electronics) shared how she revolutionized the high resolution screens that are now the dominant technology across mobile devices and flat screen TVs.

There was an inherent respect and receptivity to the power of the feminine amongst all I encountered and in the presentation of information, the attention of the listeners, and a deep respect for the diversity of perspectives that were shared. It was one of the first times at a professional media/tech conference where I felt women were equally welcomed, seen and heard. This is only the beginning.

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  1. Rachel captures what we all experienced this year. Women engaging as innovators and thought and deed leaders in the penultimate gathering of innovators. entrepreneurship is not a spectator sport.

  2. Our 21st Century is proviing to be a unique time in human history. We have become so globally aware that we’re creating an inter-conmnected humanity that can address , create and implement global concepts to improve prospects for “US” — the whole beingness. Women have been making slow but steady increases in political and economic decision making around the world. Fem-Inc. is leading by doing. Being in front Co-creating collective intelligence(s) with right-here-right-now action/programming is being at cause for improving our civilization. New forms of conscious co-operation and learning disrupting the control of traditional hierarchical structures.

  3. Nobody speaks better for women, than each woman speaks for herself. What changed, in my lifetime, is that Westerners have begun to accept this obvious fact.

  4. I am moved by your description of truly “balanced energy” in a room. And I am so proud of you Rachel –all that are, all that you do. This is a goosebump moment that we need to manifest daily.


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