Creative & Tech

Dispatch from SXSW: How Tech is Revolutionizing Leadership

March 17, 2017

SXSW Interactive, not unlike other festivals and conferences, does its best to cram as many topics, conversations and pieces of information into a short few days. Technology and its intersection with business was a clear favorite this year, as the topic found its way into nearly every conversation on stage. While each session presented varying information, one thing was consistent – technology’s influence on leadership. I know what you’re thinking – being a leader is not an innovative concept. And you’re right. It is not a revolutionary idea, rather a reinvention by way of technology.

Leadership is a broad concept. While there are many lines of thought on the topic, the general qualities that make an effective leader haven’t changed much. Recently though, and as evident at SXSW, technology is reinventing leadership and making it more accessible.


Technology is enabling women to take on new and unique leadership positions.

Even in 2017, across the board, there is a lack of representation of women in technology. According to Girls Who Code, by 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields. US graduates are on track to fill 29% of those jobs, yet women are currently on track to fill a mere 3%. Fortunately, that dynamic is starting to shift.

As Disney’s Vice President of Multicultural Audience Engagement, Julie Ann Crommett is tasked with promoting diversity both in front of and behind the camera. After conducting research to better understand why young women were not pursuing careers in computer science and technology, Crommett realized there was an opportunity for Disney to use its popular shows as a platform to demonstrate not only the passion young women have for technology, but present pathways for success in the traditionally male-dominant field. As such, Disney leveraged its family drama series on Freeform, The Fosters, and developed an episode in which one of the main female characters competes in a robotics competition. A simple idea, but one that empowers the show’s young female viewers to consider a career in technology.


Technological advances have enabled the rise of the millennial leader.

The millennial generation is the biggest in US history and they’re only just starting to approach their peak working, earning and spending years. They are also one of the most entrepreneurial generations; 54% of millennials either want to start a business or already have started one. Compounded with their appetite for social media, technology and virtual communication they’re poised to become some of the most connected and tech-savvy leaders to date. Their affinity for technology is forcing us to rethink how we approach simple tasks, like photo sharing (Instagram) and dating (Tinder), both platforms developed by millennials.

Other cultural shifts lend to this notion of the millennial leader. Take for example, Baby Boomers who are redefining what retirement looks like and pursuing passion projects. Sally Susman, Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Pfizer, inspired by the film The Intern, hired a 70-year-old retiree to be a “Senior Intern” in their summer internship program. This bold move helped position the other millennial interns as leaders, not because of their age, but rather because of their strong knowledge of social platforms and emerging technological trends.


Technology forces people to think differently, making way for unexpected leaders.

Jen Glantz, Founder of Bridesmaid for Hire Co., redefined what it meant to be a leader. In the panel Craigslist Ad to CEO: How to Break Into an Industry, Glantz shared how she reimagined two seemingly ordinary tasks: 1. Posting ads to Craigslist and 2. Being a bridesmaid

By leveraging the now “historic” technology, Craigslist, which at the time of its emergence in 1995, was used to simply share information about local events, Glantz was able to create a business that served a new market and utilized an undervalued technology – one that would ensure cost efficiencies, tremendous reach and a truly unique approach.

Though a simple example, Glantz proves that’s all it takes. Thinking differently about something, be it new or old, big or small. Her revolutionary thinking not only helped her start a business, but it instantly made her a leader in a 53+ billion dollar wedding industry.


How we view leadership and who we consider leaders is constantly being revolutionized, in this case, by technology. At SXSW, this year, though not necessarily highlighted as a key thematic, it was impossible not to see that women and millennials are reimagining leadership, using technology as a way to shape the future.