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When Tech Became Sexy

When Katrina Garnett, founder of Cross- Worlds Software, starred in one of the most controversial ad campaigns of the dot-com era, she wasn’t only making waves in advertising—she was making history for women in tech.

     Richard Avedon’s 1998 photograph, captioned with her impressive résumé, threatened stereotypes about the relationship between femininity, corporate leadership, and technology. Garnett wore a low-cut black dress, but she wasn’t just some babe selling a product (in this case, enterprise application integration, the software that allows computers to “talk” to one another); she was president of what would become a 450-employee, $129 million business. Despite the backlash from her peers and rivals, the ad increased traffic to her company’s website by 1.3 million hits. “Our competitors couldn’t really respond to it,” Garnett recalls.
     Back then, Garnett stood out as one of the few women in Silicon Valley who had earned an engineering degree, much less started a company. Now the number of female founders is surging (“Where Is the Female Mark Zuckerberg?”), and Garnett is practically old guard.
     These days, the 50-year-old serial entrepreneur is busy investing in other people’s ideas as well as minding her latest venture, My Little Swans, a social network for high-end family travel. She’s optimistic about the future for female entrepreneurs, but thinks there’s still some way to go. “Men can’t wait to hand you the business card that says ‘CEO’ on it. Women don’t care about that,” she says. “They’re good at problem solving and just getting it done.”