Voices: Advice to empower women tech leaders

November 10, 2019
Wunderdogs

To celebrate women in tech & innovation, we’ve spoken with three female tech leaders to discover the challenges and rewards of working in the industry

Ahead of Wunderdogs’ and AIGA SF’s Women Designing Tech event, we caught up with a few of our partners: Jessica Schaefer (CEO, Bevel PR), Bianca Wakenford (COO, Keyband, co-founder, Wander) and Anna Bogdanova (CEO, Shiba500). All are making strides in their fields and adding diversity to this male-dominated industry – of which women make up just 20%. Here, they share their advice for others making the same career choice.

Bianca Wakenford is a serial retail, manufacturing, and security entrepreneur with 15+ years experience managing 150+ employees and scaling operations across two continents. Companies under Bianca’s belt: Wander, Keyband, RightSciences, Liquidation Supercentre – a chain of 12 locations across Western Canada.

Jessica Schaefer is founder and CEO of Bevel PR, an all-star, all-female financial public relations company that has some incredible startups and growth companies as their clients. In addition to that, previously Jessica served as VP of Corporate Communications at Point 72 Ventures.

Anna Bogdanova is founder and CEO of Shiba500, a boutique content marketing agency with deep roots in the blockchain and fintech space with Element Group, WAXShivom, BlockV & Everest (EverID).

1. What is the single biggest challenge for women tech leaders you see and how you are overcoming it?

W+underdogs has created a brand identity for Robin Golf, a revolutionary D2C golf club brand.

Bianca: When my founding team discusses our hiring strategy, the names they mention are predominantly and unsurprisingly male. Even by myself! My solution was to widen my network. Communities like Elpha and the Guild have introduced me to hundreds of other women in technology and other industries. Staying connected in person and online, is one of my daily priorities. Now, when we discuss a new role, the pool of names is a lot more balanced. The next step is to invite the guys on my team to step out of their comfort zones and give it a try!

Jessica: The biggest challenge in anything is getting started. I believe women are just as capable as men in tech, but oftentimes aren’t led to choose those career paths.

Anna: I think the biggest challenge is recursive: it’s difficult to be a woman in tech because there are few women in tech. The lack of female representation and specifically female leadership has a variety of connotations. It means that there’s a lack of reference points and role models. Unfortunately, it also often means that you need to prove yourself where your male counterparts can just be. As women tech leaders, the first step, in my opinion, is being mindful of the way things are: taking the proverbial step back and breath in. Once you’re mindful of it, you realize that it is a prevailing experience for female founders. It is not singular to you – therefore, you start seeing your peers as allies. Through forming these alliances, you can create ripples and waves, showing to yourself and others that you can and do occupy this space as rightfully yours.

2. Who are your female role models?

Bianca: Melinda Gates, Shivani Saroya, and Brené Brown are at the top of the list. They’ve inspired me to think bigger, look deeper, and remember my purpose.

Jessica: Linda Huber, former CFO of Moody’s, ex US Army Captain.

Anna: Sofia Kovalevskaya — the first woman to obtain a doctorate in mathematics when women weren’t even allowed to attend university! She ventured into the world of academia jumping over every imaginable hurdle and she proved time and time again that she could achieve anything through sheer courage and determination.

3. As women tech leaders, what advice would you give to your younger self now?

Bianca: Follow your curiosity, Bianca! Don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you what you’re good at and what should be left to someone ‘more suited’ than you. Let your instincts guide you. You know what you’re doing.

Jessica: Don’t beat yourself up over things you say. Learn, grow and don’t make the same mistake twice.

Anna: Take no bullshit. For the longest time, I thought that being comfortable was the biggest virtue. It wasn’t even a conscious decision, it was just a state of being. I’d be the peacekeeper, the minute-taker, the listener, the agreer. In short, I was the one filling in the background and making everybody comfortable while they were making the decisions. If I had to do it all over, I’d trust myself much more and, specifically, I’d trust my abilities to discern the bullshit from the good shit.

4. The masculine culture in the tech industry is often cited as a root cause of the gender gap in representation. As women tech leaders, do you have any tips on overcoming “masculinity” in the workplace?

Bianca: My first tip is to reflect, prepare, and practice. Decide ahead of time how you want to respond when the guys start to bro out. Practice with a friend and take the time afterwards reflect on how it went. What went well, and what could have gone over better? Then do it again. My second tip is to invite your male colleagues in to the conversation. We’re trying to redefine how we want to work together and it isn’t a one-sided solution. The first few times I asked a co-founder for a ‘take two and re-do’ were a little awkward, but now it‘s given us another way to build trust and transparency into our culture at the foundation.

Jessica: I’m so feminine and work in an all male-dominated field. Personally, I think it’s a strength and wouldn’t change who I am to fit into any culture. The clients we work with focus on intelligence and what value we add, not my feminine character traits.

Anna: Contemporary masculine workplace culture often juxtaposes logical and emotional decisions as opposite ends of the good/bad spectrum. Logic as seen as rational, safe and good. Emotion is seen as erratic, destructive, and bad. I believe that emotional reactions are often a pointer towards unformed thoughts and opinions. I encourage both myself and my employees to be mindful of things that just “don’t feel right” — however illogical they may seem. Though mindful and candid discussion, these seemingly illogical feelings transform into powerful strategic concepts.

The tech industry captures one’s imagination pointing to an egalitarian future, but only if trailblazers such as these women and others like them take up the challenge to buck the status quo. And it’s also incumbent on the men in these sectors to acknowledge their privilege and stand side by side to create a workplace and a world that values all genders equally.

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