Much has been said and written about the lack of women in the tech sector, be it as investors (or associates), founders or in management positions at major companies. Is the problem the old boys network – or that success in technology is seen as a young man’s game? In this series, we speak with some of the top industry women in New York as they discuss the challenges they face, the perceptions that need to be changed and the work that’s being done – or not – to help to promote women in tech.
Today we hear from Soraya Darabi, who was featured on the cover of Fast Company‘s “Most Creative People in Business” issue, named one of Inc. Magazine‘s “30 Under 30,” and included in AdAge Magazine‘s “25 People in Media to Follow on Twitter.” She was Co-Founder of Foodspotting, which was named by Apple and Wired as an app of the year before it was sold to Open Table in 2013. An advisor and investor in tech start-ups, Darabi most recently co-founded Zady, a destination for consumers who care about the origins, craftsmanship and artisanship of the items they purchase.
What was/is the biggest challenge facing you as a female entrepreneur?
I have few women friends with businesses who aren’t exceptionally hard on themselves, constantly striving to be perfect in all facets of their lives, both at work and at home. The biggest challenge I face involves curbing my stress. I have to force myself to go to yoga, to take my dog for a walk every morning, to read fiction, to drink less coffee… It all adds up and when I routinely do these things, I find it’s easier to be happy and productive. That said, it’s a pain to remember everything that’s good for you!
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurship in New York?
Mostly, the issue is awareness and education. There are incredible benefits and rewards to working in the fields of technology and new media. I’d like to see public schools connect closely to the startups of New York. We have terrific programs in place in private universities – NYU and Columbia programs come to mind – but public high schools and private universities could be more closely connected to our community. I’d like to help facilitate that.
What is being done that you like presently?
I’m proud New York has an accomplished woman leading our digital communication efforts as our cities’ Chief Digital Officer. I’m proud that New York launched LevoLeague, a career resource platform and social-network for ambitious women. I am also a proud supporter of Girls Who Code, and an active member of Women in America.
Are you involved in any organizations that help to promote female entrepreneurship?
I have been an advisor to The Levo League for almost two years. It’s a website and job platform that I wish I had had access to when I was in college in Washington, D.C., dreaming of entering into new media – but not knowing where to begin. I am a mentee and an active member of Women in America, an organization that aims to position women early in their careers for future success. The mentors in this program are incredible women who have reached the top pillars of their fields and they give back by actively mentoring the next wave of ambitious young women, many of whom are entrepreneurs, like my business partner and me.
Do you feel investors have a different mindset when it comes to investing in a woman-run company?
ZADY.com is lucky to have both male and female investors with whom we work very closely. During the investment process, we met a lot of Venture Capitalists and came across every personality in the book, as you do in every field.
I hope one day that we see an even 50/50 split across the genders of partners in top VC firms. I’d like to see more women greet me in the spacious air conditioned offices we walk into to tell our story.
Do you think that women in top roles at major tech companies are scrutinized more closely than their male counterparts?
At the top of the top, all major executives are scrutinized – though women and men are closely examined in different ways. I read Lean In twice. I believe Sheryl Sandberg was scrutinized for her researched opinions in a way that men in a similar leadership role, were they to write a similar career guide, would not have been. Sexism is pervasive and prevalent, but I do think tides are turning, thanks to women like Sheryl.
Where do you and your company fit into the ecosystem?
Zady was founded by two women. We are proud to follow in the footsteps of successful New York-based commerce startups with joint female founders – such as BirchBox and Rent the Runway. Our company is a destination for consumers who care about the origins of the items they purchase. On Zady, customers can learn about the conscious consumer movement and purchase beautifully-constructed goods that were created with craftsmanship and artisanship – qualities that have been sacrificed in a world of cheap prices and fast production. We hope this resonates with men and women alike, as well as with the new media community who have supported us over the years.