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 women in tech 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 serial entrepreneur Arlyn Davich, who mostly recently founded PayPerks, a fintech startup headquartered in Flatiron that focuses on loyalty and rewards programs. The company founded in 2009 is backed by several prominent NYC investors including the New York Angels and Esther Dyson and under Davich’s leadership the company has been recognized as a pioneer in financial inclusion by the White House and Federal Reserve Bank.
The Women of NYC Tech: Arlyn Davich of PayPerks
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
Arlyn Davich of PayPerks: I’ve always loved the creative process: putting seemingly useless and disconnected pieces together to make something useful and exciting. I experimented with different mediums over the years – wood (I have 3-4 benches in my mom’s basement I’m sure she would be happy for you to take)… food (I’m an enthusiastic but mediocre cook) … music (I majored in Music where I barely passed the composition portion). But it wasn’t until business school that I realized that creating businesses – or entrepreneurship – was a way to get paid for doing what I loved.
I’ve been a CEO for nearly a decade now but remain an entrepreneur at heart. I’m currently exploring opportunities that will allow me to wear both hats.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
Woman are much more comfortable asking for help – particularly from their peers – than men are. And in tech, when you’re always doing something new, help is a recurring imperative.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
My favorite story to share with aspiring female entrepreneurs is about the day I announced the launch of PayPerks to a room full of executives before having a website or business cards. Shock and awe abounds that someone would make a bold move like that without having all their I’s dotted and T’s crossed. We need to teach woman that being brave is more important than being perfect.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Actual diversity requires both careful attention to diversity and a total disregard for it. For example:
I was recently included in a mostly male work-related dinner during which the well-meaning and gracious host asked one question to each member of the group to get the conversation flowing. The question posed to both women in the room pertained to gender.
In contrast, I was in orientation for a new board role during which the Chair made it explicitly clear that I was not expected to represent anyone’s opinion other than my own. I am certain that my gender played a role in my selection to the board – as others’ ethnicity or background may have in theirs – but, once in the room, that diversity was purposefully faded into the background.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
Tech companies that have women – dare I say, multiple women – at the decision making table have happier employees because women have a better sense of the human costs of business decisions. How much will morale suffer if we X? Will we be able to retain our key talent if we Y? If these questions aren’t being raised at the highest level, then their answers are not factoring into to the plans.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
The more diverse a team becomes, the more work it takes to understand each other. Literally (languages…accents…) and figuratively (life stage…geography…). While “culture” is valued at many tech companies, we have a long way to go to make sure those cultures make everyone feel understood.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
The only way to change subconscious behavior and biases is to find a way to point it out, in the moment, in a lighthearted and constructive way. I’ve been on teams that have made people put a dollar in a jar when they curse or are late to a meeting. What would it take for that to become common practice around sexist/othering behaviors at tech companies?
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
I’m on the Board of Trustees at The Pingry School, which does an amazing job at instilling a love for and ease with technology in the context of their class work starting in Kindergarten. I also love what Wonderhood and GoldieBlox are doing to inspire young girls’ creative and scientific sides.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Mentor a women or offer to help find a woman a mentor. Having a mentor or many mentors provides an invaluable edge in advancing one’s career but because there are fewer women in positions of power than men, one-to-one same gender mentorship is difficult.