Are you a woman in NYC Tech and interested in participating in this series? Make sure to read the whole article…
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 speak with Lauren Washington, the founder of KeepUp, the quickly growing monitoring and engagement platform for social media. She is also the founder of Black Women Talk Tech, a new event series that supports diversity and inclusion in the startup ecosystem. After 10 years of working in the corporate world, Lauren’s entrepreneurial spirit could not be contained any longer and she went on to pursue KeepUp after winning the 43North competition.
Lauren Washington of KeepUp
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I’ve spent most of my career in online marketing and came in on the cusp of social media’s advent. It was really interesting to see how users relationships with businesses has evolved from the excitement of talking to your favorite brands to now trying to block all their messages out. That experience created a career for me that I never could have envisioned growing up and led to me founding KeepUp, which cuts through the clutter and lets businesses focus on relevant messaging. I worked in the corporate world for 10 years and got my degree in business from the Kellogg School of Management, but always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I finally identified the problem I wanted to solve, I was prepared with the experience, education and confidence I needed to move forward with my idea. We were lucky enough to win the 43North competition in 2014, which kickstarted the company.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
Being a woman in tech means bringing a new perspective to the industry. While there are plenty of women in tech who are making great strides, we’re still underrepresented, especially in leadership roles. Tech is all about innovation, finding a problem and bringing a new solution to it. The best way to do that is to bring new perspectives and right now women have the advantage in that area.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
I think series’ like these really help, but it’s really about creating a consistent narrative that women can be leaders and are leaders, which might mean focusing on a different kind of company and leader. The company might not be in the hot industry of the moment or raise a stunning amount of money, but they’re making an impact and creating alternate models of leadership that should be recognized. This helps tremendously when women entrepreneurs are pitching investors, press or customers and they can easily point to an example that mirrors who they are and how they approach things.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Diversity to me means relatively equal representation of thought and experience. We often turn the conversation into a gender or race battle, but I think that diminishes the true value someone with a different experience can bring to the table. It’s not just about hiring someone of a certain race. It’s about recognizing that someone with a different experience can bring in unique perspectives, ideas and contributions that oftentimes can’t be measured. I think once we all make the shift towards seeing diversity as an asset and not a quota, we won’t need to convince people that they should have diverse teams and the diversity numbers in tech will grow on their own.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
There’s plenty of research that says diverse boards, leadership and teams create better returns for companies and happier workforces. Not only that, but seeing someone who looks like you in a leadership position helps generations of women not only strive to achieve those same goals, but know that they can reach them. On a much broader level, increasing women in leadership roles and giving them equal pay once they get there, increases our global economic wellbeing as a whole.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
I think the more diversity you have, the less forced your policies around diversity need to be. When you’re the only woman or minority, there’s no imperative to integrate that person’s culture or be aware of sensitivities. The larger presence and voice a minority group has, the more likely the group as a whole will learn from each other and start to create a more inclusive culture.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
As far as entrepreneurship, the great barrier is money. Women-led companies are only awarded 7% of VC dollars. For black women, that number drops to 0.2%. There are a number of reasons why women are so far behind in raising dollars, many pervasive and not easily fixed. For example, it’s no coincidence that the number of women partners in VC firms is also 7%. However, it’s difficult for women to have the same level of success as men if they’re not given the resources they need from the beginning. It then becomes an uphill battle and a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best way for women to rise up is to start increasing the number of women VCs and create processes in investment firms that check unconscious biases of women in leadership roles.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
I started Black Women Talk Tech with two other black female founders, Esosa Ighodaro of CoSign and Regina Gwynn of TresseNoire. We began with a retreat for founders, recently threw a full day conference at Google and will be expanding into more programming this year. There are a number of barriers and challenges that are specific to being a black woman founder and we aim to not only tackle them openly and honestly, but pool our support and resources to create the next black women led-billion dollar company. Our vantage is unique in that we are currently running our own companies and understand the barriers that we’re up against. What we’ve come to learn, and the reason we received so much excitement around this, is that there are a lot of programs doing great work to encourage minorities and women to start tech companies, but few that nurture and support them once they have. It becomes a fight for resources and a race to the top, but we want to flip the script and focus on abundance and bringing each other up as we rise- something that has always come naturally to black women.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
I think the best way for men to participate is to listen, acknowledge and believe the experiences of women in technology. Understand that we do not compete in a purely merit based system, but also realize that while you as an individual are not to blame, you do have the power to bring real change.
The team at AlleyWatch believes it’s important to have an inclusive discussion around the challenges facing women in tech along with highlighting the work of the female entrepreneurs that have made NYC one of the best places for women in tech according to some recent studies. That’s why we are running this series that showcases women in tech in New York.
If you are a female founder in NYC working in tech and interested in participating in the series please visit this link or click on the image above.
Please feel free to pass this on to any women in NYC that you feel should be considered for the series. Thank you.