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 Elien Blue Becque the founder of RoomZoom. After graduating from Tufts University and beginning a career in legal, Elien settled into a career in journalism while writing for NBC, Rolling Stone and then rising to assistant editor at Vanity Fair. Two years ago, after feeling the frustration associated with searching for a roommate in the city, she launched RoomZoom and never looked back. Elien is Extremely active in the NYC Startup ecosystem, Elien is a force, advancing the future for women in tech.
Elien Blue Becque of RoomZoom
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
My personal background is somewhat atypical in that I grew up in rural Maine. I studied International Relations and English in college and moved to New York afterward to work as a paralegal at a white collar law firm and prepare for law school. I was fired from that paralegal job and realized how expensive law school would be around the same time! I found my way to journalism, with which I fell in love—that industry was a revelation to me as it was a place where both academic knowledge and scrappiness were valuable components of a successful reporting job–not unlike the combination of skills needed to run a company! I worked in editorial roles at several glossy magazines before realizing that I simply had to build RoomZoom, it was burning a hole in my brain!
New York has been a GREAT city for us to launch. As a founder I’ve been able to source incredible talent and work with engineers and product managers who understood the problem we are solving from a personal point of view; every person whose ever worked on RoomZoom has had a roommate at one time or another and suffered the inefficiency and stress of finding a good one or ending up with an incompatible one! In New York, I’ve also benefitted from I would describe as a relative open-mindedness about what a successful founder can look like—the paradigm is less strict here than it seems to be in Silicon Valley—so I’ve become a delighted participant in the vibrant, diverse, and growing tech scene here!
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
The fact that many investors discount our ability or potential can be a secret weapon and certainly acts as a vetting system (at RoomZoom we love vetting systems!) for the more enlightened, interesting, and forward thinking investors. Furthermore, instances in which we are obviously treated less respectfully than a male counterpart would be treated are huge motivating factors—you have no choice but to turn that frustration into motivation.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
More data-driven studies about discrimination like the MIT’s study, and to get outcomes that First Round Capital did. The fact is, men hold an outsize portion of power and wealth in our society. That may never change but if it’s going to shift at all, it will because women and enlightened men have worked together to actively advance women in entrepreneurial settings.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Well that is a tough question! To me, diversity is acknowledging that at the outset every person is born with very similar potential but that every human is also born into a vastly unequal system where some have very easy access to resources such as education, nutrition, safety, love, wealth, and intellectual nourishment. Acknowledging that an unequal system is and has been the status quo is the first step. The second is acknowledging that, morally, those born with less access to resources do not deserve them less. There’s a very strong and unnamed caste system in our country: we seem to think, that even in the richest, most innovative country on earth, that babies deserve the circumstances into which they were born no matter how poor or desperate. Acceptance that those with many resources deserve them because they have them and that those without do not deserve them because they don’t have them is circular logic that holds the United States back from so much economic and social innovation. Wealth is not and does not have to be a zero sum game, economists know that. The problem is, the myth actually fits in quite tidily with the story of the American Dream because sometimes people do rise above poverty or overcome racial bias in order to achieve what is regarded as traditional success though statistically, that is very, very, very hard to do.
Anyway, in summation, realizing that everyone is born at different places either behind or in front of a “starting line” and, because we are a wealthy, educated, resource-rich democracy, that taking measures to mitigate the vastly different stations into which our babies are born will elevate our entire society is a first step toward “diversity.” Acknowledging that we actually have the capacity and wealth as a society to realize the highest human potential possible in the largest portion of humans possible is an extension of that.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
From my perspective that’s only important if women are challenged and nurtured within those organizations. If they are, great, yes, they will hopefully make it easier for young women in their organization. If they aren’t, they should go start a company, however small, of their own!
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
I’ll say that because NYC is a socio-economically diverse city with a population of hugely varied backgrounds, we’ve been very lucky to be able to count among our team people from multiple countries, ethnic origins and economic backgrounds. This diversity of voices made our product stronger as we were developing it initially and continues to do so.
The data shows that diverse teams are more successful and great for the bottom line, so, logically, as more corporations, business leaders, and founders get wise to that and take action accordingly, the implication is more wealth creation! Hopefully that happens before the AI enabled machines run everything and gender in the workplace becomes irrelevant 😉
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
Outright sexism and gender bias that we all feel and experience, even among women, are the unseen barriers. Women will rise by working harder and smarter than those who aren’t women and refusing to give up.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
The Li.st!!! Is the BEST. The most intelligent, impassioned, and articulate women are part of the list and I’m very grateful to be privy to their discussions and sometimes participate. Especially after the election it was basically a lifeline for thought and inspiration and action.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Men can read, read, read, and listen as much as they are able. When men educate themselves about real issues they quickly become part of the conversation rather than unwittingly holding it back or stymieing it.
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.
Image credit: Jenna Bascom