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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.
Today we speak with Stephanie Benedetto, cofounder of Queen of Raw. Prior to cofounding the company, Stephanie pursued a career in law focusing on fashion, tech, and media, which eventually led to the founding of Queen of Raw, the company that connects suppliers to innovative raw materials. Stephanie, a 2016 NASA/NIKE/U.S. Dept. of State LAUNCH.org Innovator, was nominated as a Founder to Watch by Women 2.0, in addition to being a Finalist for the WGSN Global Fashion Awards and the Powerful Answers Award. Stephanie serves on the Board of Advisors of the New York City Fair Trade Coalition and is a cohost of the Material Is Your Business podcast.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
My family has been entrepreneurs in the New York textile industry since 1896. My great-grandfather was a Lower East Side furrier, my grandfather sold army surplus after World War II, and my father-in-law owned global textile factories. Textiles, fashion, and entrepreneurism are in my blood!
So after six years as a corporate attorney on Wall Street representing fashion, technology, and Startup clients, I co-founded an innovative textile manufacturing facility. It’s there that I saw first hand the disconnect between supply and demand.
Designers across industries struggle to find raw materials. And factories and brands around the world struggle to sell the millions of tons of quality excess stock that currently sits in a warehouse and eventually makes its way to a landfill. Queen of Raw uses technology to provide the bridge.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
Women’s choices impact up to 85% of purchasing decisions. By some analyses, they account for $4.3 trillion of total U.S. consumer spending of $5.9 trillion, making women the largest single economic force not just in the United States, but in the world! That is power. Having women not just on staff, but in positions of leadership in the tech industry is therefore a huge advantage to businesses.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
Being active in organizations that promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech is important. But it takes money to make money. We need more women to receive venture capital funding. According to PitchBook, venture capitalists invested $58.2 billion in companies with all-male founders in 2016. Meanwhile, women received just $1.46 billion in venture capital money last year. This has to change.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Diversity means more than just gender. Other facets include race, ability, age, and orientation. To have diversity evolve in tech in a meaningful way, we can’t have organizations just publish statistics and hire people to check a box. Companies need to engage in meaningful conversations around these issues to see how they can have a lasting impact on their businesses. How can we provide mentorship and nurture our talent as they rise up in the ranks? How can we educate those who may not be aware of diversity issues and include them in the conversation? These are just some of the questions we should be asking.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
Women need to become key decision makers in their organizations in order to bring about change. We know many women leave work for a variety of reasons, including having children. I launched my business at the same time as I had my first child. This has only made my personal and professional life stronger. I am doing what I am doing to make a difference in the world not just for myself anymore but for my children and my children’s children. Because of this mission, I am even more focused and passionate and find the strength to meet any challenges.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
Diverse people bring different opinions and unique points of view. And this is where innovation happens. The more interactions that occur within an organization encourage diversity, the more ideas will grow and develop that would never have otherwise been thought of. We need each other.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
Do not be afraid! Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, share your story, and stand up for your beliefs. If you can remove the barriers you place around yourself first, it makes the journey a little easier. Then we can come together to fight the bigger roadblocks!
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
I am active in LAUNCH.org, 2XinTech with Grand Central Tech, Women 2.0, Project Entrepreneur with Rent the Runway and UBS, Startup Weekend with Google for Entrepreneurs and Techstars, SXSW, and Material Is Your Business. Each of these organizations promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech. They host networking events and contests with prizes, share informational videos and podcasts, and conduct workshops with thought leaders. And they do it at no cost to you. Do not miss these great opportunities!
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
BE PRESENT. BE ACTIVE. SUPPORT THE WOMEN AROUND YOU.
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.