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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 Sallie Krawcheck, founder and CEO of Ellevest. After a distinguished career on Wall Street as the CEO of Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and CFO of Citigroup, Sallie went on to found Ellevest with the mission of helping women reach their financial and professional goals by helping them take control of their financial futures through investing. She serves as the Chair of the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund and was named among the top ten of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People” list. Sallie’s personal and professional activities make her a catalyst for women in tech.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I’ve been in the financial services industry for almost thirty years. At different points in my career I ran Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and was CFO of Citigroup. I was also a sell-side research analyst. During my time on Wall Street, I saw firsthand how the financial advice industry has a long track record of doing a great job for men, but not necessarily for women. When you turn on CNBC, it can feel a lot like ESPN. There are a lot of sports and war analogies. Whether intentional or not, it’s messages like these that have made investing feel inaccessible to many women.
I realized that no one else was going to solve this problem, so I became an entrepreneur on a mission to close the gender investing gap. Ellevest helps women take control of their financial futures through investing with a powerful algorithm based on women’s unique financial needs — longer lifespans, unique salary curves, and the gender pay gap.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
Like Wall Street, the tech industry is still overwhelming male. Most products are created with men in mind, or with a “gender neutral” mindset that still doesn’t take the specific needs of women into account. As a result, we are rethinking the status quo and questioning assumptions, which I believe has resulted in a stronger offering.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
It’s simple: investors should fund women-owned businesses. Companies should hire more women, promote them, and pay them equally. A decency pledge is good; funding women’s businesses is better.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Studies have shown that more diverse teams outperform smarter teams. Diversity isn’t just gender; it’s the cognitive diversity that comes from different backgrounds, educations, orientations, ethnicity, religions, experiences. I’ve seen how important the tech industry is to New York City, and I think it’s more open to diverse backgrounds than the more traditional financial industry. As a result, we’ve seen an influx of new companies and talent, which has made the City more vibrant. At Ellevest, we’ve been able to source top-notch engineering and technology talent, which makes it a great place for starting a business.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
There are a number of unique and powerful qualities we women bring to the workforce (think risk-awareness, relationship orientation, long-term perspective, drive for meaning and purpose, to name a few). These qualities already drive strong company performance — and that will only increase as more women are in senior roles.
If women can’t find opportunities within their existing organizations, then there will increasingly be a talent exodus, particularly now that individuals are more able to start their own businesses. In fact, the #1 reason women give for starting their own businesses are to build the companies at which they want to work.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
In building Ellevest, we are working to create a diverse team. I’ve found that as a result of our efforts, we’re creating an environment that encourages debate and creative solutions, resulting in a better offering. Great ideas can come from anywhere, and we work hard to make sure that all of the voices on our team are being heard.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
I never really considered myself much of a feminist until I left Wall Street. I did all the right things — such as put together gender-diverse teams — but feminism wasn’t deep in my bones. It wasn’t until I took some time off and had some space that I realized that the investing industry has been, frankly, “by men, for men” — and that has historically kept women from advancing and achieving their goals. And so keeping them from living the lives they want to.
There are plenty of unseen barriers, and there are many things that can feel out of control (such as whether you actually get the raise you ask for); but you can control the decision to invest. I call investing “the best career advice women aren’t getting” — because giving yourself the opportunity to earn higher returns through investing means we can have greater career (and life) freedom.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
My friend Susan Lyne is running the BBG fund, out of AOL. I love this because Susan is sharp as a tack and is investing in some great startups run by women. It’s a real win-win.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Men can help by being allies and calling out gender biases in the workplace. Whether it’s amplifying what women say in meetings if they’re being talked over, or advocating for women when it comes time for raises and promotions, their voices are meaningful. Most importantly, men can encourage their wives, sisters, and daughters to control their financial futures by investing. More money in the hands of women is a universal positive. We see this in developing markets; and we see it in the US. It’s good for the women themselves, for their families (and particularly their daughters), for the economy and for society.
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.