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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 in tech.
Today we hear from serial entrepreneur Caroline Strzalka, cofounder of It’sByU. Founded with her sister Christine, It’sByU, is a do-it-yourself flower kit platform that combines education tech, subscription, and physical product. Last year the company graduated from the Techstars Retail accelerator. In addition to It’sByU, Caroline and her sister have been mentoring future women founders who are either thinking about starting a company or have already started.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
Christine and I have both worked in New York City for years. Christine has a master’s degree in journalism from NYU and worked as a journalist here. She then worked as a marketing and communications executive while, at the same time, studying floral design at Longwood Gardens. Christine then opened her own floral studio and started winning some prestigious floral awards.
I went to Penn and built my career as a banker. I then went back to Wharton for my MBA and moved into media, working as an executive for both Sesame Workshop and Scholastic. My job was to seek out white space and monetize it, thereby building out the digital businesses of both companies.
All of these experiences strengthened our skills and faith in ourselves to become entrepreneurs. Coming together as business partners allowed for a perfect merging of creative and business talent. Building our careers in NYC enabled us to connect with contacts whom we are tapping into now for talent, advice, and investment.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
Very often, you’re one of the only women in the room. You can use this to your advantage because you’re different than everyone else and can make your voice heard because of it. Very often, you can bring an alternative perspective and advocate for product and features that may go unrecognized by men. Also, because there are fewer women in tech, we can come together more readily and advocate for each other.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
As investors, fund us and our ideas! Firms should actively try to make their investment teams look like the American population. This means at least 50% female. Without having female voices on the investment side, investors may be missing out on great investment opportunities because they do not understand product that appeals to women. This then hurts female entrepreneurs’ chances of getting funded.
Regarding promoting technology based skills and careers among women, engineering classes should focus on problem solving for real-world applications. These kind of projects appeal most to women, rather than theoretical exercises. More women would then find these classes appealing and continue with the program. As more women study and graduate with degrees for tech-based careers, you can bet that more women will apply for these roles in corporations.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Diversity is looking at a company’s makeup and seeing faces, races, and sexes within that company that look like the American population. I have seen more diversity in tech over the past few years, especially in NYC.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
It is important personally and professionally for women to rise to senior roles. Personally, women need to be more independent financially, having savings that they can tap into in case of a rainy day and of course for retirement. They need to continue to advocate and negotiate for themselves as they rise at the organization. Professionally, it is better for companies to have diversity at the top. Different opinions and perspectives make for better decision-making. Furthermore, some diversity at the top allows for even more diversity in companies because you stop hiring people that just look like you. You give others who might seem different than you a chance.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
Being in a diverse environment allows for greater differences of opinion and perspectives. It also allows one to be more open to these opinions and perspectives because now you are friends and co-workers with people who are not the same as you. The more you admire someone, the more open you are to relating to them and truly hearing them.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
Women need to continue to advocate for themselves. If you’re given a job offer, negotiate as many points as possible on it. If you don’t know what to negotiate, find someone who can review the offer with you and point out terms that could be negotiated. This will help set yourself up for success over the next year or two as well as possible promotions. If you are at a job and think that you should be promoted, bring it up with your manager. If you are not satisfied, keep your old job while looking for a new one that will treat you better. It’s on your shoulders, ladies – you have to be the biggest advocate for yourself in the world. Don’t expect anyone to advocate for you. If they do, it’s a blessing!
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
We think that the following organizations are doing a great job for women in tech: Girls Who Code, Women Who Code, Women Techmakers, Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, and the Anita Borg Institute.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Men should think about the women in their own personal lives. How can they support them in climbing the career ladder? If the women in their lives have an idea, how can they help them in exploring if it could be a viable startup or how can they help them in building it, through their own talents, connections, or resources? If they see that the responsibilities of housework or childrearing are not equal, how can men take more responsibility at home so that their wives would have the time to work on their own projects? Both men and women in relationships should encourage each other in building their dreams and leading fulfilling lives.
Professionally, male executives should evaluate their work environments and see whether their workforce is diverse and whether a culture of diversity is encouraged. If it is not, executives should actively seek to create a diverse workforce, knowing that it will benefit the company in the long run.
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.