Are you a woman in NYC Tech and interested in participating in this series? Make sure to read the whole article…
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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 speak with Cortney Harding, founder of Friends With Holograms, the agency that helps brands, advertisers, and entertainment companies understand VR, AI, and other emerging technologies. A professor at NYU, Harding teaches a series of courses on best practices for using VR, creating content, and staying up-to-date on the latest technical developments in the space. A “future tech” expert, Harding is extremely active in the NYC tech scene through speaking at conferences, organizing events, and mentoring her students at NYU.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I have a fairly long backstory — I majored in Political Science at Wellesley and thought I work with in non-profit management, only to get a gig as the music editor of an alt-weekly in Portland, Oregon in my early twenties. I moved to New York to get my MPA at NYU but found myself writing more and more, and got a job as a writer (and later editor) at Billboard. While I was there I started covering a lot of music and tech topics, and let to start doing business development and strategy for music tech startups. I did that for a few years and then made the lead to VR, first doing business development for a production company and then launching my own VR agency, Friends With Holograms.
There are a lot of amazing women in VR and I try to connect them with each other and with projects as much as I can. I’m also a tireless advocate for immersive and interactive storytelling and spend a lot of time doing demos and showing people VR.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
There’s a great community of women in tech in NYC who really support each other and help make connections and create opportunities. It can be really isolating being a solo founder and I’m super grateful for all the women making things better.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
More funding is always needed, and more opportunities to be visible. The number of conferences and events that are really male-dominated is just terrible. I think we also need to create a culture of accountability — men who get tossed out for sexually harassing women can’t just go off the radar for a few months and then reinvent themselves. We need to show that there are lasting consequences to mistreating women.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
I feel like a lot of organizations pay lip service to diversity, but it goes beyond having a rainbow coalition of Stanford computer science alums. It’s about building teams with all sorts of educational and cultural backgrounds and identities and picking non-traditional candidates and helping them learn and grown.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
Because organizations are wasting tons of talent if they don’t support women in senior roles. Too often there’s groupthink at the top, and that can lead to poor decisions and myopic viewpoints.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
Hopefully work environments will become more collaborative and open to different viewpoints. I worked for a startup that imploded because the male founder hoarded control and would listen to other people, and the whole company suffered because of it. The more perspectives and problem-solving strategies, the better.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
One of the biggest barriers can be other women. I’ve always said that it’s fairly useless to teach girls to code if they are going to grow up and be thrown to the wolves. Because there are so few top roles for women, those in them naturally feel very protective and sometimes don’t help or actively put down other women. The fact that we don’t have universal childcare and women are still expected to do huge amounts of emotional labor is a massive burden on us.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
I really love Change the Ratio and Dreamers//Doers — they do so much to help women connect and grow.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Listen. Be allies. Too often men jump in to defend other men accused of sexual harassment by saying “well, he was always nice to me,” which, come on. Don’t speak over women. I worked with a man who claimed to be a huge advocate for women but then talked over me, cut me off, and dominated every call we were on. It’s easy to say you support women, the hard part is actually doing the work.
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.