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 CEO and cofounder of Kinvolved, Miriam Altman. Starting her career working in the NYC public school system, Miriam saw an opportunity to turn poor attendance around. She speaks about the success of schools that have partnered with her, and how she plans on improving on this issue. Since founding Kinvolved in 2012, she has presented twice at NY Tech Meetup, and was a former co-leader of EdTech Women’s NYC chapter. Starting with our youth, Miriam is looking to create sustained growth in NYC.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I began my career 10 years ago as a history teacher in a NYC public high school. As a new teacher, one the first and most widespread problems I witnessed in my classroom and school was that student attendance was inconsistent. And, when students missed class, it was nearly impossible to prepare them for success on the state-mandated Global History Regents exam, required to earn a high school diploma in NY state.
I attempted several solutions to fight chronic absenteeism, and I found that among the most successful was positive engagement with students who had been absent, along with developing positive and consistent relationships with their families. Despite some successes with specific students when I employed these interventions, nearly half the students who entered my 9th-grade classroom did not walk across the stage to receive their diplomas four years later.
I left the classroom to pursue a Masters degree at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School for Public Service at NYU, where I met my co-founder, Alexandra Meis. With complimentary backgrounds and skill sets, along with shared values, we launched Kinvolved in 2012, after winning a policy challenge at the University of Pennsylvania. Neither of us had any background or expertise in tech, but with deep understanding of the problem we were trying to solve and the community that we sought to serve, we conducted more than 100 customer interviews before arriving at an app—known today as KiNVO—as a solution to absenteeism.
We built an edtech company through trial and error, developing an advisory “circle of trust,” and constantly reflecting on, and learning from, our experiences. As CEO I consider myself a lifelong learner, still mastering how to develop the business side of our work by driving strategy, sales, and fundraising.
Women bring a unique perspective to the tech field that has been, and continues to be, underrepresented. We look at problems and evaluate solutions from a perspective that may be different from the status quo.
Investment in female-led companies is still far too scarce, at 22 percent of all venture capital investment, with the average deal size at $5M, compared with the average male-led company deal size at $12M. However, an increasing number of investors are seeing female leadership as a positive characteristic when considering investment. This is not yet the standard view, but, slowly, it’s getting there.
There are an increasing number of opportunities for female and leaders of color to participate in programs and qualify for funding. Creating widespread change to systems that have favored white, male leaders will take time. While 17 percent of all founders are women, I am glad to report that the edtech industry is above the average, with 30 percent of founders being female. We should not be satisfied, however, until we see parity.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
There is always a need for more peer and mentor relationship development opportunities, both among women, but also between women and men who support women in tech leadership. Men should and must be included in the conversations, but also tasked with action to support leadership development for underrepresented leaders in tech, whether on the business or product and tech side.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Diversity spans far beyond gender. A truly diverse ecosystem not only displays representation of varied genders and races, but also varied ages, socioeconomic statuses, and cultural backgrounds.
Diverse representation, however, is insufficient. We need to ensure that the tech sector is fully inclusive. Just because a person is in the room does not inherently mean that s/he feels comfortable speaking up to offer the unique perspectives and insights that cutting-edge business need to thrive. Diversity must go beyond simple optics; it has to be embedded and appreciated in company culture.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
There are so many reasons this is important, but I’ll focus on the broad policy implications. In NYC, I have been one of many women leaders actively and publicly supporting local pay equity policy that our Public Advocate, Leticia James, introduced and that the City Council passed last year. The Public Advocate’s office conducted a study that found a $5.8B annual gender pay gap in NYC.
Equal pay does not simply benefit women in the workforce; equal pay is vital to children and families across all communities. When women earn a fair wage and have a fair shot at career advancement (which goes hand-in-hand with wage increases), children benefit. Children who grow up in higher-income households have greater opportunities to become positive contributors to their local economies. Thus, advancing women in leadership positions is not just the smart thing for businesses to do, it is critical to the success of local economies.
You have raised venture debt for your company. Do you think that it’s easier to raise debt for female founders and this should be consideration?
We made the conscious choice to raise debt instead of equity. I don’t think gender plays into this, and if it does, I’m not sure how.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
The future implications of diverse teams are incredibly promising. When we bring more varied perspectives to the table, we have access to ideas and experiences that can pose an entirely unique set of solutions to complex problems. Tech companies can better serve the market when diverse talent and leadership informs product development. Diverse perspective in product development means more diverse consumer appeal. When product serves more vast markets, businesses increase in their value. Successful businesses promote more economically viable communities. At a macro level, the more viable local communities we have, the better off we are as a country.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
I see three primary actions women can take to rise in the ecosystem:
(1) Seek mentors and peers: While female representation is still lacking in many areas of the tech field, entry-level and mid-career women are fortunate in that a path is in place for us, paved by those who came before us. Those trailblazers are willing and eager to provide their support as we navigate our own paths. Seek out women who are experienced; ask them for coffee or a phone call. I have a select number of female mentors and peers I text with regularly; others have been helpful during specific challenges or inflection points in my career. All are incredibly valuable.
(2) Be a mentor: Just as we need mentors and peers, we have a responsibility to continue to offer an ecosystem of mentors for the women who follow us. We have to break the negative, and in most cases false, perception of women competing with one another. The best way to fight this stereotype is to exhibit behaviors that show women lifting one another up. Be available, even if just for a quick phone call, to other women. Open your network. Have a spirit of generosity. Men help one another get promotions, jobs, investors, etcetera. Women can and must do the same for one another en masse to see a broad cultural shift.
(3) Learn and practice self-advocacy: As much as peers and mentors are critical for brainstorming, support, and creating plans of action, it is up to women to develop the confidence and the voice to advocate for ourselves. We need to know what we have to offer, and must be our own best advocates for the salary, title, or funding we know we deserve. Every conversation about these topics is a negotiation. An initial offer is almost never a bottom line. Get comfortable with negotiating, and ask for more than you think you might receive. For me, this behavior has not been natural, but it has been empowering to build confidence, develop the ability to self-promote when required, and learn to negotiate.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
PowHer NY is a network that advocates for economic fairness for women. They have been at the forefront of the pay equity discussion, in direct collaboration with the Public Advocate.
Ellevate is a global professional women’s network for women in all stages of their careers.
Kinvolved is a B-Corp, and I recently participated in the second-annual B-Corps “We the Change” Women CEOs convening. It was an inspiring day with great opportunities to engage with fellow female leaders with a double bottom line across varied industries. My understanding is that the company behind B-Corps, B Lab, is continuing to develop ways to support women and leaders of color.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Men must be engaged in this discussion for women to move forward. Because men still dominate leadership roles, we need to bring them in and to develop positive professional relationships, so that they are thinking of us when they are considering promotions. Only by engaging men will women get to gender parity in leadership from a systemic level.
It is equally important for women to discuss gender equity issues with men in an open-minded capacity and with a spirit of generosity. This means we can’t approach conversations ready to pounce on or attack men who are well-intentioned but may make errors on their journeys toward female empowerment. Inevitably, men will make mistakes as they learn how to engage women in leadership. We should call out these errors, but be supportive of men when they attempt to make positive change.
Of note, it is particularly important to call out men when they confine women to gender-stereotyped roles, such as in marketing or human resources. Not that these aren’t incredibly important sectors of a business, but women should be equally considered for less traditional roles in tech, product, and business development, for example.
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.