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 industry women 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 Sabrina Horn, CEO and President of Horn Group, an award-winning independent digital communications agency that combines PR, social, and interactive services to help companies build their brand and solve real business problems – and has done for 22 years. And counting…
What was/is the biggest challenge facing you as a female entrepreneur?
I can honestly say that I have never faced a challenge or been excluded from an opportunity (that I am aware of) because I am a woman. I always have felt that any business opportunities have been as equally available to me as they are to men, and my ability to take advantage of them or benefit from them is solely based on my skills and abilities as a professional. In fact, some times I think I have received more opportunities and chances because I am a female entrepreneur.
I think a lot of issues women have — whether they are founders of companies or hold a position inside a company — is in their presence and how they can command a room. Men can be overpowered by women just as much as a woman can be made a wallflower in a crowded room filled with men. Commanding and maintaining a presence in a room is something you can learn to develop over time and is something that may not come naturally but is extremely powerful, when done well. It is also a function of confidence.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurship in New York?
The more forums for women in both academic and professional settings that are available the better. I would love to speak at conferences catered to women and/or mentor a group of women in specific fields, but I find it is often difficult to cut through the clutter and find the right organization to sign up with.
What is being done that you like presently?
There are lots of great groups and organizations that women can join or participate in around New York and surrounding area from meet-ups, Young Female entrepreneurs, SVN.org and other conferences like Women Entrepreneurs Rock the World, which occurred in May. There are a lot of these around, if you just look them up and do a simple search. These events provide encouragement, ideas, networking and general support to all women and are inspiring.
Are you involved in any organizations that help to promote female entrepreneurship?
I am involved with Astia, in fact, and served on the advisory board for the group when it rebranded itself. I am also on the advisory board for Illuminate Ventures, a venture capital firm run by a woman, that aspires to fund primarily female entrepreneurs and their new companies.
Do you feel investors have a different mindset when it comes to investing in a woman-run company? For example, does the work/life balance issue come up?
I have heard stories and yes the work/life balance issue does come up. Are you planning a family and how will you manage early childhood years with getting a business off the ground? I’ve watched episodes of Shark Tank where that question has in fact come up. The truth of the matter is, raising a child and starting or running a company at the same time may not be for everyone and every woman attempting to do so, including myself, has to have a lot of conversations with herself, a supportive family or partner, other outside help, and flexibility to make it work.
Do you think that women in top roles at major tech companies are scrutinized more closely than their male counterparts?
Absolutely. Because women in top roles are still in the minority, we are, therefore, more in the spot light. We are still the shiny new objects. Can we do it and balance it all? How can we do it? Will we succeed and at what price for our families, etc. ? It can be a no win situation at times. The scrutiny can be intense, but one has to just look past it and focus on the task at hand.
Where do you and your company fit into the ecosystem?
I have been CEO and President of Horn, a digital communications agency for 22 years. I did do some family planning early on and decided with my husband not to start having kids until the company was off the ground and other people could step in as my proxy to handle a meeting or manage an issue. Unfortunately, I was divorced when my youngest daughter was only 18 months old, and have been essentially a single mother, serving as the primary parent for two girls, for the last 10 years while serving as CEO of my company. Scheduling and juggling schedules while making daily sacrifices are the norm and for the most part, it’s very manageable. I try not to schedule too many client dinners and instead, plan for lunches or afternoon coffee/cocktail meetings, if necessary. Having a terrific nanny or family/personal assistant is key to managing the household and taking care of the girls while I’m at work. I do my best to put dinner on the table every night and see the kids off in the morning before going to work. Having a positive attitude helps. I manage my travel schedule when they are at their dad’s house and for the most part, that works. I try not to take more than a couple red eyes a year and I do my best to attend all the important school events, performances and open houses. I leave my weekends free to be with them, serve as their taxi service, enjoy their company and keep errands to a minimum. It surely isn’t perfect, but I’m going for quality, not quantity. I’m a better mother because I work, and a better CEO because of my experience as a mother.
Professionally speaking there are certainly social events and networking opportunities that I have chosen not to participate in that would have been advantageous to me or my company. In those instances, someone else on my team can attend on my behalf, or we just make a vow to go next time. But I will stipulate that there has never been a business opportunity that I have been excluded from because of being a woman. I’ve also learned that people are very respectful of family engagements, and that conversations and meetings can happen at different times or remotely to accommodate a busy calendar. That’s not to say there aren’t late nights after the kids have gone to bed, finishing email, reviewing documents and planning for the next day’s important meeting, but it ultimately all gets done.