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 hear from entrepreneur Polly Rodriguez, who founded Unbound, a female sexual wellness company that is changing the way women understand and shop for products that promote a healthy sex life. The company founded in 2012 grew 700% last year and has expanded its offering to include its own product line. Investors this is a startup that you will want to pay attention to.
The Women of NYC Tech: Polly Rodriguez of Unbound
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
As the CEO of Unbound, I have always been drawn to turning terrible experiences into great ones for customers. With a background in strategy consulting, I started my career at Deloitte specializing in customer experience. I then went on to be the Director of Growth for a YCombinator startup which focused on the worst experience of all: dating in New York City (and subsequently globally). Yet, there was always one shopping experience that I found to be the worst – buying your first vibrator as a woman. Years later, we created Unbound, a sexual wellness company that is making sex better for women everywhere by providing a sophisticated, reliable, and affordable shopping experience.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is a competitive advantage. Women are bringing unique perspectives to solving difficult problems, often problems that have been overlooked by men (by nature of the fact that they’re, well…men). For example, when Apple first released the Health component of the iPhone, there were zero tools for women to measure and track their menstruation. I’d venture to guess that if you looked at the team behind the development, the majority of them likely weren’t women. Today, there’s an entire sector dedicated to technology enabling women: FemTech.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
The biggest gap I see today is in fundraising. It’s hard for investors to write checks to CEOs that don’t look like the founders of Uber, Airbnb, WeWork, SpaceX, Dropbox, Stripe, Lyft, Slack, Warby Parker… there’s this cognitive dissonance where investors want to write checks to female founders, but they have to stop thinking that successful female CEOs are an anomaly. They have to truly believe that the next billion-dollar startups are going to look very different from the ones that came before them.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
To me, diversity is so much more than gender. It’s different socio-economic backgrounds, nationalities, sizes, sexual orientations, skin colors – I want all of it. I’m just a scrappy Midwestern kid who went to public school in St. Louis… but if there’s one thing I know, deep in my bones, it’s that diverse teams solve hard problems better and faster. The startups that are able to embed that in their culture are going to be the ones who win and win big.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
I think it’s important for women to retain and grow into senior roles for the same reason that it’s important for anyone (or anyone who wants to) to grow and develop into senior roles. It’s crucial that we’re all afforded opportunities based on our hard work. Just as young boys are able to look up to the majority of their superiors and imagine themselves in that role one day, little girls should be able to do the same. We need to feel that, if women want it, we can have it.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
I think that having diversity within teams can only strengthen their potential. The more diversity you’re exposed to, the easier it is to be empathetic to new experiences and to practice tolerance for those who are different from you. It can only help to consider something from multiple angles and that’s difficult to do when everyone has the same life experiences and references.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
For women to rise in the ecosystem, mentorship is extremely important. When I was working in consulting, I had at least 7-10 women that were my mentors – women who took me under their wing and championed my professional development. When I moved into the tech industry, that mentorship almost entirely vanished. I think it’s changing, but there need to be more successful founders and investors who make it a point to mentor young women.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
Dreamers and Doers – Gesche Haas is a dear friend and former coworker and I cannot say enough about how much she does to promote Women in Tech. I also started The Women of SexTech with Lidia Bonilla and Cindy Gallop, which is a group of over 70 female founders who are working to change the stigmas associated with female sexuality.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Man can do a lot! First of all, I think that listening – being open to insight from new groups and to hearing out novel perspectives – is crucial. We don’t always have to agree from the onset, but it’s important that we remain open-minded. Then, I do think that it’s going to take a bit of men stepping up and calling out bad behavior to change the status quo. It sounds so silly, but even something as seemingly little as volunteering to go get the birthday cake for the office party or to clean up after team lunch makes a huge difference. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a woman stuck with the domestic office duties just because it’s assumed that it’s her job to do them. These small actions can help alter traditional stigmas.
If you’re an older, successful male in the tech industry, make it a point to have at least one female founder as your mentee. Your network is everything in the tech industry, and if you don’t have anyone to help you navigate it, it can feel incredibly daunting.
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.