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 Julia Neznanova, who currently serves as the director of Friends of eBay. As an executive and founder with over 15 years experience, she understands the nuances of being a woman in the tech and media industries and the importance of supporting female entrepreneurship in these categories by creating a community-centric culture. In 2012, Julia cofounded Hakka Labs, a media platform revolved around this community culture, where more than half a million developers worldwide are able to connect with engineering talent and developers from top tech companies.
How did your career develop as a female entrepreneur in the NYC ecosystem?
After living and working in six countries, I don’t look at myself as just a NYC entrepreneur, I am an international entrepreneur. I think what really supported me on my entrepreneurial journey is that I chose a nonlinear career path early on.
I started off in product development at Tupperware. I then got curious about the best ways to sell those products, so I expanded to the marketing and advertising fields. Later on, I realized that one of the better ways to sell products is through communities and content, so I started working on building communities and launching media products. From there, I saw that there was a lack of better tools to manage those communities, so I launched my first startup to give those tools to the world.
For some people, my “career” might look like jumps in various directions, but I think there’s no such thing as a linear career path anymore. Often when people want to create a startup, they’re looking to fix something specific (at least I hope they do), yet when you become an entrepreneur, you have to become a master of all arts; mastering innovation at the intersection of disciplines. And for me, it was always simple when it came to my career choices; I was passionate about being involved in something that would change people’s lives, so I went for it.
What are the advantages to being a woman in tech?
That’s a great question.
What comes to mind are two things: First, the advantage of being a woman is simply being one and using your natural strengths–you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. We’ve reached a point in the working world where, we as women, can be ourselves and utilize the compassion, conscious leadership, community-centered approaches and a lot of other methods that women are just naturally better at.
I didn’t always realize this, though. From day one in my hometown of Russia, I thought had to fight sexism in such a massive way. I remember how early in my career I cut my hair short, started wearing glasses and was subconsciously trying to not look too feminine. I remember meeting with marketing directors from around the world, mainly men in their 50s, who would simply ignore me at meetings and start with, ‘So gentlemen.’ I tried to make up for being a female by adopting male tendencies. I drifted so far from who I was and became really unhappy in the process. This made me question my methods and find the strength to come back to being myself; to use the natural qualities that came with my femininity to better serve myself and others.
The second part is, as a woman, you have access to all the amazing female mentors and communities that support fellow women leaders. I have been blessed throughout my career to always work with impressive female leaders as my mentors and superiors. Women are naturally great at community building and mentorship skills, they are less competitive and more supportive. New York, today, is an especially great place to be a female entrepreneur. Over the past three years, there has been an immense growth of female startup communities, and I can’t articulate enough how much this has helped me on my path.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in New York?
Firstly, we need to shift the conversation from “we aren’t like you” and the issues around being a female entrepreneur to center around the healthy differences in female leadership, which are useful skills for startups and corporations. We also need more executive females to mentor young professionals, so they have the right role models.
I am a diversity ambassador and neuroscience-focused life coach, so I know the importance of mentorship in youth, particularly young women. It’s also important to create better career development plans for women, so that they see a clear path to leadership. However, along with empowering women, I found that we need to teach men the new paradigms of leadership; we need to have them as part of the conversation from day one, so that we can all empower each other and we can all celebrate our diversity.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Throughout my career I lived in six countries, so I consider diversity something more than just gender or race. For me, it’s a difference in cultural approaches, backgrounds, upbringing and with that, perspective.
Ultimate diversity, or radical diversity, is about creating a team where the core of that team is radical inclusion; where you focus on the unique differences of individuals and what they can bring to the table. And through that, you build a team that really celebrates the uniqueness of every individual. A great manager, or a great diversity advocate, is somebody that can see those traits and can dig deep and understand the core values that motivate an individual. As a result, this helps the individual achieve their own path, in their own career and that’s what really creates a mission-driven company–which I believe is the future.
Why do you think it’s important that we retain, grow & develop to senior roles, and really include women in tech in their organizations?
In general, people need to have someone to look up to. It sucks when you can’t look up to someone in your career vertical. So when you don’t have females in higher positions, it’s a vicious circle because it makes it harder to hire, or retain, female talent. Generally speaking, a woman isn’t going to go into an organization where she sits around a table with 20 to 30 guys. That’s why more female seniors need to be hired first, in order to shift a company’s culture.
Women bring very different leadership styles. It’s like yin and yang; it’s important to have both in a balanced organization. Again, it’s women’s inherent qualities that are our advantage; compassionate leadership, community building, attention to the smallest details and making sure that everybody is kind. It would be great if society could work on not tabooing emotions because every employer has emotions. Since women are more in touch with their emotions, they can relate more and dig deeper to acknowledge and empower an employee. Being in touch with the emotional side, gives leaders the power to balance.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment?
It’s hard to predict. But what I hope, is that it will help us be more humble, listen better, accept different views, opinions, and backgrounds. I hope the increase in diversity allows for the creation of more universal and international products and businesses, with more compassionate interactions.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
That’s a complex question. What immediately comes to mind is this quote by Sheryl Sandberg, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
To continue to rise in the ecosystem, women need to embrace that they have the power to “make others better” by building constructive influence networks, supporting other women and relying on strong female mentors. We all rise together. Along with this support, encouraging women to apply to jobs they think are outside of their comfort zone and to stand up for each other without being passive aggressive or overly emotional.
As for unseen barriers, I think the biggest thing is that people often don’t know how to “handle” successful women. There are a lot of old paradigms that exist in the workplace and we haven’t developed the rules for people to follow the new paradigms. It’s our job to educate people around us on what matters to us as employees, mentor others with compassion, understanding that in most cases ignorance comes not out of opposition to ideas but rather due to lack of relatable experience. As for biases, there are clearly still so many we don’t even realize. In his blog, Sam Altman discusses the 2017 YC Annual Letter, addressing “how little the unicorn-founder demographics resemble the early-stage demographics.” Something is fundamentally off with this stat claiming that a lot of females drop out and don’t become executives in tech. Another example of clear bias: when big startups fail, no one points out it was the male founder, but in the case of Theranos, somehow the media couldn’t highlight enough how it was a female founder who failed. So, to go back to women in the ecosystem, we need to continue to be persistent and educate communities with compassion so that we can continue to lead with positive reinforcement and encouragement.
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.