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 Michelle Bacharach the CEO and Cofounder of FINDMINE. FINDMINE is a retail technology that uses machine learning to scale the currently manual and tedious process of product curation. FINDMINE’s works with several billion-dollar brands, womenswear retailers, and high-fashion leaders like John Varvatos. FINDMINE has increased conversion and average order values by up to 100% and lifted incremental revenue by 6% for their customers. Michelle is active in the wider tech community staying involved as an alumna of NYU Stern and the XRC Labs accelerator. She also volunteers with Defy Ventures. She recently hosted an event through Dreamers and Doers, leveraging her background in acting and theater to help other female founders perfect their presentation skills.
Michelle Bacharach of FINDMINE
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I have been in technology for 10 years, starting my career out of UC Berkeley where I studied innovation at a startup as a user experience analyst. I learned product management and after getting my MBA from NYU Stern, I pitched, got (internal) funding for, and launched apps and websites to millions of users at Univision. I lead teams of dozens of devs, designers, and product managers as Director of Program Management for Univision.com. Then, using this business and product expertise, I launched FINDMINE in NYC with my cofounder and CTO. Since then, I’ve been CEO of our retail tech automation startup and have been an active participant in the female founder community in NYC as well as in the AI and retail tech sectors. I recently spoke at SXSW and at VCs on Skis about AI.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
I find women in tech to be more resilient and tenacious. These life skills only strengthen over time. You need to have these qualities to combat the implicit bias and overt sexism that exists in the industry. You just keep going despite the undermining and sexual harassment because you believe in what you are doing. Entrepreneurs who have it too easy earlier on have a much harder time coping with setbacks that arise and inevitably there will be setbacks. I have really gained confidence in my company and product because we have succeeded in the face of additional obstacles.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
Representation is important, but I don’t suggest measuring it just by the number of women on panels or at tech events. Most female entrepreneurs I know are much more careful with the demands on their time – they’re not signing up for any old event just to have their face out there. In general, the best entrepreneurs are too busy building their companies to be at every networking event, conference, or panel unless it’s required for BD. So just because women aren’t 50% of the audience at yet another low ROI startup event doesn’t mean they’re not out there kicking ass. Telling these ass-kicking women’s stories is crucial (like what you’re doing at AlleyWatch!), and of course representation of female leaders in VC, on boards, and in the C- Suite is critical to improving the inclusion of women in tech.
There are great accelerators and incubators that help develop the newest technologies, such as New York Fashion Tech Lab/ Springboard and XRC Labs in NYC, which are more (or singularly) focused on advancing women in tech. Startups and large corporations alike can participate in these programs.
I would love to see existing CEOs and senior executives (regardless of their gender) give female entrepreneurs more of their time. If a female entrepreneur reaches out, give her 15 minutes. She could learn a great deal and you could be meeting with the next high profile female tech talent to break the glass ceiling.
Finally, we all have a responsibility to expose young girls early to the world of computer science and entrepreneurship. Encourage those in your company to mentor – one of our (female) engineers mentors a college student interested in tech, and we’ll have a high school intern with us for the summer. Programs are not hard to find, and are hungry for corporate and startup participation.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Diversity is just different perspectives. In an ideal world those wouldn’t break down on gender or racial lines but for now because of the very different way women, people of color, members of the LGBT and other marginalized communities have to experience the world (because of bias, discrimination, lack of representation and role modeling, etc.), a mix of these identities is a good start to getting different perspectives. Diversity in age is another great way to gain new perspectives.
In our world it is a bit of two steps forward one step back. As it applies to females in tech and startups, there are more women in roles at startups and in tech but much too far from being equally represented. Part of the reason is that tech culture is notoriously sexist and women then hesitate to be a part of it. Just look at all the recent high profile cases of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior at leading tech companies. Who would not be hesitant to join a world where they would be subjected to this?
Tech companies have a responsibility to their employees and the tech community to create an environment where sexism, harassment, and racism is not tolerated. In the absence of true leadership from leading tech companies, women I know have organized secret groups to share stories of bad actors and warn one another about working in certain places and for certain people, but the more scalable solution is to fix the broken culture in these organizations, weed out bad actors from within, and prevent bad actors from being accepted by the culture so they don’t come back.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
Role modeling leadership is maybe the best form of representation. Also more women in leadership actually translates into more dollars: According to the Harvard Business Review, “going from having no women in corporate leadership (the CEO, the board, and other C-suite positions) to a 30% female share is associated with a one-percentage-point increase in net margin — which translates to a 15% increase in profitability for a typical firm.”
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
As mentioned earlier, the culture needs to change. We can’t expect women to join companies where they will not be respected or valued and then be frustrated with them if they don’t “tough it out” until they make it to the C-Suite. That is just victim blaming. But in that, there lies an arbitrage opportunity for companies with respectful and supportive cultures (for everyone, not just women). These companies can get great talent and compete with billion-dollar companies with notoriously toxic cultures. Our company is 75% female, and our engineering team is 60% female, so we aim to use our diverse and supportive culture as a benefit when hiring.
For prospective employees, vet the companies you are applying to and interviewing for. Just having a diversity program isn’t enough – companies have to walk the walk. Participate in industry specific women’s networking groups. You can gain a lot of insight from hearing the experiences of other women. And finally, I can’t stress this enough…ask for what you want. If you think you deserve a raise and/or a promotion, gather your research, then speak up and present your case. Companies should also focus on putting women up for opportunities they might not seek out for themselves. For example, we nominated one of our female developers to teach a session at Pycon, and she’ll be doing two 20-minute sessions at the conference.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
Women Who Code, Dreamers and Doers, and Sheworx.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
First, though I’m sure it’s hard, they have to call out blatant AND subtle sexism/sexual harassment when they see it. They need to label the behavior as unacceptable or they are complicit in its continuation. An effective way I’ve seen is where the male ally looks at the perpetrator like he has two heads and say ” where’d you get the idea it was ok to say things like that? It’s certainly not ok to say things like that around me.” Not that it’s just not ok to say that to women but it’s not ok to say that to another man is very powerful. They should also report the misconduct they see, hear and/or read to the appropriate executives and document it themselves.
Second, and probably easier, is to suggest women in their organizations for things – promotions, speaking engagements, etc. and to pile on when a woman speaks up (without stealing credit of course) especially when it’s a male dominated room – e.g., “I want to go back to what Sarah just brought up because it was a key point/ awesome idea, etc.”
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.