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 Laura Bailyn, founder and CEO of Kidfund and accomplished professional in tech. Laura, earned her JD from Cardozo practicing law for a bit, worked as Apple’s Business Affair Consultant, and spent time as the senior director at the Markle Foundation. Beginning her career in media, today Laura spends her time running Kidfund, the private, social savings platform for parents to save for kids and their future.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I’m a female founder in fintech, deeply committed to a mission of economic empowerment for the next generation. Kidfund aims to bring a fresh perspective to a critically urgent problem and to a quintessential NYC industry with high barriers to entry.
I got my start as a public policy Coro Fellow before producing news for NBC. Then, as a corporate lawyer, I negotiated IP & tech deals at Skadden, Arps and, after that, worked in marketing and communications at Apple. Most recently, prior to starting Kidfund, I helped create an economic security initiative at a NYC-based foundation.
To build a profitable business with an ambitious mission requires tackling numerous concrete challenges large and small. In order to do that effectively, I have met and worked with hundreds of founders, partners, vendors, advisors and investors in the NYC tech ecosystem. The ecosystem is essential: nobody can do it alone.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
I think diversity of perspective is the biggest advantage of being a woman in tech.
Women have made remarkable strides over the past century in market power and professional achievement; yet continue to be undervalued in both the marketplace and workplace. The two go hand in hand, enabling the untapped potential of female employees and leadership to fulfill a phenomenal market opportunity.
In both the tech and financial services industries, women are notoriously underrepresented – therefore companies in these sectors stand to gain the most with a more inclusive approach.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
One critical thing that can be done to promote female entrepreneurs is to provide more pre-seed stage investment capital to spur female-led ideation and innovation. Leveraging women’s unique perspectives in a business context can bring about incredible changes in the world.
When you first decide to start a consumer tech business, it’s just you and your idea – you don’t have data yet to demonstrate product market fit and customer acquisition cost. You don’t even have a product. In order to get to that point, you have to execute successfully on a million aspects of the business, the majority of which are likely to be outside your individual experience and skill set. So, you need to gather and lead a team to execute together to realize your vision. To do that without capital is extremely difficult.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
To me, diversity is that range of varying perspectives stemming from our different life experiences. Broad strokes include race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Tech as an industry is not yet sufficiently diverse but I think conversations like this –public discourse about diversity with people who have differing perspectives – are an encouraging sign. In addition to funding diverse founders, there’s clearly a huge need to hire diverse teams and nurture and grow that talent.
To help achieve broader diversity in hiring, the Rooney Rule seems like a great place to start. It’s the NFL hiring policy named after Dan Rooney (former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers) that requires league teams to always include minority candidates in the interviewing process for head coaching and senior operations jobs. This just came up in conversation with one of my investors who’s utilizing it in her own organization. It’s promising that major tech companies, including Facebook, Pinterest, Intel, Xerox and Amazon, are implementing versions of the rule.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
I have enormous respect for women – and men – who have grown and developed into senior roles within their organizations. It obviously takes intelligence and talent, but there’s no way to get there without time, effort and a dose of luck with good mentorship and support.
Successful founders need to connect fresh thinking with informed advice from experienced professionals. Especially as startups grow and mature, putting in place a stellar senior management team can make the difference between long-term success and failure.
Ideally, women are in that mix at every level to shape the culture, bring diverse perspectives, grow into effective senior management roles, and foster the next generation.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
Good communication – informed by self-awareness and an understanding of others – is key to successful interactions in a diverse team environment. Our ability to do that is to a large extent built on trust.
Studies suggest that diverse teams focus more on facts, process facts more carefully and tend to be more innovative. They are more likely to check biases and question assumptions. But you can’t do that without good communication.
This is especially important in the tech sector to ensure that business and dev work effectively together.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
Women will rise by creating sufficiently flexible and respectful work environments that foster success in our roles and access to opportunities each step of the way. Entrepreneurism is one path, but enabling women to rise up through the ranks to gain skills and seniority is critically important as well.
Many women face social and economic pressures that cause them to drop out of the workforce or not proceed apace. In addition, female entrepreneurs confront perception biases that cause many investors to have less confidence in their ability to execute as compared to male counterparts. (Of course, we know this bias is misplaced since female-led companies are less likely to fail).
Nonetheless, in 2016 women received just 2.19% of venture capital dollars, less than all other years in this decade apart from 2008 and 2012. I wonder how macro-level economic turbulence impacts our ability to put our faith (and our dollars) behind women leaders.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
Kidfund has been the recipient of a generous scholarship at Civic Hall, a community for civic tech entrepreneurs. While not explicitly designed to promote women in tech, when you look around at Civic Hall you see a diverse cross section of society, including a lot of women. It’s a great place to be as a woman in tech.
In the fintech space, I’ve really enjoyed the community and conversations happening through Femtech Leaders. I was introduced to this group by colleagues in the industry and always find their members, panels and presentations to be topical, informative, and collegial.
More than anything, I’ve benefitted from individual relationships with female advisors, investors, mentors and friends, including other female CEOs. These “strong bond” relationships have provided some of the most valuable support and guidance for our young company.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
I’d say just show up and be open-minded. And, if you’re not already, then make a concerted effort to work with some women in tech. I’ve had the great fortune of working with many exceptional men who don’t see or care about gender, and their engagement and support has been invaluable.
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.