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 Shagun Malhotra, founder at SkyStem. A CPA, CIA and an experienced auditor and process consultant, she designed ART for accountants. Having gone through the broken and inefficient process various times over, she believed there was a more efficient and user friendly way to do reconciliations and created SkyStem. Starting as a public accountant, Shagun has created a new life as an entrepreneur that is invested in giving back to her community thorugh work with GirlTank, Startup Chile and delivering inspirational speeches. SkyStem is a woman majority owned company and has recently won Female Team of the Year and Female Accomplishment of the Year.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
Most of my career has been around audit, internal controls, and consulting for such in Fortune 50 or 100 companies. Based on my exposure to and experience in auditing the month-end close and reconciliation process, it was apparent that a solution was needed.
It’s very interesting to see that even in some of the most modern or innovative companies, there are often many accounting processes that are still stuck in the stone age, with papers and spreadsheets flying around. I thought that it was time to get out of paper, binders, and the countless manual tasks that have mired the accounting departments for years. I took it upon myself to build this process and then automated it. This was the start of SkyStem.
Being an entrepreneur is a journey of constant trial and error – much like life. However, being in a city like NYC made it so much easier to pursue this venture as the city is filled with various ways to support entrepreneurs, from government organizations such as SBDC, NY Business Services to various Meet Ups targeted at tech and women. In any given week there are seminars, workshops, talks, events, etc. that anyone can attend for a nominal fee or oftentimes even free. These resources really help provide the motivation, camaraderie, and support needed for the entrepreneurial journey.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
Being a woman in tech is great because it seems like “you” are one of the few woman in most gatherings and it’s easier to stand out right away. People are intrigued to hear about your journey and your special perspective.
Certain qualities that are inherent to women and the kind of talent they can attract can also be a natural benefit when it comes to building a company. Understanding how the woman entrepreneur type is sometimes treated has provided me with more motivation to do better, to last longer, and to help others.
Competition is great and should be used to make any company move forward. I have seen that women in particular are more able to coexist than their male counterparts amidst competition by not letting their egos dominate decisions.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
I wish it were that easy – but the short-term answer is to have more events, competitions, hackathons, etc. for women to immerse themselves in a safe environment where it feels comfortable to take risks and even fail. The longer-term solution is to encourage the education system to recruit women for university degrees in entrepreneurship and tech, and companies to task women with innovation projects so that they can be intrapreneurs as well. Placing interns, providing role models and mentors, and interacting with established female entrepreneurs is a great way for young women to move forward in any position within the tech field.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Diversity is not just about gender but also ethnic background, social status, and diversity of ideas. Whether it is to become a coder, start a company, or join a start-up, there seems to be a growing influx of diversity within the tech arena. There are more women and women of color starting tech firms and attracting the same demographic to join their companies. There are also tech organizations that have created platforms for the sole purpose of bringing more diversity to the workplace, which will also impact the evolution of how tech hires.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
There needs to be gender balance as men and women contribute their own strengths to the corporate ecosystem and the culture we live and work in. The qualities that women bring to the table are special and unique, particularly when part of the C-suite. Our skills in developing consensus, having compassion, and nurturing are qualities that help advance organizations in any stage of their growth. These are some abilities that come more naturally to women, and all corporations can benefit from those traits as they contribute to a more sustainable and humane global market. The more macro impact to women developing into senior roles in their organizations is a stronger economy and a more balanced economic power at home.
The days of single income households are largely over, and it is very difficult to comfortably sustain a household unless both adults are working. I’d imagine that, for a man, it is a tremendous amount of pressure to be expected to bring in 100% of the family’s income. Having another paycheck will certainly go a long way in alleviating that burden. For a woman who is working, it’s also a way to ensure that she can easily continue to participate in the workforce, in the event her partner loses his job or is on disability.
Most importantly, the ability to hone a special skill and reach the top of your career is a huge emotional win. That journey builds competence and confidence for anyone because it requires persistence, intellect, and tenacity. These are all attributes that her children, especially daughters, should model after.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
Diverse environments can only bring positivity in the end – the means might be a bit shaky in the process but eventually there is so much benefit to having input on problems and solutions from a wide array of experiences. Team dynamics will also shift for the positive – the old perception that men couldn’t be led by women or women could not be part of the executive team is changing rapidly because the conversation is alive and loud and everyone is having it!
In fact, here at SkyStem we are majority woman-owned with a significant proportion of women leading our key teams, and this composition has proven that success can happen either way.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
There will always be barriers – but women must have the commitment to work through them and not be discouraged. Persistence is key when we are talking about making large-scale societal changes. In some areas, a woman is seen as someone who will be able to quit her job or her company the moment she has children. If we break that perception, I think we can go very far, and in fact I think it has already started. NYC is leading the nation for the most women-led and invested in companies. They are doing something right!
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
Girltank.org – it’s not just tech but a social organization focused on the advent of women all over the world. I have been a judge for Start Up Chile and the NYC Business Plan competition where we promote all types of entrants. I have personally mentored other women during these events, and it’s exciting to see more and more women putting there ideas, companies, and innovations out there. Having been a part of the Girl Scouts Organization when I was growing up, it is really great to see that they now have a STEM badge.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Being the dominant number in the workforce, men can do a lot to participate and be active in this discussion. My advice to men is to be fair about promotions, support and mentor women within your team or find them a mentor, give them reasons to come back to work after having a baby, develop groups focused on women growth, bring in women speakers to discuss their own journeys, push women towards an executive path, identify the stars early on and groom them, and most of all teach women in your personal life that they can be a scientist, astronaut, developer, or anything if they wanted.
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