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 Rupa Krishnan, the head of product at Betterment for Business, the technology-led 401(k) provider. Krishnan is a Harvard Business School alum, and prior to joining Betterment, she was a VP at MasterCard, successfully leading the launch of the MasterPass digital wallet. Krishnan developed solutions for MasterPass’s key partners including Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft, and she continues this type of innovation at Betterment by creating new, customer-focused technology. Active in the community, Krishan is a supporter of organizations such as Girls Who Code, Women in Engineering, and Girls with Impact.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I’ve always liked to challenge myself and reach outside my comfort zone. That is why, while doing my MBA, I helped my husband start an energy consulting company focused on marketing clean air technologies – an area that was new to me, but I was excited to learn about. This experience forced me to have a bootstrap mentality, be resourceful and juggle multiple priorities – skills required of me for my next venture as an early member of MasterCard’s digital wallet team. After six years at MasterCard where I led the merchant organization for MasterPass’ digital wallet capabilities, I decided I wanted to dig deeper into NYC’s technology landscape and joined Betterment for Business, a technology-led 401(k) provider in the Flatiron District, as the head of product.
Rather than joining a traditional financial services institution, I looked to Betterment for Business. Betterment’s 401(k) product is particularly interesting as its consumer-focused technology solution is disrupting an antiquated industry.
Betterment’s technology makes retirement planning easy for companies to administer and employees to participate. Employees achieve retirement readiness while balancing other financial goals, through our goal-based approach to saving and investing which incorporates feedback and guidance at every step. The simplified interface and low cost make it a 401(k) that employees rave about. Leading the product team in creating brand new, customer-focused technology in a traditional and highly regulated industry poses a new challenge every day. Since joining Betterment, I’ve become more ingrained in the technology ecosystem, thinking about ways to bring new ideas to an early-stage organization while working with a diverse team of individuals. As a female leader in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I aim to spread a confident, growth-oriented mentality to the unique individuals on my team.
Women in technology bring a unique perspective to traditionally male-led work environments – both from an economic and cultural point of view.
From the economic side, women make up a share of companies’ target consumers (no matter the company’s product or service). Their purchasing and decision-making power influences the success or failure of products. Women in the workplace bring these insights to the forefront and in turn, products can be better tailored to fit each customer’s needs.
More importantly, women have the opportunity to step back, recognize other women in technology and pave the way for more women to enter the field – a major cornerstone to building a diverse organizational culture. This is the best time for women in Technology. The growing awareness of women being underrepresented in executive and leadership roles, the realization that more diversity allows companies to more effectively serve customers, and the desire to change status quo – even if the pace is slow – signals opportunities for women to come in and prove themselves.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
To promote women in technology, we need to give them access to information, mentors, networks and possibilities. This access must start as early as high school or college when young women are making career choices – a key and opportune time to influence them and get them interested and excited about technology and entrepreneurship. Without a robust enough pool of women who are properly trained and equipped for careers in technology or entrepreneurship, we are tackling the problem after the fact.
Beyond this, it is also important to consider that traditional models of networking and interaction may not fit every woman that organizations are hoping to target. Some have families to get home to or other personal interests – the lifestyle scenarios are endless based on the life and career stage of the women. Business leaders must create a workplace that understands and respects the “whole,” not just for women but for everyone in the organization. For example, working moms (like myself) don’t always have the option to meet with colleagues for drinks after work, a common business practice. Offering alternative options, like networking over breakfasts or lunches could bolster participation.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Diversity today is not just about gender or race but rather what makes each person unique. Understanding where people come from, the experiences that shaped them and their individual preferences drives the best workplace interactions and productivity. In the workplace, diversity is about respecting people’s differences – which means embracing the way they work best and the stage of life they are in.
Within technology, there is a strong desire to source the best diversity practices internally that will thrive within the organization’s culture, rather than blindly importing ideas that have worked elsewhere. For instance, Betterment has a very active Diversity and Inclusion Action team that is entirely run by employees in collaboration with human resources to consciously shape hiring and employee engagement efforts. In addition to this, organizations can give team members the freedom to produce their best work by embracing diverse work styles, schedules and approaches. If managers trust that the job will be done well, allowing employees to work remotely gives them the freedom and flexibility they may need to balance work and life.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
Women bring different perspectives to situations – and by filling senior positions, they can use their position and decision-making capabilities to better influence a company’s strategic and cultural direction.
Furthermore, it is important that women develop into senior roles and become aspirational leaders for younger women in the organization. As an added benefit, having women in leadership positions can be a benefit in hiring and retaining top talent as employees today look for more diverse, inclusive workforces.
Once women attain leadership positions, it’s critical they embrace and engage in the more difficult conversations if diversity is nascent in the organization. Once women have a seat at the table, we owe it to ourselves and the organization to make it impactful. I am a firm believer that a woman in senior leadership ought to use the agency to bring about positive and lasting change.
You have spent your career in financial services, previously in the corporate side and now in the startup world. What are the differences for a woman in tech between the two environments?
It is hard to generalize between small organizations and larger ones. Oftentimes, the role you have and the teams you are on tend to make more of an impact than the size of the company itself. For example, I was in a large financial services organization at MasterCard, but had a different experience than most, as my team was smaller and functioned more as a startup within a huge company. This meant we were constantly working to stay competitive, relevant and innovative.
Now deeper into the startup world at Betterment, I find the constraints and opportunities more or less the same. However, I do feel in smaller organizations/teams you have the ability to shoulder more responsibilities and benefit from a more diverse range of experiences early on. In a larger organization, on the other hand, you may have to look a little harder for those experiences and opportunities that will help you grow the most due to the size of the teams.
No matter the business environment, the onus is on the employee – man or woman – to be proactive, take ownership and make the most of it to make a business impact.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
The future of diverse teams is all about group personalization and figuring out the ways teams work best together. This starts with a bottom-up approach: defining individuals’ roles and coming to a consensus on how groups can adapt to one another and allow for more choice. The implication of this is a greater expression of individuality. When employees can work in a way they feel great about and that fits their needs, it leads to more productivity, ownership and differentiation of ideas.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
Women will rise in the technology ecosystem by conquering the unseen barriers and false perceptions that currently hold them back from trusting their own abilities. I find the biggest barrier women face is, sadly, themselves. Often, women are in their own heads, convincing themselves they can’t do something that they haven’t done before or that may require big changes and sacrifice. Furthermore, if they have not seen other women in certain positions or performing complex tasks, it is easy to slip into the mindset that it is not a role for them. Rather than finding comfort in fear, women must question and recognize what is holding them back to approach situations head-on. When women catch themselves in this situation, it is time for a reminder that they bring a certain set of skills that no one else can and need to trust themselves to go for it.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
There are many great organizations that support women in technology that I’d encourage women to get involved with to build a community of mentors. A few groups that stand out are Girls Who Code, Women in Engineering, Girls with Impact, and Women in Product. Additionally, Betterment has a group internally called “Women in Betterment,” which is an open, non-judgmental forum for women to share their opinions and views on various topics, interesting ideas, events or something fun that resonated with them – it’s a great support system and an idea worth emulating.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Men can do a lot to participate and it all starts with embracing diversity. Men should be open to the strengths of everyone on a team, as opposed to thinking about who they are in relation to everyone else. When everyone keeps an open mind and invites different viewpoints, teams are stronger and the best ideas start flowing.
Beyond being open to differences, men can make diversity a priority and actively look to build teams that don’t look or think like them. This requires being particularly thoughtful when it comes to the hiring process and doing so will help build the business for years to come as diversity and inclusion are competitive advantages.
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 se