ON GENDER BIAS, FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS AND FUNDRAISING
Prior to digitalundivided (DID), I started my own online media company in 2003, which became such a successful and established brand that I was able to sell it a decade after. I used that exit money to finance the launch of DID.
As an entrepreneur who pushes for innovation, I have learned to live with risk-taking. The biggest risk I had to take business-wise would be starting DID itself. Back then, the conversation on diversity in tech was practically non-existent. People worried if there was a market of “qualified” black women big enough for DID’s focus. Black women tech entrepreneurs were seen as uninvestable, if even seen at all.
There are times when the industry gets discouraging, but over all, I would say it paid off because it got the whole tech space talking and working together to act on the issue. It helped majority of our black women founders to break into the industry, get funded, create more jobs, and pave the way for a more diverse pipeline. Over 40% of the black women who have raised Series A funding have come from the digitalundivided network.
ON THE JOURNEY TO SUCCESS IN THE TECH INDUSTRY: WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSPHY FOR SUCCESS
It’s a combination of guts, talent, and toughness. There’s a reason that the attrition rate of women in tech is at an atrocious 41%. As women working in a traditionally male-dominated space, expect that you will be singled out and asked time and again to prove yourself. You will be met with suspicion and condescension. That’s why it’s crucial that companies should have their own Sheryl Sandbergs or Ursula Burnses to serve as mentors and models for other women employees. Their visibility encourages more women to join the company and influences policies that support the development of these women.
My philosophy for success and leadership is that leaders don’t necessarily have to have all the right answers every time, but they should trust their instincts to lead them to an answer. As women, we have incredible instincts, yet we’re taught to always question them. Follow your gut.
ON ENCOURAGING MORE WOMEN INTO THE TECH INDUSTRY
The current “closed” system of tech needs to change. Most women founders are not part of the same network as the “boys” in tech – we didn’t go to the same schools as them (or if we did, we weren’t given the same career paths to follow or belonged to the same clubs). As a result, it’s difficult to break into the industry where social networks and connection are often how you get and maintain your job (i.e. the notorious phrase, “culture fit”)
Changing this not only benefits the women – it also pushes innovation, which is beneficial to all. A system that is too homogenous can only cultivate deviations of existing ideas and can overlook the more innovative and more impactful ones that are outside its circles.
ON THE INSPIRATION FOR DIGITALUNDIVIDED
I’ve learned first-hand the power of tech to change the lives of not just one family, but of an entire community. My dad went from a brewery worker in Milwaukee to a Senior engineer at Microsoft in the span of 10 years all because of tech and because someone showed him the possibilities of innovation. This access to opportunities is the key to bridging the “digital divide” and is what DID strives to provide for other women founders coming from underrepresented backgrounds.
ON FUTURE CHALLENGES
My biggest goal right now is to finish raising our venture fund to invest in brilliant women of color entrepreneurs. There are entire markets that are being overlooked because of their race and gender.
ON MY WAY OUT…
I don’t leave home without my sunglasses, cell phone, and my designer sneakers.