Whenever the conversation of women and leadership is brought up, it seems as though we always have a list of acceptable phrases we run through as commonplace.
Things such as “women are leading the way,” “women run the world,” or even “women are revolutionary” all come to mind…however, if you and I both have read these phrases time and time again, when exactly will they ever come to fruition?
As sad of a reality as it is, women are still fighting for their place in a male-dominated workforce. And even when they do find roles, they’re sometimes degraded into things that are considered “a woman’s job” or “something a woman does better because they’re a woman.” This is just so a company can say they’re “diverse” and “making more efforts towards inclusion”, which is absolutely ridiculous.
But, slowly but surely there’s a revolution taking place, as women have made their way to the head of the table in industries such as finance, design, and marketing. These skills are starting to bleed over as valuable assets to early-stage companies, making them at the forefront for leadership roles when a company grows. This is shifting the conversation significantly as women are viewing industries like tech, energy, and finance no longer as just male dominated boy’s clubs but rather industries where their passions and skills are starting to blossom.
While this list barely scratches the surface of the amazing leaders making strides this year, we thought we’d highlight a few different noteworthy folks we admire. They range in industries from FinTech and EdTech to Media and Fashion (and believe me, we wish we could cover more too.) Yes, while we may like to say that “women are on their way up”, that change is actually happening. No longer are we saying these things as a ‘nice reminder,’ but as a game plan.
For the folks that I interviewed, there was one commonality that stuck out as their “secret to success”: stop defining your career and start building it. The limitations we put on ourselves in planning out systematic steps of success are archaic, following a “work your way to the top” mentality. While that idea is long gone, it leaves room for something much greater: the freedom to follow your passion and take your experiences to a whole new place. And if there’s anything we learned from the group below, that’s the first key to breaking from the norm and defining a whole new future.
Lindsey McKenna, Designer At Azazie
As a considerable history buff, Lindsey is learning how to take the old with the new in transforming the wedding dress industry. As the Lead Designer at Azazie, she’s somewhat of a jack of all trades. However, her primary focus is on creating a consistent, affordable lines of bridesmaids dresses…one of the most challenging assignments in fashion.
However, the task doesn’t scare Lindsey. In fact, it only motivates her more as she’s empowering women to look stunning for a day that will be remembered for a lifetime.
“I love that I can take my love for history and fashion and bring them together. Wedding dresses have a historical side to them that’s timeless, and I try to apply that every day at Azazie in coming up with designs that both make women feel great and look great on their special day. Plus, hearing the feedback from customers on the work that we put in is amazing.”
“Feedback” is a modest way to put it. People who’ve shopped with Azazie don’t just say talk about their dresses, but candidly show them off too. With a process that delicately curates each look to a T, the brands been taking off, seeking to make an indelible impression on the wedding industry soon.
Jessica O Matthews, Founder Of Uncharted Play
It’s hard to top a list that includes going to Harvard, being one of our Top 30 under 30, meeting with global leaders, and creating technology (as a college student) that disrupted the renewable energy sector. But just this past week, Matthews added another accolade to her list: raising the most money of any black female founder in history for her startup Uncharted Play.
Uncharted Play spawned out Jessica’s invention the SOCCKET, a soccer ball that harnessed energy with its use. Since then the company has expanded, looking to capitalize off of the micro-generating marketplace they helped spark. With a career that’s already left a huge mark on the tech, energy, and global outreach world’s, expect Matthews to be scribing her name in the history books within the next couple years.
Katy Tripses, Head Of Growth At StudySoup
Both tech and advertising are notorious for being cruel, unforgiving places. In yet, Katy has quickly found her way to moving through both. Coming out of school and working for the advertising giant The Richards Group, Katy quickly rose up through the ranks, eventually graduating along to holding a leadership role within her first year.
After a few years in the ad world, Katy switched gears and was brought on to be Head of Growth at StudySoup- a multi-sided marketplace for college students to buy and sell notes. On why she left the ad world for tech, Katy notes that while both fields have risks, the reward of building and growing a company was more inspiring: “Both tech and advertising are known for being worked out, but with tech, the payout is much bigger, and not just monetarily wise. You’re working for a common goal of getting more recognition or growing the company and with advertising, I don’t think the payout is always there. I think with such a drive to grow yourself and grow professionally, tech is where it’s at right now.” Which, is exactly what Katy and the team at StudySoup are doing, as the marketplace has exploded with millions of users. In terms of future works, Katy has said that her goal is to capitalize on the great feedback they’ve received so far, including the unanticipated social aspect of people using StudySoup to find ‘study buddies.’
Ruba Anu-Nimah, Creative Director Of Elle
This past week, Elle announced that they’d hired their first female Creative Director in Ruba Anu-Nimah. Anu-Nimah has a distinct style to her work, having minimalism clash with bright colors and striking typefaces, something that could give the lifestyle magazine a serious edge. Expect her influence to transcend over the publication world, as her style is a perfect blend of classic and contemporary that’s going to be hard for others to match.
Laura Spiekerman, Cofounder/CRO At Alloy
Laura is somewhat of an early pioneer in the FinTech world. Six years ago she was heading up the marketing efforts for KopoKopo- a company that helps businesses in East Africa accept mobile payments. Since then, she’s fallen in love with the industry, looking to make an impact on both the worlds of tech and finance.
Now the cofounder of the compliance startup Alloy (an identity verification API), Laura is continuing to make enormous strides. And as both tech and finance have traditionally been male-dominated fields, Laura’s best piece of advice on how women can get involved is simple: stop hoisting up this narrative that they have to code.
“One of the things that drives me crazy about ‘the women in tech’ discussion is everyone’s like ‘well, there aren’t that many women graduating with CS degrees.’ I have no idea how to program, and I work in tech. The majority of jobs in tech are not ‘technical’ jobs. The majority of these jobs are in marketing and sales and numerous other things that you don’t need a CS degree for. It’s crazy.”
And as someone that’s gone from a legal analyst to marketer to investment analyst and now an up and coming leader in her industry, Laura is well on her way to setting the example.
Monique Woodard, Partner At 500 Startups
Last year, Monique was brought on as the first black partner at 500 Startups, one of Silicon Valley’s largest incubators. As now the head of a $25 million micro-fund dedicated to Black and Latino startups, Woodard is going to change the tech world significantly in the next couple years. Already establishing initiatives as an entrepreneur with Speak Chic as well as Black Founders, the venture capitalist has one of the most prominent voices out in the community. And with the traction she’s built, it’s only a matter of time before she leads a revolution.
Nicky Goulimis, Founder Of Nova Credit
Nicky is someone who talks fast but thinks faster. She’s incredibly thoughtful with her words, ensuring everything holds substance. In fact, a few seconds after we hopped off the phone, she immediately called me back with a follow-up answer on advice to aspiring female leaders:
“So, yesterday I was having lunch with this woman who is a former ballet dancer, then an actress, then a print company, and now she’s an engineer at Slack. I find her so admirable. I think that would be my biggest piece of advice is that people who have rich, multi-dimensional lives are so impressive. Investing too much in one end goal, one part, or one mission is a shame.”
Which, is exactly how her career has gone. Honestly, Nicky didn’t even expect to be a cofounder Nova Credit- the world’s first cross-border credit reporting agency. What started out as a project while working on her MBA from Stanford, now has transformed into a one-of-a-kind gem in the valley. In yet, despite its successes, Nicky tries to shy away from the female leader narrative:
“There’s so much emphasis on young women breaking the glass ceiling and becoming leaders. I believe role models are important, but often we deify women in power and end up forgetting the reality for 99% of women in this world. I don’t actually think my own progression is going to affect that much good — and it’s dangerously self-justifying to think that my own success has a moral dimension — so I’m trying to consider more and more how I can be supporting a much broader ecosystem of women so that they are respected, paid, and given opportunities.”
And so far, she’s off to a great start.
Shivani Siroya, Founder Of Tala
Last year we did a piece on Shivani and how Tala is changing the world of credit scores by aggregating the mobile data on your phone. The app has been a huge success, not only becoming profitable but additionally bringing on a wider expansion. Tala gives credit scores to those that many not have access to it, and expect their efforts to make an even bigger splash soon.
Ijeoma Oluo, Editor-At-Large At The Establishment
In a time where more folks are willing to fall-in-line with whatever political or social commentary others are engaging with, Ijeoma Oluo has ripped that norm to shreds. Whether it’s topics like race, gender, feminism, or politics, Oluo has become a prominent voice in them as the Editor-At-Large for The Establishment- a media platform completely funded and run by women.
While so many people want to become ‘thought leaders,’ ‘bloggers,’ or even just ‘influential,’ Oluo is eons past that. Her work has rapidly become some of the most shared commentaries on contemporary issues, cultivating a massive following behind it. Saying that she’s “not afraid to speak her mind” is not just cliche, but a drastic understatement. No, Oluo is out to help put words to action, which at this day and age, might be exactly what we need.
Christin Healy, Cofounder Of Borrowed And Blue
Borrowed and Blue is going to change the game for how we look at weddings. As a one stop shop for your wedding’s location and vendors, making the painstaking planning process tremendously easier. Healy founded the company in 2012 with her husband Adam, which just this past January just finished raising their Series A. The goal for Healy and company this year is to eventually offer a platform for vendors and couples to do business with each other, a first for the industry. And with wedding season coming right around the corner, expect this service to be something you hear talked about all summer.
By Brian Rashid
What can organizations do to determine if their DEI initiatives are mere scaffolds or performative solidarity — or whether they’re actually positioned to put racial and gender equity at the center of the company’s core values and move the needle on change.
It’s a persistent myth: if a company recruits enough employees from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, a sufficient number will, over time, rise through the organization to create a diverse culture at all levels. But that is not happening.
The script at BIO this year could not have been more clear: Progress on diversity is being made, but more work needs to be done. Yet still, an undercurrent of biotech’s all-boys brand-of-old tugged at the heels of efforts to bolster those long-excluded from positions of authority.