The Rise Of The Tech Superwoman

Author

WomensMedia, Contributor

January 30, 2015

By Lisa Serwin

A curious thing has happened in Silicon Valley.

Despite the fact that there are tons of fabulous women leading today’s most innovative tech companies, we (both the media and general public) seem to have collectively latched onto two or three. Can you guess who they are?

This isn’t to say that the leadership of Sheryl Sandburg, Melissa Meyer, and Meg Whitman isn’t incredible. It is. But it’s high time we change the narrative and shine the spotlight on other tech trailblazers:  female thought leaders and power brokers who have all beaten the odds to succeed.  Does the name Elizabeth Holmes at Theranos ring a bell? It should. She’s revolutionizing blood tests and owns 50% of her company, currently valued at $9B.

Although statistically speaking, women-led businesses do as well if not better than men-led ones, there is a dearth of women on Boards of Directors, with C-level titles and in executive management ranks. But the four women I want to tell you about have overcome these hurdles. Some are mothers, some are women of color, and all are immensely inspiring.

So let’s get this conversation started: I am proud to call each of these women a #techsuperwoman as well as a friend. Who’s yours? Call one out in the comments below, and share on Twitter: let’s turn this into a celebratory forum to give credit where credit is due!

The Engineer

Selina Tabaccowala, President and CTO of Survey Monkey LinkedIn, Twitter

Though I met Selina when she was in her early twenties, my immediate thought was: “I’m going to be working for you someday.” That’s because Selina – now a mother of two – helped co-found Evite in her dorm room at Stanford, where she earned her bachelor’s in 1998. With both immense engineering and managerial prowess, she soon became Senior Vice President of Product and Technology at online entertainment behemoth, TicketMaster, and joined Survey Monkey five years ago as CTO.

In between juggling a demanding job and parenting young children, Selina somehow gives back to her tech community by serving on two boards: that of Red Fin (an online real estate brokerage with agents) and Tugboat Yards (a digital publishing resource). 

What challenges have you had to overcome in the tech world?

“Interestingly enough, none of my challenges come from being female.  I face the same challenges as most tech leaders.  I find it challenging to find strong talent and scale engineering organizations.  As I build my teams, I’m always looking for the right blend of front-end, back-end and product talent – everything has to fit together like a jig saw puzzle.  I will say that, as a woman in tech, I am keenly aware how many women I’m hiring.  And, it’s hard to find enough qualified female recruits for technical roles.  Although there is a certain amount of momentum in the valley, the numbers are still disheartening.” 

What’s your advice to aspiring female tech leaders?

“Don’t be intimidated! By nature, you will most likely be a stronger people manager and leader than most of the men around you.  Focus on being a great technical leader, which requires a combination of keeping your technical skills up, asking good questions, and building a kick ass team.  Engineering can easily be viewed as the bottleneck.  So you also need to actively be engaged with the other leaders in your organization to ensure alignment; make sure they understand your priorities and vice versa.”

The Mentor

Joanna Bloor, VP Sales and Operations at Pandora LinkedIn, Twitter

My friend Joanna didn’t plan to build a career in tech. She was running a high-end boutique bathing suit store when she heard about a little start-up: Citysearch.  At the time, it didn’t occur to her that she was going from an industry dominated by women to one where “being the only woman in the room” was the norm.

Initially cutting her teeth in sales, she got curious about the “plumbing” and jumped in to help build the early sale operations infrastructure for tech’s earliest household names like Cars.com, Open Table and CNET. Two decades later she landed at Pandora where she’s currently the VP of Sales Operations. That amazing growth we’ve seen at Pandora? Joanna and her team make all the ad-plumbing work.

Joanna is also a big believer in women mentoring women, and is Chief Belief Officer at HiPower: the organization for women’s executive development coaching. Oh, and did I mention she’s also a marathon runner?

What challenges have you had to overcome in the tech world?

“Building relationships so I can keep up with what I need to know – probably the hardest thing about tech is keeping up to speed on the latest languages, systems and the potential. Technology changes so fast that you’re always in learning mode. While I’m not an engineer (far from it) I do have know-how to partner with engineering to get things done. If I can’t speak their language/connect with them I’m limiting the potential of innovation.” 

What’s your advice to aspiring female tech leaders? 

“Find your people. Find your teachers. Find the people who can teach you what you don’t know. Find the people who allow you to put aside (just for a moment) all of your insecurities and ask for help. Not everyone will say yes, but those who do (both men and women) are worth their weight in gold.”

“Be curious – You’re hired because there’s a problem that the company needs to solve. And, to solve a problem, you have to have ideas, or at least the beginning of an idea. When you’re genuinely curious, ideas will pile up like leaves in autumn.”

“Be brave – In tech you’re frequently looking into a future where there are no rules, no clear path, and you don’t know the answer. Building something from nothing is equally amazing and terrifying; it’s the best part of being in tech. If you’re scared and energized at the same time you’re probably doing something right.”

The World Changer

Surbhi Sarna, CEO & Founder of nVision LinkedIn

Named as a “30 under 30 in science and healthcare” and with more honors and awards than space in this article, Surbhi and her company, nVision, are developing technology that can be used in the doctors office for diagnosing both infertility and ovarian cancer —which remains one of the most lethal cancers worldwide due to the lack of early stage detection options. nVision will allow physicians to detect ovarian cancer in office at earlier, more treatable stages, therefore preventing the spread of this lethal cancer.

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Surbhi worked as an engineer, first for Abbott Vascular, and then for a medical device start-up in the cardiovascular space. She’s raised over $4M in Series A funds, conducted preliminary clinical trials, and is filing with the FDA in the second quarter of 2015.

What challenges have you had to overcome in the tech world? 

“As a young woman, I don’t exactly fit the tech CEO mold.  When I started I would walk into a room and regardless of who I was talking with, whether with a VC or a potential business partner, the assumption was always “Who are you?” “Why are you here?” “When someone has more experience, or fits the expected mold, there is an intrinsic level of trust. For me, there was always an extra step to overcome.

That being said, I did overcome it: by being a subject matter expert, admitting what I didn’t know and choosing the right partners.  There will always be challenges.  Don’t let them stop you! 

What’s your advice to aspiring female tech leaders? 

“Know your stuff—cold.  The best way to overcome obstacles is to be the expert in the room.  Once folks understand what you have to offer you will be much harder to ignore! Respect your audience and they will respect you.”

The Decider

Lisa Suennen, aka “Venture Valkyrie

For the last 16 years, Lisa has been making waves in one of the most male-dominated fields out there: venture capital. She was a founder and managing Partner at Psilos Group, a healthcare VC firm, but left a year ago to provide advisory services to corporate and independent venture capital funds and to large and small companies through her firm, Venture Valkyrie Consulting.  Lisa’s focus points are healthcare IT, healthcare services and medical technology, as well as the intersection where these fields overlap with digital health.

Lisa is a board member extraordinaire: As a venture capitalist, she held Board roles at eight public and private companies in medtech, health IT and health services.  Today she is a member of the Qualcomm Life Advisory Board,  the Sanofi Integrated Care Advisory Board, the Dignity Health Foundation Board, the California Health Care Foundation Innovation Fund Advisory Board, the innovation consulting firm Accelevate, Inc. advisory board, and an advisor to HealthXL, an international digital health partnering organization  Lisa is also currently a Board Member of two digital health companies: Pokitdok and Beyond Lucid Technologies.

In 2014 Lisa was named as one of the Top 50 People in Digital Health by Rock Health, Goldman Sachs, Fenwick & West and Silicon Valley Bank and also as one of 15 Disruptive Women to Watch in 2015 by Disruptive Women in Healthcare. In 2011, Lisa was the recipient of the Director of the Year Award (Companies in Transition) from the Corporate Director’s Forum.  She writes a weekly blog on healthcare and investing called Venture Valkyrie, which is read by tens of thousands of people each year.

Oh yes, and did I mention she is also on the faculty of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business? She has accomplished all of this and raised a daughter, who is currently attending USC.

What challenges have you had to overcome in the tech world?

“There are many in the tech world that deeply value engineering and tech experience far above deep marketing/sales experience; there are times when this is a challenge in gaining respect of entrepreneurs.  But frankly their technology is worthless if no one buys what they build so eventually they tend come around.

As a woman, there are times when it is hard to be heard about the noise of our male venture counterparts.  Sometimes women are not heard even when speaking at the same level and volume or they are not included in the old-school social networking that goes on behind the scenes.  It becomes particularly important to show how you add value and to demand to be heard through very active engagement.  It can help, but not everybody out there is able to open their mind, if you know what I mean.” 

What’s your advice to aspiring female tech leaders?

“Be smart and be yourself.  It’s hard enough to be a woman in tech or finance and it’s ten times harder when you are pretending to be someone you are not.  If you have something of value to offer, you can make an impact and still retain your own point of view, style, and culture.  Don’t change to emulate those whose behavior you don’t admire.”

Lisa Serwin is the former CEO of AppMedicine. Catch her latest information @lisa_serwin.

This article was written by WomensMedia from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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