How to Improve Female Representation in Tech
Our COO Sarah Al-Hussaini sat down with Alexa Gorman, SVP & Head of SAP.iO at SAP, to talk tech. The focus of the chat was on a topic that both women hold dear to their hearts: how to improve female representation in the industry.
In this Article
Feel encouraged to express and develop your innovative ideas.
Offer your teammates room to express their creativity
Explore different avenues and figure out which ones you’re best at
If something isn’t working, change it.
There is no shame in accepting a little boost in the right direction.
Have confidence and remember the value you bring to the team.
Meet the Founders
Alexa’s career journey began in the retail and business development sector. After 12 years in strategy, though, she jumped at an opportunity to join the startups foundry in Berlin, where she quickly discovered her true path. SAP.io was born four years ago, with Alexa at the helm, at a time when the idea of tech startup ecosystems was beginning to gain traction -- something that has been greatly reinforced by Covid-19.
Sarah got to know Alexa during her first brush with SAP, when she dove in head first to a tech accelerator programme that would alter the course of her career forever. Today, as COO of ultimate.ai, the world's leading customer support automation platform powered by artificial intelligence, Sarah has been named by Forbes as one of their illustrious 30-under-30 in 2019. Sarah is living proof that hard work towards a cohesive vision in the tech sphere can lead to success--no matter your gender.
Let’s take a look at the top advice these two female powerhouses have for women who are trying to break into tech.
Surround yourself with likeminded go-getters
When Alexa moved to join the startup foundry in Berlin, she quickly found herself absorbed by the pure passion brought by founders. This, she credits with fueling her drive to succeed. She knew that she had found herself, her people, and her passion.
The inspiration that comes from being surrounded by likeminded go-getters is what led to Alexa forming SAP.io -- and credits this to its success.
Takeaway: Join a club, a foundry, or similar group where you can feel like you can be free and feel encouraged to express and develop your innovative ideas.
In recognition of their company’s own employee’s entrepreneurial ambitions, SAP.io launched an entrepreneur program, where employees are encouraged to submit their business ideas, which are screened in terms of their potential for SAP. The annual accelerator program then helps these employees take their idea to MVP status and beyond -- with some getting funding for their projects, and a greenlight to devote their work time to bringing it to life.
Takeaway: Offer your teammates room to express their creativity and bring their own ideas to the table. Foster their creativity by rewarding them with funding for any ideas they bring to you that make sense for your company, customers, and goals.
Shift your perspective often to gain a variety of skills and experiences
In her time with SAP, Alexa has come to appreciate that she was able to build on what she's learned and expand her skill set. Working with startups from so many different perspectives gave her a firm grasp of business, and particularly strategy, which has enabled her to approach challenges in a holistic way.
Sarah also credits her subtitle as a Jack of all trades when she first joined ultimate.ai as having given her a variety of skills that are widely applicable in all aspects of business. She cautions, however, that anyone who is already focused on the field they want to go into should probably join a tech startup that’s less green -- when roles tend to be more defined.
Takeaway: Embrace that exciting time at the launch of a startup when you are expected to wear many hats. Explore different avenues and figure out which ones you’re best at -- and which are better left to those more skilled in that area.
A/B test and consistently apply the learnings
Alexa quickly realized the type of startups that worked well in the SAP ecosystem, and which did not. She discovered that the very early stage startups were still far too nascent to be introduced to SAP.io’s customers. It was this trial and error that helped SAP get to where it is today.
“We’ve continuously been able to tweak, come up with new programs -- both externally and internally -- and that’s what is of course also the most fun in the role, is to be able to meet needs and see how we can most drive value.”
Takeaway: Pay attention to the data and the feedback from customers and employees. If something isn’t working, change it. This is how businesses evolve and become successful.
Leverage the extra support that exists
SAP believes strongly in focusing on female founders. There is no doubt that in today's day and age, this category is overlooked. Investors, for example, are less likely to invest in startups with female heads. This is something SAP.io is working hard to change -- and with 50% of the startups in their portfolio having been founded by females (well above their goal of 40%), it’s safe to say that change is afoot. This has proven not only beneficial for women in tech, but also the ecosystem itself. It has, in fact, been proven that diverse teams are more successful due to their ability to spark richer discussions, which lead to better outcomes in startups. “The diverse teams at SAP.io just prove that there are more points of view on the same problem,” explains Alexa.
Sarah’s offers this piece of advice for women breaking into the tech space is to jump on opportunities that come your way. It is these very risky-yet-exciting opportunities, usually where there is a chance to build something novel from scratch, that can act as the launchpad for a thrilling and deeply fulfilling career.
And Sarah not only talks the talk, but walks the walk: ultimate.ai now boasts a 50% female 100-person strong diverse team, proving that they too see the extreme value in giving opportunities to the under-represented.
Takeaway: There are powerful forces at play, encouraging, supporting, and driving female founders in tech to succeed. Embrace the help -- there is no shame in accepting a little boost in the right direction.
Dive in and take a leap of faith
Sarah’s first brush with SAP came when she was offered a position to help run their first-ever accelerator. The event was the first of its kind in Europe, and proved an ideal opportunity for Sarah to jump head-first in the sea of deep tech -- it was “baptism by fire,” as she terms it. Having joined the program as an associate, Sarah was assigned to the more advanced companies, in the hopes that she could channel her investment experience into helping the startups involved in the accelerator program with their fundraising and business plans. One of the businesses she worked closest with was ultimate.ai, who, at the time, had just a five-person team. When they offered her the position of COO, Sarah -- who had worked primarily with name-brand organizations up until that point -- took what she still calls to this day “a crazy leap of faith” on this relatively unknown (at the time) company and accepted their offer.
For any woman looking in on the tech space, not sure whether or not to take the plunge, feeling like they don’t have anything to bring to it, Sarah offers one piece of advice: “Throw all of that out of the window. You definitely have value to bring.” There are a wide array of opportunities available in the tech industry and your unique skill set will provide value whether you have experience or not.
Alexa also credits her openness to new opportunities -- like when she left her career in the US to join the startups foundry in Berlin -- as being one of the biggest drivers of success in her career.
Takeaway: Don’t be intimidated. It can be scary when you’re trying to break into the industry and feel like your skill set and experience are lacking compared to the other movers and shakers, but have confidence and remember the value you bring to the team.
Powerful takeaways to increase female representation in tech
The tech space is a bubbling cauldron of opportunity for all races and genders. In this article, we’ve learned that women with ambitions to dip their toes in the tech industry should feel encouraged to, rather, dive in head-first -- even if they lack any kind of technical background.
It’s also important to leverage support that already exists -- from communities to groups to foundries -- and encourage our own employees’ innovative ideas. Having confidence in your abilities seems to be the driving force behind success in the tech industry, as does surrounding yourself with other confident people with complementary skills.
As increasing numbers of women move into this vibrant industry, we at ultimate.ai couldn’t be more excited to watch startups flourish under diverse leadership.
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