Portrait: Kathryn Finney, founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID)

Diversity talk: For tech, it’s less about a pipeline problem and more of a marketing problem

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Kathryn Finney, founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID).

Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Kathryn Finney, founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID).

Kathryn Finney, founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID)

Kathryn Finney is the founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID), an organization that invests in the success of Black and Latina women tech founders by providing them with the network, coaching, and funding to build, scale, and exit their high growth companies. DID runs the BIG Innovation Center, home to the BIG accelerator program, a 16 week program for high potential startups led by Black and Latina Founders. She is also a General Partner in the Harriet Fund, the first pre-seed venture fund focused on investing the untapped potential of high potential Black and Latina women led startups.

One of the first social media “stars”, in 2014 Kathryn sold her site, The Budget Fashionista, to a Midwest media company and later was the editor at large at BlogHer (sold to Sheknows), a platform representing 40MM+ women influencers.

An honors graduate of Yale University, and Rutgers University, Kathryn received the Champion of Change Award in 2013 from the White House for her work increasing inclusion in the tech industry and is an Eisenhower Fellow. She’s also listed in Marie Claire’s 10 Women to Watch in 2016, Entrepreneurs Magazine’s “Woman to Watch in 2016”, New York Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award, SXSW Black Innovator AwardThe Grio 100, Ebony Power 100, Black Enterprise “40 under 40” list, and inducted into Spelman College’s “Game Changers Academy.”

On February 26, 2015, she was honored by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer with the “Kathryn Finney Appreciation Day.”

Find out more about her here.

What got you interested in tech?

I credit my father for getting me into tech. I was inspired by his story: a displaced brewery worker who learned to code in mid-life and went on to become a senior software engineer at Microsoft. It was a testament to the awesome transformative power of tech in our lives.

I graduated from Yale and worked as an epidemiologist overseas for some time, but I returned to the States afterwards to care for my ill father. Eventually, I settled down and decided to stay here for good.

Then in 2003, I started a fashion and lifestyle blog called The Budget Fashionista as a hobby. (WordPress wasn’t even around back then, so I handled the coding and the content.) Its popularity skyrocketed, paving the way for opportunities like book deals, regular TV appearances, and an Editor-at-large gig at BlogHer, the world’s biggest platform for women influencers and bloggers.

I was thrust into the tech space when in 2007, I joined one of the first incubators in NYC. And despite my credentials and experience, I was still met by blatant racism and sexism in the room. I, a black woman, was told that I don’t understand the black women market because I had an accountant and “black women don’t have accountants”. A prominent investor once said to me that my business idea was good, but that he “doesn’t do black women”.

digitalundivided

It got me thinking whether other women of color go through this kind of experience, too. So with my family, friends, and team supporting me, I founded digitalundivided (DID) in 2013, a social enterprise whose mission is to foster economic growth and empowerment in communities through training and supporting Black and Latina women entrepreneurs using technology as a tool.

Through the years, we continue to grow as an organization, in part because of the challenges we had to overcome and the valuable lessons we learned from them.

My role models are my parents who instilled in me the ethics of hard work paired with a go-getter mentality and the commitment to stay true to oneself. I also have a strong group of friends, who are always there and support me in everything that I do. Last, but not least, my husband who is my biggest fan and cheerleader.

A day in Kathryn’s life

As the Founder and Managing Director of DID, I provide strategic direction and guidance on all aspects of our organization’s activities: content, partnerships, community, etc. The job, along with my speaking engagements, has me shuttling between our HQ at Atlanta and other cities like NYC, San Francisco, LA, and more. When I’m not traveling, I juggle my time between working with my team at the BIG Innovation Center and in spending quality time with my husband and son.

I am most proud of how my team and I managed to impact thousands of people’s lives through our programs like BIG and initiatives like #ProjectDiane. We’ve trained and developed founders, helped them raise $25MM in funding and have introduced them to helpful networks and resources. In turn, these founders will be able to hire more untapped talent and open the pathway for other innovators from underrepresented communities.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

For tech, it’s less about a pipeline problem and more of a marketing problem. Companies have to look at their campaigns, move beyond tokenism, and reframe who’s tech.

Wage inequality, harassment, double standards in performance expectations — these are some of the things we’ve been hearing about from the women in tech that we have talked to since we started in 2013. We cannot innovate without inclusion, period. A world with more women in STEM means fresher perspectives and ideas to improve our lives through tech; as well as more equitable access to social and economic mobility, thanks to lucrative entrepreneurial and/or career opportunities in the field.

The tech industry has become more conscious of the conversations happening both on and offline regarding diversity compared to, say, 10 years ago. However, we would need fuller commitment from companies, individuals, and the government to provide diverse founders with the training, capital, and network they need in order to break through the space.

What should women know about this industry?

Closed mouths don’t get fed, so learn the language of “ask” — it will be useful for seeking career advancement opportunities, pay raises, etc. Understand your need so you can put it in proper context.

 

Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

 

Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is an online editor for JAXenter.com. Before working at S&S Media she studied International Communication Management at The Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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