“Diverse teams can help prevent unhealthy competition that occurs sometimes in male-dominated teams”
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 Leitha Matz, Chief Operating Officer at Zuper.
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 Leitha Matz, Chief Operating Officer at Zuper.
Leitha Matz, Chief Operating Officer at Zuper
Leitha Matz is a technology executive with nearly 20 years of experience in leading eCommerce, IT and strategic integrated marketing groups. Leitha has built business divisions and solved complex problems for companies ranging from FedEx (logistics) to FreshDirect (online food delivery). She also volunteers as a startup advisor/judge with the eBay Startup Cup and a mentor for the Techstars METRO startup accelerator programs.
What got you interested in technology?
For me, technology represents opportunity. As a child, tech enabled me to play games and publish a magazine. As an adult, it helps me to connect with people and create tools that change people’s lives. How could tech be anything but fascinating?
My education was in media/design, so I discovered the internet when I got to university in 1992 and I started developing my own little websites.
When I graduated and entered the workforce in 1996, it seemed like all the most interesting jobs were online, but nobody wanted them. Businesses were just starting to develop a presence on the internet, and I think it was weird and confusing to a lot of people. So that was kind of a magic moment to be young and curious.
After the big tech crash in 2001, a lot of people were saying that e-commerce was a dead end, but I joined an online grocery startup. That company became profitable a few years later, so in retrospect, all those people were wrong, but it did seem like a risky move at the time.
I never stopped reading, learning, asking questions and taking on the work that nobody else wanted. Over the years, that’s turned into a career in leading and advising startups. Excitement about technology has given me so many amazing opportunities, including my current role at Zuper.
Network of helping hands
I had a supervisor who actually laughed when I asked him how I could advance to the VP level. After years of managing technical projects, I had an interview in which the CEO of a company questioned whether I was capable of communicating with programmers. There are always going to be biased people, ignorant people and bullies. When you’re a women, there are always going to be people who make assumptions and ask technical questions of the marketing guy sitting next to you, simply because he’s a guy.
A day in Leitha’s life
I’m co-founding Zuper, a FinTech company that focuses on helping people to become financially strong with AI-driven money management coaching.
We launched in the German market in January, and I’m really excited that we’ve just opened service in Austria as well. We’re development-heavy, mobile-first and focused on utilizing open banking APIs. FinTech is a fast-moving field with extremely interesting work.
My day always starts with updates on Slack, because we’re a remote team that’s spread across six countries with a 10-hour difference in time zones. As you can imagine, this kind of structure is both an advantage and a challenge for us, but remote recruiting does help us to build a strong, diverse workforce. In fact, more than ⅓ of our team are women.
I normally work from my home office or at The Factory coworking space in Berlin, but these days, I also do a lot of pitching at conferences, and we gather our executive team together about once per month, often in Munich, so travel is fairly frequent.
I’ve always had that kind of leadership style as a manager, and in my free time, I love being a mentor for the Techstars/METRO retail and hospitality accelerators, coaching startups alongside Enpact in Berlin and helping to make meaningful connections between people.
It’s always a huge rush when I can make the right recommendation or set up a great introduction.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Well, some people are simply jerks, and that can help to push women out of tech education or tech careers, but I also think a lot of women just don’t see a vision of themselves in tech. I was lucky to have a lot of support and to see cool, strong women in programming. I think those role models are a key part of envisioning yourself in that world as well.
Women make up more than half the world. We have perspectives and needs that sometimes differ from those of men. So it’s ridiculous to think of developing products without women’s voices in the mix.
This is particularly egregious in the technologies and products that serve the public or women in particular. For example, in health technology, it took forever to get great apps that track women’s health. Apple didn’t add cycle tracking into their Health app until iOS 9. That seems like an astounding oversight for something so critical.
I believe that diverse teams can also help to prevent a kind of unhealthy competition that occurs sometimes in some male-dominated teams. Working under pressure in continuous 60-hour weeks isn’t healthy for anyone.
Let’s stop bickering and work on highlighting more female role models in tech. Let’s provide support and mentorship all the way from education through the inevitable challenges of the career world. Let’s work on making our workplaces fair and healthy. When technology teams are supportive and equitable, that’s attractive to everyone.
There are a lot of people who are working to make tech careers accessible for women, but we are still a minority and that’s sometimes uncomfortable.
You do need a tough skin. Putting up with bias, sexism, and harassment can be distracting and tiring. I know I don’t always have the energy, comfort or opportunity to call someone out when they’re being unprofessional.
Tips & tricks
“Technology” is such a broad blanket, but software and hardware are really just the set of tools we use to create the world we live in.
That’s why there will continue to be innumerable ways to embrace technology in a career. I know so many women who are extremely talented problem-solvers and creators. It just makes sense that technology would be part of their toolkits.
I would encourage women to seek out support and encouragement, ask all the “stupid” questions, stay curious, push past the difficult, disorganized and discouraging parts. Most of all, persist until you get what you need.
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
- “Technology reflects the people who make it”
- “In the right company, working in tech is a great career”
- Why women fall out of the tech pipeline
- Breaking the mold: ‘It’s not that you’re good — it’s that you’re female’
- How to avoid the culture of male programmers
- Creating an equal playing field is about more than just teaching someone coding skills
- The more women you see in STEM, the less intimidating it is for others to join
- The tech industry tends to lose women along the way. Change is underway
- How to get (and stay) into the tech industry: Tips & tricks for women
- Transitioning into a tech career? Silicon Valley culture is one of the biggest initial obstacles
- Abby Kearns: “Diversity ensures continuous innovation”
- “In technology, you become a lifelong learner — More women should embrace this career”
- Cultural impact is not driven by gender, but by diversity
- Everyday superheroes: “I don’t have a role model, my career was based on my mistakes”
- Diversity talk: For tech, it’s less about a pipeline problem and more of a marketing problem
- Diversity talk: It’s important to receive support from tech communities
- Everyday superheroes: Women just need to see more of us — techie women
- Anyone who wants to learn and grow won’t continue in an industry that tells them they are stupid
- There is too much allowance for tolerating toxic people in tech
- Coding myths and how finding communities like Hear Me Code helps you learn best
- 3 strategies to try out if you want to support women in tech
- Young women carry less career gender bias and more media influence
- Women are often pigeonholed into “soft skill” roles and pushed away from engineering
- Diversity talk: Many women suffer from the impostor syndrome
- How to succeed in tech: Shutterstock’s Rashi Khurana gives her tips
- Diversity talk: Using lingo is making tech sound harder than it really is
- Diversity talk: “We can’t expect men to hand us equality on a silver platter”
- How to succeed in tech: Agnès Crepet gives her tips
- “Many people still need to be taught that diversity is more than just a trend”
- “Many companies lack the infrastructure & career growth opportunities to support female employees”