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Profile: Anna Stoilova, Co-founder & Chief Product Officer at TIKI

Women in Tech: “Find a work environment where you thrive and excel”

Sarah Schlothauer

Three years ago, we 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 Anna Stoilova, Co-founder & Chief Product Officer at TIKI.

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?

Three years ago, we 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 Anna Stoilova, Co-founder & Chief Product Officer at TIKI.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Anna Stoilova, Co-founder & Chief Product Officer at TIKI

Anna is a digital product expert specializing in design, strategy, UI/UX and marketing.

She is a startup veteran and her latest venture, TIKI, is a data privacy app that helps people see, control and monetize their data online.

When did you become interested in technology?

From an early age, I was interested in technology. One of my first memories was learning HTML and CSS as an extracurricular activity at school. My math teacher had a full course printed out and offered to lend it to anyone interested in learning – I was the only one in the class to take her up on it!

That said, I didn’t always have my sights set on working in technology. From high school through my Masters degree, I actually studied arts and design.

How did you end up in your career path?

At the beginning of my career, I worked in graphic design, then grew into a digital designer, and then moved into UX/UI design. Then, I launched my own VR startup in 2017. One of the biggest shifts I ever experienced was transitioning from a practical, skills-based role to a leadership position where I had to make all the decisions around strategies, sales, investment, as well as product development and marketing.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

I am lucky to have a supportive partner who has been with me since the beginning of my journey in tech. Furthermore, in a way, he helped me understand the opportunities my future held in the tech space and pushed me to pursue the entrepreneurial path.

I don’t have a role model per se, but I follow and admire a lot of women who speak out about the inequalities that women and other minorities face in tech and business. It’s important that we keep pushing the status quo to create a more equal world and more opportunities for everyone.

It’s important that we keep pushing the status quo to create a more equal world and more opportunities for everyone.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

At times, I have felt an implicit bias from certain people. It was most felt when I started my own business with a male co-founder. In one particular meeting, my co-founder and I sat across the table from a new prospective customer. Even though I was in charge, I was answering the customer’s questions and I was sitting directly across from him, he only addressed my co-founder and ignored me the entire time. Unfortunately, I have spoken to multiple women who have been in the same or similar situation. No one in a business setting should ever feel ignored or non-existent and those who have never felt that way should be aware of their conscious and subconscious bias in these situations.

A day in Anna’s life

Currently, I am co-founder and chief product officer at TIKI, which is an all-in-one app that lets people decide what data companies collect about them and how they use it. If they opt to share their data with a company, our app lets them get paid for sharing it. As a consumer data privacy company, we are building TIKI using no consumer data. Even emails used to create a TIKI account are not relayed to our team. We are on a mission to not only help consumers protect and monetize their data, but also demonstrate how to build a company without spying on consumers or stealing their personal information.

I am based in the UK and the majority of TIKI’s team is in the U.S. I normally start and finish my day a bit later than typical office hours. My mornings are devoted to strategizing, reading the news and writing about topics that I care about. Then, I move on to prioritizing and executing on the many pressing tasks at hand – there is so much in our pipeline that we’re excited to share in the coming months. My afternoons and early evenings are generally spent in meetings with the team, advisors, investors and external suppliers.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m most proud of taking the plunge and building a company in the VR healthcare training space. This experience pushed me way beyond my comfort zone, and anything since then has seemed easy in comparison.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

I have been vocal about the issue for a while now. In a recent Medium article, I shared facts and stats that demonstrate the lack of representation of women in technology and business, especially at the executive level. This is due to a combination of factors, including bias, social and cultural barriers to entry and the fact that women are not equally represented in circles where corporate decision-making happens. We are a product of past societal norms, and it will take very deliberate action to correct the status quo in male-dominated industries.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

In all sectors, women typically encounter more issues when it comes to promotions, career development opportunities and reaching the executive level in a company. In tech, the problem starts at the entry level because there are not enough women in the applicant pool.

I personally feel that this is linked to education, but can be easily combated by business and tech leaders increasing their efforts to recruit outside of traditional circles in order to diversify talent. To start, not all tech industry positions are engineering positions – there are many other job opportunities in the sector. Sometimes these job vacancies are filled without ever being advertised because the candidates come from within existing circles. This is one example of where women can be excluded, just by virtue of a company’s recruitment process.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

Yes, it would be. Inequality in tech results in problems for women in all aspects – social, economical, and even when it comes to health, life and wellbeing. A brilliant book that covers all aspects of this conversation is “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez. The book is based on research that shows how society has taken little consideration of women’s needs when it comes to policies, products or experiences.

Fewer women in tech results in less-inclusive products. You can only design inclusive products and experiences if you design for everyone, and understand their needs. For example, car crash tests are typically conducted with a dummy that represents the average male. This contributes to the fact that when a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured.

ake risks, learn, work hard, and find a group of peers who support you and want you to succeed.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current discussion?

The discussion around women in tech has been prevalent for a while now. While progress is slow, I do feel that at least our trajectory is on the right track.

More tech businesses than ever recognise the importance of diversity in their organizations and are trying to address it. That said, we have a long way to go before we reach the point of full equality. I expect it will take at least another 5-10 years.

It needs to be a conscious effort. We need to talk about the issue openly, even if it’s uncomfortable. We need to educate our colleagues and peers on hidden biases in the workplace and equip them with effective strategies to find and hire diverse talent. Both genders need to act, because we can only change the status quo together.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?

Never doubt yourself. Push yourself forward, even if all the imposter syndrome lightbulbs in your head light up. Take risks, learn, work hard, and find a group of peers who support you and want you to succeed.

If naysayers try to push you out or ignore you, move on. Find a work environment where you thrive and excel. There are millions of companies out there that would love to have you. Or start your own company – we need more female CEOs!

More Women in Tech:

Author
Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for JAXenter.com. She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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