6 Of The Most Powerful Women In New York City's Tech Scene

Photographed by Samantha Casolari.
Here at Refinery29, we're constantly inspired by powerful women. And, those in New York's tech scene (a.k.a. Silicon Alley) are some of the most inspiring (and successful) ladies in the biz. But, making it in a male-dominated industry isn't always a walk in the park — it takes a lot of time, endurance, serious hard work, and overcoming some difficult obstacles. From a media powerhouse to a dynamic venture capitalist, six of New York's coolest tech lady bosses share their secrets for taking the world by storm.
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Photographed by Samantha Casolari.
Name: Christina Wallace
Age: 30
Job: Founding Director, BridgeUp: STEM at the American Museum of Natural History
The NYC Neighborhood You Call Home: Brooklyn Heights

What is the most difficult struggle you've faced by being a woman in the tech industry?
"Being hit on by a male investor when what I thought was a pitch meeting turned out to be a date. {Now] I am more careful when accepting meetings to 'grab drinks' with a guy. The downside is that I might miss out on important connections because of that caution, though married men struggle with this issue, too."

Name the one app you can't live without.
"TripIt Pro."

Who is one person who has inspired and/or motivated you?
"Binta Brown. No matter what I'm up against, she's overcome it (and more). She's a former law partner, ongoing musician, TONY voter, startup advisor, fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School, Young Global Leader, political advisor, trustee at Barnard, and scholar. She's my role model and my friend. She's also a fellow Interlochen alum, which is why we bonded so quickly when we first met."

What is the biggest misconception about being a woman in the tech field?
"That we're any different than the men in tech. Some women are more collaborative and empathetic; some aren't. Some are technical. Some are marketers. Some are workaholics. Some seek balance with other things in their lives (whether family or other commitments). 'Women' is a pretty broad category that doesn't encompass the range of experiences, skills, ambitions, and flaws that we bring to the table. So, stop thinking of us as a homogeneous bloc and start getting to know us as individual humans."

Silicon Alley vs. Silicon Valley — who does it better, and why?
"Silicon Alley, all the way. Tech is important here, but it's not the only industry in town. It's easy to break out of the bubble in New York and spend time with people who face stress that is less optional than that of raising VC money, or who don't care about the latest app to send them quarters so they can do laundry. It's a good way to reset your perspective, as well as ensure what you're building matters to the real world. I love going to dinner with my teacher roommate or artist/activist friends and not talking about tech at all. My circle here is still not representative of the whole country — we're still more educated and wealthier on average — but at least it's a step beyond the bubble that believes convenience is paramount, and we all got here through a meritocracy."

Name one company you wish you'd founded (besides your own), and why.
"The Muse; it's going to be incredibly financially successful and have an impact on people's lives. Career discovery, professional development, and job searching are all top-of-mind for millennials — and, increasingly, older workers as the job market continues to shift."

What's the biggest advantage women have over men in tech?
"I try to avoid talking in terms of 'women vs. men' in most things, because I don't believe we are homogeneous groups based on gender (I also don't believe in a binary gender paradigm). But, one thing I do think we bring to the table is that we are never the default, so we are able to evaluate design choices that exclude those outside of such (typically white men). Whether it's workplace policies or product sizing, we see things that others might not — which can be a boon in business. I'm part of TheLi.st, and our maxim (taken from the life motto of Lister Cindy Gallop), is that 'there's a lot of money to be made in taking women seriously.' Investors want to know what our unfair advantage is? We're not the default. It's certainly unfair and in this context, it's an advantage."

With situations like GamerGate and stories of sexual harassment in the news, have you experienced or witnessed such behavior in the workplace?
"Yes, in some forms. I mentioned that I have found myself in meetings that turned romantic or had sexual overtures that were out of line for a business context. And, I haven't always succeeded in trying to toe the line of being clear in my position without damaging the business relationship: There is one venture capitalist who has blackballed me for not welcoming his advances. I've also found myself receiving professional criticism for actions or attitudes that would never have been problematic for men. In one case, I had a potential employer request references to prove my 'huggability' because I came across as competent and confident (a 'force of nature'), but not necessarily 'warm' or 'nice.' But, I haven't faced anything close to GamerGate, and I hope I never do."

What is your advice for asking for a raise?
"Everyone says 'do your research' and 'know your worth' before asking for a raise, but it can be hard to know what is going on in some markets. The best way to prepare for the conversation is to talk with someone who would know what the market looks like — a mentor within the company or someone with more latitudinal data (like an investor or senior employee in a similar statup). Talk through base, bonus, and equity, and then get a sense of what non-financial compensation you'd like to ask for if your company can't reach the numbers you're asking (like pre-tax transit or HSA contributions, professional development or conference budgets, extra vacation or more flexibility in working remotely, etc.). Practice your conversation with your mentor — nine times out of 10, I have to tell my mentees to increase the number they are asking for so they are left with room to negotiate."

There's been a lot of talk about women who study and plan for a career in tech, and then wind up leaving the field. Why do you think this happens, and what was your plan for making it in the industry?
"Many of the conversations I've been privvy to about this topic have similar themes: There comes a point (often between seven and 10 years of experience) that one just becomes tired of fighting for everything — for inclusion in the workplace, for visibility and promotion, for a chance to just work and let that speak for itself. And, when many of the women I know hit that point, they took stock of the other opportunities in their life and noticed they could make more headway doing something else or prioritizing different things, and they decided to move on. Bottom line: If you want a diverse workplace, you have to build a culture that values diversity instead of tokenizing it. Otherwise, you can't be surprised when your 'diversity' walks out the door when they see a better value proposition elsewhere. My plan to succeed in tech? Only work in places where my skill set, my communication style, and my leadership is valued. Otherwise, I'll feel like 'a fish trying to climb a tree.'"
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Photographed by Samantha Casolari.
Name: Reshma Saujani
Age: 38
Job: Founder and CEO, Girls Who Code
The NYC Neighborhood You Call Home: Chelsea

What is the most difficult struggle you've faced by being a woman in the tech industry?
"The incredibly pervasive, totally false, cultural idea that computer science is somehow a boy thing, and that girls aren't good at it. I see young women who have this myth ingrained in them, and that's what Girls Who Code is working to fix by inspiring, educating, and equipping girls for 21st century opportunities."

Name the one app you can't live without.
"Kindle. No matter how crazy my schedule gets, I am always reading."

Who is one person who has inspired and/or motivated you?
"Sheryl Sandberg. I love her passion for lifting women up, and I'm inspired by her ability to shake off negativity and just be authentic to herself and her mission."

What is the biggest misconception about being a woman in the tech field?
"The biggest misconception is that we're alone. The industry may be male-dominated, but there are female entrepreneurs and engineers doing amazing things. It's important for us to share each others' stories and successes."

Silicon Alley vs. Silicon Valley — who does it better, and why?
"Silicon Alley. The community here is young and still really finding our own identity. We have a massive opportunity to build an inclusive tech workforce that is diverse, civically engaged, and run by women."

Name one company you wish you'd founded (besides your own), and why.
"The Treats Truck. It's a smart, woman-owned business, people are always happy to see you, and I'd save a fortune on cookies!"

What's the biggest advantage women have over men in tech?
"We're a sisterhood. In tech, being able to collaborate is a huge advantage."

With situations like GamerGate and stories of sexual harassment in the news, have you experienced or witnessed such behavior in the workplace?
"I've seen more unconscious bias than sexual harassment, but the future of innovation in this country depends on eliminating both."
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Photographed by Samantha Casolari.
Name: Nicole Sanchez
Age: 30
Job: Founder, VIXXENN
The NYC Neighborhood You Call Home: For work: midtown. Where I live: Jersey City. But, I love: Harlem.

What is the most difficult struggle you've faced by being a woman in the tech industry?
"My company, VIXXENN, is a hair extensions e-commerce startup. Given that my space targets women, it's not a market most male investors are familiar with. So, I always need to invest more time upfront explaining my market and providing context. I liken my hair enthusiast to a gamer. It's a great analogy to help others understand the space."

Name the one app you can't live without.
"Instagram is everything. (Follow us @VIXXENNHAIR!)"

Who is one person who has inspired and/or motivated you?
"My father-in-law, Victor Sanchez, is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. This is a man who speaks no English and never went to college. But, he's an entrepreneur, and one of the best salesmen I've ever met. Though he's failed many times, he never stopped, and he has risen to some of the highest ranks within his direct sales organization. He now leads teams throughout Latin America and provides a great life for his family. That's why VIXXENN is a direct sales model. It's the democratization of business. We partner with great hairstylists and help them become the entrepreneurs they always wanted to be."

What is the biggest misconception about being a woman in the tech field?
"That being a woman is the hardest thing. Building a repeatable, scalable model is the hardest thing. Being a woman is what it is. Are there pressures and nuances to our experience? Of course. Is it harder as a woman? Most likely. But, you can't let that stop you. I don't want women dissuaded from starting [in the industry] because they think it will be hard. Just go for it, and build from there. I've found an incredibly supportive environment of both men and women committed to helping me grow my startup into greatness."

Silicon Alley vs. Silicon Valley — who does it better, and why?
"Silicon Alley all the way. We've got a chip on our shoulder and something to prove, so we're scrappy and supportive of each other. And, we have that NYC swagger."

Name one company you wish you'd founded (besides your own), and why.
"Amazon. I think Jeff Bezos was intensely focused on building a sustainable, competitive advantage and leveraging that into other verticals. Fantastic strategy, and more important: strong execution. I'm a fan."

What's the biggest advantage women have over men in the field?
"Unique perspectives. In tech, there can often be a lot of 'me too' startups, so spaces become saturated quickly. I find women are often targeting different markets and can build strong, differentiated businesses."

With situations like GamerGate and stories of sexual harassment in the news, have you experienced or witnessed such behavior in the workplace?
"My experience has been positive, and I credit that to much of the work that has been done to make women feel welcome and supported in tech. There are many people and groups that I think are conscious of this: Rachel Sklar and Glynnis MacNicol of TheLi.st have progressed the conversation on the issues women in tech face; both Grand Central Tech and First Growth Venture Network are accelerators that have always recognized the talent and potential of women and made the effort to recruit and cultivate that talent; and, there are investors like Charlie O'Donnell who actively invest in women. You need an ecosystem of support to be successful and generate change."

What is your advice for asking for a raise?
"I think women should feel empowered and come prepared. Be able to articulate your contributions and why you would like a raise. If you have performed well, your manager will likely agree. They also may be able to structure some form of milestone-based bonus so your incentives are aligned with the company."

There's been a lot of talk about women who study and plan for a career in tech, and then wind up leaving the field. Why do you think this happens, and what was your plan for making it in the industry?
"The startup environment requires a high-risk tolerance. Especially for those of us who have been overachievers our entire lives, the comfort with risk and potential for failure is something many struggle to get comfortable with. I'm not immune to this. It's tough being a founder, but the most important thing is to just manage through it. That takes will, and more importantly, a great support system. You can never do it alone, so make sure you're building networks of supporters and those you can support."
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Photographed by Samantha Casolari.
Name: Elizabeth Plank
Age: 27
Job: Senior Editor of Mic
The NYC Neighborhood You Call Home: East Village

What is the most difficult struggle you've faced by being a woman in the tech industry?
"Men don't need to justify the seat they have at the table, but women do. Having to prove your value over and over again can be exhausting. We assume women are less competent (just look at the depressing data), and that has huge repercussions in the workplace, especially in male-dominated fields. As a woman, it's important to remain confident because you just can't always count on outside validation. That's why believing in yourself is paramount."

Name the one app you can't live without.
"Instagram, because it's such a positive platform. I love my followers so much, and I generally see it as a very supportive space, especially for women. It's funny and light, but still has the power to drive deeper conversations about feminism and social change."

Who is one person who has inspired and/or motivated you?
"My mother. She's a total boss."

What is the biggest misconception about being a woman in the tech field?
"That you need to act like a man to get ahead, and that women are all competing with each other. The minute I moved to New York City, I was embraced by a supportive community of women who were determined to join forces and elevate each other. I have rarely encountered such a strong and powerful sisterhood."

Silicon Alley vs. Silicon Valley — who does it better, and why?
"Easy. Silicon Alley. Mostly because our bagels are better."

Name one company you wish you'd founded (besides your own), and why.
"TheLi.st, which was founded by my close friends Rachel Sklar and Glynnis MacNicol. It's a community that's allowed me to meet and have conversations with other women in tech and across other industries. When women collaborate, our power is endless."

What's the biggest advantage women have over men in tech?
"Women are hyper-aware of the feelings of others. That's what makes us more likely to be people-pleasers, but it's also what makes us great managers. It's one of the reasons we tend to have a more collaborative leadership style, which has been shown to increase a company's bottom line. Having empathy and consideration for others is something we teach girls early on, and that kind of emotional intelligence is an incredibly valuable asset in the workplace."

With situations like GamerGate and stories of sexual harassment in the news, have you experienced or witnessed such behavior in the workplace?
"Absolutely. Sexual harassment happens in most workplaces, and no industry is entirely immune to it. Given the nature of the work that I do, most of the harassment happens online. A recent study showed that female journalists experience some of the worst forms of online abuse, and that didn't shock me at all. I've experienced it and watched good friends and coworkers deal with it too. Trolling can become an occupational hazard for female journalists, and we have to take it seriously. A rape threat is still a rape threat, whether it happens offline or online. The Internet, just like our sidewalks, is still a space that's unsafe for women. Technology may have given women power, [and] the potential to mobilize and organize, but it has also made us much more vulnerable to abuse, too."

What is your advice for asking for a raise?
"As women, we're taught from a very young age to please and make others happy. But, the thing with negotiation is that if you're doing it right, it actually shouldn't be comfortable for any of the parties involved. Being aware of that is very important when asking for a raise. My best advice for women is to embrace the awkwardness of negotiation. It's also essential to come prepared. My friend Meredith Fineman, who does negotiation coaching for women, has taught me to always come with a list of numbers and figures that you're ready to brag about. If you're not prepared, don't be surprised if you don't get what you want." There's been a lot of talk about women who study and plan for a career in tech, and then wind up leaving the field. Why do you think this happens, and what was your plan for making it in the industry?
"Despite recent advances, the workplace is still a hostile environment for women, especially mothers. Most people don't realize that the gender wage gap between mothers and non-mothers is actually larger than the wage gap between women and men. It's disturbing given that many of us will have children one day. It's not only unfair to discriminate against mothers, it's counterintuitive because research shows that they are more productive than their childless coworkers. Hopefully by the time I'm ready to have a family, the world will be a more equal place. But until then, my plan is to keep pressure on the industry to accommodate young moms. If the patriarchy is still around by the time I want babies, I'll just find myself a hot man who knows how to give awesome foot massages and change diapers. Take that, workplace sexism!"
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Photographed by Samantha Casolari.
Name: Fran Hauser
Age: 45
Job: Partner, Rothenberg Ventures
The NYC Neighborhood You Call Home: Upper West Side until last year, when we moved to Bedford, New York

What is the most difficult struggle you've faced by being a woman in the tech industry?
"This is not a woman’s world. That’s not a quip. It’s just a fact. Only 6% of venture capital partners in the U.S. are women. And, only 11% of venture-backed companies are founded by women. I think those numbers tell a pretty compelling story. Sometimes male investors can’t personally relate to a problem that a female founder is trying to solve. And, if the investor doesn’t understand the problem, why would he bother taking a meeting? But, in VC, warm introductions can make all the difference, so even if I pass on a deal with a smart, female-founded company because it’s not right for us, I make it a priority to get that company — and its female founder — in front of the right investors."

Name the one app you can't live without.
"Evernote. At the moment, I have 227 notes covering everything from work projects to nonprofit fundraisers to birthday party planning for my boys!"

Who is one person who has inspired and/or motivated you?
"My mother is my inspiration. An Italian immigrant with four young children, she opened a tailoring shop in Mount Kisco, NY, in the 1970s when I was a little girl. Even though she spoke only broken English, she was a successful small-business woman with an unflappable spirit. She showed me that non-verbal cues, charm, and kindness can carry you far. I am always flattered when friends tell me that I share these qualities with my mother. And, truth be told, I believe these personal characteristics have been more critical to my success as a businessperson than any kind of technical proficiency or specialized know-how."

What is the biggest misconception about being a woman in the tech field?
"That women have to act like men to be successful. The truth is, we are all most successful when we embrace our strengths. I hate the myth of the catty, backstabbing woman. We all achieve more when we support each other and treat our colleagues and competitors with the respect and kindness we’d like to be shown ourselves."

Silicon Alley vs. Silicon Valley — who does it better, and why?
"At the risk of sounding too political, each has its advantages. Silicon Valley has extraordinary access to talented engineers, and the startup culture is deeply embedded in the region. Silicon Alley, on the other hand, is much more diverse across industries (media, finance, tech). You also tend to see more branding and marketing expertise in NYC."

Name one company you wish you'd founded (besides your own), and why.
"Spanx! It’s brilliant. I love how Sara Blakely tackled a problem that has existed forever and devised a simple solution. I love businesses that reach a mass audience and have plenty of opportunities for new product lines and extensions."

What's the biggest advantage women have over men in the field?
"Empathy. Men can be empathetic, too, but women tend to have an easier time putting themselves in other people's shoes. That helps us better intuit the needs of our teams, our colleagues, our customers, and even our competitors. Empathy gives women a leadership edge."

With situations like GamerGate and stories of sexual harassment in the news, have you experienced or witnessed such behavior in the workplace?
"I have heard second-hand stories from female founders about inappropriate behavior, but I haven't experienced anything firsthand. I do believe it’s important for women to speak up about our experiences and lead the way for future generations by creating the kind of industry and environment we want to work in."

What is your advice for asking for a raise?
"Don’t be timid! Women often feel that they shouldn’t ask for a raise, that if they are doing a good job, the raise will magically happen. That’s usually not the case. You can increase your chances of success when asking for a raise by preparing your case. Make sure your boss knows how the contributions you make impact the company’s bottom line. Be specific and back your case up with examples. For instance: 'The new sales materials I created helped us increase revenue by 8%.'”
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Photographed by Samantha Casolari.
Name: Kristen Titus
Age: 30
Job: Founding Director, Tech Talent Pipeline, City of New York
The NYC Neighborhood You Call Home: Live: Brooklyn. Work: City Hall

What is the most difficult struggle you've faced by being a woman in the tech industry?
"Years ago, the issue of gender parity was nowhere on the agenda. You couldn’t beg people to talk about this on stage or to cover it in the press. Today, I can’t open a magazine or join a conversation without women in tech being front and center. We’ve come a long way."

Name the one app you can't live without.
"Hopscotch is great if you’re just learning to code. And, for all New Yorkers, Exit Strategy gets me where I’m going with unbelievable efficiency."

Who is one person who has inspired and/or motivated you?
"There are many brilliant women who paved the way for us to be here, making the impact that we are today. Kat Cole’s story and leadership are incredibly inspiring. The new CTOs of New York City and the United States, Minerva Tantoco and Megan Smith, are an inspiration to women everywhere. But, it’s the young women that keep us going — to see such passionate, talented, and inspiring young women going into the field is our everyday motivation."

What is the biggest misconception about being a woman in the tech field?
"The biggest misconception about being a woman in the field: Women are here. They’re developing the latest innovations, building life-saving products, and growing companies that will impact millions."

Silicon Alley vs. Silicon Valley — who does it better, and why?
"New York is the nexus of every industry, the home of innovation, and the birthplace of opportunity. And, on top of that, New York City offers a variety of free programs and services to help small businesses start, operate, and thrive. This is the place to do business. This is the place to be."

What's the biggest advantage women have over men in the field?
"It’s not about men versus women. It’s about working together toward a common set of goals, and women are especially talented in bringing people together to get things done."
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