Weathering storms over privacy concerns, hate speech and and racial inequities in AI, the tech industry is facing a reckoning. At the same time, there exist so many reasons to believe there is hope. Here are 17 of them.
They recognize that moving forward with the status quo is no longer an option and, crucially, that tech can be used as a force for good. Working in venture capital, AI, cryptocurrency and running some of the nation's biggest companies as well as the industry's most progressive inclusion initiatives, the women below are using their talents and skills to help tech shape the kind of world we want to be a part of.
MONIQUE IDLETT-MOSLEY, REIGN VENTURES
Idlett-Mosley worked for USA Today, then became CEO of the label Mosley Brands and Mosley Music Group (both of which she founded with her husband, Timbaland), before launching the VC firm Reign Ventures with partner Erica Duignan Minnihan in 2017. The Miami- and New York–based firm, which is named after Idlett-Mosley’s daughter, focuses on early-stage investing in companies run by women and people of color (black women have raised only 0.0006 percent of VC funding in the past decade). Reign Ventures has backed start-ups like the wedding website and app Appy Couple and the fashion rental platform Villageluxe. “I want to make sure that we leave behind an opportunity and an experience for girls to know that they’re worthy of being invested in, that we’re not charity work,” she says.
KATIE HAUN, ANDREESSEN HOROWITZ
Haun, a former federal prosecutor whose résumé includes a clerkship with Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy and a stint in the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuting violent crime, had never heard of Bitcoin when she was asked to investigate it in 2012. She quickly caught up, creating the government task force on cryptocurrency and becoming a leading expert in the process. Now she leads a $350 million cryptocurrency fund at Andreessen Horowitz, where she became the storied VC firm’s first female general partner in 2018, and she sits on the board of the cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase. She continues to be a proponent of blockchain technology. “Just like a lot of things in tech, it can be used for good things, and it can be used for bad things.”
KARLA MONTEROSSO, CODE2040
Code2040 seeks to remove the structural and attitudinal barriers that have prevented black and Latinx people from being fully represented in high-powered tech roles. CEO Monterosso was a director at the nonprofit Health Leads when she attended a Code2040 event and saw students presenting a translation app that could have dramatically improved medical care for the patients she worked with. She joined the team shortly after. “It became clear that the next version of the country was going to be built in the cloud, and if it wasn’t being built by people who had the experiences of being black or Latinx, that it was going to be built in the same way it was in the Industrial Revolution.”
EMILIE CHOI, COINBASE
This past May, Choi was elevated to COO of the cryptocurrency exchange start-up Coinbase. Prior to her promotion, she’d played a fundamental role in securing the $325 million in funding that helped the company score an $8 billion valuation at the end of 2018, despite Bitcoin’s plunge. In her two years at the company, she’s become convinced that cryptocurrency is the next frontier in technology. “The founding rationale behind crypto is one in which it’s accessible to anybody. It’s serving people who are unbanked; it’s serving people who are overbanked,” she says. “I hope that over time, we can find ways in which we can broadly mimic that throughout other [tech] industries.”
JENNIFER TEJADA, PAGERDUTY
When PagerDuty went public in April, CEO Tejada rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange after raising $218 million in its IPO. She’s the rare woman at the helm of an enterprise start-up,a software company that scored a valuation of over $1 billion prior to its NYSE debut. Tejada also serves on the board of Estée Lauder. “I’m a lot of things, and self-aware is definitely one of them; I knew that I was not somebody who was going to start something myself,” she says of her career trajectory, which began in the management training program at Proctor & Gamble. “I am more someone who can recognize a great outfit and become a very loving adoptive parent.”
ROBIN RASKIN, LIVING IN DIGITAL TIMES
At PC Magazine, Raskin, who began contributing in 1984 and eventually became editor, was one of very few women and strove to shape the magazine’s coverage around the idea of how computers, then the domain of the ultra-techie, could come to shape every facet of our day-to-day lives, a theory that has since been borne out—and then some. Raskin went on to start the event production firm Living in Digital Times and over the past 12 years, she’s been a staunch advocate for women at the wildly popular consumer technology conference CES, where she helped fashion, beauty, and family become popular categories. “Technology is a little daunting and scary sometimes, a little creepy sometimes—and it’s our job to de-creep it,” she explains.
MARIA RAGA, CEO OF DEPOP
Raga, whose last role was at Groupon, now leads the considerably trendier social media shopping app Depop, a company Gen Zers cannot seem to get enough of. (About 90 percent of its active users are under 26, and the majority are women, though Raga notes that some users prefer not to define their gender identity along traditional binary lines.) Among the reasons: sustainability (why contribute to fast fashion’s massive carbon footprint when you can get a vintage item you’re sure no one else will have?); the low bar to entrepreneurship (some users reporting making five-figure salaries); and a sense of community. For young people, it’s refreshing for what’s cool to not solely be about brands dictating from on high. “We’re allowing the community to set the trends,” Raga says.
TANYA MENENDEZ, SNOWBALL WEALTH
Menendez was a cofounder of the much-celebrated start-up Maker’s Row, which helped connect small businesses to American manufacturers, before her interest pivoted to financial services. The shift was fueled by her identity as a first-generation college graduate, which led her to address student debt, something she saw as the most significant financial issue facing our generation. Snowball Wealth, an online platform which launches in March and for which Menendez is co-founder and CEO, takes a comparison shopping approach, offering users financial models to determine the most efficient plan to pay off their debt. “It’s affecting every single part of their life, including how they date, how they think about getting a job, their relationship with their family,” Menendez says of the target users. “We feel that if we can solve it, we can dramatically change the way that the future looks for women and for society as a whole.”
SUSAN PENFIELD, BOOZ ALLEN HAMILTON
As chief innovation officer at the nearly 27,000-person technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, Penfield oversees all of the company’s next-generation technology advising for both commercial and government clients, giving them ways to use new advances to more efficiently run their opertaions. This has given her a unique perspective on the technology revolution over the 25 years she’s been at the company, where she’s gone from transitioning clients from mainframe computing to Windows to focusing on how her clients can use AI and quantum computing. Increasing female representation among her staff and in STEM careers in general has been a priority, and it has led her to create partnerships between Booz Allen Hamilton and local students. “I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do that just inside Booz Allen, but I really had to create the feeder pool for it,” she says.
ELLEN PAO, PROJECT INCLUDE
Pao became a national symbol for the struggles facing women in tech when she filed a workplace gender discrimination lawsuit against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. After later serving as interim CEO of Reddit, Pao cofounded Project Include, which aims to improve employee diversity and inclusion across the industry. She’s spoken out about holding tech accountable for what she sees as harmful actions, including unethical marketing and allowing hate to flourish on its platforms. “I don’t think tech is focused on the right values,” she says. “And a big part of that is the inability of tech leaders—including their executives, including the boards, including their investors—to understand the harm that happens outside their circles.”
REDIET ABEBE, BLACK IN AI
Abebe had always loved math, but when she began attending local city council meetings to learn about the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she had moved from Addis Ababa to attend undergrad at Harvard, she began to envision the ways that science and math could be used for the public good. Having recently become the first black woman to complete a computer science PhD at Cornell, and joined the prestigious Harvard Society of Fellows, her research looks at the ways that AI, a field that has raised significant concerns about racial blind spots, can be used to fight inequality. She also cofounded the nearly 2,000-member group Black in AI with Timnit Gebru, a computer scientist at Google, to address gaps in both research and representation. “Who’s at the table impacts which questions you end up asking and how you approach them, and who you look out for in making sure that people don’t get harmed,” she says.
KAREN KAHN, HP
Kahn transitioned into tech after working at media outlets like Inc. magazine and PBS, and her former identity as a journalist shapes the way she approaches her current role overseeing communications for HP. Kahn, who came to HP in 2015 from the semiconductor company Broadcom, says that “the throughline through all of it has been being a storyteller.” She sees her role now as mining the company for “narrative and content that is meaningful and authentic” to share with the world.
CLAUDINE CAZIAN, INSTAGRAM
Prior to joining Instagram, Cazian spent 15 years working with Ryan Seacrest as part of a core group that helped launched his career and was there for the start of American Idol. This experience taught her, she says, about the entertainment industry “from the ground up.” Now she oversees the entertainment, music, and sports verticals on the Instagram partnerships team, where she acts as the “internal and external ambassador” for some of the biggest celebrities in the world. When a Hollywood A-lister joins the platform, it’s Cazian’s team who engages with the actor directly and helps “bring what they want to say out into the world and introduce it to the Instagram community.”
SUKHINDER SINGH CASSIDY, STUBHUB
Before her tenure as president of StubHub, Singh Cassidy made the rounds at industry giants like Google, where she was president of Google’s Asia Pacific and Latin American operations, and as CEO of Polyvore. After becoming the earliest Stitch Fix investor, she has also set her sights on a top-down approach to diversifying the corporate culture with theBoardlist, a company she founded that connects boards with women from diverse backgrounds. “If you want to change the dynamic for women,” she says, “you need more women in power.”
STACY BROWN-PHILPOT, TASKRABBIT
After a nine-year tenure at Google, during which she created the employee group Black Googlers Network, Brown-Philpot left the tech giant to join TaskRabbit as COO in 2013. She was promoted to CEO three years later and oversaw the company’s 2017 acquisition by IKEA. Her interest in the company had been stoked by her life as a new mom and memories of her childhood in Detroit, where she believes TaskRabbit could have offered a lifeline to those left jobless amid the contraction of the automotive industry. Focused on increasing the services TaskRabbit offers beyond the approximately 50 current categories and further expanding its global reach, Brown-Philpot sees her work as a “mission of making everyday life easier for everyday people.”
PEGGY JOHNSON, MICROSOFT
Johnson joined Microsoft to oversee business development five years ago, when the then newly installed CEO Satya Nadella was seeking to revitalize the flagging corporate giant. Johnson, who previously spent 24 years at Qualcomm after starting there as a software engineer, focuses on acquisitions, investments, and partnerships and has contributed to the big-ticket purchases of LinkedIn (for a whopping $26.2 billion) and Github (for $7.5 billion) and the creation of M12, a venture capital subsidiary within Microsoft. She’s also intent on updating the image of what an engineer looks like. “I think young women need to see how they fit in an engineering world, and if you go all the way out to that end game—‘Hey, you can help solve climate change or diagnose a disease’—I think that helps draw them in,” she says.
MELODY MCCLOSKEY, STYLESEAT
With StyleSeat, founder and CEO McCloskey found a way to use scheduling software to improve the salon experience for both stylists and clients. “Business fundamentals are something that a stylist shouldn’t be spending energy on,” she says. “A data scientist should be spending energy on that.” McCloskey created the platform while she was working distribution for Current TV, spending nights and weekends to perfect a system which handles salons’ booking, client management, and marketing. It has now facilitated over 120 million appointments and a billion dollars a year in bookings.
This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of ELLE.
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