The Social Impact ABIE Award recognizes individuals who have made a positive impact on women, technology, and society. This year’s winner is Kathryn Finney, Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID), 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. We connected with Kathryn to learn more about her endeavors. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What has been your biggest challenge and accomplishment during your work with the BIG Tech Accelerator program?
Our biggest accomplishment so far has been creating a space where Black and Latina women entrepreneurs can feel empowered to go BIG. The startups that applied were as diverse as the founders themselves. From cannabis management software to customized shoes, there was no shortage of creativity and innovation in our 2016 application pool.
The biggest challenge is reframing and redefining the concept of who can lead a successful startup. Tech is still stuck on this idea and pattern of who they think can and should be successful. digitalundivided is actively changing this narrative.
What was the impetus for starting the #ProjectDiane research? What was the most surprising outcome of that research for you?
As an epidemiologist by profession, one thing I’ve learned is that if no one thinks to record the data, you can’t quantify the problem. An unquantified problem can then easily be left unaddressed and ignored. That’s exactly the case for women of color founders in the tech space.
Part of what we do at digitalundivided is communicating to various audiences (ranging from investors to government agencies to foundations) the challenges of fundraising and finding support for Black and Latina women in tech. Wanting to back our anecdotal evidences with solid, hard numbers, our team set out to look for existing data on women of color and tech. We found NONE.
So our team had to do the necessary primary research and recorded not only the number of Black-women-led startups, but also information like their location, schools, networks, fund statuses, etc. These helped us create a picture of the often-overlooked state of tech entrepreneurship, particularly among Black women.
The most surprising finding of the research is that in an industry worth $606 billion in 2011 alone, statistically NO Black women have raised venture funding over the past five years. Now when people ask us how bad things are for women of color founders, we can tell them straight up, “Like, zero bad.”
What do you tell investors is the most important part of investing in women in tech?
Women, notably women of color, are the fastest growing group of women entrepreneurs in the U.S. These are companies poised for above-market returns in high-growth, underserved sectors geared to deliver positive economic impact.
You’ve seen social media evolve from the very beginning. Today, how can social media be made to be more inclusive of all voices?
A good friend/supporter of DID, Anil Dash, conducted an interesting social media experiment in 2014 wherein he didn’t retweet men for a whole year (except for a single Prince tweet, but that’s totally understandable because PRINCE!). As a mega influencer and hugely-respected name in tech, he has an uncanny power to bring to the larger audience certain topics and conversations on Twitter that can shape people’s views. And Anil chose to use that privilege to amplify other worthwhile but unheard-of voices. In effect, it removed conventional gatekeepers like gender-based credibility and how “elite” your network is.
The result? He learned that women were essentially saying the same thing as men (even expressed better, at times), and the women-only retweets that shaped his feed allowed him to broaden his perspective on a number of different issues.
It would be great if more social media heavyweights can do that: amplify more posts with substance, rather than those with just star power.
What is one tech trend/emerging technology you’re most excited about?
The Internet of Things (IoT) platform, which is growing more robust every day. I can foresee the impact this will have in addressing various real-time issues ranging from home security to medical support for remote regions in the world.
If you had one piece of advice to give to a young woman entering the world of computing or tech, what would it be?
Show up, no permission needed. As women, we often wait for people to “invite” us into spaces. That isn’t always going to happen. Success comes to those who show up, with or without an invite. If digitalundivided waited for permission, we might never have gotten our plan off the ground!
Meet Kathryn at the Speakers Corner at the AnitaB.org Booth (Booth #1420, GRBCC Hall B-D) on Thursday from 1 – 1:45 p.m.