An Open Letter to Dads: How To Raise Your Daughter To Be A Tech Entrepreneur

Article by Diane Strutner CEO at Datazoom

Today is the day after Father’s Day. I spent a solid chunk of yesterday in the car, while my Dad drove my mom and me home from a vacation up to Lake Tahoe. I worked on emails from my laptop in the backseat while my parents listened quietly to podcasts up front, letting me work. Even on his special day, I felt my Dad’s overwhelming desire to see me succeed.

I am a software and technology entrepreneur. I claimed this title 20 months ago, after I called my old CEO to tell him that I was resigning and I was going to start a company of my own. Since then, Datazoom has released the first version of our platform, and has closed on our first round of funding. But my true preparation for this entrepreneurial journey began 28 years ago.

From a young age, I wanted to work in tech and was heavily influenced by my Dad’s involvement in the industry. As a little girl, I was fascinated by the opportunities tech gave him to travel, often going to far away places, and I looked forward to the gifts of light up bouncy balls and fancy pens he’d bring with him when he returned home from a conference. As I grew older, my Dad would engage me in discussions about his work. He helped me to understand the composition of the software technology landscape. We’d discuss the big players in the space, and how a startup with a clear advantage and a solid execution plan could sprout up overnight and shake up an industry. I watched first hand as my Dad endured the rollercoaster ride of high-highs and low-lows of this new and volatile industry, one that I’ve concluded is not suitable for the faint of heart. In my eyes, the fast pace and endless possibilities presented by this post-internet and early cloud computing era were exciting, and I fell in love with the idea of playing a part in it. But my Dad had other plans.

Although the state of women in tech today is beginning to improve, the industry is notoriously uninviting – only 18% of roles in tech, including engineering, data science, product design, etc. are held by women in the U.S. The ratio falls even more sharply when considering seniority, as only 10% of executive roles in tech are held by women. And pencils sharpen when we move to the top of the org chart, with only 5% of tech startups owned by women, who only secured 2% of all VC funding in 2017.

Despite these statistics, my Dad didn’t want me to become a part of this industry. No, he wanted me to lead it. On a regular basis we discussed career paths, pay gaps, and gender bias. We discussed inter-office politics, dealmaking, and negotiations. We talked about the stories behind and qualities that make great leaders, CEOs, and Founders; and I grew up wanting to be exactly that. These talks and his ability to place me in these roles in his own eyes, even before they became clear in mine, offered a strong counter-balance to many of the things that still hold women back in the tech world today.

I believe that one of the keys to changing the narrative for women in tech starts when we are still girls – We need the support, trust and encouragement early on from our Dads to help us grow our strength, confidence and fearlessness – things required to be seen, and see ourselves, as an equal player in today’s unequal playing field of tech entrepreneurship. It should be the goal of every father to help his daughter to not simply participate in the tech industry, but to lead it. When I look back at my childhood, there was not a single person more influential to my self-actualization than my Dad. With this in mind, I have some advice for fathers looking to raise their daughters to be a tech entrepreneurs:

Discuss sexism and gender bias with her openly, and often.

The first person who opened my eyes to gender bias was my Dad. I was probably about 9 or 10 years old, and I vividly remember sitting in in the backseat of our VW van, waiting for the stoplight at the freeway exit near my house to turn green. My mom, Dad and brother were all in the car, and he told us the following old riddle: A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the Dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” We all sat and pondered this riddle for several minutes, until my Dad finally revealed that the surgeon was actually the boy’s mother.

I remember feeling absolutely shocked that I had missed something that now seems so obvious. Immediately following his reveal, my Dad started an open conversation about assumptions and bias, and how they influence the way we make decisions and perceive things. I felt my eyes opened from that day, and our discussions on the topic did not end. But it created a opening for us to have these discussions very early on.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working a booth at a trade show, and someone has asked me if I could introduce them to someone for a product demo, because they assumed I wasn’t technical. It hurt, but I was prepared for the comments and raised eyebrows when they’d learn I was actually in a senior sales position. It hurt when I’ve been asked what it’s like to be a “booth babe” – something I’ve never done in my life. And it still hurts today to see the shock on someone’s face once they hear that I’m the CEO of a tech company. Talking with my Dad prepared me for these situations. It helped me to develop what I rely on, a ‘thick skin’, to handle these situations. And it gave me an outlet, and someone to talk to about it.

In a world that doesn’t stand in her favor, helping her know what challenges she’ll face will help her to navigate these difficult situations. Open the conversation with your daughter early, and leave the door open for more discussion. 

Help her understand her own worth (professionally). 

The pay gap is a real thing, and my Dad knew this. He wanted me to know it as well. One of the things that my Dad and I have always talked about is what positions pay. He’d share with me what positions in the company made the most money, why, and he’d advise me on which career paths would be the most lucrative. We also discussed things like how to negotiate your salary, and when to ask for a raise. He’d continually bring these topics up with me as I moved between internships and into my first jobs. We had open discussions about how it was illegal for a company to pay me less than my male counter-part. He challenged me to understand the value I bring to an organization and provided me with mindset and tools I needed to be successful at getting paid what I was worth.

From the time she takes her first job, talk with your daughter about pay. What she should get paid. What she could get paid in other positions. Encourage her to understand if she’s getting paid fairly. Encourage her to understand her worth. 

Help her set career goals, and to create a career plan. 

My Dad had high professional expectations for me, and therefore I felt comfortable having equally high expectations for myself. But a career doesn’t start the day you graduate college, it starts much earlier. From high school my Dad talked to me about the basic skills that most high-level positions would need. In fact my very first internship was selling clean room cleaning services to facilities managers across silicon valley. That summer I made over 3,000 cold calls. I was just 16. Sales was a skill I could take into any professional career, and at the age of 16 I was no longer afraid to pick up the phone and talk to someone I didn’t know.

This was preparation that started long before, that I now attribute to shaping my career. This is why someone saw potential in me, to give me my first Director-level position at the age of 22 at a young tech startup. This is why, at 25, I held my first VP position. And this is why, at 27, I felt I could take on the world as an entrepreneur. My Dad helped me identify the skills I would need, demystified these seemingly “high ranking” positions, and taught me that anything was attainable.

Talk to your daughter about what she wants to do. Identify what skills she can develop early one. Support her in using your network to get her internships and other positions. Work with her to understand that careers are built overtime, and a little planning and strategy will go a long way. 

Teach her to apply for the job she wants, not the ones she’s qualified for.

When I look back, I’m not sure that I ever took a job where I actually met all the listed requirements. In fact, at my first internship where I made all those cold calls, there wasn’t even a job posting, my Dad encouraged me to make up a job that would add value to the company, and apply anyway. What could it hurt? When we look the statistics for the number (or the lack) of women who hold high-ranking positions, I believe part of the issue is that women are not positioning themselves, or applying, for these positions in the first place. We then see less women in contention for these positions, and I imagine in the mind of the hiring executive or HR manager, bias starts to form. When it comes to building companies, there’s not a first-time entrepreneur who had all the qualities and job requirements needed to guarantee their success.

Coach your daughter to apply for positions that are one level above her own. Teach her that even if she doesn’t get the job, she’ll learn a great deal through the process. Teach her that she has nothing to lose, and everything to gain. 

Discuss the hard topics, even though it’s hard to.

I (hopefully) am not the person to let you know that gender bias, discrimination and sexual harassment are very real issues for women in the workplace. And, unfortunately, your daughter will not get the magic free ride out of experiencing any (or all) of these issues. There is not a women I’ve spoken with who has not experienced harassment. If you follow my posts, you know I’ve been quite vocal on this topic already, having experienced it personally in almost every job.

Do you want to change this narrative? Well, you can. I can’t imagine having a more fruitful discussion about these difficult topics than the ones I had with my Dad. Maybe it was because lots of the individuals committing such acts looked a lot like him (white middle-aged males), and so when it came time to confronting men I knew what to do and was ready to deal with the situation and defend myself. I used my words. I reported individuals. And I had an outlet, and someone I knew I could talk to about it.

I can’t say it was easy discussing these things with my Dad… it felt awkward. It also wasn’t easy talking to him about how I was mistreated or harassed. But I talked to him anyway, and I what helped the situation was that he didn’t get too emotionally involved, he was practical. “Did you say something?” “What do you plan to do about it?” “Taking no action isn’t a plan.” To be truthful, I cried to my friends and my mom about these things. I had discussions with my Dad. That was the balance I needed.

Talk to your daughter about these topics, and what she will likely face. Open the door for conversation, and make sure it stays that way.

[I’m not crying, you’re crying.]

Believe in her, even before she does.

Before I every leap of professional faith that I took, when I look back, I realized that my Dad already took it for me. When I thought I was too young to have an internship, my Dad believed I was ready. When I struggled to find a job where I met all the requirements, my Dad would say “you can pick up those skills easily once you’re there.” My Dad believed in me, and always saw a brighter future for me than I was able to see for myself at every moment. Its because of that confidence and his belief in me that I felt comfortable taking risks, trying new things. Even when I failed, my Dad knew before I did that I would recover from it, and he’d tell me. His consistent belief and active support gave me the “permission” I needed to be bold and self-assured when I did’t think I “should”.

Make sure you tell you daughter that you believe in her. I remember the moments when my Dad did this for me, and it changed my life.

Dads – YOU are what the world needs right now to make change, and make more women into leaders and entrepreneurs, especially in biased and unbalanced worlds such as tech. And I believe you can do this, even if you’re not sure you can.

Dedicated to my amazing Dad, Steve, who always has my back, and all the amazing Dads I work with everyday at Datazoom. Thank you. 

 

About Diane

Diane is an entrepreneur, corporate leader, and the CEO and Co-Founder of datazoom. She was previously the VP of Global Sales and Business Development at NicePeopleAtWork (NPAW), a QoE video analytics company. Before NPAW she was the Director of Business Development at GetApp (Acquired by Gartner), an online SaaS discovery marketplace, growing the business by 800% over 2.5 years. A California native, she is a graduate from Manhattan College where she earned a Bachelors of Science in Marketing and was a Division I scholarship athlete, competing and serving as team captain on the indoor volleyball team. She enjoys playing beach volleyball and running.

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