It is a myth that we need to fix women to close the gender gap. The mainstream narrative says that women need to change the way they apply for jobs, work on their negotiation skills, end the uptick in their speech, improve their confidence, etc. When we say we need to fix women, we are mistaken. The problem is not that women are broken. It’s that the system is broken.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katica Roy. Katica is a gender economist and the CEO and founder of Denver-based Pipeline, an award-winning SaaS company that leverages artificial intelligence to identify and drive economic gains through gender equity. Pipeline launched the first gender equity app on Salesforce’s AppExchange. Pipeline was named one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Like many women, my professional career was fulfilling and enjoyable until one defining moment. A day after I returned to work from maternity leave, my manager asked that I take on another team. Two weeks later, I was asked to take on an additional team, so now I was managing three teams. My male colleague (he was one pay grade higher than me and had less experience and less education) took on one extra team and received additional compensation for doing so. Since I hadn’t received additional compensation for my two new teams, I brought the pay discrepancy to the attention of my manager and HR. I heard nothing back. I did my research and found the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which changed the statute of limitations for equal pay. I called HR and said, “This is a Lilly Ledbetter Issue, every time you pay me, the statute of limitations starts over. What do you want to do about it?” It was this moment that catalyzed my commitment to close the gender equity gap and ultimately found Pipeline. And, to the credit of the company I worked for, they adjusted my title, increased my salary, and gave me back pay.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I joined Donna Morton, founder, and CEO of Change Finance, as she rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange in 2017. The ringing of the bell celebrated Change Finance’s first ETF going live. Change Finance’s goal is to transform capital markets for the benefit of people, the planet, and investors. I was asked to be part of this moment on behalf of Pipeline and our commitment to close the gender equity gap. I’ll never forget the power of that moment — ringing the opening bell with individuals who understand the economic potential of closing the gender gap.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are witnessing a critical shift in the way organizations operate. Women, now the most educated cohort in the US (they earned 57% of all bachelor’s degrees and above in 2015), are increasing their labor force participation at a time when the labor market is experiencing a shortage of 5 million workers.
Businesses seeking to attract top talent and improve their financial performance know they need to improve gender equity within their organizations or risk getting left behind. For many of those businesses, that means closing gender pay gaps and keeping them closed. However, as we’ve learned, closing the pay gap doesn’t start with pay. If we want to close the pay gap, we need to look at all the factors that determine how companies value talent.
That’s what makes Pipeline different. We are the only cross-domain platform that uses AI and cloud computing to ensure equitable decision-making across hiring, pay, performance, potential, and promotion, and then use those insights to bring companies closer to gender equity by removing human bias. In fact, we conducted a research study across 4,161 companies in 29 countries and found that for every 10% increase in gender equity, there is a 1–2% increase in revenue.
Closing the pay gap once does not keep it closed forever. Every new hire, new promotion, and new pay decision risks re-opening the gap. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff found this out the hard way after the company spent $2.7 million to address gender pay gaps worldwide and race and ethnicity pay gaps in the US, only to realize the company was chasing a moving target.
That’s the second reason why Pipeline is different from other solutions. Our platform informs and tracks, in real-time, every human capital decision made across an entire organization and measures how each decision impacts their path to gender equity.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I frequently talk about the importance of gender mainstreaming public policies (disaggregating the effects of each policy by gender to inform decision-making). But a few months ago, I realized there is a lack of reliable, thorough information on the topic, especially as it relates to the upcoming 2020 elections. I decided to create a gender mainstreaming guide on 15 separate 2020 campaign issues. The goal of the guide is not to incite divisiveness of partisan politics. Instead, it’s a data-driven approach to help voters understand major public policy issues through the lens of gender. I’m very excited about the guide to publish in a few weeks.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
No. For instance, we have a 28-point gender gap in the AI talent pool: 22% of AI professionals are female versus 78% who are male. This concerns me because AI already makes life-changing decisions at scale. It’s only a matter of time until automation defines the future. We need more women in STEM precisely for that reason. Algorithms don’t write themselves, engineers do, and we must have diversity among these professionals to ensure the equitable development and application of AI. We also need equitable representation within the data sets that AI learns from.
On top of the 28-point AI gender gap, we also know that women hold only 25.7% of tech roles at Google, 23% at Apple and Facebook, and 19.9% at Microsoft. Most recently there were allegations against the Apple Card reducing credit for women. Previously we’ve witnessed how Amazon’s hiring platform favors white men and how Google produces biased results for image searches.
To bring more women into STEM, we should make digital literacy in K-12 education the standard. Doing so would help prevent gender biases before they develop. We should also make sure existing female talent in STEM is successful. Do women in STEM receive the same opportunities and development as their male colleagues? Are they valued equitably? Are there resources in place to prevent workplace harassment since 50% of women in STEM report sexism at work? Today’s women in STEM will become tomorrow’s role models for our young girls to aspire to. We need women to not only stay in STEM, but we also need them to succeed.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Opportunities for advancement. From the very first promotion, men are promoted at a 21% greater rate than women. That’s the average across industries. Now couple that promotion rate with the fact that women are already underrepresented in technology starting from the entry-level. In software, women hold only 37% of entry-level jobs and a mere 17% of C-suite positions. Women need equitable opportunities for advancement in the technology industry, and that means making sure their performance and potential evaluations are equitable. And, since 50% of women in STEM will eventually leave because of hostile work environments, it also means ensuring that the workplace welcomes and values women.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
That we need to fix women to close the gender gap. The mainstream narrative says that women need to change the way they apply for jobs, work on their negotiation skills, end the uptick in their speech, improve their confidence, etc. When we say we need to fix women, we are mistaken. The problem is not that women are broken. It’s that the system is broken.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Your mindset matters and you need to choose your mindset every day. Our brains are wired to keep us safe, not happy. As a CEO and founder, I often face situations in which my fight-or-flight reptile brain wants to take over. Meditations have helped rewire my brain so that I can feel a certain way but don’t necessarily act on it. I can put a pause between my feelings and my actions.
- Know your “why” and share it. When we launched Pipeline, my co-founder suggested using my story of being paid inequitably as a springboard to the Pipeline brand. At first, I was against the idea because I thought people wouldn’t care about my story. I thought they’d care more about Pipeline. Well, I was wrong. Being vulnerable and sharing my story has boosted the Pipeline brand by making it relatable. People can see themselves in the journey toward equity for all.
- Be of service, give first. On a weekly, if not daily, basis, I find myself in situations where I know few people. Sometimes I don’t know anyone. It takes a conscious effort to refocus my attention from being uncomfortable with being helpful. When I shift my focus, I’m better able to connect with others and build relationships.
- Build on your strengths. Nobody is good at everything, but we are all good at something. So what is that something? Find it and capitalize on it, because your strengths are a gift to the world. The world needs our gifts.
- Hire slow, fire fast. We have a tendency to fill job openings quickly. And yes, job openings can be a drain on resources (time and money), however, it’s more of a drain on resources if the hire doesn’t work out. Hiring is important, so take the time to properly vet candidates.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
First, your brand should be about helping others. What unique gifts do you have? How can others benefit from those gifts? Second, as a leader, know what you want and be brave enough to get there. It often means charting your own path. Third, have the courage to take that path despite the obstacles. Obstacles are not about you or your worth. Courage is a muscle: when exercised, it gets stronger.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad, who taught me to be a truth-teller. Being a truth-teller isn’t always popular, but it’s valuable. It’s not about being nice, it’s about being effective. I am mindful to say things in such a way that people will be most receptive. I’m also mindful of the need to identify the most important mutual goals (the success of the project) and work toward those goals.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My vision with Pipeline is to flip gender equity on its head. We can argue whether or not gender equity is a social issue. We cannot, however, argue with the facts, and the facts tell us that gender equity is a $12 trillion global economic opportunity.
Unfortunately, the World Economic Forum predicts that we are 217 years from reaching gender equity globally. I believe, by using the tools of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we don’t have to wait that long. I believe we can achieve gender equity and reap the ensuant economic gains in this lifetime. That’s what my company actively works to do.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
While Pipeline operationalizes gender equity to increase companies’ financial performance, I’m working to recreate the narrative around gender equity — that gender equity matters to men as much as it matters to women. I want us to stop associating the term gender equity with “women’s rights” and start associating gender equity with “equity for all,” because that’s what it’s fundamentally about.
Gender equity matters to 48% of working dads who want to stay home with their kids but can’t. It matters to the 40% of US households headed by a breadwinner mom whose kids depend on her for their well-being.
Everyone stands to benefit from the improved physical, mental, and economic health that’s waiting for us on the other side of the gender equity gap. I want to inspire a movement that thinks about gender equity in this context, the context of opportunity for everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both.” (Brene Brown)
I am a breadwinner mom of a family of four who depend on me for their economic security and well-being, so the decision to leave my job as an executive and found Pipeline was a courageous decision. In the end, I knew the brave choice was the right one.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Michelle Obama. She frequently talked about the struggles of being a working mom while out on the campaign trail with former President Obama. I instantly connected with her words and her story because I share similar struggles, such as worrying about kids at work and worry about work while at home with kids. Michelle Obama used her platform to connect with working moms, and it was one of the first times I felt that someone in the public sphere understood me. I imagine the other moms who are breadwinners in 40% of US households with children would agree.