The women of Kairos pose for a picture with Girls Who Code students. Kairos mentors Girls Who Code.
By Stefanie Genauer
I am an 80's baby. I grew up wearing scrunchies, I actually used encyclopedias (hard copy ones) from the library to write my research reports in elementary school, and Saved By The Bell was my bible on how to navigate adolescence.
Monochromatic spandex and teen idols aside, being born in the 80's also meant that I grew up in a time where girls were taught they had options-- lots of them in fact. I could cut the hair off all of my Barbie Dolls and join the community basketball league. I could run for student government ("You've got the power, vote Genauer" made for some exceptionally poignant campaign signs), and not only could I go to college, but I was actually the majority instead of the minority. I had parents who told me that I could be anything I wanted to be.
I believed them. I spent my life thinking that I could do anything I put my mind to (except being a doctor; I have an exceptionally strong aversion to blood and needles and do possess a degree of realism). Like many others, I went down a long windy road that took some interesting twists and turns, and somehow landed at my present- day gig, as the Chief Revenue Officer of a very cutting-edge facial biometrics and human analytics start-up based here in Miami. I credit my hard work in school, my previous dues-paying jobs in New York City, including my long stint at Apple, and my endless determination (which for some reason my dad mistakenly calls stubbornness) --but I also credit my forward thinking employer, Kairos.com, for believing that women in leadership roles at tech companies are a valuable asset.
It's amazing to me that to this day, it's still not an equal playing field. Growing up in a nurturing, progressively thinking household, apparently was more of a luxury than I realized. The real world still has presented roadblocks for women in the workplace. Things are wildly different than when my grandmother was my age, but nonetheless there are still examples of gender disparity.
Just this week, I read an open letter posted on The Starting Gate blog in the Miami Herald about an unacceptable case of discrimination against a female developer at a local Hackathon. Hearing of such a disappointing instance of unwarranted behavior made me angry, and then it made me think. How are we not "there" yet?
I'm sure it's not the first instance, and it sadly won't be the last. It's sad because in my opinion, it all comes down to skill and passion. If you’re good at something you deserve to be there. You deserve to be hired. You deserve to be a part of the dialogue. Confidence is a huge part of the equation here as well. We need to continue to teach women that they earned the right to be there. No more of this nonsense that "you don't belong". Just keep doing what you're doing -- be better-- be better than the naysayers who are trying to bring you down. It starts internally by believing in yourself -- and it's only amplified by the community around you supporting that notion.
Miami is a vibrant city, filled with diverse cultures. It's the reason why Miami is such a prime location to be next great tech hub in the US. There is money, great talent, wonderful resources and endless sunshine to inspire entrepreneurs. My hope for Miami is that it can continue to grow and promote greatness, wherever it can be found. And while this article is focused predominantly on women, it's true of all people. If you're passionate about what you do, don't second-guess yourself.
I'm privileged because I get to work at a place that promotes diversity and equality (the company is even a member of the Kapor Capital Founders commitment for diversity and inclusion), and because I'm surrounded by other amazingly talented and fascinating women. Their presence alone makes our company better, and their stories have influenced me and I believe they can do the same for others.
Our newest team member Alia Mahmoud for example, a New York native and a brand new Miami transplant, spent half a decade in Tunisia after the revolution in 2011. She has family roots there and felt compelled to go back and help contribute to the creation of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that was blooming. She landed the job of Director at the Microsoft Innovation Center in Tunis. Visitors would come to the office and say "I need to speak with your boss" and when she would reply "yes, that's me, how may I help you" she says you could visibly see how taken aback they were to encounter a young woman as the Director.
"The lesson I learned quickly was to contribute to any conversation I found myself in, in order to demonstrate my knowledge and that I was not intimidated to interject in a lively discussion dominated by (usually) older men. The key here is not to speak just to be disruptive, but to really add value or ask a pertinent question."
She saw her tactics work. "I noticed that the more I did this, the more welcome I felt in future meetings - not as a woman, but as a person of valor at the table."
"If anyone doubts your capacity because of your age and your gender, you work to prove them wrong by the diligence of your work, the intelligence of your remarks, the courage of your actions and the sheer confidence of your stance", remarks Mahmoud.
Another colleague of mine, Rajnesah Belyeu, is an all-star software developer. She's one of a handful of exceptional talents here in Miami, regardless of gender. Rajnesah found tech, and specifically the field of software engineering, to be an inspiration after receiving her first computer. Her thirst for how things work followed her and in college, she decided to pursue it as an area of study.
Rajnesah found this path on her own, but notes that had educational programs around coding, like the 'Girls Who Code' club here in Miami existed when she was in high school it would have been incredibly helpful. Thankfully, Rajnesah had the forward thinking desire to go after her dreams despite the challenges of getting into the industry. She is incredibly reflective on how the experience has molded her.
"This job has taught me how to be confident in my abilities and myself. Being different from a majority of your peers can make you feel like you don't belong. I had to overcome that and be confident that I am just as good as my peers regardless of any differences. Then one day I realized that being different was more of a positive than a negative - and it changed my life. I realized that by being different I naturally had everyone's attention and it was up to me to own the moment."
Allison Cammack, one of our senior sales executives, didn't start out in tech. A lawyer by trade, Allison spent years making her mark at some of Miami's most prestigious firms. After grieving the loss of her father and two of her uncles, she discovered that she needed to switch gears and follow a different calling. Life is short, as they say.
Her pursuits led to her enrolling for her very first coding class, and taking that all the way to landing what Allison now affectionately calls her "dream job", at Kairos.com.
"I had to find what I was passionate about doing, and let go of what others expected of me. I wrote out new goals and learned as much as I could about the Miami tech scene and the company I wanted to join. I even got involved with inspiring organizations like Girls Who Code, CodeArt Miami and Black Tech Week.”
“These experiences illustrate that there are opportunities in Miami that don’t exist in other markets. There is much work to be done. And we all need to be part of the solution - by speaking out against bias and leading by example in our hiring and our volunteerism."
It's never too late to follow your dreams. “When you show that you are genuinely passionate about an organization and have the grit to overcome any obstacles in your way, the right people will make a spot for you,” emphasizes Allison. And with a community around you that supports and cultivates these kinds of dreams, it makes it much easier to realize them.
Kiran Virdee-Chapman, the Chief People Officer at Kairos.com, traveled across the pond from London to be in Miami and join the tech revolution. Kiran worked at Apple for many years and has been immersed in the technology world long enough to observe certain trends.
Kiran believes "there are not enough female influences in technology." She said there is a misconception that it is a male-dominated industry. There are many talented females leading the way and even outshining their male counterparts. Virdee-Chapman thinks that if there were more women in the spotlight, it would help change some of the stereotypes about them in the field. They are already here. They are already making a difference. It's about changing the conversation and changing an outdated perspective.
The passion Kiran feels for the subject is evident, and she believes it goes even broader than what’s been mentioned thus far. “When thinking of inclusion, it should go beyond gender. It's about recognizing everyone and Miami has a unique opportunity to empower an eco-system that puts diversity ahead of stereotypes. Apple said to think different but I believe with diversity and inclusion it goes further than that. You need to embrace differences in individuals and be brave enough to act on them,”, Kiran reflects.
Kiran's thoughts got me thinking (as good thoughts should). Diversity and inclusion has turned into a "thing." It's something we get patted on the back for, but in reality, it's just how things should be. I have always tried to set a good example and excel in whatever I pursued, but that was just me, being me. It wasn't me, being a woman, doing all these things. The Herald blog article shed light on an important and apparently still present issue that deserves attention. I hope that the sum total of all the intelligent voices that have an opportunity to be heard, continue to overpower the ignorant ones and educate and expand people's minds. And that diversity and inclusion moves from being something you get a gold star for, to just the way things are.
I hope the Miami community continues to band together and show the rest of the country (and world for that matter) that women in Tech, and frankly any industry, deserve a seat at the proverbial table. And, one day, we'll all just be humans in leadership roles, changing the world and making things happen.
Stefanie Genauer is chief revenue officer at Miami-based Kairos. Reach her at @stef_genauer or stefanie@Kairos.com.
Read more: An Open Letter to the Miami Tech Community
Read more: An Open Challenge to Miami's 'tough guy' coders