May 24, 2018 (AlleyWatch) – Much has been said and written about the lack of women in the tech sector, be it as investors (or associates), founders, or in management positions at major companies. Is the problem the old boys network – or that success in technology is seen as a young man’s game? In this series, we speak with some of the top women in tech in New York as they discuss the challenges they face, the perceptions that need to be changed and the work that’s being done – or not – to help to promote women in tech.
Today we speak with CEO and cofounder of Kinvolved, Miriam Altman. Starting her career working in the NYC public school system, Miriam saw an opportunity to turn poor attendance around. She speaks about the success of schools that have partnered with her, and how she plans on improving on this issue. Since founding Kinvolved in 2012, she has presented twice at NY Tech Meetup, and was a former co-leader of EdTech Women’s NYC chapter. Starting with our youth, Miriam is looking to create sustained growth in NYC.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I began my career 10 years ago as a history teacher in a NYC public high school. As a new teacher, one the first and most widespread problems I witnessed in my classroom and school was that student attendance was inconsistent. And, when students missed class, it was nearly impossible to prepare them for success on the state-mandated Global History Regents exam, required to earn a high school diploma in NY state.
I attempted several solutions to fight chronic absenteeism, and I found that among the most successful was positive engagement with students who had been absent, along with developing positive and consistent relationships with their families. Despite some successes with specific students when I employed these interventions, nearly half the students who entered my 9th-grade classroom did not walk across the stage to receive their diplomas four years later.
I left the classroom to pursue a Masters degree at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School for Public Service at NYU, where I met my co-founder, Alexandra Meis. With complimentary backgrounds and skill sets, along with shared values, we launched Kinvolved in 2012, after winning a policy challenge at the University of Pennsylvania. Neither of us had any background or expertise in tech, but with deep understanding of the problem we were trying to solve and the community that we sought to serve, we conducted more than 100 customer interviews before arriving at an app—known today as KiNVO—as a solution to absenteeism.
We built an edtech company through trial and error, developing an advisory “circle of trust,” and constantly reflecting on, and learning from, our experiences. As CEO I consider myself a lifelong learner, still mastering how to develop the business side of our work by driving strategy, sales, and fundraising.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
Women bring a unique perspective to the tech field that has been, and continues to be, underrepresented. We look at problems and evaluate solutions from a perspective that may be different from the status quo.
Investment in female-led companies is still far too scarce, at 22 percent of all venture capital investment, with the average deal size at $5M, compared with the average male-led company deal size at $12M. However, an increasing number of investors are seeing female leadership as a positive characteristic when considering investment. This is not yet the standard view, but, slowly, it’s getting there.
There are an increasing number of opportunities for female and leaders of color to participate in programs and qualify for funding. Creating widespread change to systems that have favored white, male leaders will take time. While 17 percent of all founders are women, I am glad to report that the edtech industry is above the average, with 30 percent of founders being female. We should not be satisfied, however, until we see parity.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
There is always a need for more peer and mentor relationship development opportunities, both among women, but also between women and men who support women in tech leadership. Men should and must be included in the conversations, but also tasked with action to support leadership development for underrepresented leaders in tech, whether on the business or product and tech side.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Diversity spans far beyond gender. A truly diverse ecosystem not only displays representation of varied genders and races, but also varied ages, socioeconomic statuses, and cultural backgrounds.
Diverse representation, however, is insufficient. We need to ensure that the tech sector is fully inclusive. Just because a person is in the room does not inherently mean that s/he feels comfortable speaking up to offer the unique perspectives and insights that cutting-edge business need to thrive. Diversity must go beyond simple optics; it has to be embedded and appreciated in company culture.