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Women Who Tech Are Dangerous: Portraits and Stories in the Age of #metoo

All portraits and interviews by John Davidson

johndavidson-photography.com

Tissa Richards

Tissa Richards

 
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Tissa Richards

Job Title:  Founder & CEO, Network Kinetix

Company Website: http://www.networkkinetix.com

Years working in the tech industry: 17

On starting Network Kinetix:

I’ve been in enterprise B2B software for my entire career. I founded Network Kinetix a few years ago to help enterprises protect their reputations and revenues from network threats. When I started Network Kinetix, I relocated to Austin, TX. I traded the very intense tech bubble of Silicon Valley for the very intense experience of launching and running a software startup.The company is at a pivotal growth stage: numerous patents, early market proof points, and headed into a go-to-market and scalability phase with the first vertical market (communications providers).

On mentors, male vs female:

The mentors who have had the most impact on my career and life have been those who do not distinguish their mentorship by gender. My current active mentors are men who have founded and exited extremely successful companies. They do not make a point to mentor either men or women specifically. Instead, they mentor entrepreneurs they see leadership potential in, and whose ideas and companies they find interesting and promising.

I would find it disconcerting and limiting to be mentored by someone because I am a woman or because she is. It is more inspiring to know that my mentors actively support and guide me because they see potential in my intellect, my leadership, and my personality, beyond any social or gender construct.

When I mentor anyone, I encourage them to really hone their communication style. This is valuable for young women to learn in technology and other industries. This advice may sound clichéd, but I believe it is part of why I am not ‘manterrupted’ or ‘mansplained’ to by men or women.

On mentoring, learning to listen, and how not to be ‘manterrupted:’

I received excellent advice from one of my mentors: spend more time listening and asking questions than you do actually talking to someone you are mentoring. To help anyone — man or woman — learn to ask questions. As a mentor, ask me not because I have the answers, but because I can help articulate the questions, the unknowns, the fears and insecurities. And, I think to a degree, help with a sense of validation. This is something I remember so clearly: when someone older and seemingly more accomplished than me, was willing to share their time, ask questions and help form some insight.

I struggled early in my career to figure out what I was really good at and what my path would be. But I followed advice to sharpen my innate skills and accept every single introduction. It paid off. I would not have predicted this was my path: to start a company, raise money, write successful patents, and build a kick-ass team of ‘gray hairs’ who have been incredibly successful and generous with their experience and time.

When I mentor anyone, I encourage them to really hone their communication style. This is valuable for young women to learn in technology and other industries. This advice may sound clichéd, but I believe it is part of why I am not ‘manterrupted’ or ‘mansplained’ to by men or women. Don’t listen just to respond. Listen to understand and synthesize the information. Be direct and speak intelligently with as few extraneous words as possible. Don’t be afraid to use humor. Don’t be apologetic or shy about whatever you are offering — you are there for a reason. Strike a balance between arrogance and confidence. Develop your presence. People will learn quickly that when you open your mouth, something useful is going to come out of it that will move things forward.

On the possibility of being passed over for career advancement based on gender:

Absolutely not. I’ve been the architect and driver of my career.

On the challenges of being a woman raising funds to launch a company:

As the founder and CEO of a startup, I am asked about this frequently. And unfortunately, there is no way to A/B test whether it has been more challenging to raise money as a woman founder than it would have been if I was a man.

I believe the larger fundamental challenge in raising money lies in being a first-time founder/CEO than it does in being a woman. The reality is that investors are completely focused on minimizing risk, and first-time founders are seen as a risky category. (I believe there is almost zero ‘venture’ in ‘venture capital’, but that is a discussion for an entirely different series). Investors focus on minimizing risk from a product, market, team and capital perspective, not from the perspective of the founder’s genitals.

On women-focused funding — no thanks:

I know mine may be an unusual and unpopular perspective in today’s climate, but this has been my experience. I am not a fan of funds that focus specifically on women founders. My experience with them so far has been that they are great sources of PR and accolades for investors, but that they are largely self-serving. Focusing primarily on gender vs. on the goal at hand (success) takes your eye off the ball. There is a lot of content out there about ‘lady bosses’. Why add the ‘lady’? My goal is simply to be a success. Not a female success.

This is my truth, now tell me yours — on positive work experience:

My career experience in technology has been completely positive. I feel hopeful that other women can also have this same experience.

I have very close female friends who are also technology executives and I know their experiences have been different than mine. There are some objective facts, like salary discrepancies in some tech companies, that show that there is still work to be done. Again, my experience has been different here. As a startup founder, there is no salary. The exit is your compensation. And I did not experience the biases in my early positions either: I named my value and my price, and I received it.

I’m smart and direct and do not make references to my gender or to anyone else’s. I feel 100% respected, heard, and validated, every day. When I speak, people listen. I don’t ‘look’ for gendered interactions in my professional or personal lives, and I don’t comport myself based on gender.

And, I acknowledge that it was different and much more difficult in years past in many industries. My mother is a great example. When she went to medical school, there was a tiny quota of spots for women. Once those were filled, that was it. It was a battle for her and I watched her blaze a trail as I grew up.

But these have not been my experiences. My career as a whole has been genderblind and positive. I am frequently the only woman in the room and it is not an issue. I am not ‘manterrupted’ or ‘mansplained’ to. I’m not treated differently from the men in the room. I’m simply treated at face value in my interactions. I’m smart and direct and do not make references to my gender or to anyone else’s. I feel 100% respected, heard, and validated, every day. When I speak, people listen. I don’t ‘look’ for gendered interactions in my professional or personal lives, and I don’t comport myself based on gender. I believe that you can look for it too hard, and then you are not focused on success and enjoying your career.

I’m hopeful that the other women out there who also have positive experiences don’t feel apologetic about sharing them. And I’m equally hopeful that the women who have not had positive experiences will find the positive change they need.

On being a boss (not a ‘lady boss’)’:

I love the title of this project. I think it is encouraging to women, especially young women thinking about a career in technology, or who are just starting out. Don’t be discouraged by some of what you’ve been hearing and reading. Yes, it’s been happening. Yes, some women have bad experiences, and yes, in some organizations there is an absolutely unacceptable pay discrepancy. But that is not my experience. It is not every woman’s experience. It is not the default experience. You can be in technology and be fierce and feminine simultaneously. You can be taken seriously, and be treated with complete respect, and like me, never think about gender in your day-to-day life, because it is not a barrier, or a bias, or a burden. Don’t be a lady boss. Just be a boss.

 
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Lynette Barksdale

Lynette Barksdale