Female executives are few and far between in Silicon Valley. Perhaps even more so, is the lack of ethnic female representation, and for this, we have Sylvia Vaquer, making moves in a design industry dominated by men - where women are severely lacking in the upper echelons of creative positions.
Vaquer is Co-Founder and Creative Director of Bay Area web development company SocioFabrica. SWAAY spoke with Sylvia about diversity and the gender gap in Silicon valley and why it's imperative for women to begin bridging that divide. Born and raised in Puerto Rico and college educated in a U.S designed in every way to propel business minded people - but not so much business minded women. Having made the jump from working within firms in New York City, and on the West Coast, she now runs her firm in Silicon Valley.
Sylvia is a vocal advocate for female advancement in the work place, but more specifically in design, where she notes women only make up 11 percent of creative directors. She's hoping to make headway in changing that dismal statistic and has been very active on the conference trail, vocalizing her passion for creating spaces where women can thrive rather than feel incapable of succeeding or ascending to the top tiers of the country's biggest web design or tech firms.
Why leave the job security of a big agency behind? For a few reasons - one being, she says “As I was working in those places I realized there were often a lot of shortcomings." Within the larger firms, Vaquer noticed, there was a tendency to outsource content or work so that “at one point or another, the work suffers, because the integrity or the values set up at the beginning of the work are not continued."
"Also, unfortunately - those work environments were not favorable for women."
“In general in the Valley, there are two things that work against me, my being Latina as one of them of course, but also because I look younger than my age - a lot of people would dismiss my expertise."
Women appear to be constantly negating their responsibility to upcoming female generations within the tech industry because, as Vaquer and many of her peers note - there are no role models to look up to.
On her blog, Vaquer laments a plateau may of her female colleagues have arrived at in their careers, where the men at similar intersections of life steamroll ahead, while women are left to simmer away in those same positions, or eventually, fall off the work horse altogether.
It's not an enviable position to be in. She is taking to task the very notion of the female in tech - more specifically in design. Where, she mentions, it has been a struggle in some of her jobs to get attention or respect from a client. She sometimes even has had to have a male colleague or subordinate in the room because if she didn't - “it didn't seem as if we would make as much headway on any conversations we were trying to have."
SocioFabrica is however showing no signs of slowing down or plateauing - Vaquer's solid client base and talented team have acquired clients that continually refer or recommend her to others so she has never had to go out on a limb or hunt for the next project - “we're pretty fortunate," she laughs, “our clients either refer us to other lovely clients or if they're moving to another place, they help us move on with them!"
In just a few years, Vaquer and her team have amassed an impressive roster of clients, including the European coffee giant Nespresso, with whom Vaquer says, she had a difficult time re-working their luxury image to suit the American market. "U.S and European notions of luxury are very different." Vaquer states, “we were helping them to gain more approachability in the U.S market."
After having a successful year in 2016, speaking at Wonder Women Tech in July and at Facebook HQ in September for Women Entrepreneurs Day, Vaquer is slated to talk at The Path to Leadership in San Francisco's Adobe Town Hall alongside town other female powerhouses - VP of Adobe, Jamie Myrold, and Associate Creative Director of Mozilla, Yuliya Gorlovetsky. The talk, presented by She Leads, will run on March 8th and aligns itself to the plight Sylvia has discussed throughout the article, namely the lack of cohesion and support within the female community in tech and design. “By gaining new perspectives and tips for navigating common yet at times unspoken issues in the design world, these conversations will help foster a strong network of support to help one another further our design careers."
Vaquer's championing of women's pursuits and refusal to acknowledge gender and ethnic stereotypes in the Valley should be an example to us all - there are indeed no barriers that cannot be breached.
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
Wunderlist. It keeps my tasks organized and focused.
2. Briefly describe your morning routine.
Wake up, then meditate, do some yoga and shower. Next I fix myself a latte and a healthy breakfast and prioritize the tasks of the day. Then I head to the office listening to a podcast (NPR) or an audiobook.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
I have a few. First Jessica Alba, actress & Founder of The Honest Company, who is creating an empire without compromising on her values. I also admire Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple, for his vision and tireless innovation. I also want to mention Suzanne DiBianca, EVP of Corporate Relations and Chief Philanthropy Officer at Salesforce, for implementing a 1-1-1 model, which dedicates 1 percent of the company's equity, 1 percent of its product, and 1 percent of its employees' time back to serving communities.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
iTunes and its ecosystem approach, is in my opinion is one of the most innovative products of the last 15 years and the backbone that has allowed for us to have a seamless transition and flow of information between devices.
5. What is your spirit animal?
A peacock because it is graceful and majestic and offers a delightful surprise when it displays its beautiful feathers. It traditionally represents vision, good-will and kind heartedness.
6. What is your life motto?
Be an eternal student. The moment you stop learning you become harmful towards yourself and towards those around you.
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
8. Every business must be what in order to be successful?
"Willing to reinvent itself in an ongoing basis."
9. What's the most inspiring place you've traveled to?
India and Peru.
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
My loved ones, my phone with a solar charger and a versatile knife, as well as fire and water.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.