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.
Sometimes the person you have to stand up to is you! There I was, rewatching the Miss Universe 2019 competition. Which I do for inspiration from time to time. (No, seriously!) There is something about seeing women on stage, in full-on glam mode, and speaking with confident assuredness that really lights my fire!
I have seen this Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa win this crown so many times before, but something about this particular viewing, her delivery or her words, touched something inside me a little differently. At that moment, I truly believed, with complete conviction, that she lives what she speaks.
The announcement was made, the audience cheered, and the crown was awarded. The light was dazzling,, she looked stunning, almost blessed. The judges made the right call with 2019's queen.
Reflecting On Myself
Suddenly, the YouTube video ended. And I was left looking at a black screen. In the darkness of that screen, I saw my reflection and I began assessing what I saw, asking myself, "What have I been doing with my life?" It may seem like an overly dramatic question, but at that moment, I had to ask myself seriously… What have you done? The fact that I couldn't come up with a solid, confident answer gave my inner-cynic license to quickly spiral into self-criticism.
This went on for quite some time, until I got up. I stood up and walked to my mirror to have some serious one-on-one "Queen Talk." I needed to get out of that self-critical mindset, and I know that physical movement is something that help disrupt a way of thinking. I needed to remind myself of who I really was. The negative feelings I was experiencing at that moment were not reality.
Here are a few reminders for whenever you need some Queen Talk!
1.) Comparison is truly the thief of joy.
This saying feels like a cliché. That is, until it's applicable to you. At that moment, this "cliché, becomes self-evident. Comparing myself to someone on a stage with years of experience in an area I know nothing about is not only unfair but straight-up mean. A part of my comparison comes from me wondering, "Would I have the ability, if put in that position, to perform at such a level?" The answer is totally and without question, yes. I excel in the field I work in now, and I know that if I put that same energy towards something else, with practice, I could do just as well. No joy can come from comparing yourself to someone in a completely different field!
2.) Never forget the blessings that have been bestowed upon you.
Every single day, I am blessed to have the opportunity to wake up with all ten fingers and toes and choose to create the kind of life I want to live. There is so much power in that alone, but sometimes it's easy to take it for granted. Let us not forget those who are unable to make that same decision every day of their lives.
3.) Appreciate how far you have come!
I've been very intentional for some time to be kinder and gentler to myself. I need to realize that I am human. Being human means that I will not know everything, and I will continue to make mistakes.But I must let go of the need to always be right. I feel empowered when I can see the growth that I've made, regardless of the mistakes that may come in the future. I don't react to every little thing that bothers me, because I have learned boundaries when it comes to dealing with others and myself. I truly value my time and my energy, and, for that, I am proud.
4.) You Can Be Who You Want To Be
If you can see it in your mind, you can achieve it in reality. I saw myself when I looked at the women on stage, when she smiled, the way she talked, her elegant walk. For a moment, in my self-criticism spiral, I forgot that we are all connected. Debasish Mridha has said "I may not know you, but I don't see any difference between you and me. I see myself in you; we are one." I will not sit in the mentality of lack, there is more than enough opportunity and good fortune to go around for everyone. Her win was not a loss for me, but it can be a nudge from the universe for me to go ahead and dream big!
This Queen Talk was not easy. There may have been some tissues and tears involved but giving myself an honest yet compassionate talk is sometimes what I need to bring myself out of some bad head space. In these moments of doubt, you truly need to be your own best friend.When times get rough, criticism won't always come from outside sources. How you speak about yourself internally is crucial to how you see and feel about yourself. As Beyoncé once sang, "I've got Me, Myself, and I." We must put forth every effort to be there for ourselves. I look forward to more Queen Talks when some negative emotions arise. I am grateful for the person I am today, but I am excited to see the women I become.