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.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.