"I rarely faced challenges - until I had my daughter" Female pioneers talk about women in tech and startup life

10/13/2017  |  CODE_n Alumni, CODE_n14 Startup CONTEST, Entrepreneurship

We’ve gathered more first-hand accounts from women who are striving to make a difference, and proudly present part two of our female pioneers series! Today we present a scientist and mother who beats the odds to make her startup a success. A mobility specialist who applies her smarts to making career fulfillment and family life more compatible. And the experiences of a female co-founder of a snack delivery startup. Enjoy the continuing story of female pioneers as these women talk about tech and startup life! Today with Vesna Prchkovska from QMENTA (former Mint Labs), mobility expert and agile specialist Eileen Mandir, and Sarah Haide from MyCouchbox.

Vesna Prchkovska, Ph.D. (CSO & co-founder of QMENTA, a cloud-based advanced neuroimaging analysis and visualization platform, learn more)

Part of the CODE_n Community since 2014, Vesna threw her hat in the ring at the 2014 CONTEST “Driving the data revolution” with her Mint Labs startup.

“I think one of the main reasons for the lower number of women entrepreneurs in this field is that, generally speaking, there are fewer women in tech and science. This might be due to our current educational system. I can recommend this interesting article on the topic. At early stages of development, girls should be building more confidence in their abilities to solve analytical problems. Math is just one example. This should be rooted in our societies and our educational systems. I see these kinds of initiatives happening more and more in Europe, for example, with special grants for helping women develop scientific and tech careers. Of course it’s very difficult to stay competitive with your male colleagues – especially in science – once you have children, since this impacts on the extra hours you can work in the lab, work on scientific papers on the weekends, etc. Just maternity leave alone significantly lowers the frequency at which you can publish compared to your male colleagues, and this really affects your chances of getting grants and continuing with a scientific career. I rarely faced challenges or problems in the past – until I had my daughter. I believe this is because I was exposed to solving analytical problems at very early stage in my life and I have a very supportive and open-minded group of family, friends, and colleagues. However, having a child has been my biggest challenge because it is very difficult to juggle long working hours and a stressful environment with being a good parent. Being an entrepreneur means accepting high levels of stress and long working hours, and this is something very challenging that all women, mothers especially, face in this career field. I haven’t had a mentor but this can be a good idea for getting some advice on balancing work and family life. As for role models for women entrepreneurs, I admire PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi. Raising two daughters and leading such a huge company must be pretty challenging but she is nailing it ;).”

Sarah Haide (co-founder of MyCouchbox, a startup offering its customers snack subscription boxes)

Since 2014, Sarah Haide and her MyCouchbox startup have been delivering goodies directly to the homes of hungry snackers.

“Female entrepreneurs are still in the minority. I think one reason for this is that in the past, female role models got less media coverage. Plus young women aren’t as likely to take risks as young men tend to are, consequently they often have a conflicting picture of what their lives will look like and what type of a lifestyle might be required of a startup founder. I would highly welcome if entrepreneurially minded women would have successful female startup founders as role models. Then they could potentially realize that failure is unfortunately a not unlikely part of entrepreneurship, but something good can come out of it as well. In Germany, there’s an understandable fear of failure and you’re always hearing that you should take the safe option. But this mindset tends to curb our enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, especially among women. In my personal experience since starting the company, I’ve always had male colleagues who stood by me in good times as well as bad and who had my back. I have never had a negative experience as a female entrepreneur in the startup scene.”

Eileen Mandir, freelance consultant (future mobility, innovation, agile leadership) and former Head of Product and Lab at moovel, specialized in mobility solutions and engineering cybernetics:

Eileen has a background in engineering cybernetics. She came to Daimler with the help of a mentoring program and got the chance to play a major part in setting up agile teams at the spin-off moovel.

“When I was young I found it silly the way everyone kept talking about the career differences between men and women, and the idea of having a quota for women managers was practically an insult. I have mixed feelings about the topic these days. When I was a student, I specialized in engineering cybernetics and I kind of wandered unintentionally into a mentoring program for women. It was a sort of women’s support program and for part of it, you were linked up with mentors from industry. It allowed me to get to know a wonderful person at Daimler and through that contact things led to moovel. So for me it was definitely beneficial and looking back I can confirm that it helped me get my career off the ground. The way I see things now, everyone is different; women and men have their differences and take varied approaches to management and conduct. That’s good! It’s an important part of diversity, uniting these different aspects in your own team. Regarding my own career, until now I’ve not run into any barriers but of course I’m also a product of the social setup. At the beginning of my career you didn’t see many female role models in the corridors of senior management, but they would’ve helped me to look at management from a different angle and identify with it more personally. The question is, why are there still relatively few women in management positions today? I believe it’s not so much about men not letting us in, it’s more about the fact that at a certain age many women would like to start a family, so they stop short of the finish line and stop putting all their energy into a career, simply because they’ve got more important things to concentrate on. The way I see it, the family concept of “We’re both working flat out, fulfilling ourselves and we even have a child” is very difficult to achieve in reality because every aspect drains your energy. That’s why I believe companies could, and in fact should, do more to improve the overall setup, although in terms of social policy a lot still needs to change. That’s also something that will benefit men.”

Eileen Mandir played a pivotal role in the first stages of setting up agile project management and self-organization at Daimler. In an insightful interview with CODE_n she talked about the lessons she learned in spinning off the mobility brand moovel into a corporate startup that lives by the principles of day-in day-out innovation and was born with the DNA of agile working.

Thanks to Vesna, Sarah, and  Eileen for sharing so honestly. Keep doing you! We’re looking forward to staying in touch through the CODE_n Community. A founder interview with Sarah from MyCouchbox will be published next week – so stay tuned.