International Women in Tech – the opportunities and hurdles?
Immigration is an interesting experience. If you think about it, it takes a great amount of bravado to leave what you’ve known your entire life, your family, your friends, and your country, to make a life in a foreign country. A strange thing happens to expats, quite often, live in a state of perpetually being a stranger, in your homeland; you no longer are a native because quite often with immigrants, you adopt even the most subtle nuisances of your new found countries culture. In the country you have moved to you are usually quite foreign, even the simplest elements of the human experience, how you speak, give away your status as a person born in another land, you are definitely a foreigner there and you are a foreigner at home.
As startups make a comeback, more entrepreneurs are willing to take a chance on their business in the hopes that it becomes the next big idea. Among them, are women, not just American women, but international women who have made America their home. Technology capitals like Silicon Valley and New York which has been dubbed Silicon Alley, are filled with immigrants, women from Russia, women from India and women from the Caribbean striving to pursue their dreams. After all, many of us have come to America in search of the American Dream.
As an entrepreneur, you have to train your mind to see possibilities where others see problems. The hurdles are plentiful! If entrepreneurship was a highway, there would be gigantic flashing red lights and enormous stop signs saying ‘Do Not Pass Go’ for female entrepreneurs especially immigrants. Very often there is a dialogue about the lack of female founders. The presence of immigrant female founders is so absent that it hasn’t been raised to the level of common discussion, it’s not trending or topical. In addition to the seemingly ominous curse of being a woman in ‘tech’ immigrant women face the additional hurdle of well, being immigrants. This is usually accompanied by immigration issues, being foreign and the notable absence of a significant track record of immigrant women developing largely successful startups or being founders period.
In writing this, I had to scratch my head and think of which notable startups had immigrant founders. Shoptiques is the only one that came to mind without the help of Google, with Russian female founder. Yes, there are obstacles, perhaps obstacles that expand far beyond the limited space of this blog post. But as there are obstacles, there are opportunities.
You should always train your mind to see the good in any situation. The mind’s eye has a funny way of expanding anything that you focus on. Focus on the problem, it will become larger and larger, focus on the opportunities and it will become larger and larger. Being an immigrant provides a unique opportunity to experience the world through a different lens. It also provides an opportunity to bridge two worlds.
My story, the short version, is that I was born and raised in Jamaica but moved to the United States for college, which then become law school, which went on the become graduate school. Many immigrants have the education advantage. We often come to the United States for higher education and many of us get a lot of it. I constantly meet immigrant women with dual degrees from prestigious American Universities. If you are a good entrepreneur, you should be able to see that you are uniquely positioned to pursue opportunities in two worlds.
I decided to create a fashion product, my start up, Trendy Treat’s clothing line, Mogul In The Making in Jamaica and export it to the United States and other countries in the world. I’ve been able to harness my US connections to expand on my business and my Jamaican connections to capitalize on a great manufacturing opportunity. Jamaican seamstresses lost their competitive advantage to fast fashion when manufacturing went to Asia. I found a way to package their skills, creating affordable made to measure clothes for hard to fit women in the US and the rest of the world. I helped to revive the dressmaker.
My experience as an immigrant made me uniquely positioned to capitalize on the opportunity. As a Jamaican, I was able to identify the opportunity and navigate the process of setting up the manufacturing process in the island. I know my people and my culture. They are also invested in my success. The local newspaper dubbed me one of the nations Mogul’s In The Making, a television station, lent their support. They want to help propel a Jamaican and a business that brings Jamaican products to the world in a new way. My U.S. University has also lent their support.
I’ve used being an immigrant to my advantage I am a woman with two homes and I capitalize on the opportunities that both offer. It’s a fantastic time to be a woman, especially an immigrant woman. We have more education than ever before and more access to opportunities. The hurdles are great but the opportunities are even greater. I anticipate that in the near future, as more immigrant women enter the space, there will be breakout successes of immigrant entrepreneurs in tech. The playing field may not exactly be level, but we are working everyday towards equilibrium.
Written by Stephanie McLean, originally from Jamaica. Named an Observer Mogul In The Making, Ms Tech #Monday Maker, a Lumiary Maker Stephanie has always been a lifelong lover of travel and a style enthusiast. After law & graduate school, the Columbia alumna combined her passions and launched Trendy Treat, a socially conscious lifestyle portal for globally glamorous modern women.