Technology impacts everything. It determines how we carry out simple daily tasks, like shopping and banking. It shapes how we learn, how we interact with others, and how we consume news and media. Oftentimes, it impacts who has access to resources and opportunities. Technology can be a great equalizer, but only if it’s driven by diverse, conscious creators. In this post, we’re spotlighting nine remarkable women who are transforming the tech space—and the world—for the better. Prepare to be inspired.
1. Odunayo Eweniyi
Odunayo Eweniyi is a true entrepreneurial powerhouse. Not only is she smart and driven; she’s also using her genius for good. The best kind of tech entrepreneur!
Odunayo graduated top of her Computer Engineering class in 2013, and was just 24 years old when she co-founded Piggybank (and PiggyVest) in 2016. PiggyVest is the first ever online app for personal savings and investment in West Africa, and is now one of Nigeria’s most successful fintech startups. Their mission is to empower people to better manage and save their money—and, with over a million users to date, it’s safe to say that they’re making a huge impact.
While taking the tech world by storm, Odunayo is also empowering other women to do the same. In January of 2021, she co-founded FirstCheck Africa together with Eloho Omame. FirstCheck Africa is an angel fund and investor community led by women, for women. As it stands, women are severely under-represented in tech, both in Africa and globally. In 2019, women-led companies received less than 5% of the global venture capital, with funding to women founders dropping significantly in 2020. Through FirstCheck Africa, Odunayo and Eloho hope to address this by investing in women-led startups from the very beginning, building a strong community of investors, and partnering with organizations to ensure women have access to the right networks.
In an interview with Akindare Okunola for techcabal.com, Odunayo credits her success to her willingness to learn and get stuck in: “I’ll learn anything I need to learn as long as it moves the needle. That’s just how it is. If I need to be X company’s COO, best believe I will learn everything I need to be that company’s COO. I don’t have a lot of life philosophies, but one of them is to do your absolute best in anything you’re doing. Anything at all.” We can’t wait to see what this extraordinary woman does next.
2. Dr. Sasikala Devi
Innovation is (almost) always a good thing. Sometimes it’s a case of improving the user experience of a product or service—and sometimes it’s a matter of saving lives. When the Covid 19 pandemic struck in 2020, Dr. Sasikala Devi did what all brilliant innovators do: she saw a problem (a rather monumental one) and came up with a solution.
Sasikala Devi is a researcher and academic at SASTRA Deemed-to-be-University in Tamil Nadu, India. As was the case in many countries, India was caught off-guard by the Covid 19 outbreak and needed to import certain equipment, such as diagnostic tool kits. Fortunately, deep learning and AI expert Sasikala had an idea. After studying 500,000 X-ray images from Stanford University, she came up with an initial prototype for what is now known as LungXpert—an affordable, 90% accurate AI-based prognostic tool that enables early detection of cardiovascular and pulmonary illnesses, including the novel coronavirus.
Sasikala acted quickly and leveraged her expertise at a time when it was most needed, literally giving healthcare professionals the tools to help save lives. It’s also worth noting that she did this while the country was in lockdown—meaning she didn’t have regular access to lab resources, nor could she engage her fellow scholars or students to help. Developing a game-changing healthcare solution while teaching daily classes, conducting academic research, and in lockdown? Incredible.
3. Whitney Wolfe Herd
If you follow the tech scene (or if you’re an avid online dater), you’ll no doubt be familiar with Whitney Wolfe Herd—founder of online dating platform Bumble. When Bumble first launched back in 2014, it garnered quite the buzz (excuse the pun) for its unique take on online dating. Between heterosexual matches, only women are able to send the first message. Whitney herself has described Bumble as a feminist dating app, empowering women to take the lead. In her own words: “Making the first move, whether a woman is matching with a man or a woman, gives her a boost of confidence right off the bat. It immediately puts her in the driver’s seat.”
The concept clearly took off, as Bumble is still going strong today—and, when Whitney decided to take the company public in January last year, she rose to a new kind of fame. Not only is Whitney Wolfe Herd the youngest woman to take a company public in the U.S.; Bumble is now worth $13 billion on the stock market, making Whitney the first ever self-made woman billionaire in the world. Whew.
Having created one of the most successful apps of our time, Whitney is certainly not oblivious to the unique set of challenges—and, sometimes, the dangers—posed by digital dating. A 2018 Bumble study found that one in three women had received unsolicited explicit photos from strangers online, and 96% of these women were not happy to have received such images. In response, Bumble introduced their Private Detector feature which uses AI to detect and blur explicit images sent in a Bumble chat. It’s then up to the recipient to decide whether to view or block the image. At the same time, Whitney and the Bumble leadership team campaigned for the unsolicited sending of lewd images to be deemed illegal in Texas, a law which passed in September 2019.
So what’s next for Whitney Wolfe Herd? A new kind of dating app, maybe, or something else entirely? Who knows—but we’ll certainly be staying tuned.
4. Angelica Ross
You may recognize Angelica Ross from her starring roles in Pose and American Horror Story, but that’s not why she’s on our list. In addition to her acting skills, we’re here to celebrate Angelica’s entrepreneurial spirit and activism within the tech industry.
Angelica is a self-taught coder and a trained actor, having studied theater at Florida Atlantic University. In 2014, she founded TransTech Social Enterprises, an “incubator for LGBTQ talent […] a co-working, co-learning community dedicated to empowering trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer people and allies with practical, career-ready skills.”
TransTech Social was inspired by Angelica’s personal journey. She first taught herself to code using video tutorials, then branched out into design (fun fact: she designed backstage flyers for artists like Ludacris and Cedric the Entertainer). Today, the TransTech community is thriving, with members getting access to training, workshops, professional equipment, office space, mentorship, and job opportunities—a wealth of resources that can help them to build a career in tech. And, in 2017, Angelica launched the annual TransTech Summit. With a host of expert speakers, attendees have the opportunity to learn about specific career tracks including design, web and app technology, and general career development, as well as topics such as human rights and racial and social justice. And, best of all, it’s accessible to everyone—free-of-cost and entirely online!
Angelica Ross is the very definition of talent, drive, and empowerment. She taught herself the tech skills she needed to succeed, and is now helping others to do the same. In her own words: “I discovered my path to independence through technology, as well as the potential for a global lifeline for trans people around the world who were looking for the same.”
5. Stephanie Lampkin
When leveraged in the right ways, technology has the potential to make the world a fairer, more equitable place—and that’s exactly what Stephanie Lampkin set out to achieve when she founded Blendoor. Driven by data analytics, Blendoor is a recruiting tool which seeks to mitigate unconscious bias in the hiring process; an issue that Stephanie has encountered throughout her career.
Stephanie achieved a B.S. in Management Science & Engineering from Stanford University, and an MBA in Entrepreneurship & Innovation from MIT. Since then, she’s forged a long and successful career in tech, building and managing enterprise software solutions at companies like Microsoft, TripAdvisor, and Deloitte. But, as a woman of color, she has faced “immeasurable bias in gaining entry-level positions at tech and VC firms.”
Speaking to Women Who Code DC, Stephanie explains that the inspiration behind Blendoor came, in part, from being knocked back by Google for not being “technical enough for a data analyst role,” despite having majored in data analytics at Stanford. With Blendoor, she wants to increase the diversity of tech companies and show that “disruptive technologies” can be built by those who fall out of the typical programmer archetype.
Since its inception in 2015, the Blendoor platform has now evolved into an all-round inclusive hiring solution. Companies can quickly and easily identify diversity gaps and non-compliance issues, and tap into a diverse, anonymized database of talent.
Inspired by Stephanie Lampkin and her work? Of course you are. Check out this video of her #NotAPipelineProblem presentation, where she talks about bias in hiring and shares her own personal story.
6. Sarah Hawley
Since early 2020, remote work has become the new norm for many—especially in the tech industry. Sarah Hawley was well ahead of the curve, though. As CEO, she helped to build Grow My Team from the ground up, a recruiting company dedicated to hiring and integrating the best remote talent on a global scale. Now, Sarah’s bringing a new venture to the scene: Growmotely.
In August 2020, Hawley launched Growmotely, the world’s first all-in-one global platform for sourcing, growing, and managing remote teams. That’s a pretty exciting space to be in right now, given how the workplace has changed over the past couple of years.
So what’s so great about Sarah, besides the rather impressive fact that she’s founded eight (eight!) companies since 2009? Once again, it’s the drive to “do good” that sets Sarah apart. Diversity and equality are central themes in Sarah’s work; she believes in doing business that’s “good for people and good for the planet.” Sarah is also driven to provide opportunities and empower others. In her own words, she “came from a broken home, barely graduated high school, and due to poor grades, wasn’t accepted into any university or college programs as a school leaver.” While carving her own path to success, Sarah launched the League of Extraordinary Women—a community aimed at connecting and inspiring women through meet-ups, events, and conferences.
Sarah is proof that you don’t need to be an academic superstar to achieve success or make a difference in the world. You can read more about this incredible woman and her work on her personal website.
7. Lilly Mittenthal
Lilly Mittenthal describes herself as a user-centered designer who strives to innovate for the greater good—and that’s exactly what she was doing with maro, one of the most exciting apps we’ve come across in a long time.
Officially launched at the end of 2020, maro seeks to help parents navigate “tough growing-up conversations” with their children. With a heavy focus on mental health, the app provides access to a library of expert-vetted content, as well as a journaling feature for parents to log key information about their kids’ mental health, which they can export to a clinician if necessary. For example, parents can use the app to learn about the science behind anxiety, how to explain anxiety to kids, and how to incorporate anxiety relief into family life.
In an interview with Afdhel Aziz for Forbes, Lilly and her co-founder Kenzie Butera Davis describe how the idea behind maro stemmed from their own personal experiences with mental health and sexual assault. As Lilly explains, the pair teamed up to create maro because “we wish our parents had what we’re creating today. If we had a better system in place to educate families around mental health, sex, personal safety, etc., we might have known what resources to turn to before things got too bad. We truly believe it would have made all the difference in our experiences.”
At present, the app is geared primarily towards parents of elementary-aged kids, but they’ll soon expand their content to appeal to a middle school audience, too. Maro has huge potential for positive social impact, and we look forward to seeing where they go next.
8. Arlan Hamilton
Less than 10% of all venture capital deals go to women, people of color, and LGBTQ founders. Some will try to pass this off as a “pipeline problem,” but research—and people’s real, lived experiences—point to other factors such as bias, homogeneous hiring and investing, and lack of access (to name just a few). Arlan Hamilton and her team at Backstage Capital certainly don’t see it as a pipeline problem; they see it as “the biggest opportunity in investment.”
Backstage is a venture capital fund dedicated to reducing funding disparities in tech by investing in startups led by founders who identify as women, people of color, or LGBTQ. Arlan built the company from scratch back in 2015, while she was homeless, and since then, it’s positively skyrocketed. To date, Backstage has raised more than $15 million and invested in over 160 startups.
Last year in 2021, Arlan disrupted the market anew. Backstage partnered with Republic to open up a new fund that anyone (yes, anyone!) can invest in. Anyone can invest as little as $100 in Backstage Capital and have a stake in the company—even those who aren’t accredited under the SEC regulations. This is a huge deal. Traditionally, investment opportunities have been limited to a very small, wealthy audience. This changes the game, and people are evidently here for it; Backstage made history on the 1st February 2021 when they reached $1m in investments in less than nine hours.
As quoted on the Backstage crowdfunding site: “We would like to give everyday investors who share our values the opportunity to be a part of the Backstage journey and help us deploy more capital to underestimated founders.” You can learn more about Arlan and her unique journey into entrepreneurship in her book It’s About Damn Time: How To Turn Being Underestimated Into Your Greatest Advantage.
9. Kristina Ashley Williams
“Innovation without diversity is either one of two things, a failure or plagiarism.” Those are the first words you’ll see when you visit Kristina Ashley Williams’ website, so you already know she’s up to great things.
Kristina wears many hats. She’s an artist, a futurist design strategist, a critical race educator, a social justice champion, and a tech founder. In July of 2020, Kristina launched Unpacking, a data-driven platform which delivers diversity training through gamification. Brilliant, right? Several studies have shown that, unfortunately, traditional diversity training does very little to actually change people’s behavior. This leaves a huge and dangerous gap—one which Kristina hopes to close with her new, innovative, and highly immersive approach. Gamification is known to increase user engagement, and that’s exactly what Unpacking promises to do. Users don’t just learn about diversity and unconscious bias; they’re immersed in it. Unpacking creates an experiential learning environment, engaging the user in collaborative, interactive game play.
Although the startup is very much in its infancy, Unpacking has already graduated over 200 alumni—and been endorsed by Beyoncé. That’s a pretty impressive start! And, with the new platform having launched last year, we’ve no doubt that this is just the beginning. Stay tuned!
All the women on this list have come from different walks of life—and they’ve all faced obstacles along the way. If there’s anything we can learn from them, it’s that everybody has the potential to make a change in the world. Do you, too, want to forge a career in tech and shape the world we live in? Read this post to figure out which tech career path is right for you, or try out a free short course in UX, UI design, web development, or data analytics, and check out this recording of a live panel discussion with even more inspirational women in tech.
And if you’re looking for more design inspiration, here are 15 quotes from master designers that are sure to help you on your way.