Hayley Leibson

FOUNDER - LADY IN TECH

I am an empathetic technologist and inclusion advocate with an entrepreneurial drive aspiring to make an impact and pursue interesting work that matters. I am the founder of Lady in Tech, an award-winning tech and lifestyle new media company for next-generation female tech leaders and entrepreneurs. I write a column for Forbes that inspires, motivates and moves millennial women to enter the tech industry and build impactful products at scale to improve the world.

What hobbies, causes, or activities are you passionate about aside from your work?

Outside of work, I am extremely passionate about philanthropy, yoga, cooking, the outdoors, and running. I am an active member of Spinsters of San Francisco, one of the most prominent women’s philanthropic organizations in the Bay Area dedicated to providing influential and positive impact on the local community. Founded in 1929, Spinsters members are dedicated to improving the local community through volunteerism. This past year, we raised money and volunteered for KEEN, a national nonprofit that provides one-to-one recreational opportunities for children and young adults with developmental disabilities at no cost to their families and caregivers.

I also moonlight as an organizer and community builder for TEDx San Francisco, a nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading, and Women in Product, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in product management.

I love hiking and running, and just completed my first marathon this year in San Diego. I am a certified yoga instructor, and love practicing yoga any chance I get. I am also a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, and enjoy cooking local farmers’ market-sourced healthy meals.

What’s something you do at your business that’s "weird" and not commonly done?

A few weird things! I try to arrange walking meetings whenever possible. I like to start my day at work with a short five-minute meditation using Simple Habit. My workspace is filled with plants, and scented candles.

What inspired you to start your business?

I grew up in Northern California, and went to a public high school where at the time, women were not encouraged to become engineers. I had no idea that tech was a potential career path for me. There was no computer science department besides one course students tested out of for a state typing requirement.

I found my way into tech during my undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I started taking engineering classes out of interest, and quickly changed my studies from environmental journalism to communications, business, and engineering. Through taking those engineering courses, I discovered that the best way to make a positive impact on the world is through building technology. I also realized, that there were few women in my classes and none considering a career in tech.

I thought this was a huge problem. We face a near-term future of autonomous cars, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence, and we are at a risk of embedding gender bias into all of these new algorithms. People have a tendency to believe that algorithms are neutral and code is neutral, when, really, algorithms and machine learning models are just codifying the biases of the people who write them or the data that they are fed.

Without enough perspective on what that means—the implications of what you're doing—without contemplating all the biases that go in, it's very easy to use algorithms, like machine learning, AI, in a way that can actually be really harmful. Technology products and services are built by humans who build their biases and flawed thinking right into those products and services—which in turn shapes human behavior and society, sometimes to a frightening degree.

The scarcity of women in an industry that is so forcefully reshaping our culture is a major problem. To help address this problem, I started the first “Women in Tech” organization at CU to encourage women to pursue all careers in tech (whether it be engineering, design, etc.) and provided women with resources such as mentorships, workshops, and opportunities with surrounding technology companies in the Boulder and Denver areas. I have been an advocate for diversity and inclusion in tech ever since.

2017 was a year of reckoning in the tech industry due to the countless scandals around sexual harassment, ethics violations, and the lack of inclusion and diversity. Instead of encouraging inclusion and diversity, newspaper headlines and stories about the tech industry were extremely negative and discouraging to women and minorities. I was surrounded by a community of women eager and excited about the tech industry but discouraged from negative media coverage of the industry being a boys’ club and it being extremely difficult to enter the field.

I started my business, Lady in Tech, to change this narrative in 2017. I wanted to be a positive voice to inspire and move millennial women to enter the tech industry and build tech for good. I believe being in tech is about building the future of the world we live in. It is critical that we increase diversity in tech because of the preeminent role the industry plays in shaping the future of humanity. Technology innovation is a strategic imperative, and we must work toward creating a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for whom they build it.