So let’s start to start from the beginning. Tell me a bit about your early years and where you come from.
I was born in Argentina and when I was two years old, we immigrated to Canada to this little apartment in the University of Toronto campus and it was really, really cold [chuckles] and there was a ton of snow and I just remember being bundled up in these puffy jackets, me and my brother when we were really young, and my mom who spoke no English and my father who was away at the hospital all the time, and us having to adapt into Canadian culture. That’s what I remember mostly when we first immigrated.
What was your experience as a member of an immigrant family in Canada, like what were the most brutal cultural differences that you experienced?
Yeah. I think my parents didn’t really understand things like sleepovers and Halloween [laughs], so that was kind of, there was some common cultural social things that my parents didn’t really understand, like trick or treating, you go around and give each other candy, that didn’t exist in Argentina. For me, the hardest thing, to be honest, was having both my parents be speaking English as a second language, and I just remember going around, because I spoke English as a first language. I also spoke Spanish, but my English became stronger than my Spanish, which was this whole other thing that I can get into. And so, I just remember speaking English fluently like a Canadian, and my parents having strong accents, and me feeling ashamed and embarrassed, and then later on kind of feeling embarrassed that I felt embarrassed, you know? Like how could I be so hard on my parents who were immigrants and worked so hard hard to get us there, and so I definitely think that there was that tension of, I’m from here but I also don’t belong here, my parents were a pretty obvious indication of that in a lot of ways.
How were early years of socialization for you? Did you feel like you fit in?
I think I adapted very quickly. Where I started to feel strange was when my parents would speak to us in Spanish and my brother and I would start responding in English, and we refused to speak in Spanish. And my parents tried their hardest to reverse that, like they tried to do all these tricks for us to speak back in Spanish, but we wouldn’t do it, so I think there was this painful realization that we were losing our culture a little bit, that that was starting to happen in the household. And even as kids we couldn’t really quite understand what that meant, but I think I still have sadness around that for sure.
What did your parents expect of you guys in terms of your career paths or anything like that?
Well, both my parents really value education, because the way that my father was able to leave Argentina was through his medical degree. So because he got an education, he was able to basically leave for something better, which was the idea or the dream, right? And the way you did that wasn’t through business or hustling or being an entrepreneur, the way you did that was you went to school and you got the highest possible degree. So I think both my parents expected me to go to school, get a Master’s and or a PhD if possible a PhD or an MD or a law degree or an engineering degree. Actually, there wasn’t that much expectation for me to be an engineer; law and medical were the two big ones.
Interesting. Did you have any idea at all that you’d end up in Silicon Valley tech?
No. I didn’t think I would be here, I definitely–I had a hunch that I would be in California, and I remember in College, trekking through three feet of snow at 4pm, it’s pitch dark, I’m trying to get to class, class is up a hill, and I’m wearing snow pants, and this is like in Montreal in January and I went to McGill. And I just remember being like, “One day, I’m going to live in California.”
I had this feeling—this very deep feeling—that I would come out West. It was It was an intuition, a knowing. But I didn’t associate California with technology and innovation. I don’t know why. I just hadn’t quite yet made that mental click. I more associated it with free-spiritedness, and hippie vibes, and artistry, and nature which I also love.
So walk me through your career, up until the point that it brought you to Silicon Valley.
So, I do my undergrad in Psychology at McGill, and then I wanted to understand how research affects people. I was really frustrated that research was very like, in your ivory tower. So I was like, “How does research actually become policy?”
So I moved to DC. And I worked at a health policy organization, sort of doing research for policy, and It was super interesting work. However, it was 9-5 in a cubicle in Washington DC. So I was wearing black blazers and black heels and I just remember looking at myself in the mirror feeling like I was wearing a costume, and being like, “Oh my God. This is a costume,” like laughing at myself. It was late on a Friday night and just being like, “I’ve got to get out of here. This isn’t me. This isn’t what my soul wants.” So I quit that job and that’s when I came out to California.
I decided to continue with the research route, but go into neuroscience. So I got a job at the Stanford medical school scanning people’s brains while they were being hypnotized. [laughter] It’s very random, but it was a big hypnosis study, which was funded by this foundation that looks at complementary and alternative medicine. And it was interesting. We would put people in the scanner. We would hypnotize them and we would see—what do their brains do? Now, it sounds really fascinating, right? Like when you hear that you’re like, “Wow that sounds amazing,” except, the problem was was that I was 9-5 crunching data in a windowless room with florescent lights glaring down on my eyebrows. So I was just like, again, conceptually very interesting, the day-to-day sucks. I don’t want to do this.
So I think those were two examples where my curiosity drove me to examine something, but I didn’t feel in love with the actual getting down to it, the work itself. And also, an example of where the systems itself weren’t supporting certain kinds of thinking for me, like creativity especially, right.
So I actually quit that job and decided to go to Burning Man and that’s when I had a big shift in my understanding of myself and the world. One shift that I had was how important creativity was to me and how much I had been suppressing that for so many years because I wanted to be practical, because I wanted to make sure I could get money So my father is a doctor, my mother is an artist, so I just was more aligned with father who was the main breadwinner and just thought better to do all that kind of logical stuff, work. But at Burning Man, I was like, oh my God there’s so much creative energy here inside of me, and I really think the empowerment of women is something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve always been a feminist, since I was a little girl just like my mom. The empowerment of women is going to be key in this sort of helping supporting innovation. So I started to focus on women’s issues after that experience. And from there, I basically went to India and worked with women in the sex trade there.
How did that happen?
I met this RISD alumni, who started this whole organization around women in the sex trade in India, and helping them get out of the sex trade by providing them alternative work. I got very interested in that and I thought, “Hmm. I want to go do what that woman is doing.” It turned out that the woman at that organization—the founder was very young but she got sick, and they were like, “We don’t have anyone to go to India.” They were a very small organization. “Could you go?” Because I was in conversation with them. “Great. I’ll go.”
I just remember going to India by myself—my mother being terrified for me—and [chuckles] arriving in Rajasthan at this little town Ajmir and feeling like, “Wow.” I was in an HIV clinic center, didn’t speak the language, was basically in pretty impoverished area, having to connect with these women. These women who were living in the slums or the red light district, and trying to have better lives for their kids, and for their daughters and their sons. That was a trip.
I think what I really learned there was how much the women stuck together, and how much they formed a sisterhood and how much they ate together and walked together and travelled together, and how much they really supported each other, and I thought wow, us Western women, we don’t do that that often, we don’t have that sense of sisterhood that comes so naturally to them in their culture. And so I really admired that so much and that really stuck with me from that experience.
So how did this impetus for wanting to switch your focus to women, what were the first steps to making something out of that? Like what did you want that work to look like?
I think that’s what a lot of us grapple with. We understand our why or we get an ah-ha, an insight about our why. Oh, my purpose, I got it, it’s to support and empower women. But we don’t understand the how, right? Like, okay, what does that mean? [laugh]
So after I went to India and I explored that, I came back and I felt that I still was lacking a few tools. In parallel to all this career navigation, I completed three yoga teacher trainings, so I got very very into yoga and its tradition, and was teaching breathing and stress relief courses through the Stanford Medical School. As you can tell, I’m a very multi-passionate person, I had so many interests. Research, health and wellness, creativity, women’s issues, it was just so many things. And so our society tells you you have to pick, what’s the one thing you’re going to do? What are you going to specialize in? I kind of felt like, how do I take these threads that are different and create a tapestry that’s my own, right? How do I integrate the threads with the shift that I had?
So I went to grad school. I went to a program at Stanford called Learning Design and Technology. I did this pretty intense one-year program where I immersed myself in everything having to do with design. You know, how do we design experiences for people? How do we think like designers? How do we operate like designers? And then, I became obsessed with design [laughter]. It’s like, another interest to add to the bucket, right? Design started to be a big pillar for me. Yoga was a really big pillar. Women’s issues was a really big pillar. And then, design was emerging like, third pillar. So I was like, “Okay, how do I integrate this?”
And so after I graduated, I had two options—I could go back to being a full-time employee in the way that I had described with my first two jobs, right, 9-to-5, being under someone else’s paycheck, that possibility was there. You could be a designer at X place, you could be a researcher at Y place. But I still felt so passionate about women’s issues.
So, I totally changed my mentality and thought of it as a design challenge. I was like, “How can I create value for people?” Which is the essential question behind business. As a yoga and meditation teacher, I loved mentoring, facilitating, coaching others. So the natural next step for me was to just start coaching women and supporting them in their own empowerment and to see yoga and design as tools that feed that bigger purpose.
Now, which women was I going to support? I decided to focus on women in design and tech, and I particularly am passionate about this issue. How can we both empower women to have more creative confidence, but also change the culture in the systems that keep women playing small? So now, that’s really been my focuses in the greater, “Why?” of empowering women.
There is this focus on women here in Silicon Valley and this world of innovation. For example, I coached one woman who was a sexual assault survivor and was working for a pharmaceutical company, feeling like her career was meaningless. Through our work together, we realized that she has so much to give in supporting other survivors and now she’s the lead PM on a tool that helps people report sexual assault on college campuses. That’s what happens when you empower one gifted woman: ripple effects.
I believe so deeply in my heart, that what we’re doing here in Silicon Valley is creating the future. We’re creating the future. And so it’s like, if women are underrepresented in that creation, we’re going to have a hypermasculinized set of products and experiences. It’s not going to serve us. It’s going to continue to perpetuate the same system that’s keeping all of us oppressed. So, that’s my spiel [chuckles].
What were the big contributors to you knowing tech was what you wanted to focus on? Was it your experience at Stanford? Was it just observation of the Valley? What was it that made you know that there was work to be done here?
When I was at the Stanford Medical School, I discovered entrepreneurship [chuckles]. I was in my little lab, nine to five, but I was at Stanford and I was looking around at the beautiful buildings, and the ideas and there were so many resources. So, I went to so many talks around entrepreneurship and innovation, and the VC world. That’s where I met my now, fiancé, Enrique Allen, so it was like I became very immersed in the ethos and energy of what’s possible for us to do in the tech world.
When I did that migration from Washington, D.C. to working at the medical school, that was when I really started to notice, wow, there’s something about how people here see the world and see how they can solve problems for the world. Even in Washington, D.C. which is where our politicians are, but there wasn’t this sense of like, we can innovate, we can really create new solutions, we can listen deeply to people and help serve them. It’s just a different ethos.
During my Masters at Stanford, I did several projects where I looked at gender differences and STEM fields. That was one big project that I actually did in my child development and technology studies class. I did a lot of research that suggests that girls score lower on spatial reasoning than boys, and it’s because boys just play video games, and video games allow them to have more spacial acumen. And spacial acumen is a big predictor of your success in STEM fields. I started to get really interested in video games for girls [chuckles]. I’m like, “How do we create video games for girls?” I just really feel that, there’s a really interesting intersection between being a woman today and your creativity that I’m still exploring and understanding because as women, we are givers of life, and so much of the creative process is bringing something to life. So I think I’m still exploring this, but I think the intersection between creativity and gender is something that I’m really, really interested in.
Based on the conversations you’ve had with your clients—obviously, keep things confidential. But from a high level, what have been the biggest hardships you’ve seen for women in tech?
I think there is a few things happening, and I divide it into two broad categories. One is how the culture—the systemic issues—aren’t supporting women. And these are actually more cultural. So like, events and experiences are designed by men, and subconsciously, non-intentionally exclude women in various ways. The unconscious biases that are happening with the women gets excluded or somehow reminded that they are the minority, so that’s a big thing. That’s causing women to drop out of the system before 30—not because of motherhood and child rearing, but because hyper-masculinized work cultures can’t truly support them holistically. This is coinciding with the boom of women-lad and women-owned small businesses—consultants and firms that are part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, but maybe not at the center the way high-growth startups and venture capital are.
The second category is how women hold themselves back. Now, some people don’t like it when we talk about women holding themselves back—they get huffy and puffy about this, and they say, “Oh, you’re blaming women again.” And I’m like, “Well, wait a second. We also have to take responsibility, yes.” There are major systemic and cultural biases, and there’s also how we, women, without even realizing it are self-sabotaging, are not giving our opinion, are not believing in ourselves, maybe having low self efficacy, or not having that creative confidence to generate, or to be prolific, or to just try stuff out, and be experimental. So, that’s where I support my clients. It’s like, how are you thinking too narrow? How are you thinking too much inside the box? You’re not being experimental.
One big thing for women, the clients I work with, is—and believe it or not—around fear of criticism and praise. Am I going to get criticized for this? What if I make a mistake? What if they don’t like me? Right? That kind of stuff. The other is a huge, huge problem that I come into is boundaries. How to say no [laughter]. How to say no in a way that feels good to you. So much of that is having your own structures in place, and knowing what you want. When you know what and when you have your structures in place, it becomes easy to say no, because you just say, “Sorry, two to five, I don’t take meetings.” It becomes just the way it is. So, I think supporting women and that kind of mentality of, what do you want and stake it in the ground own it, protect it, that kind of work.
What are the personal struggles and the roadblocks you’ve had to overcome?
Oh man [chuckles]. In what specifically personal struggles and what area of life about that?
I don’t know. It could be related to just self actualization. It could be related to identity, confidence, work. I’m particularly interested in your upbringing, having immigrant parents, and being a woman.
Yeah. Oh God yeah. I think, in terms of my upbringing, the personal challenge I’ve definitely had to face is not feeling like I belong anywhere. Besides feeling lack of belongingness. That’s actually one of the most intense feelings for a human. Because we’re so tribal, to feel like we don’t belong anywhere is really intense.
I remember just growing up, and my parents—God bless them—put me in school with kids from a low—income community in Montreal. I was an immigrant, but my father was doing well. I was living in the rich part of town, and there was more complication. I’m hispanic but I’m white, so who am I? I’m a white Hispanic with immigrant parents? Didn’t feel quite right, either. It’s complicated [chuckles].
So, I went to this school and I just remember being bullied as the perfect white girl (even though I’m Hispanic), who came from the rich part of town, which is hilarious because my father came from nothing, and we were immigrants. So, there was a misunderstanding, too. I remember feeling, yes, I was bullied. That was really intense when I was thirteen, fourteen which is such a precious time, when you’re a girl. That’s the time where you build so much of your sense of how you relate to people and you relate in groups, and I think that really challenged me in social situations, feeling like I don’t always belong with groups. I don’t do so well groups that much. I always get weary about them [chuckles], whether their groups of women or groups of men, or mixed. I don’t like to go to a lot of parties. I’m kind of an introvert, but I also think being bullied has something to do with it. I’m mortified of the idea of being excluded or somehow cast away, so I think that that’s been a personal challenge for me. Maybe that’s why I’m a solopreneur and run my own business. I’ve had pretty great solid family upbringing, so I’ve been blessed in that way.
I think I had a lot of challenges with men, yes. So, my romantic relationships were really, really messed up, like a lot of them. So, I don’t know what happened because I came from a good family. I was a good girl, good heart, good intention and I ended up with these kind of jerks. The first guy I dated ended up cheating on me. I was in high school. It was my first love. That was really heart wrenching. Second guy I dated in college, cheated on me. It was a totally bad influence. [chuckles] Can’t believe I dated him. That was pretty low point when I dated that guy in college, where I was in this very dark place, like almost in a depression. I became estranged from my parents. I became estranged from my culture, under some kind of spell. Why? Because he was cool, quote unquote, and I wanted to be cool. I wanted to fit in. I think that was a big thing. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to be cool—that kind of got me in trouble in a lot of ways. But I’m really grateful for that experience because that kind of spun me on to my spiritual path. From that, I discovered yoga and I discovered a lot of my own self-worth, and it kind of spun me out of that dark time and that’s when I ended up in D. C. and then ended up at Stanford.
How do you think your background and the culmination of your life experiences impact the way that you approach your work now?
I’m very adaptable because we moved to so many cities. By the time I was in college I had been to roughly 12 different schools.
And every school I had been to I had to be the new girl again. I was always the new girl. Then two years later we moved to another house, another school. So my dad’s job always kept us on our toes. So I think that forced me to be very adaptable and a fast learner. I had to learn quickly, because when you’re immersed in a new environment, you have to learn the new social skills, the new norms, the new culture of that new classroom, of that new teacher. So I ended up picking up things very quickly and learning very quickly and I think that’s allowed me to be—as an entrepreneur, as a woman who owns my own business, allows me to be very quick on my toes, allows me to adapt to any situation. So, I am so grateful for that.
I think that my father being a scientist, my mother being an artist, has deeply affected me. Has deeply affected me and my love for design and my love for using design as a tool to support people in their lives—in design thinking, especially. I think I’ve always been a seeker. I’ve always been one who’s seeking truth, and so I’ve gone on many adventures.
That’s why I’m obsessed with The Heroine’s Journey. I am starting podcast called Heroine, because I’m so obsessed with The Heroine’s Journey. Because, I’ve been on several of my own. I went to Burning Man—that felt like a journey. I went to India—that was a journey. All of it’s been a journey. But all these journeys have really allowed me to have that self-discovery, and look within about my truth and what my desires are, and let go of the expectations and the noise from the outside world of what I should be doing, and what the “should’ path is, and really focus on my desire. I think that journey allows you to do that, but you have to take the journey. If you don’t take the journey, and sitting at home and you’re scared shitless, and you’re not really going to be able to tap into that truth. All those journeys were outside of school and work. They were journeys that I took when I was meandering, when I was on sabbatical, when i was travelling and I think when i was in those in-between periods. When I was just following my heart and interests. I think that’s what makes a good journey.
Speaking of—tell me about your new podcast.
It’s called Heroine and it’s focused on women who are interested in design, tech, arts and business. These are women who have taken risks. They’ve taken creative risks. They’re creatives, and they’ve gone on journeys [chuckle]. It’s an opportunity for me to learn about their journeys, and also to steal their wisdom for other women who want to learn and grow . It also, in my mind a way to show how all these heroines that we so glorify and put on pedestals are very normal ordinary people just like we are and that are listeners. We can be the heroine if we take the journey. So it’s about meeting halfway and knowing that as women, as sisters, all of us, we’re all figuring it out together. It’s messy. It’s long. There’s no such thing as overnight success, and it’s really like the creative process. It’s about going into the unknown and seeing what happens.
What do you think are the biggest motivators behind your work?
My God. I have to be honest. I’m motivated by two things. One is my desire to survive. Like my desire to see that I’m self-sufficient. That I’m financially independent. That I feel strong. That my sense of providing for myself feels solid. So that’s a big motivator and I think a lot of us can relate to that. The other motivator for me is my desire to serve, my desire to really see other women step into their leadership, into their power, into their fullest expression of themselves without fear. So that’s what really motivates me.
Why does that motivate me? It’s because I really do believe that we need women co-creating the future alongside men, so we can create a world we want and that our voices and our opinions and our touch and our style, and everything that we are as women is—our hand is in it, you know? It’s shown in the art piece that is the future. That you can look at the future and say, “Wow, yeah, we see women’s contributions. We see their voices.” Because I really feel like otherwise things will continue to be imbalanced. We’re going to continue to have a slant towards greed, individualism, competition, materialism. We’re going to continue to have a slant toward those things unless women are represented [chuckles].
How do you feel about the state of tech in 2016? What excites you, what frustrates you, what would you like to see change?
I think there is a movement towards convenience and efficiency in new tech products. Like convenience products, move toward—like now you can order your Sprig and you can order an Uber. There’s a trend towards that and as an entrepreneur, I’m so appreciative because it frees up a lot of my time to do what I consider to be deeper, more important work.
At the same time, I’m weary and questioning the power that tech has to shape our lives, and the people who are creating them, are they fully aware of that power. Suddenly now, the way I do transportation is differently. Suddenly now, the way I eat is differently. So, I think there has to be- I almost want philosophers at every [laughter] tech company. People who are deeply thinking about this, whether they’re anthropologists, philosophers, people who are asking questions, asking why. People who understand culture—that’s who we need, also, developing tech products. If you don’t understand culture and you’re like, “Wouldn’t it be cool? I’m like a 22 year old dude and wouldn’t it be cool if you could do that?” And it’s like, wait a second before you release that out into the world and potentially change all of our lives and how we function. Having some understanding of culture is really key, that kind of depth and understanding.
To relate to that, diversity and teams. So we know diverse teams perform better. They have better financial outcomes. They’re quote-unquote smarter, more emotionally intelligent. Both gender diverse, racial, ethnic diversity, and they produce more innovation. However there’s a setback to diversity. It’s a little slower to get off the ground because when you have diverse people, communication’s not as smooth because people have different experiences. There’s an upfront cost to having diverse teams, but I think that’s the way to go. Like I was saying, when you have diverse teams, you may have more thoughtful products, thoughtful and considered products so that we can really improve our lives and well-being, but it’s not just about efficiency and convenience. It’s about something a little bit deeper too, I hope.
Based on what you’ve observed in your work, how do you think tech could become more accommodating to women without us having to become more man-like?
Well, this is going to sound radical but I’m going to say it [laughter]. Are you excited?
It’s going to be radical to both men, but also radical to feminists. Feminists might disagree with me so that’s why I’m saying it. We women have different biological needs. So, one is just sheer biology and our relationship to nature, and our relationship to our own bodies that are different than men. We have different cycles than men. We have different hormonal cycles. So, there is something around the way the work day, week, and month are structured, that isn’t honoring how women’s bodies. I think there’s an interesting thing around, how do we build cultures that support women’s cycles and bodies.There’s something around just acknowledging it as a fact, and having open discussions around it, and being like, “Well, how does that affect you?” And the reason I’m saying this, is because as hormones are so tied to emotions and stress, which in turn, are so tied to productivity. So, if you’re going to ignore hormones, but expect a line of high productive output, there’s a disconnect. So, that’s one thing companies that are mindful enough just to have open dialogues and conversations with women about their bodies, and their bodily needs, and what they need. And then there’s point where you have fertility, and then you want to be a mother, and that’s a whole other issue around pregnancy and your body’s needs around that, you know.
So that’s one way that I think that tech companies and culture can be more accommodating to women, and there’s a lot of space for that especially startups because if it’s your startup, you have an opportunity to start a culture from scratch. What a unique opportunity for you to set precedence around how the work week runs—you could run your company how you want.
So like, having open dialogue with women and what their needs are, and not having them feel ashamed or embarrassed about that is important. The other is providing leadership development for women within companies. We’re either referring them to leadership coaches, or helping them in-house with leadership training and development so that they are able to find their own leadership style that they will often take and not feel like I have to be more like a man.
What do you think you will be doing in five or ten years?
Wow. These are such great questions [chuckles]. Fantastic questions. Five to ten years? Oh my God. I think I’m going to be loving life. I feel like in five years life is going to be good. I would really like to have by then published a book, whether is non fiction or fiction. I really want to be writing. I love to write. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I love writing poetry, I love writing fiction. I love blogging, and sharing my voice. I would really hope that by then I’d have finished either collection of short stories, or published a novel, done my own creative expression work. That would be fantastic. Probably be a mama [chuckle], and navigating that being having a baby, and being a wife building a family, I really would love to live in an intentional community. The beautiful piece of land somewhere that’s close to the city, I think that would be really cool. Yeah, that’s the dream.
My last question for you would be, what advice do you have for young women who are hoping to break it into this industry and excel, but don’t know where to start and don’t know if it’s possible?
I feel like the thing with a lot of women that I work with who have done really well in school, even if they didn’t do well in school is that they love to follow rules [chuckles], and so the rule book would say, ” Oh you want to break into tech? Okay. Get your resumé ready, get your cover letter ready, submit an application, right? Because that’s how you do it. Get introduced to someone, get”—and I would say, “No, no, no.[chuckle]. How about you do something outside the box? How about you provide value to a company you want to work with today? What something you could do for a company today to provide value for them without even having to be asked? Take an initiative, go do something for them. Even if it’s a little research you do for them or a little logo, or you do a little photography portraits of their people. Get involved, add value, do the work even before you’re even hired to do the work. Just pretend they hired you.“
We think “I can only do this if I first do this. Well, can I get away with that? Can I do that? Am I allowed to?” Yes, you’re allowed to. You know what I mean?
Go try it out see what happens. Put yourself out there. Do some free work for some people just to get your wheels churning. And also, for you to see whether you like it. In design thinking we call this prototyping. Go try test it out. Right? Instead of like putting all your life savings into this plan, find out whether this is something you even like in the first place. Explore!