Women in Tech Today, Meet Soumeya. 

Interview by: Nina Cavazos
Picture by: Daniela Sol

 

Soumeya Benghanem

Q: Tell us about yourself. How did you first become interested in technology and computer science?

A: “I think it was little bit by chance. When I was in high school, I wasn’t really into technology – it wasn’t really my thing. I took just one class by chance in college and from there I changed my major. I went to college thinking I would become a dentist and came out of college knowing coding.

I just started my company and am working with smaller companies, and many of them are woman-run companies and I love that. I didn’t think I wanted to start a company for women but it just ended up working that way. They were just the people that I wanted to work with. I love working with woman-run businesses. With the woman founders I’ve worked with, there’s really no ego. It’s about building things.”

 

Q: Since you’re a strategy consultant in the technology field, what can you tell us about any exciting trends you see in these fast-moving industries? What do you think those trends mean for women?

A: “What I love about technology is its ability to create communities around niche interests, so anyone who’s interested in a specific topic, they can now find a lot of people everywhere to talk to. Women tend to be the ones with a lot more of those niche interests and I think they are the ones that look out for community. Technology in education is a very important topic for women now and in the future, I am sure of it. And with privacy, it’s more than privacy – it’s about safety. Letting women feel like they can say what they need to say online without being attacked by systems or even trolls and fake accounts. Understanding what’s going on online from a privacy perspective is very important to women.”

 

Q: We are seeing a huge movement in the tech space where women are pushing back against their male-dominated work places to combat sexual harassment and the gender pay gap. Can you tell us about the first time you encountered sexism in tech? How do you plan to help change that culture?

A: “Having women and diversity is an important part for startups. From the beginning investors need to make it an important part of the conversation. I have invested in a few startups and one of my questions to founders, especially if they’re at the B round or C round, is that if I don’t see women on your board or in your leadership team, you need to explain to me how what’s wrong there. And you hear the same responses all the time, how they can’t find women or the women were not a good fit. You hear these answers everywhere, and there is a lot that has to change. To make diversity happen, you have to spend the time and do your due diligence. Women are complex. So are guys, but our equations are so complex when we take one job verses the other. Ambition verses security verses career progression, all these things. For women, there is no one simple element that you can just offer them more money and they will take the position.”

 

Q: Studies have shown that encouraging young women to pursue and stay in STEM-related careers will help the United States close the gender pay gap. How can we make sure girls, especially girls of color, have a seat at the table?

A: I want to start with the basics. The high school I went to was an inner-city high school and the majority of the kids, including me, had free lunch vouchers. We didn’t have a computer science program. If I had applied to study computer science in college, I would not have been accepted. I think, fundamentally, we need to make sure that people in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods have as many programs as possible that expose them to STEM-related subjects. t. 

 

Q: Name three women who inspire you. 

A: When I look at my life and someone who has helped me overcome some rejections and failures, I look at Shirley Ann Jackson. MIT nuclear physics grad, she was an appointee by President Clinton to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, she’s now president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I look at her and she is real to me. She went through so much to get where she is, and I find that very inspiring about her. 

There are so many amazing women, I can’t single out any one of them. And I love reading their stories. I don’t even necessarily remember their names, but I remember what they went through. There are so many women who are worthy of admiration and, at different points in my life, I needed to hear those stories, just to keep going.