International Women's Day 2021 – an interview with Prolific's CEO

Katia Damer is Prolific’s CEO and one of our co-founders.

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, we grabbed a coffee and asked her some questions about what it’s like being a female CEO at a start-up, and about some of the challenges she’s faced so far.

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How do you think your experience as a female CEO at a startup differs to male CEOs?

Great question. It’s often difficult to pinpoint because it’s very individual – stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination typically only become blatantly visible on a larger scale, or when you look at the numbers. I have been fortunate not to have experienced much overt discrimination.

However, I often can’t help but wonder how much I’ve been disadvantaged as a woman because of subtler biases. For example, when raising our seed round in 2019, around 90% of the investors I spoke with were men – the VC industry really is not diverse, it’s a disgrace.

Some of the VCs I interacted with didn’t value my time; they would schedule calls or ask for metrics, but not show up or follow up. Of course, I can’t know whether that’s related to misogyny or not. But I sometimes wonder whether we could have raised more money if I had sent one of my white male colleagues to do the fundraising.

Pitching and presenting is a big part of being a start-up CEO – how have you found this as a woman?

I’m trying to lean in to it: Embrace my gender identity, my immigrant background, my science geek self, my multiculturalism. This helps me become better at pitching and presenting.

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I’ve always struggled with stage fright, and public speaking doesn’t come naturally to me. And then, when you get on a stage or podium and all you see is white guys in front of you, it can make you feel like you don’t belong. You feel out of place, get anxious, feel less confident.

I’ve been working on becoming a better public speaker for a long time, and I’m currently learning to embrace and leverage my power. I’m trying to lean in to it: embrace my gender identity, my immigrant background, my science geek self, my multiculturalism. This helps me become better at pitching and presenting.

How do you think your experience as a woman has helped you to be a better leader?

I don’t want to be stereotyping or typecasting, but in my experience women often bring something to the table that is very valuable: warmth, empathy, perspective taking, an ability to listen, mediate when conflicts arise, thoughtful communication, emotional intelligence, and a range of other soft skills, in addition to intellectual calibre and technical competencies.

I’m sure you agree that these kinds of softer skills are invaluable for any leader.

How important do you feel female mentorship is within business?

Reach out if you can... It can lead to lifelong connections and relationships. Curiosity and courage can get you a long way!

This is hugely important and I’d love to see more of that. Unfortunately, it still feels very difficult to connect with women leaders in power, in part because there are so few of them. But do reach out if you can. Try to leverage Linkedin, Twitter, Clubhouse and other social media networks.

It can lead to lifelong connections and relationships. Curiosity and courage can get you a long way!

What's your advice for other women looking to lead, or looking to launch start-ups?

Ask for help, ask questions. Reach out to those who inspire you. You’d be surprised how often even very busy people will respond. I once emailed Adam Grant, Patrick Collison, and Tracy Young. Adam is a really successful Business School Professor and writer, and Patrick & Tracy are incredibly inspiring CEOs and founders.

All three of them responded to me. Patrick and Tracy even made time for a meeting. To be clear, I don’t have much clout and they don’t know me. But they made time for me because my emails to them piqued their interest.

Hence my advice: don’t hold back, do reach out. Asking questions doesn’t hurt and might lead to amazing opportunities.

Katia tweets at @ekadamer. You can also follow her on LinkedIn.

Prolific is hiring! If you’d like to come and work with us, check out our available positions here.

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