Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you! I have had a strong interest in STEM my entire life. Whether it was assisting in professional lab work in high school or taking apart and tinkering with computers to figure out how they work, I loved all of it. When I was in college, my “aha” moment came in the form of a computer programming class. The joy from learning Visual C was unparalleled to any other course I had taken in the past; I knew this was something that I wanted to pursue. After formal schooling, I had amazing opportunities to act as an international liaison with various businesses around the world, widening my horizon on various cultural perspectives while honing my abilities to influence and negotiate. Soon thereafter I founded Waysun Inc., where I am able to bring all my experiences together in a unique mix of technology, gaming and global relationships.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
This story is interesting to me because it is an unexpected challenge as the leader of a start-up organization: gauging office space needs is hard! We are thrilled that our company is growing so rapidly and dynamically that we have outgrown office space three times already — we are on to our fourth location as of this publication! Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable, valued, and like their needs are met promotes a positive atmosphere where people are happy to come to work. This sentiment, in turn, creates a culture that fosters productivity and efficiency. It’s important to me that my employees are having fun and enjoying their work — otherwise, what are we doing here?
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I mentioned before that I’ve had opportunities to share and experience different cultures all around the world, but one thing I’ve realized is that there’s always something new to learn. I was once having a banquet dinner with Chinese partners, and there were two sets of chopsticks: one black, one white. I wasn’t sure why, thinking that maybe people have preferences. When you’re the guest, you serve yourself first. What I didn’t realize was that the black pair was a serving set, and the white pair was for eating off your own plate. I used the white pair for both! After seeing others using theirs properly, I realized my mistake. While they politely didn’t point out my blunder, I was so incredibly embarrassed and vowed that any time I’m eating with partners, I will read up on their table etiquettes!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One thing that makes my company stand out is the incredibly distinguished experience each employee brings to Waysun Inc. We began our very early days in New York state, but shortly thereafter moved to Orlando, Florida, one of the entertainment capitals of the world. With that comes the privilege of picking from the best in the industry. Our employees boast backgrounds leading incredibly success AAA game franchises, working on Disney animation feature films, creating successful partnerships with top-tier entertainment companies like Sony and The Jim Henson Company, producing and financing major media endeavors for companies like Thomson Reuters… and those are just a few examples! I remember bringing all these talented people into a room together to discuss our next project and being completely amazed by the in-depth and personal perspectives on best practices, diverse creativity, and what truly makes a business endeavor successful.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Of course, we are! Slated for Holiday 2021, we will launch a mobile AR game where players can adopt and care for virtual pets, contributing to their health, growth, and development, all while being rewarded as the pets achieve certain milestones. Our goal is for players to consume positive content in a healthier way because we know that entertainment content has an enormous impact on society. By creating games that are not only fun, but also enriching, social, and physically engaging, we are paving the way for a more purposeful and inclusive industry, one that brings out the kind and nurturing spirit within all of us.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
The status quo regarding women in STEM is far behind where it should be. While I’m happy that there is awareness for the need to address the disparities, I believe there must be more programs created for young girls who want to participate in STEM. We need to encourage knowledge, involvement, and passion in STEM from an early age in school and at play. Little girls should be allowed to play in the mud and dig up worms with the boys; females should feel comfortable participating in messy science experiments in after school clubs; and young women should be given the same types of research, tasks, and responsibilities in higher education. It should be just as accepted and normalized for a woman to be in STEM as it is for a man.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
In my opinion, there are a variety of challenges faced by women in most industries, including STEM and tech, that are not typically faced by their male counterparts.
The first challenge relates to a long history of relationship bias. Simply put, the relationship bias can be seen when men in power often tend to hire other men. Whether it’s a deliberate attempt to re-connect their network, or instead an unconscious gender bias, it leaves women with a harder time getting their foot in the door. This trend is perpetuated by the fact that most leadership positions are held by men in tech and STEM. According to a recent ICT Solutions & Education publication, just 10% of executive tech positions are held by women.
To combat this, I think our investment in women becoming involved with STEM should be made years before they enter the workforce. That way, when it comes to networking and opportunities in the professional field, it will be just as natural to think a woman can step into, and excel in, these roles in the same way a man could.
Another challenge that is staggering for women is the pay gap. According to a 2021 PEW report, “the median earnings of women in STEM occupations ($66,200) are about 74% of men’s median earnings in STEM ($90,000).” Professionals should be paid based on skill and talents, not gender, and undoubtedly, women are equally as skilled and talented as men. It’s even wider when race and ethnicity are brought into play. The simple way to address this is to ensure women are paid the same as men if they rank similarly in experience, education, and performance. To me, this is a no-brainer.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the “myths” I would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or tech is the belief that we are less interested or less capable than men in these fields. The idea that women aren’t interested in STEM or tech has been a stereotype perpetuated by media and institutions for a long time, but recent studies have shown that this myth isn’t reality. According to a PEW research study, women accounted for more than half of degrees in STEM at the bachelor’s level, and 25% of math research doctorates were earned by women. While rates of women studying healthcare is the most prevalent, I think it’s imperative we continue to encourage women to pursue other STEM careers if they want to. With the proper push back on this myth, I believe the numbers of women in STEM will continue to rise.
I believe the myth that STEM should be gendered is discouraging to women interested in joining the field, even though they are capable. Women in tech and young girls interested in tech should have that interest fostered, and they should be celebrated and encouraged every step of the way. I want to dispel this myth because it is harmful to not only the individuals it singles out, but also the industry. By discouraging women from STEM, we are missing out on a plethora of new ideas, skill sets, and solutions. Not only are women interested in STEM, but they also often excel in these fields because of their innate abilities for problem-solving, leadership, and innovation.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
In my journey to CEO, I have learned so many lessons, and I don’t think the learning process really ever ends.
The first topic that came to light early in my career is that being a CEO of any business — including one in STEM or tech — requires adopting the skills of a salesperson. Along the way, I’ve had to sell my vision to investors, my strategy to the team and, of course, our product to consumers. Among all the responsibilities I’ve had, understanding how to position my ideas and plans to get others on board is paramount.
Second, I find that it’s important to be levelheaded when making decisions. It’s beneficial to be passionate and invested in your product and team but separating emotion from action is key; business should never be personal. Women are often assigned the stereotype of being “too emotional”, but to me, it’s all about intelligent decision-making. It’s been said before, and I agree, “Never reply when you’re angry, never make a promise when you’re happy, never make a decision when you’re sad.”
Third, I learned to get good at problem-solving. This is especially important in STEM and tech, as these sectors are largely based on finding solutions and innovating. Oftentimes, your team will be having fun in day-to-day tasks, but as a leader, it’s your job to find solutions that work. It’s not always glamorous but being a problem solver is rewarding in its own right.
My fourth tip is don’t get caught up in creating a perfect product but instead, focus on creating a strong foundation and successful business. Fostering a collaborative culture, being financially viable, and finding the right talent comes first. You can always perfect your product later. STEM and tech are all about testing, so focusing too much on one product or feature can be fatal. A good business will outlast any one feature.
Lastly, stop using big words! Delivering precise and clear directions to your team is crucial since they are the ones carrying out your vision — especially in STEM and tech, where so many complex theories, systems, and terms exist. It’s important to simplify depending on your audience. Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
My advice to women leaders to help their team to thrive is to set them up for success, act as a strong, confident, and decisive leader… and then trust your team to do their best!
It’s crucial to set your team up for success from Day 1 by providing them the appropriate training and resources. Create a culture that is welcoming and inclusive where all voices are heard and valued. At Waysun, no matter the role title, we take everyone’s ideas into account from game feature development to favorite kitchen snacks.
In times of difficulty or uncertainty, people look to a leader to be strong and prepared. They want a reassuring voice with a decisiveness to feel confident in taking action. If you believe something should be done in a certain way because it will be successful, stand firm. Work with conviction and integrity, be confident in your decisions, and do not let others sway you from your path. Women are not always taken at face value or can be easily overridden by other voices; don’t hesitate or be afraid to stand up for what’s right.
And finally, if you’ve set up the right team in the appropriate roles, working in the most effective manner possible, you’re going to see great results! Let your team do what they do best and trust that they will deliver. Don’t micromanage but do be there every step of the way to encourage, mentor, and celebrate.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
The advice I would give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team is twofold: the first is to treat each person as an individual, and the second is to effectively manage and distribute talent and resources.
Whether you have a team of 5 or 100, each person comes to work with a different background or home life. We should be empathetic, caring, and human. Each employee also brings unique skills and talents that only they can provide. We should find those treasures, hone them, and ensure they are being utilized in the most effective and positive way possible, both for the benefit of the company and their personal growth. Divide, conquer, and distribute work appropriately. It is impossible to know everything about every single subject, so hire people who are trustworthy and knowledgeable that work with integrity. Creating a dependable team is the only way to ensure tasks are carried out successfully and no detail is missed.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father was the biggest influence in my life, and I’ll be forever grateful to him for helping me become the person I am today.
Most of my principles are influenced by my dad. He taught me how to learn from my mistakes and use them as fuel to become better. No matter how disappointed he could have been with a misstep, he never belittled me or made me feel ashamed. Rather, he taught me that mistakes are often made because we have different perspectives in various situations.
I have never met someone to date with such an incredible ability to see all perspectives of a situation. He truly listened when people provided their opinions or thoughts and had this way of being able to truly understand them. His example has allowed me to make better decisions in work and life. He would tell me, “We do not see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.” (The Talmud)
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As I mentioned earlier, entertainment content has an enormous impact on how we shape society. The upcoming generations are some of the most aware and purposeful that we’ve seen in history. They are very concerned with what they consume and what brands they stand behind. By being a founder and CEO of Waysun, I am in a position that allows me to drive both business and content goals. With that in mind, I want Waysun to be a company that not only makes incredibly entertaining, high-quality, and tech-forward content, but also one that wants to foster and encourage the natural human instinct of desiring happiness, hope, and goodness.
Aristotle said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” I have spent my life navigating different channels and overcoming challenges to become a woman leader in STEM. There is no point in having all this knowledge if society doesn’t benefit from it. I hope to take this knowledge and positive intention, apply it to our work and products, and hopefully spread influence beyond the phone screen and into the real world.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
To expand on my previous topic, if I could inspire a movement to bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would be one where industry content creators band together to be more purposeful with the work they produce, in a way that inspires others to find the good in the world and act on it. The last 18 months have been incredibly divisive and dark. It would be amazing if multiple brands decided to carefully curate content that is fun, meaningful, and has a purpose to find unity amongst division and light despite the dark. I want entertainment content to inspire its consumers to believe in one another and work together for a better world — whether that is through animal care, environmental awareness, humanitarian works, or any other endeavors that contribute to the betterment of this world and the generations to come.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I live by quotes. They’re a way to ground me and always help me in moments where I need a temperature check. They remind me to ask, “Am I following the philosophies I wish to imitate?” Amongst the others I’ve mentioned in this piece, one of my favorites is: “People will hate you, rate you, shake you, and break you. But how strong you stand is what makes you.” (LeBron James)
This quote has allowed me to stop worrying about the inevitable judgement of society, where people are quick to criticize or put blame on others. Regardless of critique or people trying to tear us down, we need to just be able to stand on our two feet and charge ahead with integrity, strength, and confidence. We are the only ones who are living our own lives, so we must hold ourselves accountable, and, likewise, be responsible for our own fulfillment and happiness through our efforts and heart.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would be absolutely honored and beyond ecstatic to have a private meal with Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX. Her achievements in the space transportation industry are astonishing, and she is a complete force of nature. With her bold confidence and incredible intelligence, you know she is poised to take on any challenge. She’s proven that in her personal and professional history, whether being personally asked by Elon Musk to join his team early on or raising more than $1.4m for STEM education programs that have reached thousands of students nationwide. Gwynne’s every endeavor proves her to be an incredible role model for women in STEM, myself included.