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The latest candidate in our series of Q&As with influential women in the technology business in Canada is Khushboo Jha, CEO & Founder, BuyProperly, an AI-driven fractional real estate investing platform
Name: Khushboo Jha
Job Title: CEO and Founder
Years in the Industry: 14 Years
The Quote That Most Inspires You: “I will either find a way or make one.”
What drew you to a career in the consumer and/or business technology industry?
I loved science and math growing up, so working in STEM was the obvious choice for me. I studied engineering in my university undergraduate program, so I have been very close to tech and innovation. However, I always wanted to combine technical thinking with business logic to solve problems for people.
My experience of nearly six years at Amazon cemented leveraging technology to solve real life problems. For example, I worked on “Alexa,” which makes voice commands available in everyday devices with or without the Internet, making life better for seniors and people with special needs. Now, with BuyProperly, we are making the inaccessible real estate market accessible. The platform enables Canadians to invest in real estate for as little as $2,500 and in under seven minutes through the online platform.
Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?
The stereotypes and negative headwinds were always there, sometimes covert, sometimes overt. It often starts early in engineering institutes where, for example, sometimes I would be the only girl in a class of 60. My undergrad IIT class had 27 girls in a batch of 575. To this day, some of the challenges women face include getting less credit when something is a success, and huge discredit if something is a failure.
When you are successful, the success is attributed to external factors – someone helped you as they liked you romantically, someone else on your team or senior was actually responsible for the idea and execution et cetera. When you are unsuccessful, it’s attributed to your lack of capabilities, motivation (mistaking humility for lack of ambition) and “distractions” (relationships, family et cetera).
While organizations are working towards fixing biases, it’s going to be a long time before this becomes reality. Therefore, it is important for women to learn how to navigate three things. First, build your support team and identify allies. Second, reach out to women role models in senior positions and people who have navigated this before successfully. And third, build confidence to speak up and take a stance without fear of being wrong (easier said than done).
What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?
Women bring unique perspectives given their lived experience and social encounters, and bring inclusivity, entrepreneurial spirit, and resilience to the organizations they work in. The value of inclusivity in organizational culture is well understood by someone who was the only girl in class at times. We at BuyProperly are definitely committed to supporting inclusivity and to be conscious of ensuring we do our best to support under-represented communities, women, people of colour, new immigrants, and LGBTQ+.
At BuyProperly, we push creative limits and come up with innovative, entrepreneurial solutions. The ability to come up with solutions that deliver results with limited resources is the single most valuable skill in a start-up; and women have to do this all their lives to achieve their goals given limited opportunities. This has allowed BuyProperly to achieve some excellent results so far.
Finally, women are resilient, and have an incredible ability to bounce back from stressful encounters and lead organizations forward. As a start-up, it is important to be comfortable experimenting and facing early failures, setbacks, and negative feedback to ensure long-term success.
Technology is historically a male-dominated industry, yet the use of tech is fully embraced by women, and many studies even suggest that females are the primary buyers of tech in the home. What do you feel the technology industry needs in order to attract more women, particularly into high-level positions?
To attract women in senior level positions in tech, you need to incorporate friendly practices throughout the employee experience lifestyle.
1) Start with expanding the top of the funnel for hiring. This means being mindful of job descriptions that are more gender neutral. Prioritizing and promoting benefits that appeal to women, e.g. flexible hours, fair maternity leave, and family friendly policies.
2) Increase visibility of women in the organization. Whether it is the interview panel, or speaking at conferences, or thought leadership articles, it is motivating to see a woman being given a fair opportunity when evaluating an organization.
3) Organizational culture. Minimize “bro” culture or anything that puts a certain group at a disadvantage compared to others. Ensure you have the same performance evaluation standards for women and men, and that social activities are not centred around only sports and drinking, but inclusive based on team interests.
If you had to sum up what it is like being a woman in this male-dominated technology industry in just a few words, what would you say?
It’s like a team trying to win against defending champions on their home turf. Are there other women in the tech industry who inspire you? Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Director of Stanford AI lab, is someone that inspires me for the constant innovative work that she leads. She was a pioneer for us at BuyProperly, showing how we could leverage AI as a critical component to do things smarter, cheaper, and more efficiently. I am very inspired by her work in the area of computer vision.
Another woman that inspires me is Padmasree Warrior, CEO of Autonomous vehicle start-up NIO (former CTO at CISCO). She is not afraid to ask the right questions, rather than pretend to know all the answers. She is a great mentor to a lot of young women.
What are some of the misconceptions/myths about women working in the technology space that you’d like to dispel?
Even when women are excelling in tech roles, the standard stereotype is that they are bringing empathy, encouraging team collaboration, and helping people do the work rather than actually doing the work. Sure, women may be doing these things – but primarily, they are writing code, advancing the thinking, coming up with new ideas, and running the math and logic behind implementing new ideas. They aren’t “supporting” the engineers – they ARE the engineers and the scientists.
What’s one thing you wish was done differently in the industry, and why?
Giving more visibility to women – whether it is at conferences, or in presenting their thought leadership – women are often confined to working behind the scenes. Providing visibility to women allows the next generation (younger women) to get inspired to take the stage more often and present their thinking.
Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?
Optimistic – yes. However, I am concerned about the pace at which current changes are being made. Through building BuyProperly, I work hard to ensure our business practices are inclusive and we continue to hold ourselves to a standard that progresses the industry at a faster pace than if we weren’t around.