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The Woman Upgrading the Tech Industry

Slack, the team collaboration and communication tool, is not slacking off on gender equality anymore. The company recently decided to take on its first female independent board member, Sarah Friar, former CFO of payment company Square.

Currently, Slack’s board of directors is fairly small, made up of only the company’s founder and CEO, Stewart Butterfield, and three of his venture investors. However, with the financial growth the company has been experiencing, a small board of directors is becoming less sustainable. The fast-growing communication platform is currently valued at about 4 billion dollars and has experienced acquisition efforts from tech giants like Microsoft.

“As we get larger and have more shareholders, we have obviously wanted to increase governance,” Butterfield told Recode in an interview. “While there has been a strong bias that our first independent director be a woman, Sarah’s background in banking, research, enterprise software, international growth and expansion, operational management in high growth environments, and strategic finance is what makes her an ideal person to guide Slack to the next level.”

The attraction between Slack and Friar is certainly mutual; Friar is thrilled to join the team at Slack, stating, “Slack enthralled me from the beginning – I’m an avid user, and I think the company has a great opportunity to have global impact across businesses and consumers.”

Moreover, Friar’s extensive background in finance and enterprise includes working at Goldman Sachs for over a decade, holding a Senior Vice President position at the computing company Salesforce, and filling a seat on the board of directors at software analytics company New Relic. With exposure to an industry that thrives on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Friar is well-versed in a major issue facing STEM fields: the lack of female involvement. Typically, women are less likely to pursue and maintain STEM-related careers, and Friar is interested in seeing an end to this discrepancy.  

In an interview with International Business Times, Friar acknowledged this problem, saying, “Clearly there is nothing preventing women from being great leaders, so the lack of women in tech has to be a systemic bias which we should all be fighting to overcome. It starts small and early – talking to our daughters to get them passionate and interested in science and respectful of diverse opinions and thoughts.”

Friar related her statement to what she’s seen in her own life as the mother of a young daughter: “I have already heard girls in my daughter’s third grade class say they are not good at math. That is a terrible outcome at nine years old.”

Back in 2014, Friar worked with others at Square to create High School Code Camp, a chance for high school girls to gain exposure to computer science before entering college. The camp involves lectures and hands-on coding assignments. More recently, the program has transformed to include an introduction to the tech industry as a whole, incorporating career panels, tech company tours, and a mentor for each participant in the program.

Friar has already contributed to the tech industry with her skill in finance and support of programs that introduce diverse groups of young people to computer science and programming. Her appointment to Slack’s board of directors will allow her and the company to keep making strides in the right direction.

Featured Image by Piotr Krzyżanowski on Unsplash

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