Smart, savvy and inspiring, four successful women immersed in technology share their career stories, passion for the industry and hopes for the future.
Four women immersed in technology share their career stories, passion for the industry and hopes for the future.
The fashion technologist: Amber Venz Box
As the co-founder and president of RewardStyle, one of the world’s largest link affiliate networks, Amber Venz Box has brought technology and fashion together to service millions of people around the world. The most ingenious and simple business ideas are those that solve your own problems. As a young girl in Dallas, Amber Venz Box yearned for a career in fashion in New York. “Dallas is hours away from New York and not a publishing city, and I didn’t know anyone in New York and had no means of getting there,” she says in her charming Texan accent over the phone from the RewardStyle headquarters, located in her home town. “I was among the thousands of girls who never got that opportunity [to intern in New York’s fashion industry].”
At high school, Venz Box began creating and selling her own jewellery, then worked in fashion in Los Angeles and New York. Returning to Dallas, she parlayed her experience and natural taste as a retail buyer and personal shopper into starting a blog. “The blog was meant to be a marketing tool to get more people to use my offline service [as a personal shopper], but whenever I started documenting it, I quickly lost my key customers. I cut myself out of my own business because they could get all the information there,” says Venz Box, now 28. Her boyfriend at the time, Baxter, who is now her husband and co-founded RewardStyle, was at graduate school back then, and between them they devised a link affiliate system that would allow content creators such as Venz Box to receive commission from products they suggested.
“Someone asked me recently whether it was scary to start RewardStyle and I said: ‘Honestly, no, because I had literally no money and I was living at my dad’s house and eating cereal, so there wasn’t much lower to go.’”
Now, five years on from its launch, RewardStyle has more than 200 employees around the world in five offices and has driven more than US$1 billion in retail sales internationally. It has also moved into the beauty and home space and started Like To Know, which allows Instagram users to receive commission from products they feature on their posts.
This September sees the start of a partnership with Google to index social media content. In layman’s terms, that means when using Google, it will bring up content created on social media because the creator of the image, the products within it, the context and how well it performed are all documented, searchable and trackable, thanks to RewardStyle’s technology.
Venz Box believes that it’s only in recent months that RewardStyle has been recognised as the powerful tool that it is. “I feel that it’s only this year that RewardStyle has gained mass respect. I’m not mad about this at all; I completely understand that you have to earn your presence,” she says, modestly acknowledging that users and retailers needed time to become educated about their product and their needs.
Venz Box’s enterprises are among the few that have been successful in bridging the gap between fashion and technology. She knows from her own experience it’s a challenging space. “I’ve seen tech people try to build things for fashion, but there’s too much nuance in fashion for it to work,” she explains. “You have to create something that people need to use instead of want to use [in fashion], and in order to do that you have to actually have worked in the industry.”
For the many people around the world who, like Venz Box, have craved a career in fashion, RewardStyle has been able to make it a possibility – even without being in New York. The Dallas location, in fact, helped the company stay in “stealth mode” for longer. “My fear was that if we were in New York where the fashion and tech scene is so huge, we would have had competitors come about earlier who may have given us a run for our money. We’ve been around for five years and there hasn’t been anyone else who has been able to catch up because we’ve had the time to build an ecosystem.”
As for content creators, Venz Box wants RewardStyle to be their business tool. “Their core competency is creating beautiful and engaging content and we provide the business relationships and all the technology and business consulting so that they can be successful in creating the content.” She reports that a single style influencer made more than US$300,000 in a week from referring readers to products. “She’s a mum with three kids, so she can stay at home with them … their college education will be paid for. It’s life changing for these people and, honestly, that totally gives me chills.” Zara Wong
The change agent: Anastasia Cammaroto
In her leading role at a top financial company, Anastasia Cammaroto is a strong advocate for gender diversity in the technology field. “I had always been a tinkerer,” says Anastasia Cammaroto, BT Financial Group’s chief information officer, telling Vogue a story about how when she was six years old her parents caught her opening up her broken talking doll to see how it worked.
Although she enjoyed literature and writing at school, Cammaroto decided to pursue engineering as a university student, drawn to the field for its “combination of creativity, problem-solving and helping the community”. Since then her expertise has taken her from working at an aluminium smelter in Queensland, to the control room for the Sydney Harbour Tunnel and her current role at BT Financial Group.
Had she noticed a smaller proportion of women studying engineering? “Oh, yes, from day one enrolment,” she remembers. “One of the things I started to realise was that as we progressed through the degree, more women started dropping out. They were transferring into business or choosing different areas of study. There were maybe 20 of us that started and maybe 10 of us that finished.” Today, as chief information officer, she oversees 600 people internationally who work together to devise and strategise how technology needs to be developed and improved for both staff and customers. “We have actually understood the way people use technology in terms of solving their goals and what is important to them.”
Thirty-one per cent of the 600 employees are women – a ratio higher than the national IT industry average of 28 per cent but lower than what is desired and a percentage that’s predicted to plummet as fewer women are graduating from IT-related degrees. In an industry that seeks solutions for everyday and big-picture concerns, that’s an issue. “We think about it in averages, so in 600,000 IT professionals, 28 per cent isn’t so bad, but when you think about it in management teams – three women out of 10 – the 28 per cent statistic isn’t so good. It goes back to the question: ‘Why is gender diversity good?’ Because it creates teams where people think differently about problems; they bring their own skills and experiences,” she explains.
Cammaroto pinpoints conversations parents and educators need to have with their children. “We pigeonhole kids way too early, and I can see a world where that gap is going to be so much smaller, but I think as parents and teachers we’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy that says girls are better at humanities. I’m fascinated to see what the next generation of girls is going to be because we’re having conversations now that say: ‘You can be anything.’” ZW
The philanthropist: Alice Brennan
Bringing her commitment to humanitarian work into the digital space, Alice Brennan demonstrates the power of technology to help improve lives. Alice Brennan had never fancied herself much of a coder. “I had no idea I wanted to do this. I went where the opportunities took me,” says the 28-year-old CEO of software company SettleIn. After graduating from Oxford University with a degree in anthropology and archaeology, Brennan relocated from her native Britain to Japan to help with disaster relief following the 2011 tsunami, a seemingly unlikely catalyst for a career in coding. “We were cleaning out people’s houses and getting them back on their feet, but after a while it was about the mental health of people who had been affected by the tsunami. So then I got interested in psycho-social intervention; how do you support a group of people who have been traumatised in that way?” she explains. “Anthropology is all about human behaviour, so in the digital world it makes a lot of sense to have an anthropology degree because you’re dealing with human behaviour and population on a scale that we’ve never seen before.”
It was an unlikely intersection between social responsibility and technology that saw Brennan freelance at digital and humanitarian aid organisations in Australia before recognising the lack of technological innovation within this realm. “What I realised is that you have these incredibly skilled and experienced people who weren’t using technology in the most useful way and it’s just a big wasted opportunity. It could have been more efficient.”
And so, in late November last year, Brennan signed up for Techfugees: a two-day hackathon aimed at solving some of the problems refugees face on entry into Australia with a techsolution. Competing against other teams, Brennan along with her teammates, subsequently won with their innovative software. “The idea my team came up with was goal-setting, because the refugee community is so diverse that you can’t really come up with one solution that will meet everyone’s
“IT’S LIFE CHANGING FOR THESE PEOPLE AND, HONESTLY, THAT TOTALLY GIVES ME CHILLS”
needs but the one thing that everyone had in common was that they had to achieve things but didn’t really know how to go about it,” says Brennan of the app that allows refugees to input goals – to learn English, join a university, find housing, integrate into their community – and achieve them with the help of a refugee service organisation.
Ten months on and SettleIn has successfully transitioned from bright idea to fully-fledged start-up: Brennan now works full-time on the business with the plan to roll out the software to refugee organisations in the coming months. For her, it’s a shift towards diversifying people, opinions and involvement in tech start-ups. “The tech industry gets a lot of flack for being very white, male-dominated and very datadriven and not very diverse. But I think in places where you diversify that, the potential for technology is enormous and the more you get tech into the hands of people who are not your traditional techies, the more exciting things you see,” says Brennan, whose hackathon teammates included those who have endured the process of entering Australia as a refugee.
Brennan is also keen to see more women enter the tech industry but reveals that there was one surprising obstacle she faced in her role: deciding what to wear to work each day since clothing is a form of non-verbal communication. “It was a really hard thing to navigate because I’m meeting refugees who are not used to the way women in Australia dress, then I’m heading off to a tech event where if you turn up in something smart they think you’re not going to be innovative,” says Brennan who quickly noticed she was switching between jeans and sneakers and business attire to assimilate into her varied roles. “I had to think really hard about what I was wearing in order to be respectful of the communities I’m working with as well as being taken seriously as a tech person, a CEO, and a young woman.” Remy Rippon
The mentor: Annie Parker
She has dedicated her career to investing in the future. Not only is she co-founder of start-up accelerator muru-D and founder of Code Club Australia, Parker has also organised Techfugees. Here she describes her passion for mentoring in the Australian start-up space. “I started Code Club Australia a little more than two years ago – an after-school kids’ club teaching nine- to 11-year-olds the basics of how to build computer games, animations, basically the language of websites and apps. It began as a very practical response to an issue I was hearing over and over again: that we don’t have enough engineers, coders and programmers here in Australia to match the demand for their skills.
“After the first few code clubs got set up and I started to meet some of the kids participating, I realised something extra. Of course, coding is an important skill for them to learn for the future, but it also just happens to be life changing. I have endless stories: more and more girls who are embracing what they thought to be a boy’s subject; kids who don’t run fast or catch balls starting to feel like they have other talents and rebuilding their confidence levels; kids with learning disabilities who previously never felt like they fitted in finding that learning to code is like a super power; kids from rural towns in Australia realising that they can create extraordinary things from anywhere; teachers realising that digital skills aren’t as hard for them to pick up as they thought; parents realising that it’s not just important for their kids to learn digital skills, but that they’re also fun.”
“I guess that’s why I love the power of technology so much – it’s inclusive, empowering and the possibilities are endless. Imagine if we all took some inspiration from these amazing children and realised that we can all do this too. What futures would we create for ourselves? What amazing ideas do we all have in our minds that we could bring to life? So go on, why not have a go? Maybe you’ll surprise yourself by what you might be able to do.” All the women profiled in this story will be speaking at the Vogue Codes summit in Sydney on October 14. For more information on the event, go to www.vogue.com.au/culture/vogue+codes.
Amber Venz Box wears a Tibi jumpsuit. Her own rings. Valentino shoes.
Annie Parker wears a Giorgio Armani shirt. Akira skirt. Her own T-shirt.