The presence of women in the STEM field has rapidly increased over the past few years, but it’s still a difficult path to pursue. Sara Schaer knows first-hand what it’s like navigating the tech industry as a woman. A Stanford grad and a single mother of two, Schaer created Kango Rides and Care for Kids:, a startup that allows parents to be confident and reassured in their choice of caregiver and track their child’s whereabouts.
Affinity Magazine: What inspired the creation of Kango?
Sara Schaer: I was working at another startup, managing a team spanning 3 continents. I had 2 small children in preschool and daily transportation was a huge pain point. For a decade I never got over the hurdle of finding a reliable, qualified sitter whom I trusted to drive my kids and who was sufficiently available. After smartphones came into existence, I realized that they were the missing tool that would allow the tracking, communication and convenience that were essential to this type of service parents needed. The service didn’t exist, so we created Kango Rides and Care for Kids. Trusted, vetted caregivers are of course central too, in addition to the mobile app and related technical infrastructure.
Affinity: When did you truly know you wanted to pursue a STEM career? Throughout your schooling and the early stages of your career, did you ever doubt your choice?
SS: I first became interested in STEM in middle and high school. When I applied to college I declared on my applications that I wanted to major in Physics! Then I realized that what I was really passionate about was solving challenging problems in a broader sense. I took a few coding classes, but had so many other interests that I ended up going to business school overseas. I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to dedicate myself to.
After several years at Accenture as a consultant and being exposed to many different types of work for different companies, I left to join a Bay Area tech startup. I was in my element as a Product Manager solving problems using technology as a tool and never looked back until I founded Kango.
Affinity: What does a typical day look like for you, as both a mother and an entrepreneur?
SS: In the morning, I get up and check emails and the Kango Operations dashboard which shows all rides for the day. Then I have an espresso, and a quick breakfast before taking my kids to school. If I’m on a business trip, a Kango driver will take them for me! After that, I go to the office and it’s pretty much [work] non-stop. We are actually a 24/7 service. My day includes a huge breadth of activities – from operations oversight to team management, marketing, fundraising and more. Email, phone calls and in person. It’s never boring! After my kids get home from school, I try to be present for homework and dinner, until they go to bed. If they have a sports event or doctor’s appointment, I am always there. We do make a point of having dinner as a family every night. Then I’m back on the computer checking emails or finishing other tasks, or catching up on communication from the school. I volunteer there whenever I can.
Affinity: What’s your favorite part about being a woman in Tech? What are some of the advantages?
SS: One of my favorite parts is the opportunity to be a role model for other women and girls. That’s why I’m a mentor for the Technovation app challenge for high school girls. A key advantage is visibility. When you are in the minority, you stand out. The spotlight is on you, so your successes will proportionately get more attention. So go out there and be exceptional at what you do!
Affinity: Do you feel your gender has ever affected the way you were viewed or treated in your career, whether it be by colleagues or by customers?
SS: I have been asked how I manage my family and my business at the same time. I don’t think a man would have been asked that question in that circumstance. Plus, ironically, I run a service that helps parents care for their kids! In my line of work being a working mother is an advantage as I can relate to our customers – moms and dads alike – and they know I share their challenges.
Affinity: Do you see a lack of women in tech? If so, why do you think that is and how can we move to balance the scale?
SS: Being in the Silicon Valley area, I actually don’t see a lack of women working in tech companies in the larger sense. But there aren’t enough doing technical jobs. I do see a minority of female engineers – in all types of engineering, whether it is software, hardware, mechanical, electrical, etc. As to why that is, I think women may be deterred by the skewed gender ratio in companies and even in technical college classes, but also lack of sufficient encouragement in grade school due to gender stereotypes. Role models are important and female engineers of all ages still aren’t visible enough. More technical female role models, more STEM encouragement and mentorship for girls in high school and college, more “unconscious bias” training at companies – there are many things that need to happen. But these changes are starting to take place already.
Affinity: What are your thoughts on the quality of high school level science and technology related education in the United States?
SS: I personally went through the French education system from elementary school through the French Baccalauréat, the high school exit exam. I got college credit at Stanford in the sciences. So I don’t have firsthand experience of high school math and science education. From what I can see, I think it is possible to get by in the U.S. with less math and science education, if you opt not to specialize in those areas. But if you do want to specialize early in STEM fields, the U.S. system is more flexible earlier, for that.
Affinity: What piece of advice do you have for young women considering a future in the tech industry? What do you wish you knew?
SS: My advice to all young women is to follow your instincts. If you are passionately interested in a technical field, or think you might discover that passion: above all, don’t be afraid or let yourself get deterred. Experiment with classes even if they are hard. Pursue technical extracurriculars. Seek out others with similar interests. Find mentors and role models early – even before college.
Overall: Aim higher than you think you can go and higher than you have ever gone. When you really push yourself you can do anything!