The MPW Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career? is by Rebecca Minkoff, designer of Rebecca Minkoff LLC.
When I launched my company, I was told to stay away from my customer. Industry insiders told me I would be more desirable if I kept my distance. Needless to say, I didn’t listen. Instead, I took a different path. I wanted to engage with my customers and respond to their opinions. So I tried every social media platform I could find. Even before (FB) Facebook, I spent an hour each night chatting with our customers on fashion blogs. People didn’t always believe it was me, but they were willing to share their thoughts. This proved to be extremely beneficial and I ended up using much of this feedback to chart the direction of my business.
A combination of our loyal customers and the creative use of new technology, has helped us build one of the fastest growing (and digitally innovative) brands in the fashion industry. Not bad for a business we started in a sixth floor walkup apartment, with virtually zero industry connections and even less money. But many of our female millennial customers have grown up with technology, despite it being relatively new to our company’s business plan. This is why I decided to partner with Intel this past year to help increase the participation of women in STEM careers.
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Our brand wouldn’t be here without the creative use of technology platforms, but perhaps more importantly, we won’t be able to continue engaging with our customer through technology unless the next generation of women are educated in these platforms. However, to make that happen, more women need to be represented on the design and engineering teams that create these innovative ideas. Technology has become essential to many of our business practices. For example, when we were building our flagship retail store, we were focused on integrating new technologies into our dressing rooms. We were thrilled with the beta tests of our state of the art interactive dressing rooms, until we tested them with a sample of our female customers and the feedback was extremely underwhelming.
We couldn’t open our stores until this problem was fixed, but we never would have even seen the problem if we didn’t test it with our core demographic. But this was especially difficult because women were virtually nonexistent on the engineering teams. This was a huge wake-up call for me and my company. If more women had been on the design and engineering teams from the start, we may have never encountered this problem because it would have been foreseen. If our tech team doesn’t understand our core female customers, how could we continue to successful attract new customers?
My partnership with (INTC) Intel will help employers promote women who are passionate about technology, and give them the tools and support they need to succeed. The lack of female participation in STEM is already beginning to negatively impact our ability to engage with consumers, which could have a long term impact on innovation.We need technology for women, by women — women who want to break the mold and do something new. Whether you want to be an engineer or a fashion designer, I believe basic tech education and skills will be a necessary for success.