By Jola Chudy
The technology industry needs to do more to empower women to become its leaders, says Suzanne Browne, owner and director of international e-commerce company, Clevamama
Established in 2005, Clevamama has become known around the world for its practical and well-designed products, garnering several industry awards in the process.
Retailed at leading outlets including Amazon, MotherCare and MumzWorld, the company entered the e-commerce arena when online retail was still a nascent concept. Owner and director Suzanne Browne’s passion for technology and innovation has driven the business to be one of the leading brands for parents, as well as a tech trailblazer.
As a woman leading the way in technology, Browne is both a role model and a key voice in the industry.
“They say necessity is the mother of invention, however as a new mother I found that invention was my necessity,” says Browne. “Starting my business was an invention of myself into a businesswoman, a leader, and an ambitious risk taker who didn’t need validation from anyone. My invention also included an e-commerce website which at the time was extremely rare considering the world was still using dial-up networking in 2003.”
After struggling to source products for her baby daughter, Browne and her sister, Martina Craine, decided to setup their own online nursery store where they sold third party branded products.
“Having come from a male dominated tech background as a computer programmer, I was comfortable and familiar in the e-commerce space and aware of the challenges to come,” recalls Browne.
“So, my passion for tech and love of retail mixed with my newfound relationship with motherhood seemed the perfect choice when we launched our online nursery store.”
The pair swiftly identified the huge potential and started to develop their own products, which led to the establishment of their own brand, Clevamama, now a leader within the industry and exported to more 35 countries across six continents.
Browne believes that the playing field for men and women still has some way to go in order to be classed as a truly level one.
“It is a man’s world when it comes to tech with gender quality visually evident in every comms rooms, engineering lab, silicone dock as well as most tech events globally. The problem is a systemic one that is – too slowly – being corrected. Unfortunately, most women in tech systematically underestimate their own abilities. To make changes we need to really look at education and how we can encourage young girls by identifying more role models to inspire the next generation. We need women to pave the way for the other women behind them. Finally, we need women to fear regret more than failure.”
The disparity in women in technology extends to securing capital and funding.
“The venture capital (VC) world has typically been a boy’s club. In the USA alone less than 10 percent of women are decision-makers in the VC industry which shows the obvious and implicate bias. I remember my first introduction to VC was about 13 years ago in a fancy hotel in Dublin. I had prepared my pitch for weeks and really thought it was going to be the making of me. Boy was I right, it was the making of me, not because I was successful but more so because I wasn’t.
"Yes, a room of 25-30 men with an average age of 55 turned me down for reasons I believe was their biased opinion. I truly believe they saw me as a bored housewife. However, despite my lack of membership to this archaic club, my dream is now a reality in more than 40 countries globally.”
Why tech needs more women
Without a doubt more women are needed in tech, says Browne, adamant that the first thing that needs to happen is that companies must change their mindset.
“Companies need to recognise that women bring an enormous amount of creativity, the ability to look at things differently, challenge differently and solve problems differently which essentially benefits everyone including the bottom line,” she says.
Studies have shown that some of the world’s biggest tech companies are trying, however it’s not enough and women are still a minority. This inconsistency is not something that’s going to happen, but needs to be a constant commitment, she notes. “Companies need to be actively responsible and more mindful of the resources and support available to their female colleagues if we are to encourage more females within tech.”
“I truly believe that women drive diversity and ClevaMama is about as diverse as a company can get not because it’s owned and managed by two women, but because our team includes people of all ages from very wide and varied backgrounds. I’m not really sure if it’s because we are a female-led company, but diversity wasn’t ever an issue within ClevaMama, instead the fact is the best person always got the job regardless of gender, race or religion.
That said, having such a diverse team really does give us the upper hand with increased creativity, better decision-making, as well as employee satisfaction which when combined essentially means improved profits.”
At Clevamama, one of the most important ways that staff and those with families are supported in the workplace is through flexible working hours.
“Whilst most might not admit it my biggest challenge personally in the early days was childcare as well as the lack of a steady income. The challenge is society expects women to work like they don’t have children and raise children like we don’t work.”
A champion for diversity in the workplace, Clevamama hires its talent from a wide and varied background, which Browne says is one of its key strengths.
Born in Dublin into a working-class family Browne is the youngest of four siblings by parents (and original mentors) Ronnie and Lillie Craine. Throughout her childhood, Browne had many jobs which included everything from selling vegetables door to door to waiting tables in restaurants. Browne finished school at the age of 17 and went on to study Computer Science in college.
She spent five years working in IT in Dublin followed by a further six years on Jersey Channel Islands.
Having returned to Dublin in 2002, Browne married and her first child arrived a year later in July 2003. In the last 15 years,
Browne has won numerous awards in the nursery industry as well as business awards, which include Female Entrepreneur of the Year. Browne has gathered significant knowledge and respect within business networks and is a regular motivational speaker at both business events and schools throughout Ireland.
Browne’s business passion is based on professionalism, pride and pioneering. Her personal passion includes family, football (soccer and GAA), running as well as walking their much loved family dog along the usually wet and wild Irish beaches.