WITI WomenAliza Sherman
Founder, Cybergrrl, Inc. and Webgrrls International
Aliza Sherman is an Internet thought leader, online marketing expert and evangelist for the Internet, particularly as a valuable and useful tool for women's lives.
She is the founder of Cybergrrl, Inc., a new media and entertainment company focused on the women's marketing online and of Webgrrls®, a networking group for women interested in the Internet that currently has over 100 chapters world-wide.
Sherman is also the author of the book, "Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web" (Ballantine) and is currently working on her next book through Penguin Putnam for Summer 2000.
She appeared on the cover of USA Today this year as part of a technology summit, representing the only woman and the only small business owner on the panel of today's technology leaders including Michael Dell of Dell Computers and the CEOs of Lucent Technologies, 3Com and Comcast. She also recently appeared on the cover of Business Startups magazine as their first female cover subject and will be writing a regular column on entrepreneurship for the magazine as of February 2000.
She was named one of "The Most Powerful People in Their 20's" by Swing magazine in 1997 and listed as one of the "Top 50 People Who Matter Most on the Internet" by Newsweek.
Sherman is an advisor to two nonprofit organizations for girls and several websites for girls and on the American Association of University Women's gender and technology task force. She is also on the advisory board for the Oxygen/Markle Pulse.
She lives in New York City with her two Chihuahuas.
1. What was your first job in technology?
I first discovered the Internet in 1989 when a neighbor helped me purchase my first computer and suggested that I buy a modem. Now, the reason I bought a computer was to type my manuscripts with a dream to be a published writer. After learning how to go online, I logged on every single day. In 1992, I began producing forums and resources for women online.
In January 1995, I created the first general interest website for women - Cybergrrl.com, followed a month later by Webgrrls.com which has become the hub for Webgrrls International, a global networking organization for women to learn how to use the Internet in their careers and their lives. In September 1995, Femina.com debuted which was the first searchable database of sites for, by and about women.
Cybergrrl, Inc. was the company I started in January 1995 with a mission to empower women to use technology for their personal and professional gain - something that I've been saying for over 5 years. But back then so few people knew about the Internet that having an Internet company for women didn't make sense to anyone - except other women who were getting online.
I think of myself as a writer first and technology, computers and the Internet are my tools. I truly believe that the Internet made so many things possible for me career-wise and business-wise. And I'm committed to helping other women discover the power of technology as tools for their lives. I also want more women to be the creators of technology, not just the users, and feel strongly that women should be recognized more by the media and by society and positioned as role models to others, particularly to other women and to girls, as capable technologists, as innovators of technology.
At one point, I deliberately searched for a female mentor and found one in Patrice Tanaka whose company Patrice Tanaka and Co. is truly a company with heart and soul (and a meditation room in their offices). I just wrote her a letter asking if she would be my mentor and she called immediately and invited me to lunch. It really was great to speak to a woman with a successful business who felt that there should not be a disconnect between what makes your heart sing and what you do for a living.
Today, I find that if I ask questions, anyone can become my mentor, if only for a moment. And I welcome the opportunity to learn.
I feel like I have found my true purpose on this earth - to teach and empower others - and yet I am always afraid I'm not doing enough or not doing it the right way. To compound my own feelings of self-doubt, once you reach a certain point and get recognition for things you have done, there is an insidious aspect of human nature that compels people to try to tear down someone who has achieved something. I've learned the hard way that getting recognition also means getting a lot of flak from people who do not know you but who are very vocal with their criticism of who they think you are and what they think you do. So you get it from the inside and you get it from the outside - quite the challenge.
Second lesson: Even if you are the only female in your class or in your company or in your department or on a team, the very fact that you are there is so important and it is worth taking the responsibility to be a role model to others.
Third lesson: You cannot do everything yourself. Ask for help, learn to delegate, trust others.
Fourth lesson: Find a mentor and be a mentor - be in a constant learning mode.
I guess these things apply to anyone in any industry, but I found they all have helped me in this industry.