Rachel Payne Speaks Up for Women in Technology
By Debra Kaufman
Technology entrepreneur Rachel Payne has a lot to say about women and their participation in technology. As a chief executive, advisor, philanthropist and even a candidate for Congress, she sees herself as a social change advocate, with a vision for the full participation of women at every level. “I’ve been passionate about technology my whole life but as the prestige of these jobs has increased, it’s been less welcoming for women,” she says. “The barriers to women have increased, not decreased. Lots of schools are encouraging women to go into STEM careers, but as they advance in the ranks, there are fewer women left.”
“I’m excited about the potential, but wish we had larger numbers,” adds Payne, who notes that only 3 percent of women’s ventures are funded. “Getting it right at all stages in the pipeline is critical, not just nice to have.”
To help even the playing field, Payne created (and heads up) FEM, Inc. with veteran Google engineer Natasha Mohanty, and CalTech-trained neuroeconomist Dr. Meghana Bhatt. The all-female holding company was founded in 2012. “We all left our jobs at Google and created a company to increase women’s representation, focused on insights and research to counter the biases that women encounter,” she says. “We realized that the existence of a holding company was missing for women and women of color.” The group of women was also eager to build the technologies that could enable those social changes.
FEM first tackled artificial intelligence, and built the platform Prizma, an AI engine that “maximizes engagement and enables deep content and audience analytics.” Partnered with Google Cloud, Prizma offers built-in integrations with upLynk, Brightcove, WordPress, Ooyala and Kaltura. Customers have included Fusion, Univision and Complex.
Payne describes Prizma as tailored for entertainment, technology and telecom companies that want to better understand their audiences and generate user and content insights that inform product development. “Prizma proprietary technology brings human-centered dimensions to AI,” she explains. “It provides analytics, predictive viewing analytics and a suite of services that really use new dimensions of how to incorporate human dimensions in AI to improve long-term engagement. It identifies the factors that drive positive user experiences and engagement.”
“AI touches everyone on the planet and we need a diversity of perspective so we don’t create blind spots in how the technology is developed and deployed,” she adds. Entertainment data measurement behemoth Nielsen agreed, and Nielsen company Gracenote acquired Prizma in June 2018.
“Having a holding company gives us maximum flexibility to build a platform and spin it out,” explains Payne. “With a holding company, we can fund mission-driven research, host conferences – we can work on whatever we want.” Building and selling Prizma has been “an intense six years,” she adds, which means there is no “next up” product yet. But Payne continues to do what she has been doing for years: organizing panels and conferences and speaking at industry events, including most recently, on a panel at SMPTE 2018 and at the Women in Post luncheon. She is also helping to organize Blockchain on the Beach, a November 17-19, 2018 cryptocurrency conference designed for women and kids (men are welcome). Payne will speak on a panel on “Crypto for Family Offices, Congressional & Elected Officials: Regulatory Frameworks & Blockchain Basics for Making Better Legislative Decisions.”
When Payne was at Smith College, she was aiming for a career in the U.S. foreign service but was recruited by an early Internet company, International Data Group, to fulfill a business development role. That experience exposed her to so many aspects of the burgeoning digital environment that she switched gears and moved into an early-days startup later acquired by E-Bay. “That was a pivotal moment for me,” she says. “We worked with great teams and developed entirely new business models. It was an exciting time and, for me, it was all about having a positive impact.” Her trail of successful startups (the last one being a cloud-based rights management system sold to Discovery) led to a senior executive career at Google.
Now she is determined to share her enthusiasm for the intersection of technology and gender to others. “In my personal experience as a technologist, I’ve seen the barriers and opportunities as a woman,” she says. “More than anything, I recognize the power we have as women and the role we can play not only in helping each other but the people who come behind us. We are helping to create more norms and precedents to help women and people of color thrive in the industry, and to engage in the conversation about power and leadership in our respective industries.”