‘Working in tech, it was the norm to be the only female in a room of men’

7 Jan 2020

Dorothy Creaven. Image: Rent the Runway

Rent the Runway’s Dorothy Creaven discusses the company’s new Galway base, what she learned running a tech start-up, and why she’s focused on hiring a diverse team.

Dorothy Creaven is the managing director and site lead of Rent the Runway’s new European headquarters, which opened in Galway last year. The US clothing rental company, which was founded in 2009, offers apparel, accessories and home decor from over 650 designer partners, online and across five retail stores, with 11m members and nearly 1,800 employees.

Creaven has more than 18 years’ experience in enterprise software engineering and delivery, working in the areas of digital transformation and leadership for SMEs and multinational companies. She was also the co-founder of mobile analytics and marketing automation start-up Element Wave, which was operating between 2010 and 2017.

At Rent the Runway, Creaven is now focused on establishing and building a new tech team in Galway.

‘It’s easy to say that the talent pool just isn’t there for female engineers, however I believe that we need to try much harder to make change happen’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the managing director and site lead at Rent the Runway’s new European headquarters in Galway city. Our new office was established to extend our software development and engineering capabilities in order to better service our customers.

I was hired to start this new office and was the first person on the ground in Galway. This has included being tasked with setting everything up from scratch: finding suppliers, helping to fit out our beautiful new office, developing our Rent the Runway brand in Ireland, creating workable and scalable processes for our teams and, most importantly, recruiting excellent engineers for the 150 jobs we announced for our Galway office last year.

Rent the Runway is a company that has pioneered clothing rental as an essential utility in women’s everyday lives, disrupting the $2.4trn global fashion industry by enabling customers and subscribers to rent, versus buy, clothing. Founded in 2009 with a vision to build the world’s first ‘living closet’, RTR believes that women everywhere will soon have a subscription to fashion.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I live and die by my calendar. It helps me plan how best to spend my time. At the start of each week, I sit down in the early hours of the morning to write my goals and objectives for the week ahead. It helps me to focus on priorities, on what will have the most impact, and how best to achieve each goal. Otherwise, it is too easy to get distracted by the multitude of things that crop up every day, so it helps me stay on track.

I’m a big fan of working through Slack and Zoom, which helps us all stay in touch between our head office in New York and our European HQ in Galway.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

We’re in a major ramp-up phase at the moment, and the biggest challenge for me right now is hiring a diverse workforce. We’re hiring across software engineering, data science and quality engineering teams and, as an organisation, we are striving to hire teams that are as balanced as possible.

It’s easy to say that the talent pool just isn’t there for female engineers, however I believe that, as leaders, we need to try much harder to make change happen. If we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results, we are wasting our time. We need to think laterally about how we can support women in STEM of all ages, and look to see how we can affect change within organisations with more diversity and inclusion initiatives.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Currently at Rent the Runway, we are focused on hiring quality engineers, back-end and front-end developers, automation engineers and data scientists. With regard to finding talent, we’re in a great position – the market in Galway, and Ireland as a whole, is full of skilled, experienced, and vibrant people who are change makers and value creators.

I’m so proud of what our team in Galway has achieved already last year, and am excited to see what 2020 brings in terms of delivery of key projects, additional engineering capabilities and culture initiatives.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

My primary degree is in electronic engineering (thanks NUI Galway), and I started out on my professional career path as a software engineer developing ProTools plug-ins for a multimedia house and recording studio in Co Galway.

Following a brief stint as a web developer in Quito, Ecuador, I returned to Ireland to work for a couple of multinationals in more business-focused roles before founding my own company, Element Wave, which ran for almost seven years.

Running a tech start-up through the recession and beyond proved invaluable. I learned how to build high-performing teams and employer branding on a strict budget, and learned that everything you do as a start-up founder is about sales; from winning awards, to getting that big customer over the line, to taking out the bins. Every action has a follow-on result that drives growth. 

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

While I’m not a believer in regrets, I do like to learn from my past experiences. I learned so much from having my own tech start-up. Probably my biggest mistake during that time was wasting so much time pitching to investors who had no intention of investing in a female founder.

It was a tough lesson to learn, however it has been invaluable experience and helped me understand the critical need for more women to be sitting at the investor table and the necessity of increasing diversity on company boards.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I encourage people to be ambitious, to aim high and really go for what they want in life – both personally and professionally. We all have such a limited time on this wonderful planet and I believe that we should make the most of it and enjoy the journey along the way. We all spend so much time in our jobs, so I believe that we need to love what we do.

I also encourage people to think for themselves and to be their own leader, no matter what stage of their career. I want everyone to find their own voice and speak up when they feel passionate about something. I also encourage people to be brave and not to be afraid of the unknown. Pushing yourself forward to something that scares you can be so rewarding, and I love to see people push past their fears and achieve goals they thought were beyond their reach.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

I’ve lived and breathed through diversity challenges throughout my life. During my time in university while studying for my electronic engineering degree, there was just one other female student in a class of 42, so it was something I had to get comfortable with quickly. Thankfully, my class was incredible and some of my closest friends today are from that time in college.

Throughout my professional career, especially working in the tech industry, it was the norm to be the only female in a room of men. Though it may sound surprising, it wasn’t something I actually thought a lot about until recent years as I was so accustomed to it.

However, these days we all need to work harder and invest more in order to create a more balanced and diverse workforce. Diversity for me is not just about a balanced male-female ratio; it needs to include everyone from all genders, nationalities and minority groups.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

From an early age, my parents always encouraged me to be independent, ambitious, and to carve out my own path in my life. I’ve always had a tendency to do things differently, and my family has always been supportive along the way.

Though I can’t say I have officially ever had a mentor, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some very talented people throughout my career. I also have some extremely smart people in my family and close circle of friends so I feel like I’m always learning from the best.

Also, with all the access we have to information these days, it’s pretty easy to find inspirational podcasts or videos online. I’m a big fan of the podcast series Recode Decode by Kara Swisher. She interviews tech execs and politicians, asking candid questions about their careers and big ideas, which I often find to be both inspirational and educational.

Along the same lines, Adrian Weckler’s weekly podcast, The Big Tech Show, is also fantastic, analysing challenges in tech and interviews with on industry leaders often from the Irish tech market.

What books have you read that you would recommend?
  • Michelle Obama – Becoming
  • James Kerr – Legacy
  • Not a book, but Simon Sinek’s TED Talk: Start With Why
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Gmail, Google Calendar, Spotify, Slack, Zoom, LinkedIn and Silicon Republic!

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