If you ask Fem Equity’s CEO Adeola Ajani about the barriers she faces about being a femme founder in tech, she says “striving to make pay equity a reality for all women of color requires a persona” when it should just allow for founders to be their full authentic selves.
Experiences like her first job at a theater exposed Ajani, who is originally from Prince George’s County near DC, to pay gap issues early on. In that job, her wages ranged anywhere from $11 to $12, while those of coworkers who did not look like her were much higher. The SaaS platform founder and 2022 Washington Business Journal Inno Under 25 awardee was unintentionally gathering her case studies early.
“People in leadership within the theater I worked in were usually men,” she told Technical.ly. “There may have been one white woman in a leadership role, but there were usually white men in charge.”
In 2020, Ajani landed what she says was her dream job: a role as a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley. Still, even after earning multiple degrees and fulfilling this aspiration, she was paid “anywhere from 35% to 40% less than her male counterparts”. While this young founder was grateful for her dream job, she did go back to human resources to raise the issue of the pay gap and was met with resistance — and a reminder of the fact that she signed a non-negotiable agreement. Ajani said that this stipulation made her stick to her initial compensation offer.
“I was extremely devastated and upset,” she recounted.
Adeola knows, and statistics assert, that the reasons for this gap go beyond any non-negotiable agreement. Moreover, improvements to these gender-based pay disparities have slowed during the pandemic; that’s especially true for non-white women. But those emotions after being refused a raise fueled her goal of providing other women of color the tools, support and confidence they need to make empowered decisions for their career success and financial security — all toward the goal of an equitable society.
Fem Equity was thus founded by Ajani and COO Chidera Egbuche in February 2021. Its SaaS platform provides financial education and professional development to help women and underrepresented professionals thrive in tangible ways. This innovation landed Fem Equity and Ajani spots in Johns Hopkins’ Social Innovation Lab (SIL), TEDCO’s Open Institute for Black Women Entrepreneur Excellence and the honorable mention section of Technical.ly’s 2023 RealLIST Startups.
Still, despite these accolades, Ajani frequently encounters biases rooted in longstanding racist and sexist dynamics that plague both Baltimore and the tech industry at large. She spoke to Technical.ly about these barriers she and other Black female tech founders face, her path to becoming a founder, the double-edged sword of funding appeals, her local role model and more in a Q&A with Technical.ly reporter Alanah Nichole Davis.