Claire Schmidt is the founder and CEO of AllVoices, an tool that enables anyone to anonymously report workplace issues directly to leadership. Before founding AllVoices, Claire served as Vice President of Technology and Innovation at 20th Century Fox. Previously, Claire led social impact at Thrive Market, an e-commerce company focused on making healthy food accessible and affordable. In 2010 she helped found and lead Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, a nonprofit organization which deploys technology in innovative ways to fight child sex trafficking. During her five years at Thorn, Claire ran all programmatic work, spoke at the White House, the State Department, and Stanford University, and led a task force of more than 30 major technology companies, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft. She has also worked at The Wonderful Company and the Parthenon Group as a strategy consultant. Claire graduated from Stanford with a degree in Economics in 2006. She was the curator and vice-curator of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Los Angeles, and in 2015 won a Mic50 award for her work at Thorn.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My parents gave me a lot of independence growing up, starting at about age nine, and put a lot of trust in me to make good decisions for myself. This helped me grow and develop and be a much stronger person and ultimately helped shape me into the leader I am today.
I’ve been managing people in various jobs for the last thirteen years, and I’ve always tried to give people that same sense of freedom and autonomy. I want them to feel comfortable pushing themselves, doing more than they think they can, and I want them to feel ownership over whatever it is we ultimately create together.
I also really value transparency and openness in the workplace. At AllVoices we have a very flat structure, so everyone knows everything that’s going on, and this is something I want to hold onto as we grow so everyone feels like they have a window into the decisions we’re making and our direction as a company.
How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
All of my previous employment experience has helped shape me into the person I am today, but my role at Thorn is one that made an indelible mark on my life. I spent five years at Thorn building technology products to combat child sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation. My experience there showed me that technology can help solve massive social problems and helped hone my problem-solving capabilities. I still rely on many of the skills I developed there in my role today.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
Highlights: I get to wake up every day and do the one thing in the world I’m most passionate about, which is making sure that every workplace is safe and equitable for every person.
I have loved the opportunity to build my own team from the ground up and to choose people who really espouse our values and who are passionate about the work we’re doing. We also have an incredibly diverse team, which is something I’m proud of and have built thoughtfully and intentionally.
Challenges: I’m someone who puts a lot of pressure on myself in any job I do. There’s an added level of pressure when you start your own company that at first pushed me over the edge. I was working all day every day, into the night, and every weekend in order to keep up. But since then I’ve taken a step back and realized a lot of that pressure is self-inflicted, and I have to find time to celebrate wins, take breaks, and rest. I now try to keep the weekends mostly work-free, and I encourage my employees to do the same.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
My advice to anyone who wants to enter the tech industry is that now is a time for people with high integrity to be building careers in tech. The world needs people who have strong values tied to caring for and protecting people and the planet, creating more equality in the world, and making work better for more people. To step up and do this, whether they’re male or female. Research shows that women are less likely to apply to jobs for which they do not meet all the qualifications listed on the description, so my advice to anyone who finds a job that speaks to them but may seem out of reach is: apply for it anyway, because it may be that the company is looking for someone exactly like you. And everyone learns on the job anyway, no matter what you’re doing.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Trusting my intuition. Taking the steps in my career that felt right to me in the moment. It may not make sense at the time how an opportunity may fit into your overall career path, but looking back, you have a lot more clarity on why you made the decisions you did. In my career I’ve worked in management consulting, at a technology non-profit, a movie studio, an e-commerce startup. Each step felt like the right choice in the moment, and in hindsight all of these jobs helped prepare me to do what I’m doing now with AllVoices.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I try to listen to my body. Typically the first sign that I’m burning out is that I start to lose my voice. When this happens, I try to give myself rest as soon as possible, even if that means rearranging my schedule.
I started doing Transcendental Meditation in January, which has been incredible and gives me the ability to relax. And I try not to work on the weekends, allowing me to reset going into the following week.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
AllVoices collects reports from people about issues they experience in the workplace. While we don’t ask anyone their gender, as it might compromise anonymity, some of the trends we’re seeing are related to people simply feeling unsafe at work. People have told us about being threatened, bullied, demeaned, harassed, stalked, touched inappropriately, and more. When this is happening to someone at work, how are they supposed to focus on work, be productive, contribute, and grow? Our number one priority should be making sure every person feels safe in the workplace, and this starts with giving them a safe place to speak up about what’s actually happening.
How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
A lot of this starts with access to capital. Yes, women need mentorship, role models, networks, and other types of support, but what they really need is capital. Last year, 2.2% of venture funding went to women, and this statistic has held steady for the last few years. Without access to capital, it’s incredibly hard for anyone to start a business. And if women are unable to start businesses, it’s hard for them to gain the experience necessary to become mentors and role models for future generations.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I’ve had incredible bosses and colleagues throughout my career who have always taken the time to coach and develop me. This is hard to do in a busy work environment but it’s absolutely critical, not only for the career success of that individual but for the bond that it can build between colleagues that strengthens the culture and work environment of that organization.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I really admire Susan Fowler for her bravery in speaking up about her experiences at Uber after reporting sexual harassment. She set off a cascade of events that I believe made a huge difference in our world. She is now one of our advisors and she’s incredibly optimistic and passionate about making change in companies all over the world.
What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next year?
In the next year, my primary goal is to make more people aware of AllVoices who may be silently suffering in their jobs and who don’t feel safe speaking up. Personally, I hope to continue to empower, support and mentor other women in my industry and in my community.
What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting out?
Don’t be intimidated. Anything you don’t know is something you can learn. You don’t have to know everything from the beginning.
Try to find internal clarity about why you’re starting a company and whether this is a problem you want to work on for many years.
Take time to work on yourself so you can be the best possible leader and so you can help your employees grow and develop in their lives and careers alongside you.