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Karen Cohen – Rare Birds Ambassador, Brisbane



As Founder of Women in Emerging Tech, Karen has long been an advocate for better representation of women in blockchain. To further this work, she has recently founded a virtual developer hub, AlgoHUB for the Algorand Blockchain.

Tell us about your work you are doing with women in tech and emerging talent.

My background is in HR Management and I have been working in the Emerging Tech space for over 5 years. I run Women in Emerging Tech to encourage more women to join the technology conversation, simplifying the conversation to create a warm and inviting meet-up space, where everyone is welcome, including beginners.

What is your driver for helping women in tech?

When I joined the Blockchain space in 2017 only 5% of bitcoin buyers were women. I would receive founder’s decks where there were no women present at the founder’s table or even on the advisory team. 

Women still only represent 15% of bitcoin buyers and females are still under-represented at the ASX Board level. We need to continue to consciously include women at every level of the organisation and create succession plans to ensure we are training women to be represented at every level of an organisation. 

What started you on the blockchain journey and where is it taking you?

I started by accident. I was approached at a party to work in HR for a Blockchain company. At that time, I had no idea what a blockchain was! I asked my husband to explain it in simple terms and my eyes glazed over. That was the beginning of me taking the leap into the unknown and figuring it out as I go along, not being afraid to break things or look like an idiot when I don’t know something.

Five years on, I am running a virtual developer hub, AlgoHUB for the Algorand Blockchain. Fixing the shortage of Blockchain Developers one block at a time. I am not a programmer but I am leaning in on my expertise as a community builder and program manager so this is an exciting challenge. 

You recently led the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Office for Women Mentoring Scholarship Program with Rare Birds for over 90 women from Marginal Backgrounds including Regional, Disabled, Indigenous, Refugee, Lower Socio-Economic Backgrounds. What was your biggest takeaway from that experience?

I loved running this program for Rare Birds. During lockdown I got to speak to 90 incredible and diverse women and it was such a privilege to be part of their journey. Some had micro businesses, some were startups right through to scale-up businesses. I enjoyed listening to their challenges from balancing kids and family and work, to growing and scaling. I learned that we are all at different stages of our business journeys. As a mentor you need to match the pace of the mentee. We all tend to be over achievers but sometimes your mentee just needs an ear to listen and then sometimes, you also need to be a bit more forceful to ensure they set goals and achieve them.

Female Founders need funding, a network of peers and help to build their confidence. Mentoring is a good way to help with all three of these needs.

What are some of the keys to building an engaged online community?

The biggest tool in your toolkit is zoom catch ups. I love the Rare Birds monthly mentor catchups where we can exchange ideas and share stories, frustrations and solutions. Staying connected takes time and many different mediums, not just email, socials and follow ups. 

Everyone is busy, we need to break through the “busyness” noise and not be afraid to pick up the phone every now and then, and just say “Hi, how are you doing, how can I help?” 

I missed in person catch ups so much as I am an extravert but we must keep the sisterhood close and create lots of opportunities to catch up online. My zoom room is always open.

What has motivated you to become a Rare Birds Ambassador?

I loved working with Rare Birds so much. It aligns with my purpose to help other women to be successful. I wanted to continue my journey as a mentor and an ambassador. Everyone should have a mentor and be a mentor.

What do you think are the key traits of a good leader?

Make time weekly for your direct reports, ask questions, check in, understand your team members’ purpose, build mastery and autonomy and don’t be afraid to get into the weeds when you need to. Set a strategy and measure your success against the strategy and don’t forget to be vulnerable and ask for help and get a mentor.

Why is strong leadership important in business?

As a leader you set the tone of the organisation. A business will reflect their leaders’ style. If you have a disciplined, autocratic leadership style, people who don’t fit with that style won’t survive in your business. I like to lead with compassion and purpose. I am a hard worker and expect people to work hard alongside me.

What has been your biggest ‘aha’ moment in business?

That I can do it: anything I put my mind to, the hustle, the accounts, the marketing, all of it. If I don’t know something, I ask my mentors and I am not afraid to ask for help. Prioritise the important things and don’t sweat the small stuff.

What practical ways can businesses impact diversity and inclusion?

I won an AHRI award once for returning women to work after having a baby. I met an amazing man, Andrew Stevens. He was the CEO of IBM and was on the Male Champions for Change committee and he won the HR award from AHRI in 2013. We exchanged ideas and he told me how he had a succession plan for every level of IBM which included women and a plan on how they could get to the next level. It occurred to me how impactful this could be. You need to plan for the future diversity of the organisation, it doesn’t happen by accident.

I hate “manels”, all male panels, I am on a mission to ban it. One of my colleagues once said “if you don’t have a woman who can speak on the topic, change the topic so she can.”

I really like the observership program for boards as well. This is when you include young women and other diverse groups to watch and be part of boards so they can observe and prepare to step up in the future. 

Which sources of business wisdom do you turn to when you are stuck?

Who are your mentors, who are the people in your corner? Ring them up, ask for advice, ask them who do they know, be prepared to pay for advice from experts or offer to do something for them, people love to pay it forward. Don’t be afraid to ask.

What would you say to someone considering becoming a business mentor?

Just do it, it’s so rewarding. The mentees value your time, you are the person that is in their corner, it’s amazing to make a difference in someone’s life for 2 hours per month and to join the Rare Birds supportive network. I’ve made lifelong friends through this network.

If you are interested in mentoring with Rare Birds, please contact us HERE

If you would like to join us as a Rare Birds Ambassador and make an impact on economic equality, we would love to hear from you! We are looking for champions of change who will advocate for us, amplify our message and help us reach more female founders, innovators and leaders. Get in touch HERE.