Women Who Lead

Sage Franch, creator of Crescendo, is making tech more inclusive for everyone

Sage Franch, Trendy Techie

Big dreams and high goals are nothing new for the intelligent and stylish entrepreneur behind the Trendy Techie blog, and now, the co-Founder of Crescendo, a diversity and inclusion education tool.

While attending an all-girls high school in Toronto, Franch had an interest in computer graphics and envisioned a future where she would work her way up the corporate ladder, and naturally take over as CEO of Pixar.

However, Franch recalls the moment a professor introduced her to a script of code that turned into animated fire on her screen. Calling it her “caveman moment,” a primal desire to be the creator of the software, rather than the user took over, and she found her spark in coding.

As a former technical evangelist at Microsoft, focusing on global developer education and AI, Franch is no stranger when it comes to the tech world. However, like many women in STEM fields, it’s a journey that hasn’t been without discrimination. Submerged in an industry that often painted her with the brush of traditional ‘feminine’ tropes, stereotypes and gender bias, Franch momentarily doubted her place in tech but ultimately used it as fuel to her fire creating the Trendy Techie—a fashion and technology blog.

After speaking to many people in the industry who faced similar discrimination, one key theme emerged; no one knew what to do.  Her latest venture, Crescendo, aims to open up conversations in the workplace, making diversity and inclusion less of a checkbox, and more integrated into company culture.

At the root of Franch’s work is a passion to leverage technology to build a better, more inclusive future with a focus on workplace empathy. Her main message? To remember that we are all human and have experienced hardship. Compassion and empathy go along way — even in the binary tech world.

Why did you create Trendy techie?

Trendy Techie came out of a particularly bad week in my first tech internship in Toronto. I was excited and wanted to feel good at work, so I would dress up. In the first week I received many degrading comments like “You’re too pretty to code; You can’t code wearing a dress; You need to learn about baseball so you can fit in with the guys; You don’t need a high powered laptop because it’s not like you know how to use it.”  People talk about gender discrimination in tech, but because I went to an all-girls high school I never experienced it until then. I considered leaving technology altogether, but then I started to look online to see if anyone was writing stories about being a young woman in tech who wore dresses to work, as trivial as that sounds. There were no young, female, tech bloggers at the time. I decided to write that story myself. It was a fashion blog in the beginning, and as I gained more confidence and followers, who wanted to hear about more technical content it shifted away from fashion and more towards tech.

Where have you witnessed discrimination?
When we deal with systemic bias, it’s really the smallest offence that can trigger the entire history of what you’ve experienced. Some people think that the more you experience discrimination, the less it hurts but that’s not the case. There’s two places that I’ve witnessed it the most; in my professional workplaces through interactions with colleagues and managers, and I’ve also seen it, probably worse, in professional event settings when you’re representing a company in public. At Microsoft, I was an external facing engineer. I would interact with a lot of the general developer community through that role, and the comments and behaviour that I received was disgusting.

What will it take to change societal perception of company culture, and encourage long-term careers for women in STEM fields?

First, we have to start introducing STEM to girls at a much younger age, and there’s already organizations that are doing that, so I’m hopeful about our long term play. It also comes back to empathy at work. It’s not enough to just tell women to feel comfortable and move on, it requires everyone in the ecosystem to understand that hiring women is not lowering the bar. It requires everybody to understand why we need diversity, that diversity is a strength rather than a weakness. I think that empathy education is a big gap in the market in terms of what tools we see at work and that’s what Crescendo is trying to fill.

What is Crescendo’s mission?

Crescendo is a diversity and inclusion education tool that sends personalized learning paths weekly to every employee that helps them empathise with people who are not like themselves. Everybody is set on an initial learning path, and based on how they interact with the content we send through what we call “Crescendo Moments”, that learning path is personalized overtime. They see real stories from real people sharing their experiences. Each one is packaged as a 2-4 minute video or article, associated with an actionable tip; one small thing that they can do to take action from this new concept that they’ve learned and implement it at work. An example is talking about, or learning about privilege. The actionable tip that comes with the privilege content was to consider my own portfolio of privilege and to talk with a colleague about how we think privilege has affected us in our career paths. It may sound simple but people aren’t having these conversations right now.