Agustina Fainguersch, CEO and co-founder of Wolox
Agustina Fainguersch, CEO and co-founder of Wolox. Photo: Courtesy.
Technology

Latina STEM leaders’ spotlight: Meet software engineer and Accenture's Wolox CEO Agustina Fainguersch

In our continuing series profiling Latinas taking the lead in STEM, LABS spoke with Agustina Fainguersch, CEO of Wolox, which is part of Accenture. She shares her personal story, thoughts on leadership styles and why increasing the number of women in tech changes lives

Agustina Fainguersch is the CEO and co-founder of Wolox, a software development company that describes itself as “devoted to transforming industries through technology.” The company, headquartered in San Francisco, Calif. with offices in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and New York City, was recently acquired by Accenture in January 2021 and operates as an independent business.

Fainguersch, a software engineer with a master’s degree in Computer Science, co-founded Wolox 10 years ago with several software engineering colleagues from her university days.

Rather than accept chief technology officer (CTO) offers they received from startups and established companies alike, the group of innovators set out to address an unmet need in the market: helping entrepreneurs and established business people turn their ideas into digital products.

“We decided to join forces and co-founded Wolox,” said Fainguersch. “Now these companies could access the expertise of an entire engineering team to turn their ideas into software products and use technology as a tool to solve their problems.” 

As a result, Wolox has helped build many companies from scratch by shepherding clients through all stages including the software design and development, UX/UI optimization, launching minimal viable products (MVP), and then scaling the digital products and services.

“We became experts in what we call digital business design — the intersection of technology, business, and user experience,” said Fainguersch. “Our agile squads help companies of all sizes navigate this digital journey. We create strategies and build the first iterations of products that meet those strategies.” 

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Prior to becoming part of Accenture, 36% of Wolox’s engineering team were women. The ratio of women in leadership was even higher and fluctuated between 50-53%.

“It was easier to find women for leadership roles than it was to find women software engineers,” said Fainguersch. “I’m not very proud of that 36% ratio, but I’m very proud of the efforts we made to get there.”

That engineering ratio is one of the reasons Wolox decided to join Accenture. By doing so, the company could increase the number of female engineers, while maintaining its leadership numbers.

“It was inspiring to see a huge company like Accenture actually care about those ratios and achieve objectives that we couldn’t as a smaller firm,” said Fainguersch.

Stepping into STEM

Fainguersch’s road to a career in STEM started with an innate love of math and science. As a student, she consistently chose science, math, chemistry, and physics classes over anything to do with arts and humanities. 

When it came time to choose a career path, she chose software engineering because, unlike building physical objects, the software allowed her to create and scale products quickly and cost-effectively. She also recognized software as a powerful tool that could create positive change.

“I wanted to do big things and, as a software engineer, I didn’t have to pick just one industry,” said Fainguersch. “I could be industry-agnostic and build products that change realities and improve people’s lives.”

A contrast in leadership styles

As a CEO, Fainguersch describes her leadership style as passionate, people-driven, team-oriented, and fueled by bold thinking. 

I don’t like working by myself. I leverage my sphere of influence by creating high-potential teams that dream big while keeping their feet on the ground. I prefer teams that know how to build one step at a time and understand the impact they create.

Agustina Fainguersch, CEO and co-founder of Wolox, part of Accenture.

Leadership styles vary from person to person but, in general terms, there are distinct differences between the way women and men lead. Teams consist of people, not merely professionals. Fainguersch contends female leaders tend to be more attuned to both the personal and the professional wellbeing of their team members.

“Women leaders are much more empathetic,” said Fainguersch. “They know the different life issues their team members are facing, whereas most of the male leaders I see are very good at setting and following objectives, driving the team, and helping them grow professionally.”

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Women tend to bridge the gap between simply knowing their employees and getting to know and care about them as whole people. Fainguersch speculates this may be due, in part, to maternal instincts and that nurturing is second nature to most women. That leadership style, like any other, has its downside.

“I see many female founders building companies as if they were their own babies,” said Fainguersch. “Caring deeply is a good thing, but it can make hard decisions — like leaving the company or firing someone because they’re not performing — more difficult.”

Still, when it comes to building and working with high-performing teams, Fainguersch believes the benefits of empathy outweigh the downside.

Leading with empathy is one of the top skills for business success today — especially when working with remote teams because it requires more effort to get to know your people. Empathetic women leaders can help their teams grow both professionally and personally.

Agustina Fainguersch, CEO and co-founder of Wolox, part of Accenture.

Challenges of leading in STEM

It’s 2022, and you still don’t find many women CEOs running major companies. Although 2021 set a record — 41 women helm Fortune 500 businesses — that means only 8.1% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women. And none of them are Latina

A study of the 50 largest tech companies in the world found that only one in 10 have a woman CEO.  Talk about being lonely at the top.

It also begs the question: what challenges do women face when leading a company in a male-dominated industry such as technology? Like many of life’s vexing questions, the answer is — it depends on the circumstances.

Fainguersch’s circumstances are unusual. She co-founded her own tech firm, and then Wolox decided to join forces with Accenture, one of the top 10 technology service providers in the world, led by Chair and CEO Julie Sweet.

The challenges I face exist mostly outside the company — probably because I choose to work with Accenture, a company that supports women in leadership. Outside, I see a lot of unconscious bias — men who don’t even realize they’re not being inclusive.

Agustina Fainguersch, CEO and co-founder of Wolox, part of Accenture.

A prime example of this workplace reality is when it comes time to negotiate with her clients. Fainguersch loves that aspect of business and too often runs into male clients who find it difficult to believe they must negotiate with a woman. 

“It’s not intentional; it’s just not part of their mindset,” said Fainguersch. “I believe we have a lot of work to do to change that mindset.”

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Promoting women in technology

Part of that work involves encouraging more women to consider jobs in tech. It’s a mission Fainguersch believes in and actively supports. Before becoming part of Accenture, Wolox partnered with Microsoft and EIDOS on an initiative called Plan Azurduy

For its part, Wolox designed the curriculum and taught a program designed to train single mothers in the tech skills required to become QA testers. The program focused on helping the participants develop their adaptability, creativity, leadership and resilience. The company then helped graduates find good-paying jobs within its network.

“It was a wonderful collaborative opportunity,” said Fainguersch. “I’ve met so many women who went through the program and then got hired by Accenture a few years later. It’s been amazing.”

As part of Accenture, Wolox assists with another initiative called Technoloshe. Designed to help narrow the gender gap, the program provides scholarships to women pursuing careers in STEM. Beyond financial aid, Technoloshe provides mentoring throughout the recipients’ university career.

“It’s not one or two programs; there are many initiatives to inspire and coach women to become leaders,” said Fainguersch. “It starts at the top, but the mindset of inclusion permeates the whole organization. I’m incredibly proud of that part of Accenture, and it’s one of the reasons why we chose to join them.”

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A critical need to shift perceptions 

Originally from Argentina, Fainguersch spent her formative entrepreneurial years in Silicon Valley. With her business feet planted firmly in both the U.S. and in Latin America, she sees a distinct regional difference when it comes to how men and women think about women in leadership and in STEM.

The challenge in Latin America, she noted, comes down to a dual mindset. Most women don’t think to strive for leadership and most men don’t think to select women to lead.

“We need to change that mindset quickly,” said Fainguersch. “We’re about a decade behind the U.S, and we need to increase both the number of women trained for leadership and the number of men willing to choose women for leadership roles.”

Continuous debates about whether women should lead or even enter STEM fields — arguments that remain all-too prevalent in the U.S. — detract from work that produces real value for all people. Speeding up inclusion and initiatives that support that goal is what Fainguersch calls the baseline.

“At a minimum, it’s what we need to build things that actually change people’s lives, change industries and transform reality,” she said. “And it’s essential to have diverse teams and points of view. Otherwise we create products that are totally biased.”

The tech jobs sector is heating up in Latin America

This need for urgency comes at a time when tech is booming across Latin America. The Inter-American Development Bank projects that by 2025, the software development industry alone will create more than 1.2 million jobs in the region. Considering that Latin America lost 26 million jobs due to COVID-19, this represents a huge opportunity to help drive economic recovery.

“The tech industry can generate tons of good-paying jobs in a cost-effective way and improve women’s lives by lifting them out of poverty,” said Fainguersch “There’s so much demand right now for tech talent in Latin America.”

It’s one of the major reasons why she believes in confronting and eliminating unconscious bias in hiring, as well as supporting organizations that invest both time and money into recruiting, training, and mentoring women who want to learn about technology.

Providing role models is another essential piece of the inclusion puzzle, and it’s why Fainguersch agreed to this LABS interview. It goes back to her point about changing the mindset of both men and women.

Highlighting Latinas in STEM adds tremendous value. If people never see successful women in STEM, it becomes harder for women to see a path for themselves, and it makes it harder for men to accept that women belong on that path.

Agustina Fainguersch, CEO and co-founder of Wolox. part of Accenture.

For her part, Fainguersch is currently focused on identifying high-potential women and coaching them into leadership roles at Accenture.

“I’m making sure these women achieve their goals, receive promotions and that their career paths are well aligned with Accenture’s values,” said Fainguersch. “It’s a small but high-impact initiative, because it can change their lives.”

In addition, she’s a regular speaker at various female founder clubs and accelerators and she also does a lot of mentoring.

“I do that because I want to share my experiences both as a woman and as a leader in tech,” said Fainguersch.  “And I mean everything that happened; the good and the bad.”

Fainguersch offers an important piece of advice for women considering a STEM career: 

“Don’t overthink it — just get started. I was the only woman in my engineering class, and I thought ‘Oh, my God, I’m not going to make it!’” It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.”