5QW with Pipeline Equity CEO & gender economist Katica Roy

This week we are back for our fourth episode of 5QW with Katica Roy, gender economist and CEO, Pipeline Equity.

After speaking with her over the last couple of years about the economic opportunity of gender equality and equal pay, we asked Roy if she would be interested in diving deeper into her journey to entrepreneurship following an already successful career in corporate. We asked about what drives her as a professional, entrepreneur and person, why she elected to pursue her Executive MBA, and how she navigates as a founder taking on racial and gender inequality, to open up the billions of dollars of economic opportunity.

The idea of the Five Questions with… or 5QW podcast series is to bring you quick conversations with MBA women who have reached the C-suite and upper echelons of leadership. We know and are inspired by their many achievements, their resumes and book of work, the accolades they’ve received… what this series aims to deliver is an inside look, a pulling-back-of-the-curtain to find out what drives them, how they lead, what they believe has been key to their success, and, of course, what the investment in the MBA meant to them, now that they’re on the other side.

Katica Roy, gender economist & CEO, Pipeline Equity

In this episode, we discuss Roy’s MBA and professional journey, the importance of using fear as a tool and building a reservoir of trust in yourself to take on challenges. She describes how and why she decided to go back to business school after a thriving, successful career in corporate, and what ultimately drives her as a person and as a professional. We dive into the reality of startup life and the economic opportunity that an equitable workplace and world can truly deliver. This was such a fun conversation — enjoy and check out her work at Pipeline Equity!

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If you’d like to watch the full video interview, log into MBAchic and click the image below.

Katica Roy, gender economist & CEO, Pipeline Equity

Katica’s Bio

Katica Roy is an award-winning gender economist, former Global 500 global executive, programmer, data scientist, and the CEO and founder of an award-winning SaaS company, Pipeline. CNN, MSNBC, CBS, Bloomberg, Cheddar, MarketWatch, Yahoo Finance, and Newsy have sought Katica for her sharp and unconventional take on the day’s headlines. She’s interviewed President Biden, Vice President Harris, Senators Booker and Gillibrand, Secretary Pete, Canadian Pay Equity Commissioner Karen Jensen, Sophia Bush, Eve Rodsky, Gretchen Carlson, and Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings. 

Her high-octane, visionary articles have been published by the World Economic Forum, Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg, NBC, Entrepreneur, The Hill, The Advocate, Harvard Business Review, and Morning Consult. Her articles have garnered over 2.9 billion impressions. 

In 2017 Katica was named a Luminary by the Colorado Technology Association; in 2018 a Colorado Governors’ Fellow; in 2019 a Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Business and awarded the Stevie Entrepreneur of the Year—Gold Award; in 2020 she was named the Colorado Entrepreneur of the Year; in 2022 a LinkedIn Top Influencer for gender equity. She is a member of Fast Company’s Impact Council and Bloomberg’s New Economy Forum.

Transcript

Katica Roy:

I have as much fear as anyone else. That’s just a human emotion. The difference is what I do with it. And I was raised never to let it define me. The only way to get through fear is to walk straight through it.

Jeneta Hot:

Hello, everyone, and thank you for tuning in. Welcome to Five Questions With, our series of quick interviews with industry leaders, change makers, and those who inspire our community. We’re talking professional journeys and about investing in your education, career, and self with those who have been in our shoes. I’m Jeneta Hot, founder of MBAchic, a platform and community for MBAs and professionals around the world. We help navigate business school, careers, and more with a goal of propelling more women into the C-suite. Speaking of C-Suite, we’re here today with Katica Roy. She’s an award-winning gender economist, a former global 500 executive, programmer, data scientist, and the CEO and founder of an award award-winning SaaS company, Pipeline. CNN, MSNBC, CBS, Bloomberg, Cheddar, MarketWatch, Yahoo Finance, and more have sought Katica for her sharp and unconventional take on the days headlines. She has interviewed leaders like President Biden, Vice President Harris, Senators Booker and Gillibrand, Secretary Pete, Sophia Bush, Gretchen Carlson and Eve Rodsky to name a few.

Her high-octane visionary articles have been published by the World Economic Forum, Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and many more. And those articles have gardened over 2.9 billion impressions. In 2017, Katica was named Luminary by the Colorado Technology Association, in 2018, a Colorado Governor’s Fellow, in 2019, a top 25 most powerful women in business and she was awarded the Stevie Entrepreneur of the Year Gold Award. In 2020, she was named Colorado Entrepreneur of the Year, in 2022, she was named LinkedIn Top Influencer for Gender Equity. She’s a member of Fast Companies Impact Council and Bloomberg’s New Economy Forum, and she received her executive MBA from the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. Thank you so much for being here, Katica. It’s great to see you again.

Katica Roy:

Oh, thank you for having me.

Jeneta Hot:

All right. So this is MBAchic, so we’ll dive right in. For the first question, what drew you to the MBA? What did the MBA mean to you, this investment in yourself and your career now that you’re on the other side?

Katica Roy:

I did my MBA for a couple of reasons. It was an executive MBA, so you had to have at least 10 years of experience. Most of us were in our late thirties, early forties. And I was looking at the next 10, 20 years of my career and really wanted to have all the credentials so that I could go as far as I wanted to, which is to be a CEO. So I did that and then also really to vet the idea for the company that I ended up founding, which is Pipeline. So I used my entire MBA to vet this idea.

Jeneta Hot:

That’s fantastic. And the schools a really good place to sort of test ideas. And at the end of the day, if it doesn’t work out, you just walked out of a program with a new degree and you’re marketable.

Katica Roy:

Yeah. And you have all these experts who can help you vet your idea, which was great.

Jeneta Hot:

Absolutely. Fantastic. Okay. So going back to pre. As you’re maybe thinking about the MBA, as you’re testing this idea, you already had a very successful career. You rose through the ranks in corporate helping to define strategy and I believe workforce development and building out large organizations and kind of eventually decided to forge ahead on your own. You said you wanted to be a CEO. Was this entrepreneurial kind of path to the C-Suite always in mind for yourself? I guess from your MBA days to today or even before that, what did this path look like?

Katica Roy:

The short answer is no. I wanted to be a CEO. There were three ways that that would happen. Either I would continue in the big company realm and move more into roles that would set me up to be a CEO, or I would go into a mid-market company as a COO and move into the CEO role eventually or found my own company. My father was an entrepreneur and a fairly successful one. But I think as a child, having grown up with an entrepreneur as a father, I saw the upside and the downside. And that roller coaster that I think isn’t … is sort of often told after the fact. So you can think about Airbnb and they talk about their Visa-round and some of those stories. And I just thought, “I never want to do that. That sounds like a terrible way to make money.” Why I ultimately started my own company is I felt that at the time I was in my early 40s and felt like this was the time for me to at least try that. And that if it didn’t work, I at least had enough time to go back to the corporate world and make that up.

Jeneta Hot:

That’s so funny. That’s not the first time the rollercoaster analogy has come up in these conversations. I think having that kind of firsthand experience that look at entrepreneurship. Yeah. It’s kind of you’ve seen what it could be like. But yeah, there’s potential for you to forge your own path and do your own thing and put your own mark on things. So it’s cool to see that you still … that you already had so much success in your career and you still said, “Hey, there’s something more that I can create here. There’s more impact that I can have.” Which is great to hear. Can you tell me a little bit about what kind of entrepreneurship, what kind of entrepreneur your dad was sort of a follow up to this?

Katica Roy:

Oh, no. Well, that’s a great question. So there are people who care about a particular issue and they go into starting … like myself who go into starting a company like Pipeline and then there are serial entrepreneurs. My father was a serial entrepreneur. And what I mean by that is that my father was very good at spotting opportunity and how to … He was very visionary. So he was very, and I’ll give you some examples, but very good at seeing opportunity that other folks didn’t see coming and then ability to build a business around that and then sell it. So a lot of my father’s businesses were acquired. So for instance, he started a winery. I grew up in Napa Valley. And wineries take a long time to make money, but it was right at the time when Robert Mondavi has started his winery. And it was really when Napa Valley, obviously that’s where I grew up, was really being put on the map for wine.

So my father, they were friends with the Mondavi. That ability to sort of see that. He built a hotel in San Francisco, he built the first hotel in Napa Valley. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, he worked to bring modern telecommunications to Hungary, which was where he was born and raised. And so my dad was very good at visionary entrepreneurship and the ability to create model around that and then get it up and running and then sell it. And so I think that it was interesting to watch that. I think also because of that, from a very young age … I’m the youngest of six. And we were all expected to be part of wining and not drinking. Just sort of the social events of … I remember from a really young age, I met Mayor Feinstein when I was five years old. One of my father’s lead investors who invested was often the first investor in all of his businesses, he had a huge impact on my life. And so I think that certainly impacted me as well.

Jeneta Hot:

Oh, my gosh. Yes. I almost want to say what incredible training grounds? What a great perspective to have, to really see that have that big picture view to see that up close. That’s awesome. All right. So kind of getting into this, what sort of drives you as a leader? So I guess this is the second half of the question, but what drives you as a leader, what’s your leadership philosophy, and what do you think has been key to your success? I guess this talking about your dad a bit, who inspires you? Who has served as a mentor or sponsor along the way throughout your life and career?

Katica Roy:

I want to talk a little bit about my dad’s story. This is not only my dad, but my mom. So let me talk about my dad. And so my father was a refugee. He escaped from Hungary after the fall of the 1956 revolution. He escaped with my three oldest sisters who were three, seven, and eight at the time. And so his decision to escape was difficult, not only because he was risking his life, but also the lives of his three daughters. With the help of Hungarian freedom fighters, they actually crossed a minefield, walked across in minefield and then crossed the border into Austria where they arrived to refugee camp. And less than two months into their stay in the refugee camp, President Eisenhower sent Air Force One to bring 21 Hungarian refugees to the United States on Christmas Day, 1956 and they were on that plane. And so for me, my reference point for anything that I go through, good or bad things, is that point of that my father went through risking his life and his daughter’s lives. And I can get through whatever it is that I’m facing even as hard as … that might feel at the moment. That those problems are often a privilege. That’s certainly one given my mom was an immigrant and an orphan at the age of 18 months because of World War II.

Being raised by the two of them, the two things that I was raised with is to always do your best and to never give up. And so those two things have allowed me … I have as much fear as anyone else. That’s just a human emotion. The difference is what I do with it. And I was raised never to let it define me. The only way to get through fear is to walk straight through it. And so when I wanted to give up, I would say, “Yeah. Have I done my best? Have I done the best …” Whether or not the end result is that I’m successful, if I can say that I left everything on the field, that I did my best and I walked through the fear, then I’m okay. But if I haven’t done that, then I’m giving up and that’s not okay.

I remember there was a kind of low point for me and I talked about one of my dad’s lead investors. This was freshman year of high school and I was feeling kind of low. We had this thing in our history class or world history class where whomever made the best historical ornament got an automatic A on the final. And I was like, “Oh, I don’t know. I think I’ll just go for a B.” It was sort of that piece. This lead investor said to me, “Katica, you can’t. You have to try your best.” And I did and I got the top grade and I got it automatically on the final. And so those pieces of really being able to dig deep in the face of feeling down or feeling afraid has been really a key to success for me for sure.

Jeneta Hot:

Wow. Yeah. That’s fantastic. And like you said, just kind of pieces of different people along the way. What a gift? That’s fantastic. Oh, man. Okay. Shifting to kind of you looking back at your own career thus far, what are you most proud of during your career? And what’s been the most challenging? And the last piece is what’s been most surprising and why?

Katica Roy:

So I’m most proud of my ability not to give up my ability to continue to believe in myself and the gift and the story. I believe that I was … that sort of if I boil everything down, I was given my voice and my story for a reason. And I am really proud of the fact that I’ve had the courage to continue to jump and the ledge will appear, including creating Pipeline, which would’ve been really easy to say, “I’m done. I’ll work for 10 more years and retire.” And I chose not to do that. And I am proud of my willingness to be brave in the face of that. I think that the second piece of your question around would’ve been I think some of the harder times.

Jeneta Hot:

Most challenging. Yeah.

Katica Roy:

It’s really well intended. I have a daughter. We often tell our little girls, and I certainly was told this, that if you work hard and do well do in school, you can be anything you want to be. And it’s super well intended and it’s not true. And I say that because what we don’t educate our girls and then women about is that the biases that they will face. I’m a breadwinner mom who fought to be paid equitably twice in one. I’ve told a lot of my story publicly. We often think, I believe, at least in my experience, that when people are successful, they haven’t faced those things. They have. The difference is what they did with them. And so that ability to pick yourself back up, that ability to tell your story and be vulnerable, that ability to believe that there is something better as long as you keep getting back up.

Jeneta Hot:

Oh, that’s so good. Yeah. I think that’s an excellent point. Going back to what you said about fear too, it’s not like this human emotion doesn’t come into play. It’s not like people aren’t challenged. It’s sort the willingness and the ability to pick yourself up and keep pushing and keep going. Absolutely.

Katica Roy:

My experience is I cannot think my way into right acting. I have to act my way into right thinking.

It doesn’t matter if I like it, it doesn’t matter if you feel like going for a run, or exercising, or getting out of bed when the alarm goes off or any of those things. The consistency of doing those things, whether or not I feel like them creates the muscle of courage, the muscle of the ability not to have things phase you. You’ll be impacted by them, but not to have them sideline you. You basically are building this reservoir of trust with yourself that no matter what, you can get back up.

Jeneta Hot:

Oh, my gosh. That’s fantastic. I think I found three of our sound bites in that last conversation, in that last answer. No. That’s brilliant. And I think the last piece, which you kind of got to, but what’s been most surprising, I guess, over your career? That was good though.

Katica Roy:

What’s been most surprising?

Jeneta Hot:

Could be good, could be bad.

Katica Roy:

Yeah. That’s a good question. I’m a Gen-Xer. So when I entered the workplace, there were sort of the lost generation. I didn’t really think that gender inequity was a thing anymore when I entered the workforce almost 30 years ago and then I ran up against it. And I think that what has been most surprising to me is how much it still exists for all of the work and all of the conversation around it, and the want to have it be different. That part of the only way that we will solve this issue is to admit that it exists and walk. That analogy of fear. We’re going to have to get uncomfortable in order to get through to actually achieving gender inequity.

Jeneta Hot:

Oh, my gosh. Absolutely right. Yeah. You’re heading into the workforce, you’re young, you’re not coming up with it. You sort of hear the stories. And until you run up against it and you realize it, I think we do a better job now. It’s such a part of the conversation. I think even Gen Z, as they end to the workforce, they’re acutely aware of it and I think better prepared perhaps for it. But that’s an excellent point. Yeah. It’s of like you’ve got to know it exists. You’ve got to confront it. Absolutely it’s still a problem in 2022 and something to face. And like you said before, the biases are still absolutely there and they have real impact.

Katica Roy:

The negative economic consequences. They impact-

Jeneta Hot:

Absolutely.

Katica Roy:

I think where we still have opportunity is to really educate girls and boys coming up in elementary school and beyond around what bias looks like and what to do about it. It’s not a measure of your worth. It’s not a measure of any of these things. Nine out of 10 of us have it. So how do you recognize it and how do you respond to it when it comes up?

Jeneta Hot:

Oh, my gosh. Absolutely. Oh, man. Okay. Do have to keep it moving? I don’t want to, but I want to go onto this last question. So we’ve definitely dropped a number of gems and pieces of advice, but I guess sort of overarching, what words of advice would you offer to those in our audience, those listening, embarking on ambitious career paths and setting big goals? So if someone is thinking big picture, they’re aiming for the C-Suite or they want to launch something that’s going to change the game, what words of advice would you have for them?

Katica Roy:

And I referenced this a little bit earlier, but one of my keys to my success was the faith in my abilities. So this whole idea of jump in the ledge will appear. That is, I have always been really good about finding out enough information about something and then believing that I can figure the rest of it out once I get there. So really having faith in my ability to figure it out, that’s certainly one of them. The second is, I had a plan to … This was years ago. To be a vice president in 15 years. I had a whole plan, the whole thing and I beat it by 10 years. And one of the ways that I beat that by 10 years was that I had the plan, but I was flexible in what that implementation actually looked like. My end goal was always the same, but how I got there I was flexible in that.

Katica Roy:

So what I would say is the ability to spot opportunities, obstacles are detours in the right direction. If something is not happening, it’s not because you don’t deserve it. It’s because there’s something better out there for you and you need to be willing to pivot to that better thing. That is the way that I achieved my 15-year plan in 10 years. That fundamental belief that something that obstacles in detours in the right direction. That something better is always out there for me and the willingness to continue to move forward. And then I think the other piece for me, and this also comes from being a gender economist, but was just being based in data. What does the data say? Not how do I feel about it, but what does the data say? Because the data is the data. People can choose to do something with it or not, but really being grounded in the facts and being able to bring those to bear has been another … really the third key to my success.

Jeneta Hot:

That’s so great. That’s a great way to wrap. And so many of those are linked to each other. That building at reservoir of trust and sort of having faith in being redirected, you’ll be able to figure out as you go. And nothing like being armed with the data points, nothing like being armed with the backup. That’s fantastic. Well, fantastic. This is great. How do you feel about moving into these a couple of rapid fires before we wrap?

Katica Roy:

Absolutely. That’s fine.

Jeneta Hot:

Fantastic. Okay. And I added one Peloton themed one since I sent a few your way. Okay. What was your first job?

Katica Roy:

Skirting labor, child labor laws. My first job was when I think I was eight. And there was a natural foods co-op in Napa, and I helped them do inventory. So that was my first job.

Jeneta Hot:

Legal? Okay.

Katica Roy:

Not legal, but whatever. From a really young age, I wanted to be independent.

Jeneta Hot:

Yeah. That’s cool. And you said the youngest is six. Yeah. You’re probably like, “I’m going to be like my siblings. That’s it. I’m not a baby.”

Katica Roy:

Yeah.

Jeneta Hot:

Oh, my gosh. Totally. I love it. Okay. Peloton themed. I know you are a Peloton fan. What are your favorite Peloton activities, instructors, both? What’s your go-to?

Katica Roy:

I’m a huge runner. I run about 50 miles a week. So running is my number one, even though he’s left, I love Chase Tucker’s runs. Adrian Williams is another one. Robin Arzon.

Jeneta Hot:

Oh, my gosh. Yeah.

Katica Roy:

Ferguson is also great. Becs Gentry, those are my favorite. Right now they’re doing … they do one release a week of with Ashton Kutcher’s Thorn.

Jeneta Hot:

Yes.

Katica Roy:

So I normally do that on Saturday. So I love that. I also do the challenges and so I do meditation and yoga with them as well.

Jeneta Hot:

That’s awesome. Yeah. The whole suite.

Katica Roy:

Big Peloton fan. You’ll find me almost every day on the scoreboard doing something.

Jeneta Hot:

Oh, my gosh. I love it. The conversations as Ashton Kutcher’s training for the New York City Marathon. Not to tie this to time, this is supposed to be evergreen, but those conversations are really good. So if you have a chance to tune in and listen, those are fantastic.

Katica Roy:

And it’s so funny because you just sort of lose yourself in the conversation, and so many of them have been PR for me.

Jeneta Hot:

That’s awesome.

Katica Roy:
[You’re running and listening] for half an hour. And so it’s like, “That’s great.”

Jeneta Hot:

Oh, that’s so cool. Fantastic. Okay. We’ll do two more. What’s the best book you read or podcast you heard in the last 12 months?

Katica Roy:

Oh, Jonathan Lemire’s The Big Lie is a great book. And that’s not meant to be political. I think for me, having a father who was a refugee, just the preservation of our democracy and what democracy means, et cetera, both my parents took the citizenship test, the way that Jonathan has structured that book is so interesting and enlightening. It’s really, really good.

Jeneta Hot:

Fantastic. I’m going to share that link in the show notes. I guess the last one we’ll do, what song is currently playing on loop for you?

Katica Roy:

Oh, my goodness. I don’t even know.

Jeneta Hot:

Something on a Peloton track.

Katica Roy:

What?

Jeneta Hot:

Something on a Peloton track something.

Katica Roy:

Yeah. That’s a good question. So I’m a Spotify fan. Every week through their algorithms, they serve up the Spotify Discover Weekly. And so it tends to be whatever they serve up to me, which also tends to be a lot of hopeful positive songs. That’s a lot of what I listen to. I talked about fear and walking through fear. Well, part of the way that I do that is to listen to positive music with the theme of the best is yet to come, you’re not alone. Really pushing through that.

Jeneta Hot:

Oh, I love that. That’s fantastic. Yes. This is great. Thanks for playing. That’s always like a good way. It’s a wrap up conversation.

Katica Roy:

Yeah.

Jeneta Hot:

Yeah. Thank you so much.

Katica Roy:

Yeah. For sure.

Jeneta Hot:

Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for sharing your story, your insights. Again, so many good. I feel like the whole phrase, reservoir of trust in yourself, is so powerful. I definitely want to reiterate that as we’re sharing on social, but it was great to hear from you and great to get your advice for blazing your own trail. We really thank you for making the time.

Katica Roy:

Yeah. Of course. Thanks for having me.

Jeneta Hot:

Absolutely. You can find Katica Roy on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter. Everywhere, she’s @katicaroy. You can follow Pipeline Equity @pipelineequity and pipelineequity.com. We’ll share everything, including her full bio on our website. Head to MBAchic.com after this. All right. Take care, Katica. Thank you so much. Have a great day.

Katica Roy:

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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