Pledge 1%’s #WomenWhoLead series celebrates female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation. While our featured leaders come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, they are united in their efforts to promote equality for all women in the workplace. We’ve asked them to share a bit about their journey to success, as well as lessons they’ve learned along the way.

What is your name and title?

Stephanie Benedetto, CEO & Founder at Queen of Raw.

Briefly (1-2 sentences) describe your current role.

Queen of Raw is a global marketplace equipped with AI-powered supply chain tools to eliminate and monetize textile waste and tracking. It also analyzes data to keep unused raw materials out of landfills and turn pollution into profit.

How did you get here? Please share any quick stories from past work experiences.

In 1896, my great-grandfather came over on a ship from Austria and landed at Ellis Island. After settling into the Lower East Side, he had to make a living for his family as an immigrant chasing the American Dream. So he started working with his hands. He would find materials and supplies nearby consisting of old fabrics and materials other immigrants had brought with them on the ships but weren’t using anymore. He’d create beautiful fashion garments with minimal waste and minimal toxins because his bottom dollar depended on it. He sold finished goods to local customers, and it was a very successful, profitable, and sustainable business. I still wear many of his fur coats today.

Of course, today’s supply chains are much more complicated. Hundreds of steps involving millions of people across the globe and metric; tons of water, chemicals, crops, and oil are used in the process. But given where we are today, with trade wars and pandemic disruption, how can we use technology to get back to what my great-grandfather did? He didn’t talk about it in terms of sustainability, but it absolutely made sense for people, for the planet, and for profit!

In your opinion, what’s the #1 decision or move you’ve made that has helped advance your career?

Women need to become key decision makers in their organizations in order to bring about change. We know many women leave work for a variety of reasons, including having children. I launched my business at the same time as I had my first child. This has only made my personal and professional life stronger. I am working to make a difference in the world not just for myself anymore but for my children and future grandchildren. Because of this mission, I am even more focused and passionate, and so, I find the strength to meet any challenge.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned this past year?

According to research, women’s choices impact up to 85% of purchasing decisions. By some analyses, they account for $4.3 trillion of total U.S. consumer spending of $5.9 trillion, making women the largest single economic force not just in the U.S., but in the world! That is power. Having women not just on staff, but in positions of leadership in the tech industry is a huge advantage to businesses.

What’s the number one challenge you face as a woman in your industry?

Being active in organizations that promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech is important. But it takes money to make money. We need more women to receive venture capital funding. According to PitchBook, investments in women-led companies this year are on pace to be the worst since 2017. This has to change.

What advice do you have for women who are just starting their career?

Don’t be afraid! Take risks, put your ideas out there, and test your solution in the market — these are important steps to being able to improve your offering and iterate your product effectively. Another thing no one tells you: Don’t be afraid to move into a crowded market space with many competitors. You can learn from the mistakes of those who came before you, do it better than them, command their market share, and be the last player in the market who really dominates!

What is one thing companies can do, big or small, to help create an environment that advances women into leadership positions?

Diversity means more than just gender. Other facets include race, ability, age, and orientation. To have diversity evolve in tech in a meaningful way, we can’t have organizations just publish statistics and hire people to check a box. Companies need to engage in meaningful conversations around these issues to see how they can have a lasting impact on their businesses. How can we provide mentorship and nurture our talent as they rise up in the ranks? How can we educate those who may not be aware of diversity issues and include them in the conversation? These are just some of the questions we should be asking.

Is there a cause that is particularly close to you? If so, why this cause and how did you get involved?

We are a founding member of the New York Circular City Initiative. It includes representatives from the mayor’s office, city agencies, multinational corporations, foundations, startups, and academic institutions to reimagine New York. How can we create a city where no waste is sent to landfill, environmental pollution is minimized, and thousands of good jobs are created through the intelligent use of products and raw materials? Our white paper answers this very question while supporting COVID-19 recovery efforts.

What does your Pledge 1% impact program mean to you?

We have helped 250,000+ users save millions of dollars—and more than a billion gallons of water. That’s enough clean water for 1.43 million people to drink for 3 years. Never doubt that the actions that you take can have a massive impact and change the world!

What’s been the one (or two!) things that have helped you navigate this past year? Any tips or tricks to dealing with remote work?

It’s interesting to look back at 2008 and talk about what we’re going through right now. I was on Wall Street as a corporate attorney and in 2008, of course, the market crashed. It got very dark – talk about seeing the height of waste, greed, and excess. I took it as my opportunity to re-evaluate what I was doing and how I could best serve society and the future. Now, again, we’re in this period of downturn and uncertainty and in some ways, darkness. How can we find the light, build opportunities, new business models, and new visions of the future?