“Intersectionality & Systemic Change”: Heidi Williams with tEQuitable (Video + Transcript)

Heidi Williams / CTO & Co-founder / tEQuitable
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X


Angie Chang: Can you hear us?

Heidi Williams: I can, yep.

Angie Chang: Wonderful. Well, welcome back to Girl Geek X Elevate. I’m Angie Chang, founder of Girl Geek X, and yes, this is being recorded and the videos will be available later online in about a week. So give us some time. Please tweet and share. The hashtag is #ggxelevate. We’ve been seeing a lot of great comments and pictures of viewing parties, so please tweet them at us and we’ll retweet and share. If you have a question for Heidi, our next speaker, please be sure to put it in the Q&A below and she will answer them after the session.

Angie Chang: So now we are excited to have Heidi Williams, the CTO and co-founder of tEQuitable share with us about intersectionality.

Heidi Williams: Thanks, Angie. I’m going to get my screen sharing here going. I’m in full screen mode. Yeah, super excited to be here and talking with everyone today. So my talk is about how to go beyond diversity 101 and really look at intersectionality and how to evoke systemic culture change. And I love going after Lili. I actually have a ton of quotes from the Tech Leavers study in my talk. So if you’ve been hanging in there through the whole thing, you’ll hear a little bit more.

Heidi Williams: So let me talk for a second about why I’m giving this talk. So I am CTO and co-founder of a company called tEQuitable. So we are building a confidential platform to address bias, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace. And really our mission is how to create work culture that works for everyone. So this is everything that we do.

Heidi Williams: And so in the work that we’ve done and with the customers that we have, we’ve learned a lot about what are the approaches that are actually going to work and how can companies really tackle this problem of culture change. We really believe that the same way that 10 or 15 years ago there was not, security wasn’t a big thing and all of a sudden it became a business imperative and people started hiring CSOS and having a board accountability for whether companies were secure, we believe that good work culture is going to be the next business imperative. It’s the biggest threat to our industry if we don’t fix this. And we really, really hope that companies will start taking a strategic approach to fixing their culture.

Heidi Williams: So let’s step back a second and look at what do I mean by diversity 101? So everybody has sort of seen the formula, the stats that said if you have employee diversity, you’ll see increased financial results. And there’s a ton of statistics around this. So if you have gender diverse executive teams, they are 21% more likely to outperform their peers. And if your executive team is ethnically and culturally diverse, it goes up to 33%. And if you have it on your board, you’re 43% more likely to outperform your peers. So the industry got really excited about this idea of diversity and they said, great, let’s go hire us some diversity so we can have better business outcomes.

Heidi Williams: But the reality is that it hasn’t been working very well. And in fact our numbers haven’t changed much. Part of this is related to what Lili was talking about with the Tech Leavers study. We are seeing that white women are leaving tech in mid career at twice the rate of white men, and it’s even worse for people of color. For black and Latinx people, they’re leaving tech at three and a half times the rate of white men.

Heidi Williams: So what is it that we’re doing wrong? The industry took a step back and they, I’m sorry, from that same Tech Leaver study, they saw that 78% of employees were reporting experiencing some form of unfair behavior or treatment and nearly 40% of those employees said that that played a major role in their decision to leave their company. So now we have some data that it’s the fact that people are not being treated well, they’re not being treated fairly. For the most part I don’t think that employees wake up in the morning and see say gee, I can’t wait to be a jerk today. Boy, this is going to be fun. Really, they have behaviors that are impacting others. And either they don’t know that they have this behavior that’s impacting others, or maybe they’re working in a system that is encouraging these bad behaviors that are impacting others.

Heidi Williams: So something was missing here and the industry said great, well we’ve got diversity, but it’s not sticking. So what we need to focus on is inclusion and belonging. And it’s a good thing. It’s something that we definitely need to do, but there’s something in the culture that is causing these problems. There’s something in the system that is causing these problems. And that’s why we’re focusing on those.

Heidi Williams: But at tEQuitable, we really believe that that order of operations was wrong, that people were starting with diversity, they were getting butts in seats, but they weren’t focusing on the culture. And really you have to start with the culture first. Part of the reason the order of operations was wrong is that companies were treating symptoms. They were counting heads. They were saying well, how many women do we have? How many people of color do we have? How many people with disabilities do we have? Instead of taking an engineering mindset and trying to fix the root cause. So my co-founder and I both have been in the tech industry for 25 years and we really believe that we can use technology to solve seemingly intractable problems. And we really like taking an engineering mindset to do this. I’m encouraging all of you to feel inspired by this talk to do the same thing.

Heidi Williams: So let’s talk a little bit about why this was the wrong approach. So for companies treating symptoms, how many of you have heard well, we’re going to start with gender first and then we’ll solve the other problems later? Gender is just easier. But the problem is as engineers, we all know you don’t start with the easy problem. You’re supposed to start with the hardest problem and solve that first because that’s where you’ve got the most unknowns. So that was sort of the number one problem is that they started with the easiest problem.

Heidi Williams: The second thing is that the lack of women in tech is really only one symptom. They weren’t looking at it with this intersectional lens. And we know that if you’re not looking at all of the symptoms, all of the bugs that are happening, you’re not going to find a complete solution to the problem. So that was problem number two.

Heidi Williams: And then problem number really three is that they weren’t asking why women weren’t being successful, why people of color weren’t being successful and thriving. And the first thing that we know about engineering is that you have to ask the five whys. You have to do root cause analysis to figure out what is it that’s causing this bug. Don’t just patch it on the surface. You have to patch it down in the underpinnings and down in the system. So that’s why we really want to help people take a systemic approach to fixing the underpinnings, the culture in which all of the rest of their company operates in order to make real change here. And the study showed that two thirds of tech leavers said that they would have stayed if their employer had fixed its culture.

Heidi Williams: So let’s talk about the tEQuitable formula, which is starting with the supportive culture. So for number one, the supportive culture, let’s start by defining what culture is. Culture is the self sustaining pattern of behavior that determines how things are done. So some people might think it’s your mission or your vision, or it might even be your code of conduct. It might be your values, which you have in lovely posters all over your office. But it turns out that it’s behavior, it’s how you interact with people and how you get your work done that actually determines what your culture is. And so often, even if companies have culture values defined, what’s really happening is that people are, you’re giving the message do as I do and not as I say. So if you aren’t living your values, if your behavior doesn’t exemplify your values, then your values don’t mean much.

Heidi Williams: The second thing is that I want to talk about supportive culture. So supportive culture provides the social and psychological conditions that optimize employee health, safety, and wellbeing. So what do I mean by that? So basically we refer to this as something called psychological safety and it’s something you can see, it’s a Google study that showed data that psychological safety more than anything else is critical to making a team work.

Heidi Williams: And so what is psychological safety? It’s the shared belief held by members of the team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It also means that as an individual you’re confident that your team won’t embarrass you or reject you or punish you for speaking up. There’s interpersonal trust between team members and mutual respect where people are comfortable being themselves.

Heidi Williams: So let’s talk about that for a second. At your company, do you encourage people to have a growth mindset that they might learn that they can take a risk and it’s okay to fail as long as they learn from it? Is there a culture of forgiveness? Do employees feel heard, they feel like they can bring their whole selves to work or do they have to hold something back? How do you develop trust in each other or empathy or understanding? How do you educate employees about cultural norms or learn about things that they haven’t been exposed to before? Do you have a culture of speaking up? If you see something, say something? Do people feel safe that they can speak up without a risk of retaliation? Do you have a culture of ally ship or advocacy or accomplices where people have each other’s backs? Do you encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work? How do you train managers? How do they do career development? How did they do promotions? How do you educate your employees about how to treat each other well? Really the goal here is that you want to build a community of trust and understanding, of empathy, of communication, vulnerability, and a growth mindset. And if you have psychological safety, then you can really tackle any kind of problem.

Heidi Williams: So let’s talk a little bit about debugging destructive behaviors. Psychological safety may sound like it’s all about the emotions or about the mental aspect of the game. But really it’s the way that you encourage and promote behaviors that reinforce trust and respect and mutual empathy and authenticity and discourage behaviors that tear those down. So the key here is don’t measure how people feel, measure how people behave and the impact it has on others.

Heidi Williams: So to talk for a second about, this is exactly where tEQuitable plays. This is our approach, is that we want to help companies measure their culture and it’s a very complex system. And so the way that we do that is that employees have a way to get advice when something happens so that they can talk one on one with people and have those interpersonal conversations in order to undo behavior on the one on one level. But at the same time, we can gather data company wide and help the company see trends in their culture and in their system and take actions so that they can prevent those things from happening again. So it’s really a virtuous cycle where both employees from the ground up are improving the culture and the leadership and the HR teams are improving culture from the top down.

Heidi Williams: So let me give an example of one of the things that we’ve seen and how we identified behaviors and then talked about the possible systems that might’ve been causing those behaviors. And of course, then what actions you can take to improve those systems.

Heidi Williams: So the example we saw at one company was that interactions between teams were being reported as aggressive and bullying. So you could imagine that those people are just mean, but that’s probably not really the case. There’s some reason why they’re being aggressive and bullying. There’s a bunch of different systemic issues that could be the root cause here. Maybe the two different teams don’t have aligned goals. They have goals that they are totally different from each other. They’re not reliant on each other, and they’re both measured on the success of achieving their own goals. And maybe the success metrics don’t include that you have to collaborate and help others achieve their goals. So you’re only measured on whether your team achieves your own goal. Or maybe the peer feedback system is not part of performance reviews. So there’s actually no way to even report this behavior. So maybe this team that’s being aggressive and bullying has no idea the impact of their behavior on others. So only if you look at the data and then ask the five whys and debug it like an engineer will you get at the possible root causes, the systemic issues that could be causing that behavior.

Heidi Williams: So to talk through that, if you’re going to make systemic change about your supportive culture and create a supportive culture, start by examining behaviors to understand your current culture. Then ask the five whys to find the root cause behind the behavior. And then create systems that encourage psychological safety so that you can promote all of these good things around trust and understanding and empathy and communication and don’t tolerate destructive behaviors.

Heidi Williams: Let’s go on to the next step, which is to encourage create an inclusive workplace. So now you’ve got the supportive culture where people can speak up if you see something, say something, they’re in an environment where they feel safe and we actually are working on belonging first. The second thing is this inclusive workspace. We define it as all employees are valued, respected, accepted, and encouraged to participate across the organization at every level. And active work has done to eliminate all forms of bias, discrimination, and inequity.

Heidi Williams: So let me go back to each of the purple words here, which is that all employees. So the idea is that you want a diverse employee population, that they are valued, and that your definition of value is not narrow. It actually is a diverse and broad definition of values, so that all of the people that are accepted for their differences can express their value in different ways. There’s mutual respect in the organization, that people are respected for their differences and appreciated for their differences, and that they’re encouraged to participate and given opportunities across the organization for different projects and also opportunities for advancement at every level.

Heidi Williams: And then the last piece of this is active work, which is that it requires constant re-analysis. We’ve all seen the things about pay equity that you can’t just fix it once. You have to constantly be looking at it. And it’s not the only thing. You always have to be looking for the next behaviors that need to be debugged and figure out what’s causing them.

Heidi Williams: So let me take a second and talk about intersectionality. And Lili brought this up as well, which is awesome. So intersectionality, the definition is that it’s the complex cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination combine, overlap, and intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups. Now the reason that this is important, and actually let me just give an example. So if you’re a woman, you might be impacted by the stereotypes and biases of being a woman. But if you’re a woman of color, not only do you have the biases and stereotypes around women, but you also have biases and stereotypes around people of color. And so now all of a sudden you have a double or a triple whammy effect because you’re coming from multiple groups that are marginalized.

Heidi Williams: So the reason that this is important is that when you are tackling exclusion, you really need to need to look at things, you need to dig multiple levels of data deep. So as an example, if you do a survey and you look at what women are saying or what men are saying and you sort of make a broad statement about the women, the reality is because the majority sentiment might be one thing, but the reality is because we have more white women in tech than women of color in tech, the majority voice of women is going to be the voice of white women, primarily. So you have to keep looking at the smaller sets of data to go look at the individual experiences of people who have multiple versions of stereotypes and biases that might be working against them.

Heidi Williams: So let me give an example, another example. So at a company we saw, the percentage of women being promoted was lower than men. We could have stopped there, but instead we dug a little bit deeper and saw that the percentage of non white women being promoted was lower than white women. So now you’ve got two problems and if you stopped at just one, you would have an incomplete solution.

Heidi Williams: So the possible systemic issues that perhaps impacting all women regardless of race and ethnicity is that were no good career development practices and those were impacting women more than they were impacting men. The second one is that maybe the rubric around what leadership looks like is racially biased in some way. If we hadn’t dug into the data to look at all of the “edge” cases or the smaller datasets, we might not have seen that there was an issue around how the rubric for advancement was defined.

Heidi Williams: So I want to also take a moment to just talk about there’s two different kinds of behaviors. The one is the system induced behaviors, which I was talking about, which is that maybe your rubric has a narrow definition and when you measure people against the rubric, people who are different get left behind. The other kind of behaviors we see is not necessarily about the system, but it is that you might have behaviors that stem from a lack of education. I just want to remind that if you go back to step number one, the supportive culture, if you’ve created a space that’s psychologically safe where people feel like they can speak up, they actually will feel like they can tackle these hard conversations that make people uncomfortable. And so now when someone says something that’s offensive or has an impact on you in some way, that’s a stereotype or a bias of some kind, if you’re in a psychologically safe environment, you hopefully feel comfortable speaking up and telling that person what the impact of their words were on them. But I think also that growth mindset means that everyone, regardless if someone has to tell you what you did wrong, everyone with the growth mindset should look for opportunities to learn and educate themselves about how they can be a better ally or accomplice or a coworker in all those ways.

Heidi Williams: So if you want to create systemic change and create an inclusive workplace, measure exclusion and exclusive behaviors. And so one of the things I forgot to mention earlier is that a lot of the ways people measure inclusive workplace today is about engagement. Now engagement will tell you that people feel like they’re engaged four out of five or 80%, but the problem is it’s not telling you about the last 20% and what the problem is. Why weren’t they a five out of five? So if you actually focus on measuring exclusion and exclusive behaviors, that’s where you will be able to ask the questions and do the five whys to dig into what’s going on. So slice that data, look at intersectionality, look at all the edge cases, ask those five whys, and really focusing on what’s the exclusive stuff, what’s missing, who’s not represented, what’s not happening that should be happening. So ask those five whys, find the root causes, and then you can create or repair systems that promote equity and fairness.

Heidi Williams: And the last thing is just educate yourselves. Keep a growth mindset. So again, as a white woman, there’s lots that I can learn about being a woman of color or different sexual identity or ageism or having a disability. There’s always things that even from your lived experience, you can’t forget that other people have different lived experiences and there’s lots of opportunities to educate yourself and make sure that you’re not contributing to the problem.

Heidi Williams: So hopefully when you put all of this work in place, you’ve created a supportive culture, you’ve created an inclusive workplace, the last step should come really easily. Who wouldn’t want to work at a company like that? You’ve created a place where people can, if they see something, say something, you’ve created an equitable opportunities for everyone to advance and pretty soon you should see diversity across your organization.

Heidi Williams: So the main thing I want to leave you with is that I would really like companies to not take a diversity strategy, but take a culture strategy and really make it a critical aspect of what they’re doing and how they’re going to succeed. And if you take an engineering mindset, just go through the math a little bit, if behavior is culture then behavior change means culture change. In order to affect behavior change, you can look at the buggy systems that induce those bad behaviors. You can look at the supportive culture that perpetuates those bad behaviors, but if you use an engineering mindset and debug your culture, like an engineer with an intersectional lens, you can really create systemic change in your organization and create a culture where everyone can bring their whole and best selves to work. Thank you.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Heidi. That was a very inspiring talk. I see lots of chatter and questions, but unfortunately we’ve run out of time. So thank you so much. If you can share your slides, I’ve seen a lot of questions about sharing your slides. Are you hiring? Are you going to make these findings public? But we have to get on to our next speaker, so thank you so much and we will be back shortly with our next session.

Heidi Williams: Thank you.

Episode 10: Unconventional Journeys Pt. II

Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen.

Rachel Jones: And I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over ten years.

Angie Chang: And today, we’ll be continuing our conversation about unconventional journeys since, Gretchen, you weren’t here last time to give us your perspective as the “non-technical” person in tech, and also having worked in tech for a … longer time.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I like how you’re so delicate.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: As long as you have.

Angie Chang: Yes, as long as you… Yeah, you were talking about 25 years.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You’re respecting your elders. Yeah, like 22 years. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I mean I think we covered a lot in the last one about obviously, you don’t need to have a CS undergrad to be very successful in tech, but also that there are other really unconventional journeys for people that maybe don’t end up in technical roles but they also weren’t four years old going, “I want to work in tech.” We have so much more fun stuff to cover today too.

Rachel Jones: One thing that we touched on in our last episode, but could definitely dive into more, is how family affects people’s career journeys. Have you seen any examples of people who have like had a kid and then come back and gone even further in their career than people would expect or just had their journey affected in some way?

Angie Chang: In our last episode, I talked about the woman who was working, and doing consulting, and had two sons, and then came back to work at a big company, and has continued to rise in the ranks after she returned. There’s a lot of, I think, a growing awareness of returnships for women who are exactly of this type, women who are coming back saying, “I’m looking for a ramp to come back to tech,” or any industry. And there’s companies, usually with larger companies with names you probably know like Walmart, and PayPal, that do have these returnships that are available.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I don’t want us to sound like, “Oh, you have to have a baby, and go leave, and then come back.” Right? Obviously, there are many ways to do it. I think one of the things that I’ve observed the most is women talking about how much better of a manager they are after they’re a mom, and how all of those skills translate, and that they’re just much more efficient with their time, and they have a better sort of understanding of what motivates groups and teams, and so I think that’s one of the things I’ve probably observed the most.

Angie Chang: Sukrutha, what have you seen?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I remember when SugarCRM first sponsored a Girl Geek dinner, and their CEO had four … She had four kids. And in my head that sounded, I was in my 20s, I was like, “Oh my god, how did she do it!” And she told us a story about how when one of her children was really little, how they knew she worked in software but didn’t really understand it and thought it was silverware and so he would tell his friends that she worked in silverware, because he didn’t know the difference.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: But I know that when I got into tech and I started working, I thought, oh, it’s gonna be impossible to be able to have a flourishing career and have kids, but through attending dinners, I started to meet more and more great examples of men and women who had had children through their careers.

Angie Chang: I mean, I really am grateful for Girl Geek dinners in the very beginning, when the first dozen dinners, meeting women who were obviously on maternity leave or coming back from it and just their enthusiasm in coming to Girl Geek dinners and pursuing their careers and still having one or two or three children, and then also hearing there’s some amazing women CEOs who have four or five, I think YouTube, she has maybe five children?

Angie Chang: Four children and is running a huge company, so I think to me, I’ve always seen nothing but role models and people out there who are doing it. But I also think that there is a price to pay, people have talked about, the price of that really expensive childcare, that really expensive night nanny, that really expensive nanny, that are employed to help women go back to the workforce and really crush it at their jobs.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Something that spoke to me, they were actually all parents at the panel and they spoke about how returning back from parenting leave being tough, they’re trying to force it to become more of a norm, so they were one of the first companies to introduce equal leave for moms or dads at the company and that encouraged more men to take leave as well and that made it less stressful for the women to take leave.

Angie Chang: I remember that event, I was really grateful that there was these women who were candidly talking about how they had kids and they came back and they’re happy to be here and here are some things to do, when you come back from maternity leave, come back to work on a Wednesday or a Thursday so you only have one or two days before the weekend because you’ll need that, and then you’ll kind of … Helps you ease back into working.

Angie Chang: So just being more candid about these experiences has been I think definitely encouraging.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: They also talked about, and I’ve also heard this from a lot of people, forgive yourself if you’re going to take some time to adjust back, it’s going to take time.

Angie Chang: I feel like while we were talking awkwardly about how family fits into women’s career journeys, it is something that comes up a lot at Girl Geek dinners in the Q&A section or off stage, so I think it is important to talk about … However, awkwardly we do it.

Rachel Jones: It is weird to talk about as a table of women who have had zero children, but yeah. That’s why we have a great quote from an expert!

Gretchen DeKnikker: I know! This is perfect because we have a great quote from Sheila Marcelo who is the CEO and founder of Care.com, which is the world’s largest online destination for finding and managing family care and pet care and all this other stuff, and I think what’s really amazing is Sheila’s not only a founder, not only a CEO of a publicly traded company, she’s also Filipina, and as we’re gonna learn in this next quote, she actually had a child between or got pregnant between her sophomore and junior year in college, had the baby and is still doing all of those amazing things, so I think if there’s anyone qualified to talk about this particular topic it’s definitely Sheila.

Sheila Marcelo: After I got pregnant in college I started to veer from my parents’ plans, so I wasn’t going to follow that designated profession unfortunately. Tough for my tiger mom. And to think about it, my Catholic parents were very, very upset when I got pregnant between my sophomore and junior year of college and decided to get married and keep the baby. And so, my husband and I were pretty much on our own. My parents weren’t speaking to me. They didn’t expect sending me to women’s college would result in my being a young mother. They thought that men were not allowed on campus at Mount Holyoke College. And behold they were very surprised. And then fast-forward when I was in grad school, another surprise pregnancy, Adam who is now 18, lovely gift, I call him. And during that time, I decided after HBS that I would join an internet company and again we needed help because the hours were so demanding that I asked my parents to come from the Philippines. At this point they were talking to me, they wanted to be a part of their grandchildren’s life. They came and then my father had a heart attack, while he was carrying baby Adam up the stairs.

Sheila Marcelo: My father’s alive today, he’s all healthy, but that was a big struggle for us because the whole point of my parents coming to the United States was to actually to help care for baby Adam. And I found myself at 29 years old stuck between child care and senior care. And I was also getting catapulted in my career at a young age to join a management team at Upromise, helping families save money for college and I didn’t have great care. It was really hard and I was going home working at a technology company but using the yellow pages to look for care. So, something really didn’t add up, which really lead to the next question. When I decided to start my own business, I had to ask myself, “What impact did I want to have on the world? Despite all the difficulties and challenges that I had faced so far …”

Angie Chang: Her story’s a great reminder that for women the challenges are not just family in the sense of children, but aging parents and also a lot of other types of life struggles that are natural but also makes it tough to really lean into that, as she said, fast paced management consulting job.

Rachel Jones: And it gets really beautiful how she founded her own company just out of this great need that she was experiencing and saw so many other women experiencing. Just taking that frustration of not being able to find good care and from that really bringing together her tech experience and really just solving an issue that was really important to her. I think it’s a great story.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: To me, the first thing I thought of was, that’s amazing that she saw a need and she tried to fix it, and she obviously had reasons along the way that could’ve slowed her down but she worked around her challenges and her constraints and she was still able to follow her dreams, which was really impressive.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think what we saw at the Care.com event, which is on our YouTube channel, if you guys want to check it out, was how focused the culture at Care.com is on creating a place for parents. Every woman who spoke opened with her personal story, which often included her children. Sometimes I think that can be something women feel like is their personal life and not their professional life and how in this organization you bring your whole self to work and that your children are sort of part of your journey.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I also thought was really cool how she called out that caring for her children and caring for her parents were just as important and that’s why she tried to solve for both. Which is something that we don’t always talk about. We talk about maybe caring for kids, but we’re not always talking about the impact when we are in a stage where we’re taking care of older family members. That was interesting to me.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean Sheila’s definitely like this crazy example of an unconventional journey. You sort of look at her with all of these different things and different sort of twists and turns that her life took and she’s just standing stronger than ever, right? So, I think that’s really inspiring.

Rachel Jones: I think there’s definitely a lot that we can learn from that story, but I think our conversation around unconventional journeys, so far, has revolved a lot around people specifically in tech and technical roles, but what about people whose path isn’t all technical?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, I mean, I think on the elder stateswoman at the table, and if you talk to someone who’s been at the … In tech for more than probably 15 years, that just wasn’t even a path that people thought about. I mean most people’s stories are just going to be like some random like, “One day I …” whatever. Mine is crazy, I have a theater undergrad, I was going to go to law school so I have a pre-law degree with a Spanish minor, so those are all very highly employable, very looked for. So, what I was when I finished college was a really overeducated waitress. And I moved to San Francisco and just waited tables for a couple of years and then I started temping. And one day I got sent to this … It wasn’t even a real company, it was like a four bedroom flat in the Marina district of San Francisco, with 17 people, people were working inside closets. There was no wifi so all the walls were knocked out trying to wire it and I called my friend–from a pay phone. It was like 1997, I think.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I was like, “This isn’t even a real company like I am so not staying here, like this is ridiculous. As soon as this temp gig’s over, I’m done.” But, they gave me more and more responsibility and the company grew from 17 people to 145 in 18 months and I was just given crazy levels of responsibilities and so … But you’ll find a 1000 stories like mine, right? Of just like, “I don’t know. I fell into it.” It was certainly … I mean it was definitely not in the theater, pre-law, Spanish plan, right? So, I end up working in tech.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s so many roles in tech too, you could be a designer and then get into a tech company, or you could be in finance and get into a tech company. When I started working, one of the things I thought about where I wished I knew it would end up becoming a job, was the UX designer where people came with creative backgrounds, and then they were designing the look and feel of software. To me, that was super fascinating. Unfortunately, I’m not naturally creative or I would have tried to consider that but … Or at least try to be trained in it. But there’s so many various avenues, you don’t have to get into coding and maybe you need to know the basics to understand how it all flows and the logic behind it but I mean there’s so many ways to get into tech.

Angie Chang: Two women shared their journeys to non-tech roles during our dinner with Strava. Amanda Sim is a senior brand designer who brings the Strava brand to life and is constantly examining how athletes think about Strava. Lia Siebert is a product manager at Strava and she brings 15 years of operating experience from product development.

Amanda Sim: How did I arrive at being an in house brand designer? When I looked back at my full career, I kind of did this little, bloop, and I noticed that a lot of my work was in consulting. So, what that meant was a huge breadth of work, but I didn’t really get to go super deep. Because a client would essentially, as a consultant, they would come up to me, tell me a little bit about their company, maybe push some brand guidelines toward me and then it was my job as a consultant–before Strava–to come up with some designs, make some suggestions, present it and everyone’s like, “Whoa! That’s so shiny and new! I love it!” And I’d be like, “Peace!” And then the in-house designers would have to pick up all the pieces and then quickly scramble to try and figure out how to make sense of it.

Amanda Sim: So, I felt like it was like really love them and leave them and I was having a blast but I really wanted to see how my design could be implemented, get out into the world, what the feedback was on that and then how it could evolve into something else or how it would change over time. And so, bam! Strava. I came to Strava in house, for me this was a huge move. It was a little like settling down …

Lia Siebert: I’ve been fortunate to sort of make my way around the block in terms of the different functional roles. I started my career as an engineer, designer of physical things. That was incredibly motivating but also really tough because you never got to see the impact of your work. I was just talking to someone earlier today about how you’d have to wait for somebody from sales or one of the 10 ten doctors that you’re trying to influence to come and give you the case story. So, from engineering I moved into design, I was fortunate to be one of the early members of the Stanford D school. There, was designing physical spaces to try and change behaviors of teams and then finally this more recent chapter has been in digital product development, where that experimentation and that exploration can be so fast and really fun.

Lia Siebert: I’m personally really passionate about how people share expertise with each other and I’ve been able to work on that in education, in shopping, in e-commerce and more recently, in health and wellness. So, three chapters of career, all, believe it or not, they don’t quite hang together in the way that you’d expect but lead me to Strava …

Rachel Jones: I think it was really interesting that both of these women talked about these transitions in terms of what was exciting to them about the work or what stage of something they like to be most involved in. So, with Lia talking about really being able to be involved in the process of designing instead of coming up with cool stuff and then leaving and … And then Lia talking about being able to actually see the impact of her work being really motivating because we’ve talked a lot about journeys being motivated by skills that people want to learn or people just falling into something, but I think … Thinking about it as what challenges in the workplace are exciting to you or just how you want to approach your project is a different way to think about navigating an unconventional journey.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean I think that’s one of the things I love about tech. Within my career I’ve jumped into so many different roles. I’ve done sales, I’ve done marketing, I’ve done product design, I’ve done business development and all of its different iterations, right? And so I think what I love about their story is that they bring this different perspective and tech is still such a young industry that it needs that. It needs that outside force, like things can get very stale and so if you’re bringing … When we’re talking about having cognitive diversity at the table, if you’re bringing someone in to design something that … Their background is in physical design, they’re going to look at it with this completely different lens and that’s going to be so additive to the process of really remaining innovative.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I like how Lia’s story talks about three different parts of her career leading her to Strava and that was really fascinating and inspiring for people who think they have to follow this one, straight path to get into tech or to get into a role that they are really passionate about.

Angie Chang: I enjoyed hearing from women who came from consulting backgrounds and how they came into in-house into the tech industry to kind of complete the cycle and see their thoughts be implemented and then iterate on them. That was really fun.

Gretchen DeKnikker: There’s a lot of people trying to somehow follow an idea of how to be technical and then the supposed prescribed answer to that is to learn how to code which is … Spending time learning how software is made, and sort of even just studying the software development life cycle, which if you google that there’s so much information in there and sort of understanding what products go in what part of the process and what stack your company uses and maybe a little background in database architecture. And then that’s way better than understanding a command in Python, right? That’s going to be incredibly valuable for you.

Angie Chang: I absolutely agree, I spend a lot of time talking to entrepreneurs and they’re always saying, “Should I code my own first prototype myself?” And I often tell them, “It’s not worth your time to learn to code that, just get someone to do that for you.” That’s a good test if you’re meant to be a CEO or a sales person. And to the point of what’s non-technical, I think there is this idea that code is technical and nothing else is. And if anyone watches The OA they talk about the technology of movement, and I thought that was really interesting, I was like, “That’s basically it …” There’s so many ways to think about even like sewing and math and analysis as technical so I don’t know why only coding is technical and some Silicon Valley’s rhetoric.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And even when you go into engineering management, after a point you’re not directly coding. But you have to have a high level of understanding of what the architecture is. So, even when you’re in a more technical role, and you make a lateral transition, you can’t constantly be in touch with every single new coding language that comes out. You have to understand the concept of it and move on. Since I started my career in tech, there’s been so many changes in coding languages, there’s always something new. And you can’t learn every single line of it, you just can’t.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And there’s an opportunity cost to that, too, right? Of learning something that would actually give you a deeper understanding or more expertise in your functional role, right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, totally.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, Rachel, I’m curious on how it looks because you’re fairly new to Silicon Valley, and you work in the non-profit sector, so what’s the rhetoric that you hear sort of as … Do people think that you should work in tech? And then what’s their advice or….?

Rachel Jones: I think definitely when I first moved here and was still job hunting, there was a lot of pressure to just explore tech or try to establish context in tech, very much just like, “Oh you’re here, so you got to be doing tech!” And I think now in the non-profit space, I’m definitely seeing a lot more roles that are technical but still within nonprofits. For example, data management and analysis is becoming really important in the non-profit space just because everyone who is funding you wants to know what’s happening with their money and being able to give them really great data that shows what you’re doing and what improvements you’re making is really essential, so I think there’s a lot of space for unconventional tech journeys definitely in the nonprofit world.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Priya Nakra, a product manager, shared her experience being labeled non-technical during our dinner with Blend. In her two years as a product manager in the company, she has risen through the ranks from a customer success consultant to enterprise integrations manager to her current role today.

Priya Nakra: So, it took me a while to understand, but being called technical is a spectrum. It means completely different things to completely different people all across industries. I had taken coding classes in school because my major was industrial engineering, but when I went to my first job in corporate consulting, you were either marked as functional or technical. There wasn’t really anything in between. I was told by my manager several times that if I wasn’t learning how to code or actively with the engineers looking at code and debugging things or drawing systems architecture diagrams for our customers, I wasn’t technical. And after four and a half years on the functional project management track, it was too late to try and be technical. And that’s what I told myself when I joined Blend, as well. But much to my initial chagrin, and eventual appreciation, the deployment lead job that I took at Blend, almost two years ago, led me to our largest enterprise customer, which is Wells Fargo, who also happened to have the most complex and antiquated integration points.

Priya Nakra: So I didn’t really have a choice but to at least learn the basics of how Blend could talk to other systems and their architecture in general. So I started with the bare minimum, understanding what systems Wells had, what systems we had, how we pass data from one system to another in order to support the process of the cycle of a loan. Then I dabbled a little bit into air handling, learning and monitoring, debugging some critical issues. It was essentially the equivalent of me tepidly dipping my toes into the really vast sea that is the technical world. It was at this time and during this project that our head of technical integrations, Irsal Alsanea, who’s also our only female engineer group lead, she and I were sharing a glass of wine in sunny Des Moines, Iowa, when we were at the Wells Fargo office and we kind of realized that we have these really symbiotic complementary strengths, right? She had a team of integration engineers who needed a lot of structure and I could provide that with my functional project management and in turn I could learn a lot about what it means to manage technical products.

Priya Nakra: And so it was because of this and because of where Blend was a company, she and I sort of created together this enterprise integrations program manager role where I could, again, learn more about being technical and also provide a lot of structure for engineers.

Rachel Jones: So, it sounds like Priya’s comments relate a lot to things that you all have seen about people being labeled technical or non-technical.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think Priya’s story will probably resonate with a lot of people, it definitely does with me. Because you sort of learn the skills as you go along, as like a survival. Way back in the day at one of my very first start-ups the marketing pages and the production code were all intertwined, so if I wanted to change a sentence on the page, I had to wait for the next push and this is pre sort of … We were still very waterfall method. So, you learn HTML and you learn CSS and you learn ways of not having to go ask or you learn how to run a few basic database queries because you’re looking for specific data to tell a story for sales or for marketing or whatever and you just need … You can’t think of exactly what data you need right away and you need to play with a little bit and look at different bits and pieces. And so, to get your job done, you don’t want to rely on someone else and you just sort of pick up these skills as you go along, definitely for me that’s how it worked.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I like how Priya talks about how she learnt the basics of the systems in architecture in general and that made it easier for her to get more of an understanding on the error handling and monitoring and things like that. And she started small and she kept increasing her awareness … That obviously helped her in her final role. She learnt what she needed to learn and although that may have happened as an accident, I think we can all plan to be a little bit more deliberate about finding what is it that we need to know if we have to work across roles with someone else in a different role and understand what they’re doing in order to bring more impact. Especially when you’re a product manager and putting in requirements, you kind of need to have some level of understanding on how the pieces work together. So, I liked her journey.

Angie Chang: I liked how she talks about how being technical is a spectrum and how it means different things to different people across industries. One of the things I liked seeing in a lot of the Google Made with Code’s Instagram or social media stuff is how they always show how intertwined tech and art can be or how you can use something mildly technical like Google Docs, or a spreadsheet or something to help with your baking. And did you know that baking is basically running an algorithm, which is very technical or how sewing can be technical. I think it’s always fun to remind ourselves that technical isn’t just ones and zeroes and also that if we thought about “functional roles” such as HR or marketing, how we thought about tech, we would probably get further in moving those industries along.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean sales and marketing, especially now, particularly in enterprise software, you’re essentially a statistician, right? That marketing funnel optimization is dialed in. I think you’re as technical as you will believe yourself to be, and that if you work in tech, you are definitely technical. You are certainly more technical than someone who’s not. And I think my advice would be to like don’t be afraid even if you don’t totally understand what’s going on and you don’t want to ask in the middle of the meeting. Finding someone that you think will explain it to you … I mean you can always Google it but I’ve never found that that, particularly with systems and how they work together, I’ve never found that … I’m a really visual person so someone can sit down and draw me a picture and then we can have a quick Q&A and then I’m like, “Okay, got it. Now I know where this fits in to the big picture.”

Angie Chang: I think what always kind of astonished me was how often we would think about what we don’t have before we would think about what we do have. So, I used to find myself saying things like, “I don’t have a CS degree, but …” And then I talk about how I coded this and that. It took me a long time to realize what I was saying and then take out the part where I don’t … Apologizing for my lack of degree in this particular thing when I should’ve just started with, “I made this!”

Rachel Jones: Does anyone have final thoughts on unconventional journeys, part two, the sequel?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I guess what we covered a few times was that there’s no one, straight journey, and you know if you were a salesperson at a cosmetics company, you would want to learn everything about the products, or you probably think about it that way and try to understand. If you were a sales person in tech or trying to sell a product, that’s technical. How much level of detail do you need to know? There’s also a whole spectrum of what being technical means and don’t try to fall into the trap that you have to learn how to code when you can just learn how the systems work.

Angie Chang: I like that, don’t learn how to code, just kind of try to understand the high level of how systems work. Maybe watch something on YouTube, one of those free college classes the intro to, or the episode that explains it all. Also, they can come to Girl Geek dinners and listen to Girl Geeks talk about their technical processes and kind of pick up on the jargon and feel comfortable with it, and then when you go into the interview you’ll have kind of been seeped in that knowledge.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s this comic strip that compares living in New York and living in San Francisco-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Oh I love that one.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And it shows a group of people saying where they work, what they do, while in the New York one, I think it says something like, “Oh, I’m in finance, I’m in sales.” And the counterpart comic drawing of San Francisco, shows everyone saying they’re in marketing in tech, in sales in tech, a lawyer in tech. So, that’s just how the environment might be around you.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I think if I were to give advice to my younger self I would not let other people tell me how technical I was because I think I believed that as I had all of these skills and was developing all of these skills, I think I believed that for a long time until I sort of realized, “Wait, you guys are idiots. I actually know quite a lot about this and I’m kind of tired of being talked down to or diminished in a conversation that I’m perfectly capable of participating in.”

Rachel Jones: I think this has been a super interesting conversation just being, the blatantly non-tech person at the table whenever we record these podcasts, but I think there are a lot of takeaways for me even just not complicating this tech, non-tech binary. Of just like there could be a lot of possibilities for me, and now where I am in my career, I’m trying to take stock of the things that are exciting, or the things that the kind of problems that I really do like to solve or just how I feel doing different types of work throughout the day, so I really am trying to think of the next steps in my career in that way.

Angie Chang: And Rachel, I think you’re very technical in podcasts.

Rachel Jones: I think that really counts.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Rachel Jones: I appreciate it.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones, with recording help from Eric Brown. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit Girlgeek.io. You can also find videos and transcripts from our events. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, email sponsors@girlgeek.io.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by Care.com. Since launching in 2007, Care.com has been committed to solving the complex care challenges that affect families, caregivers, employers, and care service companies. Today, Care.com is the world’s largest online destination for finding and managing family care. This podcast is also sponsored by Strava. Today, Strava helps millions train and share progress through free mobile apps and has created a community of athletes from all over the world. Designed by athletes, for athletes, Strava’s mobile app and website connect millions of runners and cyclists through the sports they love. This podcast is sponsored by Blend. Blend is a Silicon Valley technology company propelling the consumer lending industry into the digital age through partnerships with banks, lenders, and other technology providers.

“Tech Stayers & Leavers”: Lili Gangas with Kapor Center (Video + Transcript)

Lili Gangas / Chief Technology Community Officer / Kapor Center
Sukrutha Bhadouria / CTO & Co-Founder / Girl Geek X


Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, everyone. Hi, Lili.

Lili Gangas: Hello, hello.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thanks everyone for joining us, and also staying with us through the day. I want to just do a quick intro before we have Lili share her amazing wisdom. First I want to tell you some housekeeping notes. I’m Sukrutha, I’m the CTO of Girl Geek X. Housekeeping notes, yes, this is being recorded, the video will be available for you to view in a week. Please share all the information that you’re hearing that you’d like to share on social media with the hashtag #GGXElevate. I’ve been seeing a lot of you tweet your comments and questions there, so keep that going. We’ll have a Q&A at the end, so use the Q&A button at the bottom to post your questions, and we’ll make time for that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Also, our amazing sponsors have posted their job listings on our website, so you can go to GirlGeek.io/opportunities to take a look at our job board. Now, for the amazing Lili. Lili Gangas is the Chief Technology Community Officer at Kapor Center. She helps catalyze Oakland’s emergence as a social impact hub, she advises inclusive tech entrepreneurship building activities in Oakland, such as Oakland Startup Network, Tech Hire Oakland, Latinx in Kapor Center, Innovation Labs as well. Lili’s also a proud immigrant from Bolivia, and her talk today is about Tech Stayers and Leavers. Thank you, Lili, for making time for us.

Lili Gangas: Thank you. Let me make sure you guys can … All you can hear me okay? Yes? Okay, awesome.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yes.

Lili Gangas: Well, hello, hello. I’m so excited to be here, this is amazing. I see a lot of all the different hundreds of women across the world, so let’s get started and jump right in. I’m gonna share my screen, and I have a presentation here. Let me make sure it all looks good on our end. Great. We should be able to see it now. Excellent.

Lili Gangas: Again, my name is Lili Gangas, I’m the Chief Tech Community Officer of the Kapor Center. Now, the Kapor Center, for those folks that may not be aware of what it is that we do, we really want to increase representation in tech and tech entrepreneurship. We want our communities to be representative of the demographics that we have. Our work is focused on US talent, and also US based companies, but we know that these companies in the community have a global impact, so our work really is trying to make sure that we are leveling the playing field.

Lili Gangas: Today, I’m here to share some of the problems that we’ve seen of why folks that have started in the tech careers leave, but then also, how could they stay, and do folks come back? Let’s jump right in and see what do the numbers show, what can we do about it, but before I do that, I wanted to share a little bit about me. As you heard earlier, I’m a proud immigrant from Bolivia. I’m not sure how many women here are from Latin America, but go Latin America. I immigrated to the US when I was about six and a half, and we take a look at all the stats that they shared with us about first gen, being the first to college, single parent home, all these different numbers that really say “You’re not supposed to be here.” But yet, thanks to my really just strong mother, fearless, and I’m just really blessed to have been able to have somebody like her just always push me, ever since … even from elementary school all the way to college and to pursue engineering, she’s always been the person behind me helping me make sure that I’m reaching the next goal, and also being able to make sure that I keep challenging myself.

Lili Gangas: This International Women’s Day, shout out to my mom, Sandra. Love you. I share that story because I think being able to come from a community that is very different than where I grew up, so in Bolivia, immigrating as a kid, you have the language barriers, you have the school, you have the cultural norms, it was challenging, but I think my love for math really gravitated me to math really being my language. That’s how I got started in my love for engineering. I went on to do electrical engineering. It started really my career in aerospace engineer. I think I’m gonna check to see if everybody can hear me okay. I think so. I started my career off electrical engineering, and specifically because I really wanted to solve problems that were meaty, that were big systems problems. I got to be able to work in a lot of satellite systems.

Lili Gangas: It was great, this was me going into tech and being able to just really nerd out in all the different types of technologies and teams, but I also started realizing that it was tough. I think as I started to manage teams, that’s where the team dynamic and the people dynamic became harder sometimes than the technical component. I think that that’s one of the topics I’ll go into a little bit more. Just so you have the real talk, what are some of those different issues that we all see? Those paper cuts that we also need to be aware of and how they’re impacting us, but also, what can we do about it? Now, in retrospect, from leaving engineering to then moving onto getting my MBA and really want to use technology for more social impact, and looking at social entrepreneurship is how I ended up here at the Kapor Center now.

Lili Gangas: After consulting with [inaudible 00:06:21], and the Excenture, and how we can use startups, public sector, private sector to really find new solutions and create new systems that are helping close gaps of access has been really what my career has pivoted to. I’ll share a little bit more about that as we go through some of the next slides. Lastly, I want to share also a little bit about me before, more personal. I love to run, and one of my long term goals has always been to run marathons, so in about three weeks, I’ll be running my third marathon, so I’m super excited. For all the women that are runners out there, keep at it, and for the folks who may not, I definitely encourage you, it’s a really great way to keep the body and the mind balanced. My last about me aspect is that I really started learning about meditation, and sometimes when we’re in different spaces, and sometimes we may be the only one that is like us in some of those spaces, or just balancing the difficulties that life brings, as a woman, as a professional, and just as a human. I think being able to find different ways to really allow ourselves to have that quiet time is something that I’ve learned really this past year, and it’s a blessing, it’s a gift that I wanted to share with you all.

Lili Gangas: Great. With that said, let’s get into what is really happening in the tech industry, and why are such talented people of color and women leaving? What is happening here? Just to give you a little context, in 2017, Kapor Center, along with the Ford Foundation and the Harris Poll conducted a study to specifically look at this, and over 2,000 tech leavers were surveyed, and the insights that I’ll share come out from that.

Lili Gangas: What did we want to study? We wanted to study what are the factors that are causing this turnover in the tech industry, specifically, what’s happening with underrepresented populations? Why are folks like me leaving? I left the tech industry to find different avenues, but there was also these paper cuts that I didn’t know they were paper cuts until actually I read the study, but also, what are some of the stories that we should be sharing so then that way folks feel heard and seen, and that we can do something that the policy inside the workplace can be done, but also, how do we provide support for those that we manage, or folks who are managing us? What are also some of the costs, and what are some of the practices that can be implemented to really change this culture around?

Lili Gangas: I’ll go to the next slide. For some background, the study was conducted over 2,000 professionals with this type of breakdown. This is a sample of the people that were surveyed. It’s a national representative sample, looking very focused on the intersectionality of the LGBTQ, the age, the race, gender, their previous role, the previous employers that they were in, and then over a set of 40 questions. Let’s get to the bad news. Some of this stuff might not be new for you all, it might be something that you may have lived. But this is the finding, and all those other professionals that took this survey found. We found that 37% of the surveyed professionals left because of unfairness, some kind of mistreatment in their role was really what turned them over to leave.

Lili Gangas: This is actually the highest reason why people leave, and it’s not rocket science to be able to say if you’re not treating me fairly, I’m not gonna stay. It just permeated across all the different groups as well. Specifically, underrepresented people of color were more likely to be stereotyped. Some surveyors responded that they were actually mistaken, if I was the only Latina, they were mistaken by the other Latina in the room. Little things like that really started adding up. Out of 30% out of those under represented women of color, they shared that they were actually passed, most likely passed for a promotion. LGBTQ also had some of the highest rates of bullying and hostility. One out of 10 women reported unwanted sexual attention and harassment.

Lili Gangas: Then, lastly, looking at some of these areas, some of the women reported others taking credit for their work, in addition to being passed over for a promotion, and sometimes even their ability was questioned at a much higher rate than men. The part that was interesting in all of the survey is that actually, white and Asian men and women reported observing a lot of these biases the highest, and they actually also attributed them leaving because of this reason. So, it’s not just impacting the under represented groups, it is really impacting the entire company. From that end, the key takeaways that the survey really showed is the unfairness that’s driving the turnover. The experiences differ dramatically across groups, and I think this is something that, especially since we have a community of global representation, to be very, very aware and mindful of that, that each group, even though you may not have felt it, some other group is feeling it, and it’s something to, when you’re working in cross global teams, but also very diverse teams, to be mindful of everybody’s experience as well.

Lili Gangas: The unfairness costs billions of dollars, but there is opportunity for this to change. We are able to find, and find ways to improve the culture if folks want to. I’m gonna go to the next slide.

Lili Gangas: Feel free, if you have any questions, feel free to add them into the Q&A, and I’ll jump into that after we’re done.

Lili Gangas: Great, I shared a lot of these problems, but what can we do? If you’re a C Suite at a tech company, or you’re a manager, there are ways that you can directly really help create a more level playing field for everybody in your workplace, and ultimately, women, we really just want to have equal pay. We cannot believe that we’re in 2019 and we still have issues that we’re still being underpaid. Specifically, Latinas in the US are significantly underpaid. They’re about 56 cents on the dollar compared to a white male. Second, improving company leadership is critical. Without having the C Suite, the CEO, but also the managers across the different angles being able to advocate and really create and put forward new policies. This is going to continue. We have to lead by example.

Lili Gangas: Again, promotion. This is an area where a lot of women that were surveyed, specifically here, expressed that this is why they were leaving, in addition to wanting to have a better work/life balance. If you’re not finding the opportunity internally, you’re going to leave, but sometimes if your job at the moment is providing you a great work/life flexibility, and it’s hard to make that change. Sometimes our careers start plateauing, but we have to be mindful that there are other opportunities and options. Ultimately, we just want to have a much more positive and respectful work environment. I know that here I’m preaching to the choir, because you all are probably feeling the same, but these are clear things, no matter the size of the company, that these are very doable, these are very trackable and measurable, and us, as being part of this industry, we have to make sure that we’re holding our leadership and our companies accountable.

Lili Gangas: Here we go, what can the companies continue to do, but what can you also make sure that your companies are doing? If you don’t see any of these aspects being done, this is the time to really start having these types of discussions across the chain, whether it’s with HR, or if you have a D&I, diversity and inclusion officer, or if you have your ERGs, but also starting to the high levels of the C Suite, being able to understand what does it mean to have a comprehensive D&I strategy? It really starts with that leadership, it has to be bold, unequivocal leadership from the CEO. We have to make sure that we are measuring the effectiveness of these strategies. One thing is to have it on paper, but the other part is to actually go and implement it, and measure it. Also just being honest if it’s working or not, which leads to the second opportunity for companies, and this is where we can all play a role, which is how do we create these inclusive cultures? What does this actually mean.

Lili Gangas: Make sure that your company has identified a set core of values. Make sure that there is a code of conduct. Ask if maybe you might be new to the company, and if somebody hasn’t directed you to a code of conduct or values, you should really ask, and that could actually also spur more discussions on this topic. Making sure that you’re always observing what’s getting implemented and if people are measuring it. For example, see if your company, and even if you’re a founder yourself, are you conducting employee surveys across the different experience that they might have, across the different levels? Are you doing it at regular intervals? Is your company doing these types of continuous studies? If not, maybe we should be bringing that up for discussion. Also, very, very important is to make sure that the data that is being collected and examined is intersectional. We want to make sure that you are giving voice to all the different groups by demographics, or the intersectionality or identity that otherwise wouldn’t be able to be shared out, and I think being able to have this intersectional lens needs to be intentional, and it needs to be measured regularly.

Lili Gangas: Ultimately, it’s really having a transparent culture about the issues that you’re having. There’s a really great resource for you all to check out that if you may not be aware, Project Include goes into these topics at even much more detail. There you could actually download and share some of this work with your team if you want to start having this discussion. Highly encourage you to do that. Lastly, developing an effective and fair management process. What does that mean? There’s actually a new sector of HR tech tools that are being developed that look at the people [inaudible 00:17:19] technology site where you could actually measure, let’s say through Asana or some kind of task management, who’s getting those types of tasks? Are women getting the technical tasks, or are they getting the more admin tasks? Who continually continues to get more work versus somebody else on the team? There are all these different types of tools now that exist that can help identify some of this bias that we may not be aware. It’s happening in the background, or some, for whatever reason, whoever is also managing a team may not even be aware of their own biases.

Lili Gangas: I definitely encourage you all to take a look at how are your teams being managed, how are you managing your teams, what type of technology are you leveraging to really be able to help create a much more fair process of managing the teams, the work, and being able to also audit what’s happening. Right now there’s a lot of, I think about two weeks ago, Google was in the news because they had their … my apologies … They released their compensation, and actually more white men ended up getting more raises than women. There’s questioning of even how was that invalidated? How was that managed? What were some of the processes? These are really, really tough discussions, but I think that we have to make sure that we also are being empowered. Without us, these companies won’t be able to continue to work. I think that the power of women in general, intersectionality and identity are different discussions that need to go from the talking to the doing, and to the implementing and measuring. That way we can start to do see of these toxic cultures really change. If you’re in a place where your company is actually thriving and doing really great in this side of the culture, protect it.

Lili Gangas: I think as you get bigger and larger, sometimes with the wrong hires, things can change. Being able to have this, being able to measure the things that are important, what you value, is critical. I encourage you all to do that. Lastly, again, this tech leaver study was released in 2017. There’s a lot of [inaudible 00:19:27], if you Google it, and you go to the Kapor Center Org website, you’ll see, you can go into more depth about the different insights. It’s a discussion that we need to continue to have. Hopefully I gave you a high level of what are some of the common pain points that you may also have felt but also how can we start to tackle them, so then that way we can continue to grow the talent and the leadership of women in tech.

Lili Gangas: With that said, I’ll see if there’s any more Q&A questions, but loved to have spent the time here with you all. Please feel free to contact me should you have any other more questions. You can find me on Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn. There’s a lot of different other initiatives that I work on locally to help foster the tech talent to local tech talent as well as helping spur more entrepreneurship. We can have lots of different dialogues.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Lili. Your insight and your energy really, really made a difference, and there’s been great comments, especially because you said you meditate and you run marathons, I think that resonated really well with a lot of people. We have time for one question, just like a quick one. I’m gonna read it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ll summarize it, but there’s one that says “Can you share some tools that can be used to identify bias?”

Lili Gangas: Sure. Actually, in Kapor Capital there is different investments. One of the companies is called Compass. They are helping identify, using some data and AI, actually, in the backend to be able to measure the assignments of tasks. There’s also [inaudible 00:21:21] is another company that are we aware. Happy to share, I don’t want to blurt out names, but happy to share some links to a lot of different tools. When I did a talk last year on the pay gap, there was actually a huge increase of venture capital investments in this sector. There are so many different types of tools, different price points. Depending on the type of company that you are at, there’s definitely a lot. The question is, if you use it, how are you gonna measure the results? How are you going to do something about it? I think it’s understanding the what is it that you’re trying to tackle, which problem are you trying to tackle, and identifying the proper technology solution for that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Lili. We’re going to end it here. Thank you to everyone who asked your questions and posted your comments, thanks. Bye.

Lili Gangas: Adios from Oakland, goodbye.

“Data Science And Climate Change”: Janet George with Western Digital (Video + Transcript)

Janet George / Chief Data Scientist / Western Digital
Gretchen DeKnikker / COO / Girl Geek X


Gretchen DeKnikker: All right. Welcome back everybody. We are here for the second section today. Darn it, I just cannot get the camera right. I’m going to turn into a millennial by the end of this, trying to get the right angle. Today we are recording these. You will be able to get access to them later. There is lots of chat activity going on if you want to hover over the chat button. Janet will have a Q and A session at the end of this, so use the Q and A button right there below. Hopefully you guys got some coffee and are ready, because this next talk is going to be amazing. Janet has 15 years of experience in big data, data science, working in labs, long before it was called big data, I’m sure, Janet has been rocking this. And she’s currently the Chief Data Scientist at Western Digital, here to talk to us today about data and climate change. Without further ado, Janet, please.

Janet George: Thank you. I’m going to start sharing my screen here in one minute. All right. Okay. Can you see my screen? Can everybody see my screen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: We can.

Janet George: Okay. Very good. I’m going to get started. I wanted to start out with a little bit of background about myself and how I came to be interested in climate change. Background, as she mentioned, I’m currently with Western Digital. I’ve also worked with companies like Apple and eBay and Yahoo in prior lifetimes. My educational background, I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in computer science with a focus on distributed computing, parallel processing, and specifically cognitive computing. My specialization is in artificial intelligence. I do a lot of stuff with CNN, convolution neural networks, RNN, which is recurrent neural networks, and also DNN, which now is deep neural networks, which has gained a lot of traction.

Janet George: How I came to do work around climate is related to my passion. And as some of you know, my passion is nature and sustainable ecosystems. I am a strong believer that we should leave the Earth better than we found it. I’m very interested in oceans, lakes, biodiversity, and really the preservation of natural habitats as we finish our journey on this Earth. With that, I’m actually going to talk a little bit about climate, climate data, and climate change.

Janet George: One of the questions, and I’m going to go through topics. How do we collect, normalize and parse data at the scale at which this data is available? And what data is really available around climate change? The data around climate change, we’ve got a lot of data around climate change. We have data that’s sitting in multiple data banks. This is historical data. We also have data that is found with the USGS. We have new data that’s coming up with sensors that are buried in the ground to watch our insects, to watch our birds, and to watch our plant population. We have lots of weather data from satellites and weather stations. We have atmospheric data, CO2 levels rising, heat waves, and things like that. We have very accurate data around sea level rise and precipitation and frost.

Janet George: More recently, we’ve also been getting data from National Geographic and other image data, which is actually quite new for us. This data’s coming–that’s from photographs that have been taken all around the world. And this gives us a very good idea about our shrinking glaciers. And the goal is to bring all this data, and so what I tend to do is we bring this data, we write agents, ingest agents, that can ingest this data into some sort of a data lake. And later, I’ll talk about what the size of this data lake should be and how large or small it should be. But the goal is to start uniting this data, because when you take data and you look at one dimension of the data, for example, if you’re only looking at insects, you may not get the whole picture.

Janet George: We want to get a full 360 degree view of our data with respect to insects, plants, heat waves, sea level rise, what’s happening to all different parts. And so the goal is to then bring this data into the data lake, so we have a unified mechanism to actually start looking at this data. And the data lake actually is an object store, so it’s a scalable object store. Then you build this data lake. You can just keep adding more notes to the data lake. Another advantage of having a separate lake versus a compute is the ability to allow storage to grow indefinitely and compute the grow indefinitely as the scale of data becomes much larger. And usually we start with the small scale, and then we can grow up to as big a scale as we want.

Janet George: The next topic I want to answer is around the focus. How do we focus? Climate change is so huge. It’s so big. It almost seems like, I call it the big, hairy, audacious goal. How do we tackle this big, hairy, audacious goal? And where do we focus? Should we look at the flora and the fauna? Should we look at weather, country, regions? There’s many, many variables that we can go after. And so what’s our focus area? Focus for me, because I come from a strong artificial intelligence machine learning background, I always look at the problem domain and form a hypothesis on what are the most critical variables that we need to watch for that directly informs us about predictions, or directly informs us about a metric that we can use to understand how we are doing in terms of forward progress or backward progress.

Janet George: If we see sea level rise, it’s a primary variable. And it’s somewhat of an independent variable, that is a very strong signal for many things that happen to climate change. So we spend a lot of time focusing on sea level rise and the consequence of the sea level rise and its direct impact for us. We also pick other variables like CO2. Now we have known that in countries, advanced countries, especially Europe, UK, many of these countries have focused on really taking action with reducing the carbon footprint, and have seen direct benefits. Those are some of the areas we want to focus here. Also, scientists are spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to harmonize carbon levels and how to make sure that we can reduce carbon levels by our actions. We know that these two variables are dependent on many things that are happening to us right now.

Janet George: For example, when the sea level rises, we see disappearing land. We see disappearing insect populations. We see tropical storms being much more severe than we’ve ever experienced in the past. We see our melting, ice melting. We see the loss of snow. We see drought that is persistent for years in a row. We see disappearing habitats. Heat waves take a different form. We experience heat waves like we’ve never experienced in generations prior. And we are seeing a lot of species, these invasive species that are surviving through these very high temperatures. And these are usually in the form of pests, which is not very good for the immune system of our habitat. They attack the immune system, the natural immune system of the habitat. Those are not good for us.

Janet George: And we are also seeing other things that are happening to us, like diminished plant population. And when we see that the plant population is diminishing, this has a direct effect on all of us because our healthy food sources disappear along with that. And so that’s something that we want to pay attention to.

Janet George: Next, the question was asked: What are my interesting discoveries around climate change? And so how would I ignore data that has a lot of false positives? And what have I discovered along the way? I think one of the biggest discoveries I’ve made as I’ve studied and looked into this data is that we have a lot of different species that are useful to us and help us along the way. Right? These species range from about 10 million to 14 million. And because of our history and where we came from and our infrastructure and compute, we only documented 1.2 million of these species that are captured. So this is a huge gap between what exists and what is actually captured.

Janet George: And today for the first time, we actually have this huge opportunity. We’re in this era where we can capture all of this. We can capture the current species. The problem with not being able to document these species, or being sporadically documenting these species, is the fact that we don’t understand how and when they become extinct. And when we don’t know the species and the rate at which it is reaching extinction, we are experiencing loss. And this loss is very severe. Now we can use big data and artificial intelligence. It is a right problem domain. We can use a lot of convolution neural networks. And I’ve been doing a lot of image analysis using convolution neural networks for insects, watching the different kinds and types of insects, classifying them, and also clustering the different species and documenting them so we can predict when they will be extinct, and the rate at which they are growing and why they are becoming extinct. What factors are contributing to their extinction and so on and so forth?

Janet George: One of the studies that have come up, and you can Google most of these studies, the one research paper that has come out that is very, very interesting is around the hyper alarming decrease in insect populations. Now you might know that insects are super critical. They’re a foundation for us in our plant economy. When we see 76% decrease in flying insects in just a matter of couple of years, we’re not talking a decade, we are not talking five years. We’re just talking year to year. That’s a crisis in our biodiversity. And there’s serious ramifications in habitat loss. Note that 35% of the world’s plant crops are pollinated by flying insects, so these are very, very important for crosspollination and maintaining the delicate balance of our natural ecosystems.

Janet George: What kind of infrastructure and what kind of investment is required? Is the problem so big that it cannot be tackled? Or is the problem bite size, and we can chew? And as a scientist, how do I come into the space? And what can I do, and where can I start? That is what I’m going to answer in this next slide. If you think about, we talked about the data lake, if you think about how economies of scale have allowed us to build very easy big data distributed computing stack, we can actually start very, very small. We can build on bare metal. We can use commodity hardware. There’s so much software that’s available to us, and AI algorithms that are available to us in open source. You can use Google’s inception for network. Or you can use Facebook’s PMASK CNN. You can use all of these technologies that are available to you. I am a big believer that you start small. And when you start small, you start with an investment of a couple million dollars. And based on how big your data becomes, if you have one petabyte of data, then you can do very well with a small compute infrastructure.

Janet George: And then you can grow out that compute infrastructure to as large as you want it to be. And that’s why the price tag is really based on the scale of data you want to process. But on the upper scale, if you think of processing all of those, like 14 million insect data, and much more than that, we’re not talking about a very large investment. We’re talking about up to 25 million in bare metal, compute and memory and storage, like data lake. This is not a very massive investment. Traditionally, building infrastructures with big companies and having a [inaudible 00:14:20] software that’s sitting in an IT department, organizations, enterprises tend to pay $50 million, to $100 million, to sometimes up to $200 million on infrastructure alone. We’re talking about $5 million, to $10 million, to $25 million dollars. And we can actually go at the problem and reverse the effect that is has on our ecosystem.

Janet George: For the first time, it’s a very doable problem. It’s something that can be attacked. Today, we don’t even get housing for a few million dollars here in the Silicon Valley. But we are able to actually create entire distributed big data computing stack with very, very small footprint. And so that allows us to do a very large amount of analysis, given the right compute and memory and storage.

Janet George: What are my lessons learned? Working with this data, working at scale, doing AI on insect images and trying to understand building prediction models on sea level rise, what I’ve learned is around the data collection and processing, we actually have to be very careful about how we collect the data. This is very important because there’s three components to what they’re trying to do. The first component of what they’re trying to do is the data itself. The second component is the infrastructure. And then the third component is: How do we actually take the models that we’ve built, and then how do we start to predict and use the predictions to make actual decisions for our future? My first learning around this is the KISS principle, which is really Keep It Simple. Get away from extract, transform, load, which are the traditional methods of loading a data and extracting the data.

Janet George: When we do the traditional methods, we actually cause loss of vital data signal, so we lose data in the process of trying to extract and transform. The best advice here is to really store raw data, and do the transformations for that data dynamically as you’re using the data, or learning from the data. I like to keep the data free from entanglements. And by entanglements, I mean schema. I don’t want to enforce a schema on the data because then you will have to spend a lot of time undoing the schema. You want a loose coupling with the format transformations. If you have a tight coupling, you will be in the business of trying to format and reformat data at scale, which will consume all the time and energy required, rather than do the actual analysis.

Janet George: We want to build a near real time processing capability, so what we’ve learned is when we have sensor data, and we are observing the plant, we cannot train on just old plant data. We’ve got to train on new real time data because we can see the plant behavior change. There’s a lot of variability in the data during the day when the plant is exposed to certain climatic conditions, or the plant is exposed to certain insect populations, and the plant starts wilting. Or if the weed is taking over, you can see how slowly the plant composition is changing. And in order for us to manage and monitor and learn, also train our machine learning models near real time, we want to be able to observe and train almost consistently and constantly.

Janet George: We want to assess the signal strength of the data at the time we are ingesting the data, not after we ingest the data. We have spent a lot of traditional time on trying to get on top of the data quality. And we want to try giving up controlling the data. We want to just work with the data in its natural form, so we try to understand the data as it comes to us, and especially at scale, petabyte scale. We’re not going to be able to control and manage all of the data quality. We just have to make sure that we have enough signals in the data that we can do the predictions with a great deal of accuracy.

Janet George: And my third most important learning is that when we build our infrastructure, we want to make sure that it’s future proofed, so that we don’t have to continuously keep rebuilding and re-architecting our infrastructure, rather, we simply add to our infrastructure as the scale of data grows, and also modernizing our platform and our technologies so that we can be ready for the amount of data, so when we go from one petabyte of data to 30 petabytes of data, we simply add compute and storage notes. But we don’t re-architect our infrastructure. Rather, we spend time on understanding the actual effects of the data.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Great. That was amazing, Janet. Thank you so much. [crosstalk 00:19:30]

Janet George: Key takeaway slide, one key takeaway I think is around how all of us can help transform the impact of climate in our daily lives. We are irrevocably connected as humans and Earth, and we can do our share.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Janet. Actually, we have time for one quick question. I don’t know how quick this question is, but we’ll give it a shot. Can you elaborate on the dynamic schemas? And do you have any advice on how to manage them?

Janet George: Yes. There is actually, within the Hadoop Ecosystem Stack, there is Avro, and Avro is a dynamic format. You can use Avro and you can do schema on read or write, so you don’t have to enforce a schema. You can do the schema as you’re trying to analyze the data.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Amazing. Okay. Thank you so much for your time today, and this wonderful, timely topic.

Janet George: Thank you. And I appreciate the interest very much.

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right. Thanks, Janet. Bye bye.

Janet George: Bye.

Better Than Flowers: Mothers Need Work-Life Policies From Employers, Nation – Starting With Paid Leave

Flowers are nice, but what moms really need are better work-life policies!

“Instead of flowers and a nice brunch, what we actually need is systemic change for working parents” – this article resonated with girl geeks over Mother’s Day weekend as the United States has the least generous benefits, the lowest public commitment to caregiving, one of highest wage gaps between employed men and women, and one of the highest maternal and child poverty rates for any Western industrialized nation.

The American workplace is still organized as if it were an all-male workplace with a caregiver at home. Technology is iterating on self-driving cars and robots making pizza, yet workplaces have failed to evolve over the last century as women have entered the workplace to stay.

Alysia Montaño ran the 800m in US Track and Field Championships at 34 weeks pregnant.

Olympian Alysia Montaño penned a popular New York Times Op-Ed “Nike Told Me To Dream Crazy, Until I Wanted A Baby” about the advertising industry’s penchant for uplifting women with empowerment to boost their bottom line, but not actually supporting female athletes with maternity leave.

It’s time to stop referring to maternity leave as “generous” – passing unearned credit to reluctant employers in a country that lags embarrassingly far behind in family support.

Bottom line: America’s parenting crisis is going to require a societal response, not an individual one, argues The Atlantic’s Caitlyn Collins.

We are thankful for the efforts of PL+US, a non-profit lobbying for paid leave for all. Especially if your employer does matching, please do give them a boost and donate to keep fighting for paid family leave for all working families!

Moms Returning To Work

In addition to corporate Path Forward returnships for moms– here are startups helping women reenter the workplace.

Don’t miss our weekly Girl Geek Dinners where you can connect with companies looking to hire women! Get the inside look at companies, and network with fellow girl geeks.

Tune in to Girl Geek X Podcasts during your drive / commute for insights from working women in tech – and subscribe to our YouTube channel for videos from our events!

Episode 9: Unconventional Journeys


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you with insights from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences, where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Angie Chang: And normally we have Gretchen, our COO of Girl Geek X, but she’s out this week.

Rachel Jones: And I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be talking about unconventional tech journeys.

Rachel Jones: So how might this be relevant to our listeners?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think it needs to be made really clear that you don’t have to have figured out in high school that you want to, you know, get a CS degree to ultimately end up in tech. There’s so many, so many avenues to get in this, boot camps, people have come in who are self-taught, so I feel like the barrier to entry has always seemed a bit high and so today it’s going to be really essential for us to be clear that that’s not the only way to get into tech. You can … there are various ways you can get in and you can have lots of unconventional entries into tech.

Angie Chang: We find that at Girl Geek dinners, every time a speaker talks about her unconventional journey and her career journey, people really like it so it’s really important to always bring it up because you’ll be surprised at what other person is like, “Wow me too!” And really gets a thrill from hearing how all these women have come into their technology careers with these sort of really exciting backgrounds, from political science … I was a social welfare English major and other people who have done PhDs in things like astrophysics and other disparate educations and paths to eventually come to work in something we now call tech.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Actually Angie, you and I have a friend who got into a tech job just because she participated in a Hack-a-Thon and she won and then she wasn’t previously in a tech career until then and winning the Hack-a-Thon, she got an opportunity to interview at Facebook and she prepared for the interview, passed the interview, ended up working as an engineer and then ultimately ended up moving into product management as a technical product manager. Seeing that journey up front or hearing about that journey up front really made me feel like there’s so many ways and so many ways to find success in tech.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. I’ve always met so many people who have learned to code in their 20s and 30s and found it thrilling and continued to do really fun, innovative things like start companies, build fun apps, and I guess now we call it work as a software engineer making lots of money, but for a while it was more about … it was just something we did because it was fun.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I was especially intrigued when I would meet the students at HackBright when they would do these really fun projects, all because they so badly wanted to learn to code and I think that motivation and that energy that they brought made it so inspiring for people who had gotten into tech, like me, gotten into tech with a more traditional journey, because with tech you very quickly get out of date. What was the hottest new programming language yesterday is very quickly replaced or there’s an updated version of it that if you don’t constantly stay on top of it and study it, you can very easily be replaced. So that experience of interacting with people who previously were working in Whole Foods as the checkout person and now working in a company as a Python programmer really put things in perspective.

Angie Chang: I think unconventional tech journeys, my favorite one that comes to mind is I met a woman who was coming back to work after raising kids for a while and she was contracting and then I found out that she got a job at Intel and became a director of marketing for Intel AI and now she was recently promoted to VP and I find that very inspiring because you always hear about women leaving tech or leaving–That’s the rumor, the idea that women will leave to have their kids, but they do come back and they are completely capable of doing so and succeeding so I’m really thrilled that she was able to show me that you can have grown kids and come … have a returnship without necessarily applying for and doing a returnship program. She just did it on her own.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah with like online tools like Khan Academy and Code Academy and all of these other tutorials online, it makes it so much easier to get access to content so you don’t have to sit in a classroom necessarily and you know back in the day we used to think we needed to buy these tech books and programming books, but because it changes so often all of these online tutorials also get updated and if you weren’t already a Javascript programmer, you can, through practice, you can actually become one without necessarily getting into a classroom, like I said. However, I do want to say that companies are also slowly changing their requirement, used to be so strict that you had to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, at least. But now the focus is quite a bit on have you done projects or have you done anything that showcases that you have the skills before they even bring you onsite to interview you. People would be not even given the opportunity to showcase their skills in the past and things are getting better for sure. Although we have a long way to go.

Angie Chang: Yeah and I also … I think there’s big companies like Google that used to think that you needed a degree in computer science and now have changed their ways and unfortunately it seems like there was a lot of startups that were like, “Oh we also need to look for the degrees and such.” And now hopefully people really realize that the studies that say that … I hope there are studies because I’m pretty sure this is a case … we all know this … if you know people at all you’ll know that people are very adaptive and will succeed, even if they come from different backgrounds.

Angie Chang: When I was running a mentorship program at HackBright, I was talking to a lot of the mentors and I would look at their backgrounds because I would look at their LinkedIns to make sure they were adequate to be a mentor. I realized there was quite a number of our seniors, sophomores, and juniors, and all the engineering leaders that were industry workers who didn’t have a CS degree and it’s quite large number. So it would be a little hypocritical to say now that you need a CS degree when all you do is you need to know how to code and just be given a chance to succeed and I think there’s something to be said about pointing out, if possible, in a very nice way, when people are giving white men chances to succeed when we could be giving similar leaps of faith to women and people of color. I think there’s something to be said about that. You see a lot of implicit bias happening in who gets promoted and who gets hired.

Rachel Jones: So this leads really well into our quote from Carol Chen. She shared some stats on how many people work in fields related to their degree, during our dinner with GroundTruth, where she’s a director of engineering.

Carol Chen: I have my bachelor in architecture and when I get here I start to check out a few architecture firm. I talked to the architect in those firm and find what they were doing mostly residential expansions so to me, that doesn’t sound very exciting. So I was thinking, “What should I do?” But to me, internet and computer science, that’s an exciting industry so I was thinking computer science is an area I want to try. I went back to school and got my master in computer science. I was talking with some ladies during the dinner and one of the ladies was talking about she was thinking about making a career move. So I want to talk about a few point here. I think there’s a study shows only 27% of the college graduate work in the area that directly related to their college degrees.

Carol Chen: I want to ask how many people here are working in the area that is not directly related to your degree? Wow. Looks like the number definitely sounds true so what are the things that you want to consider before you jump into a different area? So I think there are two questions you want to ask yourself. What is your strengths and what is your interest? Ideally you can find an area where your interests is and use your strengths. That’s ideally. But what if it’s not really something you really interested in? So what can you do? I think there’s a lot of online courses. You can learn some of the courses. You might be interested and see if that’s something you want to do and another thing is, there’s a lot of meet ups if you want to get into data science so you can probably go to some of the data science meet ups and talk to those people who work in those area. What are the things they like about their job and what are the things they don’t like about their jobs? And see if that’s the area you want to get into.

Carol Chen: Yeah, I think another thing is you want to imagine yourself in that role and see is that something you want to do for the next 10, 15 years and does that sounds like something you’d really enjoy doing? If it’s not, probably that’s not the area you want to get into.

Angie Chang: I absolutely agree with what Carol said. I think that goes back to what I said earlier on a lot of senior engineers having many degrees that were not engineering and I think many senior engineers would also admit that they didn’t necessarily come through an engineering undergrad but learned along the way. If I hear all these of scientists who learned to code because they found it useful to processing their data. Even there’s a few doctors from Harvard Medical School that I know that were learning Python on the side because it would help their work and over time people change their careers and they’re able to do so many things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I started off in undergrad I was doing telecommunication engineering because that was the cool thing at that time and then I ended up doing a grad program in electrical engineering because I thought I wanted to code for chips and so I did have some exposure to programming but it was in the context of programming for hardware devices and then towards the last end of my semester I wanted to do more actual software coding and so there’s … I do at various times see the gap because I didn’t study the more traditional courses like algorithms and data structures, but you know what? The main times when I feel it is when someone’s talking about very textbook situations or textbook examples, but I don’t feel it on a day to day at work. So if you’re learning programming and coding with the more real world scenario of what one would do at work, don’t worry too much about not getting the specifics from what you would get from a textbook.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Zendesk SVP of Product Management Shawna Wolverton was formerly the chief product officer at Planet and senior vice president at Salesforce described her own unconventional tech journey during our recent Elevate conference.

Shawna Wolverton: Coming out of school with my fantastic degree in Russian studies and political science didn’t set me up for anything really obvious and it took quite a bit of experimentation and curiosity and I think that early curiosity is what has also kind of driven a whole bunch of my career. A strong desire to learn new things and an absolute hatred of being bored. My career was clearly not a straight line. I did start out as a localization project manager. You can see the … I did that job three times in my career so just moving on from it, finding myself in a position where it was skills I needed to rely to kind of go back into the job market when things had changed. I certainly didn’t expect to learn much that would help me in my career, taking that nine month apprenticeship as a handbag manufacturer with an Hermès-trained designer, but my goodness did I learn a tremendous amount about human nature, about how satisfying the wants and needs of customers in a way that I don’t think any other technology job would have given me.

Rachel Jones: What can we take away from what Shawna shared?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I like how in her slide it said … what she actually didn’t call out, but in her slide it said think about everything you would miss if your career was a straight line that went up and to the right and I like how she talked about what she learned from being a handbag making apprentice that she thinks she may not have gotten from a tech role where she learned a lot about pleasing the customer and understanding deeper and what they want without them necessarily always calling it out. That was really fascinating to me.

Angie Chang: I like Shawna’s long view. She’s able to … now that she’s very much entrenched in [inaudible 00:15:25] career look back and connect the dots and it makes a very fun, not straight line. I think … definitely things make sense after a decade or two but it takes that much time for you to make a lot of moves and I think if you’re unhappy at the short point, just know that if you keep nudging forward and trying different projects and teams and jobs, you will find 10, 15, 20 years later that there was some sense there only when you look back but no one could have predicted where they are now 20 years ago.

Angie Chang: If anything, I think it’s just … when I saw that chart it made me think we should all be a little more forgiving on ourselves, day to day because it’s only in hindsight and after a long time that you see the dots connect and you’re like, “Oh this all makes sense now.” But in the beginning, it’s definitely a lot of just taking on projects and jobs that are interesting that gives you different experiences so there’s things that I looked at–recently, I was like, “Oh I remember when I was an intern for the Taipei Zoo and I remember when I worked as a web designer and then I got promoted to marketing so then I learned that I was potentially good at marketing and then I learned that people want to hire you for this and that and give you money to do–for example, building websites. I was like, “Oh that’s a marketable skill.” And I never thought of that because I was a social welfare major so I never considered these things that I think being open to be back and the long haul is where we’re going to see the success.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. I really like this idea of thinking about how things in your experience, even if they’re not directly related to tech, they can still be really valuable in your tech career, so it’s not like you have this life before tech and this life after and everything you learned before is useless. There are things, like Shawna mentioned about how to work with customers, that can be really helpful to apply.

Angie Chang: I agree with you completely. There’s something I heard recently that I wanted to share was … there was a woman I met who got her job at a Stripe Girl Geek dinner and she mentioned that she had just finished a boot camp for data science called Galvanize and she was interviewing because she had met a speaker at the Stripe Girl Geek dinner and then she had coffee with this speaker afterwards and then during this coffee with the speaker, who’s an engineer at Stripe, she asked, “Do you have any internships available for data science?” And she was then referred to the manager of data science and he said, “We have no internships for this reason, but I am hiring, so why don’t you give me a resume?” And then she interviewed and got the job.

Angie Chang: But I think when I heard her give this story, which was very interesting because she didn’t go through a recruiter, she went through talking to a speaker at a Girl Geek dinner. She also pointed out that the way she talked about herself was very interesting to me because she didn’t say, “This is my first year.” She said, “I have a decade of experience,” and I also know that she has a decade of experience as an investment trader or in banking and finance, but she easily saw that this was a decade of experience and she was able to demonstrate her management and leadership skills to the hiring committee and so even though she was technically a pretty, a newcomer to “tech” she had a lot of transferable skills and her ability to demonstrate that so that she was not a newbie but a very senior person, I think that was very impressive and I’m glad that she got hired at Stripe as a data scientist as a result so I was very thrilled to hear that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s really awesome that she looked at her career as a whole and basically that’s what you want people to look at but I do find that we’re always nervous to take on a change because we’re worried that we’re going to be a beginner and we’re going to have to take a step down but there’s that quote, “Your career growth is not a ladder, it’s a jungle gym.” There’s various ways … sometimes to take one giant step forward you have to take two small steps backward and that to me, like I’ve thought about that so many times when I’ve been given opportunities or when I’ve noticed opportunities that for now may not feel like it’s a step forward but it’s going to add up because it’s … the whole thing it’s cumulative, your whole career.

Angie Chang: So we had a women speak at our Elevate conference, Rosie Sennett, who’s a staff sales engineer at Splunk and I really enjoyed her perspective on how to navigate your career path.

Rosie Sennett: I was a theater major and then at some point, sort of early on in my 20s I went to … it was continuing ed at Burke College and so I learned Cobol and BAL Assembly, Assembler language on mainframe right after they … I think we even saw them taking the punch card machines out and putting in the brand new things and then I got a job doing support at Information Builders, never looked back, but then I would fill in training because when you’re working in the industry, you can take training classes and so I would learn something interesting.

Rosie Sennett: I taught myself operating systems and things like that and scripting and languages and then you’re like, “Oh yeah, let me take a Linux class.” and then you learn what an acronym … “Oh, that’s how you pronounce that, okay.” And you fill it in and as you go you don’t even realize how you much you learned and how much you really, really know because you’re actually using it and it’s in the end. I’m just sort of a female version of a graybeard, right? As the years go by, you realize you know 10, 20 times more than anybody might come straight out of school. The needle flows so life experience begins to overshadow what you’re handed straight out of a program, right? You really do need to apply life experience to it and there’s a balance to it so 30 years later, does it matter that I had a theater degree? Probably not.

Rachel Jones: What do you think about Rosie’s advice?

Angie Chang: I think Rosie’s energy was amazing and how she approached learning, she was like, “I had a theater major and yet I continued to take classes over the decades and learn this and learn that.” And I’m seeing a lot of other people take classes, go back to school, take a non-linear path, find so many different ways of learning from online learning, community college classes, boot camps, programs, independent studies, that the energy was what I took away from Rosie. I know sometimes we think about when people talk about working in tech, they mention a lot about the long hours you spend making sure you’re on the cutting edge of technology because it changes so quickly. I’m sure that’s the case but she approaches it with such enthusiasm that it kind of really inspires me.

Angie Chang: Sukrutha, I remember when you talked about staying up to date it seems to be a challenge for some people. Is it something that gives you stress?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I mean, yeah like any time we’re uncomfortable, it does get stressful right? And anytime we’re uncomfortable is when we’re actually learning, so for sure it does get a little stressful but just… you know you can keep many goals like Rosie was saying stay relevant. You can subscribe to journals, mailing lists and keep up to date. You don’t have to go in and sign up for a boot camp every single time so that every time you’re updating yourself, it’s just the data you’re updating for as long as you stay fresh in your knowledge. But generally, I do feel like regardless of your entry into tech, this is something you need to do.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I do feel like we overthink it and we think, “Oh you know what? I’m never going to get to that point.” I don’t think that’s true. I feel like talent can be very limiting but hard work has no limits so you just have to look back and see what’s worked for you in the past and try to replicate that in terms of growing and learning. I’ve found that that’s really helped me. I know when I started working with Angie on Girl Geek dinners … I didn’t come into it thinking that it was going to help me career wise but now when I look back I learn how much it’s helped me, just the extracurricular aspect of it that I thought I was just keeping my evenings occupied, how it ended up putting me in a situation where I was learning consistently and the kind of learning doesn’t necessarily have to be from a course or from a textbook, it … meeting new people, learning what other companies are doing, what technologies they’re investing in, all of that is a lot of learning.

Rachel Jones: One thing that we haven’t mentioned that I think is really important to think about when you’re looking at unconventional journeys. There’s a quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think a lot of people, even describing their journey as unconventional, it’s because they have this idea of how a tech career is supposed to look, which is based on other people that they’re watching. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to try to compare your journey to someone else’s, just knowing how your experience can bring such a different perspective on tech for you and there’s no one path. Yeah, don’t try to look at what other people are doing for any sign of how things need to be.

Angie Chang: That’s absolutely true. I think what’s most exciting is how we keep pushing on the borders of tech and new tech, where suddenly I find that every five years, there’s new job titles. This data scientist role that we find very common now was really new five, ten years ago and recently I was looking at LinkedIn and there were these people who were standing at a talent brand conference and I was like, “Oh my God that day has come, where talent brand is something we have conferences about.”

Angie Chang: And the women … the two women that were standing in front of this board, I was like, “They are going to be showing people the way and they’re going to carve out this huge industry and more jobs around helping their employer build their brand and so I was really impressed. It seems like we’re always creating new categories for ourselves and new roles. 10, 15 years ago I don’t think there was nearly as many inclusion and diversity jobs as there are today and there’s just so many roles that we can create for ourselves that don’t necessarily look like anyone else’s or is going to be the next thing so I think it’s important for us to look ahead because everyone’s looking ahead at what’s there and the traditional job titles are pretty simple so it’s really about creating your own path that’s worked for you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah and don’t be afraid to try something different just because it looks like a challenge. Courage is a muscle, the more you use it, it’ll get better.

Angie Chang: So thanks everyone for tuning in to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find videos and transcripts from the events we talked about today. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, email sponsors@girlgeek.io. This podcast was sponsored by GroundTruth, the leading global technology platform driving in-store visits and sales by leveraging location as a primary source of intent.

Always Ask For More – Leyla Seka (Salesforce EVP) & Jennifer Taylor (Cloudflare) at Elevate 2019 (Video + Transcript)

Leyla Seka / EVP / Salesforce
Jennifer Taylor / Head of Product / Cloudflare
Sukrutha Bhadouria / CTO & Co-Founder / Girl Geek X


Leyla Seka: Hi, Jen.

Jennifer Taylor: Hey, Leyla.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi guys. First I’m going to introduce myself. I’m Sukrutha, I’m the CTO of Girl Geek X. Thank you, Jen and Leyla for making time for us today.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: A few housekeeping notes because I’ve been following the questions, yes there is video being recorded. It will be available for you in a week. We also want you to share on social media all the wise words that these amazing ladies are sharing with us today so please tweet at #ggxelevate. So many great things also out of this event is that you can also see all the job listings on our website girlgeek.io/opportunities. Let’s not waste any more time and get started. I’ll introduce Leyla and Jen now.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Leyla is the Executive Vice President of the Salesforce Mobile platform experience enabling all customers to unlock the power of Salesforce from anywhere. Has been at Salesforce for 11 years now and held a variety of positions across product management, product marketing, and business operations. Fun fact, she mentored Jen when Jen was at Salesforce, as well, when Jen was the VP of Product at Search at Salesforce. Jen has had an amazing career as well, worked at Facebook, Adobe, and Macromedia, after which it was acquired by Adobe. Thank you ladies, again.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: They’re going to be talking to us about, always ask for more, so I want to make sure that you have all the time to ask the questions that you want to ask. Please use the Q&A button at the bottom and we’ll take Q&A at the end of this. Thank you.

Leyla Seka: Thanks.

Jennifer Taylor: Thanks. Leyla, how are you doing?

Leyla Seka: Pleasure to see you, how are you?

Jennifer Taylor: It’s good. It’s really fun and exciting for me to be spending time talking to you today on this topic with this group just because you’ve been such an instrumental part in my personal growth and I’ve learned so much from you about your experience.

Leyla Seka: I’ve learned a lot from you too.

Jennifer Taylor: Starting with the fact, you’re one of the most senior women at one of the most successful companies in the world. How did you get there? How did you decide to go do this?

Leyla Seka: That’s a good question. Look, there’s some luck, first off. Anyone that says they’re successful without acknowledging the luck of being at the right place at the right time, I think is a bit too much of a narcissist. [inaudible] luck. It’s Salesforce’s 20th birthday today, I’ve worked there 11 years, you worked there. A lot of the people I love the most in my professional life I’ve met there, so I was very lucky to go to such a great company so early.

Leyla Seka: I also worked my butt off and I pushed. It’s International Women’s Day. We’re on the Girl Geek X webinar, so I feel like this is a good place to say it, but I just didn’t settle for anything. I just pushed, and pushed and pushed. When I looked back on it all it wasn’t all easy, it was not all easy. A lot of it was really, really hard, but it was totally worth it. I don’t sit around and wish or wonder about what if I had asked for this or what if I had asked for that anymore, which is a nice change.

Jennifer Taylor: What’s surprised you on this journey?

Leyla Seka: I think that I probably was surprised about how lonely it was. The reality is, for a lot of women, the generation before me, specifically, they really yanked the ladders up after them because in lots of ways they were forced to make decisions like not having children, or not having relationships, or not taking care of aging parents, or not doing these things in order to have a career, which that’s a really terrible choice to have to make and I am truly grateful to all of them because I didn’t have to make that choice, and I credit them with a lot of that. That mentality existed a lot throughout my career, just women not helping women as much as they should. For me, I think that probably was surprising and also just how change is so scary for people. When you challenge the patriarchy, it’s scary for the people who the system is built for and it’s important to have compassion and understanding for them too.

Jennifer Taylor: You talk about challenging and one of the things that you did at Salesforce is you were instrumental in the push for equal pay. How did you decide to get involved in that?

Leyla Seka: I grew up in product management and I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’m a lot older than probably most of the people on this call. I’m 45, I own how old I am, I have no issue with it. But I grew up in product management so I always walked in the room long before Salesforce–my whole career, I walked in the room and I was the only woman. I used to make jokes, “Hello, gentleman and Linda,” because there was one woman named Linda in the room. I’d had that experience. Over time, throughout many companies and throughout my career I’d had the sense that the men made more money, just like shop talk in the kitchen kind of thing, nothing super sophisticated, but just a feeling. Then I got Salesforce, and I got raised up and I got this great opportunity to run one of our divisions called Desk. It was great times, probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my career, I had so much fun. I had a team of four people and we grew like crazy.

Leyla Seka: The first two years just unbelievable growth. I had a team of four people, two men, two women and it was bonus time. When you’re the boss you get the money and you decide who gets what money and what stock, and all that. I fought hard to get a lot of it for everyone. When push came to shove I really just thought they all deserved an equal amount, so I gave them all the same and I gave them a lot, a lot more than any of them had ever gotten before. I worked hard. Then you have the meetings with the people. My assistant set up the meetings, it just happened to be the two women went first. I sit with the first woman, “Great job,” this, this, and this, here’s your bonus. “Oh Leyla, thank you so much, it’s so amazing, oh my gosh. I love my job. Thank you for the money, thank you, thank you.”

Leyla Seka: Then second woman, “Great job.” “Oh thank you for the money, thank you so much, thank you, thank you.” Then the first man [inaudible] I said it to him and he looked at me and he said, “I want more.” I thought in my head, “What? What? What? How could you want more? You’ve never gotten this much.” But I was like, “Okay, I’ll try to ponder that.” Then the second man who was really my COO and really my partner in running the business, my primary partner, I told him the money and he looked at me and said, “I want more.” He was a close enough partner that I could say, “Okay stop a second, what is this?” He sort of said, “We’ve always been taught to ask for more.” It was sort of like someone slapped me across the face because I thought of all the times that I had gotten a bonus or promotion, or a job, or any of these things and I had been like, “Thank you,” because that was the way my mother had raised me.

Leyla Seka: My friend Cindy got promoted to the head of HR, I’ve known her for a long time, like 20 years. She and I had both been raised up at the same time at Salesforce so we were talking about this. We were going back and forth, so eventually she had a one-on-one with our boss Marc Benioff, the CEO, and she invited me to come along and we made a presentation. We were totally nervous. I remember when we got out both our mothers were texting us like, “What happened?” But we gave him a presentation and we basically said, “We don’t think the women are being paid the same as the men.” Cindy said something really poignant then. She said, “If we look under the covers, we open the hood and we see a problem we can’t shut the hood and run away. We got to fix it and it could be very expensive.”

Leyla Seka: Marc Benioff is a pretty amazing person when it comes to being an ally and someone that’s not afraid to do amazing stuff so he was like, “Go for it. Do it.” We did that audit, then that was a year, then we also did the mentoring program. That was how I got you. I picked you because I wanted to become friends with you. Sometimes mentoring goes the other way. Then we did the first Women’s Summit with Molly Ford who was in PR for us at Salesforce. That was our big year where we really took a step out and were doing different stuff around the equality and women in the workforce. Not to mention, it led to the Office of Equality at Salesforce and our Chief Equality Officer and all of these things. It was pretty amazing.

Jennifer Taylor: It’s incredible. I’ll just say from having been at Salesforce at that time and a woman at Salesforce at that time, I really felt the surge. You mentioned mentorship and Sandra just a minute ago really drew, not only a distinction about mentorship but also sponsorship. A big part of what I observed you doing at Salesforce is really being a mentor and sponsor for women. Can you talk to me a little bit like how do you make times for that and why?

Leyla Seka: Sure. That, to me, is probably the most important part of the job. Honestly, I extended it, I’m now the Executive Sponsor at Boldforce at Salesforce which is our black employee resource group, so I spend a lot of time trying to understand what it feels like to be black in technology and black in America. I don’t understand it, but I try to be an ally. For me, and I think a lot of people have said it in a lot of ways, but if we don’t help each other a lot of these things aren’t going to change. I’ve seen great change in my career. I often am frustrated, feeling like it should be going faster and then I remember Rep John Lewis saying he walked across the bridge in Selma with Martin Luther King and then he introduced President Obama. Change is happening. I think that for us, making time to mentor people and help people, man, I wanted that going up. Man, I wanted someone to talk to that was a woman that could empathize with being a mother and wanting to be very professionally successful. I had great friends, like Cindy Pierce, people that I love, Susan, others, but to have someone that had done it, that was advising me, I really lacked that. I had made a decision early on in my career, I’m just going to do it. It’s just not something I negotiate on.

Jennifer Taylor: You talk a lot about the growth in your career and sitting where you are now. What do you know now that you wish you had known the first day you had walked into Salesforce?

Leyla Seka: A lot more about the product. No, I’m just kidding. I do think that everyone needs to learn the products of the companies they work at, no matter what their role, but that’s sort of an aside.

Jennifer Taylor: Spoken like a true product person. I feel yeah.

Leyla Seka: I think that I probably would have trusted myself a little more. I’m older than a lot of people on the call, probably, so the climate was different for me too, coming up. Maternity leave was not a foregone conclusion. MeToo was not something that was … So it was a different time. Probably I think I would have trusted myself a bit more. I think I probably self-doubted myself more than I needed to and was harder on myself than I needed to be. Had I been a little kinder to myself in the process, it probably wouldn’t have hurt so much at certain points. I’m a pretty extreme person. My emotions tend to be a big part of who I am, so that plays in as well. I see it with other women too, younger women coming up. Just so much doubt. Before the opportunity is out of someone’s mouth they’re telling you why they can’t do it. I did a lot of that too. I wish I had known better.

Jennifer Taylor: You mentioned motherhood. One of the things that I find when I talk to a lot of women is they’re very thoughtful about the path to the top and having it all, but also people acknowledge, and Sandra just talked about this a moment ago too, that path to the top requires trade-offs. Do you agree, and if so, what are some of the trade-offs that you feel like you’ve made?

Leyla Seka: I think there are lots of trade-offs. I’m really lucky because my partner stays home and he’s primary on our kids, so he picks the soccer practice, and the tutoring and does all that kind of stuff. But he and I have both been faced with lots of criticism like Leyla doesn’t care about being a mother as much, or Josh has no ambition to be a professional. It’s funny that in this day and age, even though these are roles we’re both very suited for and quite happy in, society in general is trying to compartmentalize us into ways or not ways. This again, I think is where we find strength in each other and in the fact that there’s … Serena Williams said recently, “You can’t define a woman one way.” I just thought that was pretty much as beautiful as it gets. We are redefining how people see women. We’re not in petticoats baking cakes anymore.

Jennifer Taylor: Yeah, yeah, which is fun.

Leyla Seka: Which is fun, and if you want to bake a cake in a petticoat go for it.

Jennifer Taylor: Go for it.

Leyla Seka: But in general, we are all defining new archetypes of women beyond witch, crone, all the old ones that were around us, we’re now stepping out into a new world. I for one, when I look down at the millennials, and generation after them and the younger people whose expectations are at a different level where it comes to equality; it’s not something they’re hoping for, it’s something they’re expecting, that makes me super fired up.

Jennifer Taylor: Yeah, yeah.

Leyla Seka: I want to ask you some questions-

Jennifer Taylor: Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay.

Leyla Seka: … because you’re pretty interesting too, Jen. I love you very much, you’re one of my favorite people. You went to Harvard Business School which is the best business school in the world. Then you went into product. How did going to Harvard affect going to product, was that related?

Jennifer Taylor: I think it is. I think one of the criticisms and piece of feedback that I got when I was a kid was why do you ask so many questions, stop asking so many questions. One of the things that I realized when I got to Harvard is this thing that I had been treating like a bug for a long time was actually a feature, and it was actually a unique feature of me. I realized when I was at Harvard that I had a unique abundance of curiosity. I had a unique interest in helping identify the problems that people were facing as they were running their business, as they were trying to grow things. I think that’s where the core of what I think makes a person successful in product is, which is customer empathy.

Jennifer Taylor: The other thing I realized at Harvard and, I think throughout my career as I played sports growing up, is I really love to collaborate. I really love cross-functional collaboration. Product is a really unique place because you get to think about the customer, you get to think about the business, but in order to actually be successful, you’re managing through influence, so it’s really about how do you bring together a diversity of engineers, designers, marketing, PR, to really bring this thing to bear.

Leyla Seka: I love the idea of managing through influence, that is the perfect product manager, 100%. How do you think managing through influence and learning how to do that skill has helped you just get things done and professional, how do you do it?

Jennifer Taylor: I think it’s the theme of what we’re talking about here today is asking for more, and we talked a minute ago about trade-offs and some of the trade-offs that people make. I think figuring out how to manage and influence, figuring out how to ask people to bring their best to the table and using that as a way to give you an opportunity to focus on your best. You don’t have to do it all yourself, but there is a team and everybody has different and diverse perspectives, and different strengths to bring to the table and finding ways to leverage those and to ask people to do that, I think really does lead to not only, I think for me personally, a richer experience and a more interesting career, but I think it’s really additive for the product and for the business.

Leyla Seka: Totally, totally. I want to switch gears with you for a second. You worked at Salesforce, you were my mentee, you were head of search, you read data and then you left.

Jennifer Taylor: Yeah.

Leyla Seka: I’d love for you to chat a bit about that because I think we all face moments in our career when we’re thinking about making big changes and doing interesting stuff, and that was a big change. I would just love some feedback from you on why that happened and why you chose to go to Cloudflare and what you’re finding there.

Jennifer Taylor: It’s interesting, I had a phenomenal experience at Salesforce and it was such an intense point in my career in terms of personal, professional growth. It was really an opportunity to work with you and the culture around advocacy and really growing people was really powerful. I think I had a bunch of interesting opportunities along the way. One of the things that happened right around the time that you and I started working together in a mentoring capacity is there became a unique opportunity to basically run Data.com. It’s a unique opportunity to run a business unit and to be in charge of those things. I remember sitting with you in a conference room and being like, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” And you just being like, “Just go ask for it. You want it, go ask for it.” So I asked and that was terrifying, and I got it and that was even more terrifying.

Jennifer Taylor: I think that role was transformative in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. It was really an opportunity, I had been growing within a big organization, I’d spent most of my career in mid to large size scaling companies, working with the team at Data, I was working with a team of 150-250 people that were all rowing in one direction and I was working in a way that was much more cross-functional. The opportunities I had and the challenges I faced as a leader were much more dynamic and challenging, it gave me exposure and opportunities to leadership at Salesforce that I hadn’t had before, and through that I learned a lot. As we made the decision to fold that in to Sales Cloud I started thinking to myself what do I want to do next? What I realized is that there had been something, a kindled curiosity and a desire to take risk in that small business unit. I realized I wanted to go do more of that.

Jennifer Taylor: I continued to think about opportunities at Salesforce, but I actually got connected to Michelle who’s one of the co-founders here at Cloudflare. We immediately found a connection. Over the course of several months I got to know the team better and I was like you know what, I think this is the right opportunity for me to come in and run product, to have a seat at the table with a management team reporting to the CEO, thinking about how you take a successful but still startup-y company and really scale that, and to have that be more squarely on my shoulders, I felt was the challenge I was ready to take.

Leyla Seka: That’s awesome, that’s awesome. What was the biggest change going from such a big company to such a little company that you noticed?

Jennifer Taylor: I think the biggest thing I noticed was just the rate of change and the ability to go from saying I think we should, how about this?The time to impact was much shorter because the organization was small, it was scrappy, it was nimble. There was a certain amount of energy that was happening surrounded here today with many of the same people who have the same orientation I do, which is how do we move fast, how do we experiment, how do we do things? I think that’s been really exciting. I now think about and have responsibilities for parts of the business that I’ve never had responsibilities before. I think now I have responsibilities for product design, I have pricing, I have program management. That’s also stretching me as a leader because as a product leader I’ve grown up as a product manager and it’s easy for me to say, “I know how to product manage and I’m going to coach you in being a product manager.” Here it’s much more, I am a leader within the organization and I am coaching, mentoring, and working with people who have leadership capabilities in areas where I know nothing, not nothing, I shouldn’t say nothing, that’s a little extreme.

Leyla Seka: Not your…

Jennifer Taylor: I haven’t been there done that. It’s been a really wonderful opportunity for me to figure out really how do I delegate and empower.

Leyla Seka: Right, that’s awesome. You’re a working mom, you have little kids, how do you manage it? What do you find working … You run a product at a super fast growing company and have little kids, what kind of trade-offs do you find yourself thinking through or making as you do that, or do you?

Jennifer Taylor: I think one of things that really hit me when I became a mom was how important it is to intentionally choose what you do because otherwise, you have an interesting career, you have a team, that will consume you. As a mom you have kids, they have needs, that will consume you. You have a relationship, you have friendships. I look at life as a portfolio investment like here’s your career, there are your kids, there are your friends, there’s your personal interests. I think at any point, and it’s changed so many times over my life, is you just need to rebalance that and make those choices. For me, I love what I do, but I leave, and I go home and I have dinner with my kids and I put them to bed, I choose that. Similarly, I need to work. I need to go to the office to work my yayas out. I’ve chosen to continue to pursue a career. It’s about that portfolio and rebalancing that portfolio constantly.

Leyla Seka: I agree with you, I agree. I think work/life balance is … I never liked that term because sometimes different parts need different levels of attention, sort of like making conscious decisions. I completely agree with you, I think that makes a ton of sense.

Leyla Seka: Okay, so let’s think. I have one more question for you. You and I were mentor and mentee, but we also became really good friends, so it has evolved past that. I’m sure a lot of people on this call are like, “How do I get a mentor? How do I get a sponsor? How do I figure out…” What kind of advice would you have for folks on the call when they’re thinking through that?

Jennifer Taylor: Ask. I think that’s a theme that I’ve consistently heard through some of the conversations today is ask for it. When you go, and you ask and you seek a mentor or a sponsor, come with specific ideas and goals. As the mentee or the sponsoree, bring the agenda. You’re taking time from this person, help them help you. Then also challenge yourself when you select the person that mentors you. Find somebody who’s a little out of the box. Find somebody who’s a little outside of your comfort zone because oftentimes I personally have found that’s actually what I need in the mentorship is to get out of my own way sometimes and have somebody really bring a different perspective in to how I’m thinking about things.

Leyla Seka: I agree with you, I agree. I think another important thing that is not discussed enough is you need male sponsors and male mentors.

Jennifer Taylor: Yes.

Leyla Seka: The world is still very much a patriarchy. We’re all trying, but I see a lot of younger women, “Oh be my mentor. Be my sponsor, be my this.” Everyone wants to help out, but I do think you need to cultivate the relationships. We got to bring the men with us in this process and ask for their help.

Jennifer Taylor: I think also don’t be afraid, especially if you feel like this person is a sponsor, don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Don’t be afraid to ask them to help you think about how to do things.

Leyla Seka: Right.

Jennifer Taylor: The thing I often find when I’m working with people, whether it’s men or women, is that I think people sometimes forget that hearing no is the beginning of a conversation. If I had gotten up and walked out of a room every time I heard a no, I think I would have missed a lot of opportunities for growth, both part and [inaudible].

Leyla Seka: I agree with you, 100%. I think we learned a lot of that at Salesforce, right? It is a company that definitely teaches us all to push, like keep trying for the next goal and I do think it’s so funny how many things I didn’t ask for that I would have gotten and once I did ask I did get. The dialogue we have inside of our heads often hurts us more than what’s actually going on.

Jennifer Taylor: Exactly, exactly.

Leyla Seka: Which is an interesting part of that. All right, what’s your last piece of advice Jen? You need to think of some really poignant last thing you want to leave everyone with because you have BOT management meeting up next, I can see.

Jennifer Taylor: I do have a BOT management meeting. That’s my life, man. That’s what I do next. I think my advice is ask and put yourself on that journey. Take those risks in asking because you will learn and grow no matter what the response is. How about you, what parting words of wisdom would you…

Leyla Seka: This would be mine. You have a platform, whether you think you do or you don’t. I would actually even challenge you further to say, how are you using your platform to help people? Are you sponsoring a woman of color, are you trying to mentor a woman of color, are you thinking even beyond just our own flight? Equal pay is super important, but the work I’ve done with Boldforce in many ways is probably some of the most cutting edge and interesting stuff we’re doing because we’re really trying to tackle the notion of allyship inside of corporate America. We all can be allies, there’s always someone that can use your help, so it’s important to give that forward. I think that really helps you find your path as well.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Ladies, that was amazing. I was making notes while you were speaking. When you said no is the beginning of a conversation, that really resonated with me. Leyla, the number of times I have just said, “Thank you,” when I’ve been given a raise and not really proceeded with the conversation, I feel like I know what I’m going to go do when I go back to work.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I want to just take one question from the Q&A. Jen, when you talked about managing through influence, how do you acquire the skills to be able to do something like that? This question is for both of you.

Jennifer Taylor: For me personally, I’ve found curiosity. I come back to curiosity and empathy as the core of my initial tool set. A lot of the managing through influence is identifying the problem I’m trying to solve, identifying people who I think could help and then going in and asking them questions. In doing so, getting them to be like, “Wait, hold on a second, that’s what they’re struggling with? Let me tinker with that for a minute.” Getting them invested in and having a shared vision of the problem that we’re trying to solve I think has been really powerful. It’s interesting when you do that across a team that has a lot of diversity because you need to be thoughtful about the different kinds of questions and the asks of the different people, and how do you bring that back together.

Leyla Seka: I completely agree with Jen. I think the other thing I would say is there’s a lot of intuition in it. You can feel in the room in a meeting when people are not communicating well. You can either let it go and have the meeting go this way or you can be like, “Okay, hold on, hold on, hold on. You’re saying black, you’re saying white, we all really mean gray, everything’s okay.” Too often we don’t speak up, if you see people going awry you should speak up, you should say, “Wait, I think we’re not communicating correctly.” So many of the problems we face in business and our professional lives is based on miscommunication, so often.

Jennifer Taylor: Completely agree.

Leyla Seka: So often.

Jennifer Taylor: Yeah, yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate the time you spent and we got some great comments there, such as you two are so relatable, so inspiring. I feel like you’re going to get a lot of Linkedin requests to be mentored.

Leyla Seka: Bring them on, bring them on [inaudible]. Thank you for having us.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you.

Jennifer Taylor: Thank you so much.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much.

Leyla Seka: Love you Jen.

Jennifer Taylor: Love you Leyla, bye.

Leyla Seka: Bye.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Bye ladies.

Girl Geek X Atlassian Talk & Panel (Video + Transcript)

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Dominique Ward speaking

Atlassian girl geeks: Dominique Ward, Lori Kaplan, Ashley Faus, Ritika Nanda and Aubrey Blanche answer questions about interviewing and ageism from the audience at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.

Aubrey Blanche / Global Head of Diversity & Belonging / Atlassian
Ritika Nanda / Mobile Developer / Atlassian
Ashley Faus / Senior Manager, Integrated Media / Atlassian
Lori Kaplan / Head of Design, Cloud Migrations / Atlassian
Dominique Ward / Design Operations Lead / Atlassian

Transcript of Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks & Panel:

Aubrey Blanche speaking

Global Head of Diversity & Belonging Aubrey Blanche gives a talk on “Thank u, next: How “diversity” gets in the way of gender equity” at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner.

Aubrey Blanche: Welcome everyone to our still semi new space We moved in here in November and let me tell you, these view is better than a warehouse in SOMA. I walk in everyday and I’m like, “Don’t get entitled. Don’t get entitled.” It’s so gorgeous. Our team does such a beautiful job with the offices.

Aubrey Blanche: I am Aubrey, I am Atlassian’s Global Head of Diversity and Belonging. If you’re like my dad and you’re like, “What the hell does that mean?” Basically I think of it as my job to help Atlassian hire the right people and then make sure that they’re treated fairly and that they can thrive while they’re here. That’s what I am here to talk to you about today, is the way that we are thinking about designing a structurally equitable company. Then you will have the absolute pleasure of listening to some amazing panelists who are all at Atlassian building amazing things. You’ll have me for about 20 minutes and then we will hand it over to them.

Aubrey Blanche: First of all as you can tell, I am an Ariana Grande fan. What I am not a fan of is diversity. Everyone’s like, “You can’t say that in 2019.” The answer is actually I can. Fuck diversity, and the reason I say that is because the word is a problem because it, one, doesn’t represent our goals and actually getting in the way of us individually and companies making progress. I’m going to talk about why that is. Before we get into what Atlassian is doing to crush the kyriarchy with capitalism, what I want to talk about is where we are today.

Aubrey Blanche: Every year Atlassian does a globally representative survey called the state of diversity report. We started this a couple of years ago because I couldn’t find good benchmarking data about attitudes and behaviors towards what was then called diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. So what did we do? We collected it. We’re big on open, so we shared it. This is what the 2018 data showed us.

Aubrey Blanche: Oh I’m supposed to tell you about Atlassian first. I’m bad at the sales pitch. At Atlassian, if you’re not aware of what we do, if you’ve played with JIRA, we make that. We also make a wealth of other collaboration productivity software. Things like Trello, Confluence, Bitbucket. Our mission is to unleash the potential in every team. As you can imagine that makes it pretty easy to justify my job, because every team is made up of people from an incredibly broad set of experiences and backgrounds. We want to make sure that we’re building for all of them. Now what does the world look like?

Aubrey Blanche: The 2018 state of diversity report showed that good news, companies are saying that diversity is important. Here’s a fun fact. Retention belonging is not up. People are saying it’s important, but there’s not even movement in a positive direction and sometimes we even see backpedaling. That’s what we see at the corporate level. From 2017 to 2018 we saw a 10 percentage point drop in companies that have formal diversity and inclusion programs.

Aubrey Blanche: I’m here to tell you that saying that you care about something is not the same thing as caring about it. Saying it’s a priority and doing nothing is simply complicity and a mediocrity that the industry has enjoyed for the last couple of decades. What was especially disheartening to me about this was that, individual engagement with diversity and inclusion programs was down in some cases 50% year over year. We dug into the comments and we asked why. It turns out that one of the blockers was the fact that we are using the word diversity. Who here has ever been called a diverse candidate? You were lied to, diversity is a group construct. You cannot be diverse by yourself.

Aubrey Blanche: Most people think that this is my job. That is not my job, this is my job. I build balanced teams. I reject the word diversity because the state of diversity report showed that that word only means something for two groups, white women and black Americans. Literally in Australia, Australians were more likely to say that African Americans were diverse than indigenous Australians. It’s weird. Also, I’m here to tell you that black people aren’t diverse. They are minoritized. They’re under represented. They’re under resourced, but they’re not diverse.

Aubrey Blanche: What we did is we shifted to talking about building balanced teams. Why does this work? It works because, first of all, who is going to die on the hill of building an imbalanced team? Right, no one. The second reason is because it’s taking that word that means something we don’t mean, something too narrow and actually allows people from different types of groups in. What if you’re Latina like me? What if you’re queer like me? What if you have multi disabilities like me? What if you’re over 40 like me eventually? The point is that we were cutting people who were truly marginalized in ways that we were creating no space for. What about that straight, white man who grew up in a trailer park, who is facing many of the same social challenges that people from visible minoritized groups face? They see the programs as pretty hypocritical and frankly that’s fair. Even though they may have experienced structural privilege because of their visible characteristics, they still deserve support and a voice for those things that they need support for.

Aubrey Blanche: What we found is that it also — I think the critique that I get is, this is obscuring the racial challenges that we have in the industry. What I found is the opposite. At Atlassian as we’ve moved to this language that is less charged, we are actually now able as a culture, as a company to have more direct conversations about race and specifically about anti blackness in tech. I think that’s pretty cool. Now I think it’s a reasonable question to say, “Yeah, but how do you do that?” It’s not just a branding thing, this is just not brand repositioning. This is actually about structurally designing the organization to be fair and equitable for everyone.

Aubrey Blanche: I really believe that the entire field needs a makeover if we actually want to make true progress. In this spirit of Ariana, this is not a diss track to my ex, this is a thank you so much for that learning experience, but it is time for something new. We need to move away from diversity, which has a limited meaning and actually is not aligned with the goals that we’re trying to build. We need to build balance in our organizations.

Aubrey Blanche: We also need to move away from inclusion. Inclusion assumes that I can fit like an add-on into a power structure that was built for straight, white men. I have no interest in doing that. I’m not any of those things and I don’t know how to show up that way. I want to actually build belonging. I want to show up in a space where I was considered and where I was thought of. That doesn’t mean — it can be the littlest things that show me that. You’ll see here, research shows that women feel like they belong when there’s more plants in an office. You’ll see that our bathrooms, even the ones that because of building codes have to have gendered words on them, do not actually contain pictures of what a man or a woman looks like. That might not matter to a lot of you, but to folks who are gender nonconforming or non-binary or transgender that has huge meaning. That little subtle clue actually tells their brain that they belong in that space. That’s what we’re trying to build at Atlassian and I think we can all resonate with wanting to feel like we belong.

Aubrey Blanche: I’m really, really over the branded PR version of diversity where it’s like, look, we got intersectional feminism cupcakes. Did nothing else but put a photo on Instagram. It’s not good enough. I’m super pro intersectional feminism cupcakes, for the record, we had for International Women’s Day. We just did other things, too. I think it’s time that we design the organization in a way that is structurally equitable for everyone. We need to stop thinking that women equals diversity and embrace an intersectionality for strategy. How does this look like?

Aubrey Blanche: It’s pretty simple. If I think of someone who has inter-sectionally marginalized identities, let’s say myself. If I as a queer Latina woman can succeed in the organization, any changes that I’ve made are definitely going to benefit straight, white women, too. When we start diversity equals women, we only build programs, processes, and structures that help straight, white economically privileged women succeed. Who certainly face barriers compared to their male counterparts, but we end up further marginalizing anyone who doesn’t fit that bucket. I genuinely, genuinely believe that we can all win together, this does not have to be a competition.

Aubrey Blanche: The last is, we have to stop focusing at the company level. I will give you some data later at the company level because it’s more meaningful to you. At Atlassian we actually look at and report on balance at the team level. You can keep me honest, it’s on the website atlassian.com/belonging. You can even look at our subjective belonging data if you like. The reason for that is because that feeling of belonging and feeling like your value doesn’t happen at the company level. People don’t stay at a company because of the employee resource group. They stay because on their team their expertise is valued and used. We believe that if we give teams the power to create belonging and to see and value and respect people’s opinions, that’s why people will stay. They will stay, they will do great things. Our customers will be thrilled. The stock price will go up, it will be awesome for everyone.

Aubrey Blanche: Now how are we actually doing that? First we just measure everything. Monthly I look at hiring rates and at minimum we ensure that we are hiring at what we call marketing availability. Meaning there is no excuse to be hiring at lower than is available on the market. That’s of course a variety of metrics, gender, race for our US offices. We’re primarily an internationally based company. We look at age and we’re looking at getting a better ability to collect other data like disability and veteran status. We look at promotion velocity, so not just making sure that you’re coming in, but are you actually being promoted at equitable rates to your peers? We look at that by group, by remote versus in office, and also pay equity as it makes sense. Just pay people fairly. It’s a good idea. You don’t get sued and everyone feels valued. Like it’s a bad idea to pay people inequitably.

Aubrey Blanche: Inclusion. Every — annually we measure three things in our engagement survey. I feel like I belong on my team. I can be myself at work. My team has diverse perspectives that influence our decision making. We don’t want people to bring their whole selves to work, because that’s some weird boundary violations I don’t want to get into or you might have some shady opinions that are not welcome here. Right? It’s weird, like your whole self. I don’t bring my whole self, but my authentic self I do. That means I get to pick and choose what I bring in.

Aubrey Blanche: Then we wanted that diverse perspectives question, because it’s not just about feeling good and being in the room. It’s about your opinions actually making it, not just into the room, but being used to influence what’s happening in the company. That tells me whether people’s opinions are valued. The last is nutrition. It’s a lagging indicator, but if there’s a huge gap, if some marginalized or under represented group is running for the hills, like that’s a good sign that something is busted. We look at and we monitor all of that really closely and that’s how I think about where I prioritize for invest.

Aubrey Blanche: What does that look like programmatically? Everyone always asks me for like the silver bullet and I’m like there are none. There’s like 500,000 really tiny ones. You need to basically rip out everything about a company and put it back in. Our recruiting team, just in the last couple of years, has developed sourcing libraries. We literally have lists of hashtags, sororities and fraternities, minority serving institutions, professional organizations. We can find under represented people on the internet. What we’re trying to do is solve for the nonnegotiable trade-off between time and people who are numerically rarer. We also use structured behavioral interviewing, so we don’t ask you questions like how many golf balls fit in a 747 because it turns out that doesn’t tell you anything about a person. We ask the same questions in each interview because it is very helpful to compare skills when you ask the same questions of all candidates. It also gets rid of bias.

Aubrey Blanche: We removed culture fit from our hiring and we talk about values alignment. In that interview we look for specific behaviors and qualities that are both predictive of the culture that we want to build, but completely agnostic to your background. The fact is, you can learn how to make really effective trade-offs whether you’re running a global P&L function or you’re just getting your kids to soccer and dance and getting dinner on the table. I definitely don’t care how you got that skill.

Aubrey Blanche: We also look at the balance of our interview panels. We’re right now actually benchmarking all of that to ensure that by the end of the calendar year no candidate that comes to Atlassian will meet an all all-male panel. We’re looking at women and non-binary focus as our first measure of balance and then we’ll evolve our approach from there. We use the balanced slate approach, so this is a team focused way that we ensure that we have under represented candidates in consideration for our most senior roles. We have strategic partnerships with organizations like Girl Geeks, where we get to meet incredible people hopefully that want to be on the team now or someday. We have events and meetups like this and we also do what I am calling impact brand activations, which is a really good way to say Austin’s awesome ideas.

Aubrey Blanche: A story about this, I didn’t tell you I was going to do this. At Grace Hopper last year we had a swag budget just like everybody does. Austin was like, “I have this idea.” Austin wanted to do something that was a little bit more Atlassian, so we’re big on philanthropy. Our foundation is focused on access to education. Austin actually created a giant JIRA board that said, what is it, “Women Who Code, Code2040, Black Girls Code.” Instead of getting a t-shirt that definitely is not going to make you have a job here, how many have ever taken a job because you got a t-shirt? We actually gave everyone who came to our booth two stickers. One was for them to keep and one was for them to put under the name of the organization that they wanted us to donate their t-shirt budget to.

Aubrey Blanche: Why is that awesome? Well, first of all, it helps us identify who’s actually going to make a great Atlassian, right? If you’re pissed you didn’t get the t-shirt you’re not a values aligned person anyway. We’re so big on philanthropy that it attracted people who were attracted to that culture and we created more access for women in tech. What we did at the end was we counted the stickers and the proportion of stickers we donated the budget. That was just really fun. These are the things that any company can do. No one needs to print t-shirts, it’s not a green thing to do anyway. It’s also important to think about the experience that people have once they get here. A lot of people think that this is a recruiting problem, and I will tell you it’s a culture problem.

Aubrey Blanche: This is an example of how we build gender equitable processes. Last year at Atlassian we completely overhauled the performance assessment process. I know, everyone’s favorite time of year. What we did was we ripped it down to the studs and we said, “What could we do to make this as equitable as possible?” Traditional performance assessment, you’ve probably had one, the question’s basically, how well did you do at your job? Did you hit your goals? It turns out that that doesn’t take into account the way that you show up, the behaviors that you exhibit in the workplace. It certainly doesn’t take into account all of the office housework and emotional labor that we all do all day. What we did was we actually leveraged experimental testing and broke the assessment into three pieces. Now there are three equally weighted pieces of your performance assessment at Atlassian. There is values, which actually has a list of values aligned behaviors. You can get a pass/fail. Then there is role, what did you do? We created a new component called team. The question here because we are the team company was, what have you done to benefit your team?

Aubrey Blanche: This could be, did you volunteer for a balance and belonging initiative? Are you just that person who’s always going the extra mile to help onboard people? Are you the one who’s organizing lunch? All of these things count as team contributions and we wanted to create a way for people who do those things to get credit. I happen to know that underrepresented people do more of that work. The fact is, it should be rewarded in the same way that writing great code should.

Aubrey Blanche: The great thing is that, these things are equally weighted in your assessment. How well do you think the brilliant asshole’s gonna to do in that? Not very well and that was intentional, because we want to create well rounded people. We also found that by rating each component separately it reduced the halo effect. That meant like if you are great at technical role, you would get a bump on values or team. What we have our managers do is actually rate each component separately and then an algorithm gives them the recommended rating. We have a logic for that too. If you get low in any category you get low, for example.

Aubrey Blanche: We also use Text.io to get rid of the gendered language that could creep into the assessment. We know that agentic language is more male gendered and communal language is more female gendered. We remove gender language at all so we’re not building that into the structure of the system. Last, we named our performance levels using a growth mindset framework. What it says is that companies that have growth mindset cultures rely less on stereotypes in evaluating people. Which means that they are less likely to make biased and discriminatory decisions. At Atlassian you can’t get a legendary, you used to be able to. Now you can have an off year, a great year, or you can have an exceptional year. The reason is also because we don’t want to label you as a person, we’re talking about how you’ve done in the last year. Maybe you had an off year because you had a crazy family situation. We’ve all been there, but we believe that you can always improve and that we’re just giving you a check in on your performance.

Aubrey Blanche: All of these things together we combined with a live audit of the system. We actually audit our performance scores before they’re locked to make sure that there’s no gaps, but from a demographic point of view or differences. So that when Atlassians get their scores, they can be confident that we have checked to make sure that there’s not any preventable bias in that.

Aubrey Blanche: Over the last four years we’ve increased by nine percentage points our women in technical roles. Which is pretty phenomenal when you think about the fact that less than 13% of CS degrees in Australia are given to women. That’s our largest engineering center. We’ve also almost quadrupled in size during that time. That’s really exciting because like two weeks ago that number was 8.4 and I had to update my slide this morning. Yes. It’s the best mistake. That is looking at our technical roles, so we’re very R&D heavy company, so that’s probably about 75% of our org. Overall 30% of employees at Atlassian globally identify as women. Now what I bet you’re probably all thinking is, “Yeah, but are they all entry level employees?” That’s usually what happens, right? We don’t see representation at the senior levels in the same way we do at more junior levels. I think the thing that means the most to me is that our senior level representation is actually leading by a little bit. I think that that’s been one of the keys towards growing representational over all is that we’ve hired fantastic underrepresented leaders. Which means that people feel more comfortable coming in because they can see what their career looks like. If you can’t tell I’m generally a perfectionist and never satisfied with anything.

Aubrey Blanche: There’s a lot more work to do. We don’t want to pretend like we’re perfect, but we do make an active effort here and really want to be seen as someone who’s putting a lot of effort and time and thought into it. We know this is an unsolved problem, we won’t know all the answers, but we will share. We hope also that you will take some of this, make it better, and then come back and tell us how to improve. What I’m thinking about right now is building more communities. We don’t have formal ERGs at Atlassian. We actually allow communities to form and then we support them. We are doing a little bit more strategic investment especially looking at our black Atlassians this year, who last year our data showed that they’re having a very different experience. Even than my other underrepresented racial groups in the US so that for us is really important to say, “Nope, that’s not okay. If you’re reporting a problem we’re going to solve it for you.”

Aubrey Blanche: We’re also looking at meetings. We believe that if you can just improve the quality of how people feel valued and brought into meetings that we will meaningfully change their work experience. We’re studying what inclusive practices are happening and figuring out ways to nudge people into more inclusive behaviors. The last is, we’re actually talking about open dialogue. One of the models we use at Atlassian is what I call open source education. We have an internal blog. We encourage everybody to use the blogging confluence, but side by side where individuals write about their own histories, their own experiences, and how that impacts them at work with a specific focus on helping their teammates understand how to better support people like them.

Aubrey Blanche: We had one of our principle developers in Sydney write a blog called, “How not to fuck up with your trans teammate.” She wrote that from the spirit of, there’s a lot of really wonderful people who don’t want to do the wrong thing and so they do nothing. She wrote about her experience and at the end it was like, “Do these five things. Definitely don’t do these.” I wrote a blog a couple of months ago because we have a lot of non-American folks. At the end it was like, what does black mean? Can I say it? The fact is that a lot of people have those questions but are terrified to ask them, and so they just run away from people. What we really focus on is creating a space where it’s okay to ask questions to learn about how to be more inclusive, which I think is powerful, because that doesn’t come from me, that comes from our employees. Again, it’s so much more motivating to have someone on your team, on your team say, “You should do this.”

Aubrey Blanche: I just had an engineering manager this morning find a blog about new ways to share your pronouns because we just rolled out a pronoun field in Slack and how to do it in your email signature. He’s like, “Oh, why didn’t you share this to the whole company?” I was like, “Oh, because people are just sharing it with their teams.” He went and sent it to all of the bucket. I think that’s really powerful because I started seeing all these new things pop up in email signatures, but it wasn’t because I did it. It was because people are motivated and they create the community, so they feel bought in and they did it. Thank you so much for listening to me, but now I want to give you a real treat and invite up our fantastic panel to talk about their experiences. Hi, and that is my dog. He’s very codependent.

Atlassian girl geeks: Lori Kaplan, Ashley Faus, Ritika Nanda and Aubrey Blanche at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner.

Aubrey Blanche: All right so the panel knows this. We have an incredible group of Atlassians from different groups, from different sort of career experiences. Instead of having me introduce them, which would be far less interesting, I’ll have them introduce themselves, so are the mics on? It’s all good?

Ritika Nanda: It’s good.

Aubrey Blanche: Why don’t you give us your name, maybe your role, your pronouns for us. Then what identities are you carrying with you today?

Ritika Nanda: Okay. Mic check, sounds good. Okay, so I’m Ritika, I’ve been working with Atlassian for about two and a half years. I like to be identified as she or her and I would say very briefly I am a programmer by profession and an animal lover by heart. I guess that’s about it. Yeah, but I would definitely do want to say all what Aubrey said about Atlassian, having values really ingrained in all the employees is absolutely 100% true.

Aubrey Blanche: Yes.

Ashley Faus: Good job marketing as the marketer. I’m Ashley, I’m a marketer, writer, and speaker by day and then a singer, actor, fitness fiend by night. Pronouns are she and her. Here at Atlassian I do a mix of content, social media strategy, and the intersection of where all those meet at various groups at Atlassian.

Lori Kaplan: Hi, I’m Lori. I like she and her. I’m the head of cloud migrations and by our experience design and content here at Atlassian. I’ve been here about 18 months. I don’t know who that was that was a shout out in the back. Oh, it’s on my team. Yay, team.

Lori Kaplan: I know and I’m a native San Franciscan, proud mom of two young adults and a two year old Goldendoodle, who sometimes comes to work with me. An avid hiker and a reader.

Dominique Ward: My name is Dominique Ward. My pronouns are she, her. I’m design operations lead here at Atlassian, which basically means I have the very meta role of helping to enable and unleash the potential of our design team who then in turn design products that help unleash the potential for our customers. I identify as a black gay lady, lady, very specifically. A New Yorker, new San Francisco person, but New Yorker. A systems nerd and all around nerd. A Barbra Streisand and 90s hiphop and R&B devotee. All of those identities and more wrapped up in the identity of being a zen practitioner.

Aubrey Blanche: That’s awesome, that was like the best intersectionality discussion I’ve ever heard. Also want to tell you Spotify made a great throwback Thursdays women of 90s hiphop playlist for me today.

Dominique Ward: Was there Destiny’s Child though?

Aubrey Blanche: No, that was 2000s.

Dominique Ward: That was 2000s?

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah. This is like Eve, it’s great. Thank you, welcome. Thank you for being here. Being successful in your career, as much as I hate taking the negative, is — often involves overcoming some kind of a challenge to get to the level that you’re at. I’m curious if any of you can tell me about a time when you ran into a roadblock or ran into something and what you actually did to weave around it.

Ritika Nanda: Okay. All right, I can start. Okay this reminds me of one thing, I’ve been lucky I’ve worked with really good people all my life. It does remind me of one thing. I did my undergrad as a mechanical engineer, all right that already hints towards a few things. I was probably amongst the two girls in the entire class, fine, I had a lot of fun. Finished my four years of undergrad, but then wanted to have a job. I tried to look for a job, but then at every single company I sat, I tried to get a job, they either didn’t want to entertain female candidates. Or it was a subtle non-written rule that, fine, you can come and sit, but we’ll probably are going to just hire male candidates. I really wanted to get a job. I’ve got to earn money do something in my life.

Ritika Nanda: Then I thought, “What should I do?” Then as I said, I studied mechanical engineering, so there were a few courses which taught me how to write a few programs, run a few CNC machines. Then I thought, all right that sounds cool, that was fun, I enjoyed it. I learned a few programming languages and since then I’ve been coding. I guess I think that you should never think you cannot do a certain thing. That’s the job of the rest of the world, let them think that you cannot do a certain thing. You can always do whatever you want to do. I guess that was a good example I could think of in my life up to now. Yeah.

Ashley Faus: Mine was thinking about how to choose among, I was really fortunate to have a couple of job offers in my previous round of interviewing. I basically looked at ,okay, what do I want to do in the next 10 years and where does my skill set map to that over the next 10 years? I basically realized that I had a gap in my skill set.

Ashley Faus: One of the job offers on the table would fill that gap. It was going to be a really stretch role for me. I was probably going to fail when I walked in because it was a huge gap in my skill set. Then the other job was something where it’s like, oh I can hit the ground running. I’m going to knock this out of the park. I’m going to come in and six months later they’re going to be like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad we hired this person because she knows what’s up.”

Ashley Faus speaking

Senior Manager of Integrated Media Ashley Faus shares her career journey at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner.

Ashley Faus: As I was weighing those like it’s really tempting to go toward the comfortable job and it’s really tempting to go to the place where you’re going to be most successful. But if you look down the road and you say, I want to be a VP or I want to be a CMO or I want to be a manager or a dev lead, whatever it is, where are the gaps in your skillset and take an honest inventory. Be honest with yourself to say, “I kind of suck at this one thing and this person is kind enough to give me a paid learning opportunity and knows that I’m probably going to fail. They’re willing to walk with me to teach me how to do this because they think I have potential.” Go toward the thing that’s going to stretch yourself.

Ashley Faus: I ended up taking that job and it’s interesting because my manager and I had several one on ones where both of us were identifying that I was like veering toward the place where I was most comfortable. We both had to work really hard to keep me focused on the skillset that I needed work on. That would be my thing, is just encourage you to take the job that helps you build the skill gap. Take an honest look at where those gaps are for where you want to go in the future.

Aubrey Blanche: Lori, I know you weren’t always in design right?

Lori Kaplan: I know.

Aubrey Blanche: You eventually made a switch.

Lori Kaplan: That’s a philosophical debate, but [crosstalk].

Aubrey Blanche: I mean we can do that, I have space for it.

Lori Kaplan: What?

Aubrey Blanche: I said we can do that, I’ll hold space for that.

Lori Kaplan: Thank you. My first tech role was — my title was technical writer. I did that for a long time and many of the jobs involved design of some sort or another, but I was kind of pigeon-holed into a certain thing doing guidelines at a really cool company. I had hit a wall in my career growth and I thought, “You know what I’m I going to do about this? I’m only getting the same kind of opportunities here.” I wanted to do something that challenged myself, grew my skills, and move into an area I was really passionate about which was interaction design at the time. Now we call it UX or product design or design whatever we call it.

Lori Kaplan: I put together a little portfolio and I started talking in my company about what other opportunities might there be and was there openness to my shifting roles? It turned out that there were. I did have to go through the same interview process as the other candidates coming in from the outside. I ended up getting an offer there, but at the same time, all my friends were going to a new cool company called Netscape. I don’t know who’s here is old enough to remember that. I thought, “Oh man, that looks really awesome.” That’s a really a growth opportunity, so I interviewed there and got a role there. That started me on this path of being a designer.

Dominique Ward: I had a similar experience, well multiple. I feel like over the course of my career it’s been the periods where I can either go this way or I can go into a completely new direction. There have been many moments where I have that — I think the first one that comes to mind is me kind of being an analyst at heart. I got a job that I wasn’t supposed to get to begin with, didn’t even apply for. Then that took me to a design consultancy where I was very purely an analyst on a program management team.

Dominique Ward: There was a shift in the org and someone asked me, “Would you be interested in shifting teams?” I said, “Sure.” I have no idea what I’m doing, but this is the opportunity that ended up propelling me into a new role. I got a bird’s eye view of what it took to actually build and design products that were going into the market and how that ended up impacting a global organization. That was something that I had no idea that I wanted to do. All I wanted to do was work in museums or maybe be a philosopher and now I’m here.

Aubrey Blanche: That’s great. I have multiple degrees in political science. Very useful. A lot of what we’ve talked now is about your individual choices, but I think most of us who’ve been in the workforce know that how important the role of your manager is and what that relationship looks like. Lori, obviously your team is giant fans of you. I mean for good reason. I would love for, if you could talk a little bit, maybe you can speak to as a little bit of a transition how you realized that you wanted to have a management role. I think sometimes people don’t realize that senior level ICs is also a great path. Then maybe how do you think about what your role is in relation to your team?

Lori Kaplan: Okay. The first management job I had was when I was in college, but that was a really long time ago and it was in a retail setting. I learned from that that it was really hard to manage other people to performance. I was, I think, probably too young. Anyway, fast forward a few years in tech and I went to another really cool company called Netflix and my boss was taking a leave, a personal leave of absence. She and her boss decided that I should do the job temporarily. I said, “No, I’m really having fun.” They said, “Please.” Anyway, it went back and forth and I said no a lot. Then they begged and I said, “Okay, but only until Nancy comes back, promise?” They said, “Yes.”

Lori Kaplan: Well it turns out that once I was in the role I discovered I really loved it. I was pretty good at it, although I did have a lot of growth and a lot of gap in my skill, so I’ve gotten a lot of coaching along the way. I think this is pretty typical of mid career people of bouncing back and forth between people management and IC, because I did miss the craft. I think that’s really hard when you’re in a craft role. Then in the last probably 10, 15 years I’ve been only a people manager.

Lori Kaplan: How I think about my role is, I am there to be the servant leader of my team and really in service of them doing their best work. Helping them understand where their strengths are, where their opportunities are, where their challenges are. Identifying how we can focus on an area they need growth and how we can align their work with their growth needs. Leverage all of the opportunities and support that we have especially here at Atlassian. I make that a regular part of one on ones with my team. We also do growth plans here. It’s a regular part — we’re held accountable for are we having those conversations; we get gentle nudges from our people team. As part of our evaluations we’re held responsible for our teams — at least my boss does, “Is my team growing?”

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, and I think you have such a great story and most people don’t realize they know that they can go to their manager for a career conversations and things like that. One of the challenges I see is that people don’t know that they can go to their manager just to get some support or to bounce ideas off of to help with collaboration situations. I think you have such a great story around how that shows up.

Ritika Nanda: Sure. I can share a story and I think a couple of folks in the room might be able to relate to that. Being a programmer in Silicon Valley, it’s not a very uncommon situation when you are the only lady in the room and everybody else is a man or is a male. I feel that’s great at least to diversity or it leads to more balance in the team I would want to say that [crosstalk].

Aubrey Blanche: We’re making it happen like fetch.

Ritika Nanda: As soon as I said diversity I looked at her, balance team, I guess.

Aubrey Blanche: I’ll keep you no matter what.

Ritika Nanda: Yeah, thank you for that. What that leads to is just generally a difference in the way you express your thoughts. Since you are a minority section in the team it might be different than the rest of the team. It’s after all managers and everybody is just a human being. It might be possible that since it was different they didn’t recognize it. I have been in such a situation. I’m sure a lot of other folks in the room must have been in that situation. My really self [inaudible] advice is that, talking really helps. If you go talk to your manager and tell him or her that this is, “Hey this is what is happening and maybe I am getting overshadowed in this area, just because my way of expression is different than the rest of the team,” so that really helps. It worked great for me and I would really recommend and suggest everybody to do that if you’re ever in that situation. That’s a high level of my story.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, and I think — because we like to keep it real here — is, sometimes there’s also where I think we’ve obviously great managers who show up. Sometimes managers aren’t the right support structure for you and I think it’s also okay to advocate for yourself in that situation. I don’t know if you want to share — pass the mic all the way down — about what that might look like.

Dominique Ward speaking

Design Operations Lead Dominique Ward gives career advice at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner: “Choosing yourself can be an empowering thing. If there is a situation that’s not serving you, then it’s also okay to respectfully say, ‘Thank you, next.”

Dominique Ward: I have been very fortunate to have really great managers, mentors and, advocates over the course of my career and have seen the positive impact that’s had to my career development and my career trajectory. When I was in the position of actually having an issue with the way that I interacted with my manager and their lack of interest in my career development, I then had to make the decision of — do I go above them?

Dominique Ward: I went to HR and also had a very direct conversation with my manager. After a few months nothing changed and so then I had to make the decision, is this a place where I want to stay? Then start to harbor distaste for the company that I’m in, the role that I’m in and both that I love? Or do I move forward and try to make a fresh start? I decided to leave and that was really difficult for me, but ultimately it was the right decision to make.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, I mean I think that choosing yourself, right, can be an empowering thing. If there is a situation that’s not serving you, then it’s also okay to respectfully say, “Thank you, next.”

Dominique Ward: Next.

Aubrey Blanche: I want to leave a little bit of time for Q&A for folks here who would want to ask this brilliant panel questions. If we could go and I will start with Dominique since you already have the mic, your quick tip. If there was one thing that you could tell people that they should do, not just to be successful in their careers, but to be successful in their careers as who they are, what would you tell them?

Dominique Ward: I would say advocate for others and find people who can advocate for you. That doesn’t mean necessarily someone who’s above you or more senior to you. It could also be your peers, someone more junior, someone who you can bring their name into a room when they’re not there and say, “Actually, you should talk to that person,” and then other people will do the same for you.

Lori Kaplan speaking

Head of Design for Cloud Migrations Lori Kaplan shares advice at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner: “Be crystal clear on the unique thing that you bring to the table. Don’t get slotted into a box that you didn’t choose.”

Lori Kaplan: I’m going to borrow from one of my favorite authors Anne Lamott who talks about radical self care. Look it up, it’s very important, but the baseline is, we give so much. We do the extra emotional labor. We show up in so many ways in all the identities we have. If you don’t refill your tank and take care of yourself, you can’t continue to do that with the same level of vitality and impact.

Ashley Faus: I would say mine is to be crystal clear on the unique thing that you bring to the table. Don’t get slotted into a box that you didn’t choose. Choose your own box and be very clear on why you chose it, how you chose it, what you want to do once you get there. Just be very clear about that anytime you’re dealing with career progression, interviews, those kinds of things.

Ritika Nanda speaking

Mobile Developer Ritika Nanda shares a mantra which has worked for her at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner: “Don’t be scared, it’s fine. If you see something is a stretch, go for it. Somehow you’ll make yourself adjust and reach that goal. That has worked well so far for me. I hope it keeps going that way.”

Ritika Nanda: Gosh, it’s hard, after so many good suggestions I don’t know if I have that great insight for the suggestions. I’ll try. I think the mantra which has worked for me is that, don’t be scared, it’s fine. If you see something is a stretch, go for it. Somehow you’ll make yourself adjust and reach that goal. That has worked well so far for me. I hope it keeps going that way.

Aubrey Blanche: I mean I would say so. My advice is find your squad. I am the DNB team here at Atlassian. I think one of the things that makes me so happy is not only that I have my squad here, right, folks who help me do the work, but also will be like, “I need a walk.” We’ve all had that day at work and I try to solve structural racism, so as you can imagine that’s easy.

Aubrey Blanche: I also have a community outside of work. We have what we call empathy wine, with a H in parenthesis. I think that’s important to have both of those, is your squad at work who’s going to get your contexts and be able to help you move whatever your goals are forward. Also knowing that having your squad outside of work is incredibly important. I think that is part of radical self care, is making sure that there is always people that you can reach out to. That you actually do it. Please do that. Do as I say not as I do. Yeah, know that your squad is there and pick people who show up when you need them.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, all right. We have about 10 minutes left technically and I did not plan who is going to run the mic around. We have wonderful Atlassians here. If anyone has questions.

Shauna: We need a mic.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, do we have another one, another mic?

Shauna: I need an actual mic.

Aubrey Blanche: It’s cool, it’s a team effort, we’ll just share.

Emily: Hi, I’m Emily. I have a question about how you bring your authentic self to work, so maybe just discuss about what you do choose to bring to work. You don’t have to tell us what you don’t. I think like what’s something that makes you feel like you are you even at the office?

Ashley Faus: Dominique’s pointing at me for some reason. I’m a lot, I straight up told Aubrey I was like, “Just be aware I’m going to try to tone it down.” I’m extremely extroverted. I walk really fast, I talk really fast. One thing that I try to do is to match the energy with the people that I’m working with. I’ve had situations where — and it’s not like a woman thing that it’s like, “Oh you’re aggressive.” It’s like, “No, you’re just a lot for everyone.”

Ashley Faus: I also do musical theater in as I said singer, actor, fitness fiend. Just the amount of expression and talking with my hands and loud voice that comes across, sometimes that can be intimidating to people. I try really hard to make sure, particularly if I’m managing a team with direct reports, like smile, swing by their desk, talk to them so that every time I come by they’re not like, “Oh my gosh, something is wrong.” I do try to intentionally walk slower and smile at people so that they aren’t just like, “Oh, she is on a mission and we are not to speak to her.” It’s like, no, no, you can speak to me, this is how I walk. Recognizing those things about myself and trying to mitigate them, not because they’re bad, just because I don’t want people to feel like they can’t approach me. That’s my story of that [inaudible].

Dominique Ward: I just wanted to hear you speak more.

Aubrey Blanche: I would say I’ve got a weird answer. If you googled a photo of me from like two years ago I would have looked like a McKenzie consultant, no offense to the McKenzie folks in the room. I think something for me — it was actually started — when I started at Atlassian I thought I had to look older, because I looked five. I said, “They’ve got to take me seriously, I’m like 26 and have three months of HR experience, who is drunk and gave me a job offer?” I like “corporated up,” is the only way I can describe it. It was like a brown bob and like sleeveless silk blouses and no leopard print heels. That was because I thought I had to be a thing.

Aubrey Blanche: Something I did over the last year was actually started very slowly incorporating the way that I would dress myself outside of work. I ended up with weird hair and visible tattoos and leopard print. It was like I started wearing bright colors and then I was like, “It’s fine, I’ll just dye my hair all pink.” I’m the head weirdo, it’s my job. Then I got the very visible tattoo that I’ve been thinking about and that was something that was really important for me. I found that I became more authentic in my behavior to people because I allowed little pieces of myself in first. That’s what I would offer if it’s something where you’re not sure you’re not confident about it yet, is to give yourself space to do little bits at a time so that you feel safe and comfortable to show up.

Aubrey Blanche: Like I said, you don’t have to bring your whole self. You get to keep whatever you’d like to private or out of the workplace. My hope for everyone is that you bring in what you would find meaningful and important to bring in.

Audience Member: Hi, thank you for all your talk, I really enjoyed it. More than a question, maybe I’m looking of a little women’s support here. I’m looking to change my job so I’ve been out applying and giving interviews. I’m a very optimistic positive person, so I don’t want to sound negative. I’ve been to at least five, six onsites. I’m feeling a little bit of a high expectations because I’m a woman. I never realized this, but maybe because I’m in the more higher range in the age.

Audience Member: When I go for interview it’s only the 20s and the 30s and I love you all because I was there. They’re interviewing me and I don’t know what they’re looking for, because I feel I’m doing really well. Then they come up with some reasoning which doesn’t make sense to me. I know I’m not perfect, I’m an average hardworking person. I’m not a genius, but I’m at a place where I want to look for a change because I want to. I changed. I come from a history background and it was in my 30s I decided to get into IT. Then everybody told me, “You can’t do it,” and I got a couple of some certifications, I did Java. Now I’m a front end developer, but I feel that I don’t know what I’m missing. Am I missing the buzz words or am I not quick enough to do all those classes how they want me to do? I can still do it, because every job if you ask any of my manager they’ll be like, “Wow. You can do the work.” It’s a question or advice or whatever I’m looking for.

Audience Member: How do I go about it because I still have, I still get calls and I know I’ll go for more onsites. I just need some guidance I guess.

Ritika Nanda: Did you want to take …?

Audience Member: I just need to say [inaudible].

Ritika Nanda: Oh okay.

Aubrey Blanche: Let’s do it.

Audience Member: Hi, I work at Twitch, which is about as a young a company as you can imagine. I’m in my 50s. What I found when I went into my interview was I owned my age. They said, “What’s your favorite video game?” I said, “Well I’m actually older than that. My favorite computer game is Zork.” I expected the reaction might be, “Oh my God, she’s so old,” but what I got was, “That’s really cool.” The best suggestion I can have for you is just own your age and make that something about you that’s cool and fun and interesting rather than something to be worried about.

Ritika Nanda: I don’t think I would have been able to give a better answer, that’s for sure. Yeah, I definitely think that one thing, like this is Silicon Valley, so I think since you’re in IT and I’ve also been working in IT, you might have more experience and actually I could seek advice from you. Just in my experience what I’ve seen is that Silicon Valley, giving interviews, getting rejected, going for the next one is a pretty common trend. I think the most important part is not to let it get onto you and just keep trying until you find the one you like and they like you. It will just be fine, I guess. It’s just like a regular thing it’ll go on and it’ll be over. Like that’s what I think.

Aubrey Blanche: I was going to ask the panel a somewhat interesting question that is related to this, which is, tell me something that would go on your resume of failures in job acquisition. I will start and give you an example. When I tried to get into tech I applied for 127 jobs and got three call backs. 127 jobs and got three call backs. Thinking about five or six onsites, that’s actually a pretty good hit rate.

Ashley Faus: I graduated into the 2008 recession, it was terrible. Then I also moved out here. I’m in marketing, which is really hard to prove that you know what the heck you’re talking about till you’ve been in there for now a decade. I worked at Starbucks and the CEO of the failed startup that I was at actually came in to my Starbucks. It was pretty much the most embarrassing moment of my life to have to like serve coffee to this person. To be fair he failed at a startup, but like as a 23 year old I was like, “This is my thing.”

Aubrey Blanche: Any other resume failures?

Lori Kaplan: How long do we have?

Aubrey Blanche: Lori, pick your favorite.

Lori Kaplan: I know. I have had many. I’ve been laid off four times, which is common in Silicon Valley, but it feels disruptive and diminishing each time. Each time I’ve landed way better and into a role where I was welcomed and learned more and had a better opportunity. I say keep at it and ageism is real, but let your star shine out. That’s the thing. Like if you show up as yourself and you know — who was it that said, know what you’re good at and don’t be in a box? Show up with your expertise and your experience and let it shine and you will find the right fit.

Aubrey Blanche: Atlassian.com/careers. I’m contractually obligated.

Shauna: Can I jump in from a recruiter perspective?

Aubrey Blanche: Yes, we have a recruiter here.

Shauna: Hi, I’m Shauna. I work here. It’s pretty cool. Potentially controversial opinion, ask us what the onsite’s going to be about. Recruiters know who’s interviewing you, what they’re supposed to be talking about. If they’re good at their jobs, they know what questions they’re going to ask you. If we have the time, we do what we can to prep the candidates. We don’t always have the time, we’ve got 15 roles and 30 candidates for each role. If the candidate asks me to prep them for their onsite, I’m floored. I tell the hiring manager that that’s happening, that they’ve asked for it, and they’ve asked for the extra time. I’ll take the time if I can. Doesn’t mean that everybody can, but if you ask for it, you’ll walk into that onsite way better prepared than you would otherwise.

Audience Member: I have a comment and a question. Thank you.

Aubrey Blanche: Sorry, I don’t do rules.

Audience Member: That’s okay. My comment for the lady who’s interviewing is… I have an age problem. I’m on the older side, I’ve been in tech for…

Aubrey Blanche: It’s an age advantage.

Audience Member: Advantage yes, see I guess it is an advantage because I’ve been in tech for over 20 years. Yeah. I would have to say that I’m working with some folks out of college and I’ve learned so much from them about job hunting, so talk the people that are just coming in. They have different tactics than when I went got a job when I was in my 20s, one of the guys I work with, he contacts people over LinkedIn. He contact and call and gets on phone calls with them. My question is to you guys is and the recruiter, is that normal? I was flabbergasted when I heard that, but is that acceptable? Do people get on the calls and have info sessions before they interview? Thank you.

Ritika Nanda: I would like to share like I have had so many people who are especially fresh grads, they’ve contacted me through LinkedIn. As she mentioned I don’t always have the time, but if I have the time I’d be more than happy to help anybody and guide them. If I’ve been lucky I’d be more than happy to share my knowledge and steps. The struggles which I went through — if I can help somebody with that I’d be more than happy. I’m pretty sure a lot of people would think that way and if somebody you contact through LinkedIn — I have also tried to contact a few people and get some mentorship. I think there are people out there who do help you and LinkedIn is a good source. This is really true and does happen, so to answer that question.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, the advice I would give is do not ask someone to pick their brain. That’s just so nonspecific because it’s like, if you’re busy, this people do this to me a lot. If someone was like, “Here is my question,” it’s like even if I can’t make the time to meet with you, I might be able to like type out an answer and help you. Asking someone for a specific thing they can help you with increases the likelihood that you’ll get something helpful out of it.

Ritika Nanda: Right, sorry. One last thing which I wanted to add was, that when somebody contacts me, if somebody puts in a little extra effort and say, “Hey I’ve tried this, this is not working. This is what I’m interested in,” that then that genuinely shows me that he or she is really interested and I can spare a minute of my life to help him or her. Most cases I do that, so I think a lot of people will do that. Yeah.

Lori Kaplan: Yes to do it and sometimes it’s the mom network that puts them up to it. Having young adult kids and trying to help them land a lot of times, I’ll just talk to my friends and say, “My child is interested — my young adult — is interested in thus and such. Would you be willing to talk to them about this and that?” Then I make them make the contact. Just in the last two weeks I’ve had coffee with two different people that I peripherally know who are interested in Atlassian. They said, “Oh, you’re at Atlassian. Would you help me prepare for my interview or can you tell me what it’s really like to be there about this and that thing?”

Aubrey Blanche: Dominique. What about you?

Dominique Ward: In my past life I have had many new grads or “I need an internship” reach out to me for roles that I have no like connection with. A really just kind of like trying to get in the door and have a connection because they know that you’re more likely to get an interview or get your foot in the door and get your resume seen if you are a referral. Young kids are very savvy.

Aubrey Blanche: That’s true. We’ll do one more question because I want to be mindful of everybody’s time. Yes.

Claudia: Awesome, hi everyone I’m Claudia. I have a question for Aubrey. When you think of building balanced teams and this whole idea, a lot of conversations I’ve had with people in this field, they always say, “It starts from the top.” I work for a company that is very white male at the top. I was just curious if you agree with that it starts with them and if so how do you go about getting them on board with all that you’re doing.

Aubrey Blanche: At first I was like, oh you work at a tech company? It’s true right, who gets funded 20 years ago is who’s running companies now. I think it does start at the top, but I also think, what I’m seeing candidates do a lot right now is they simply just look at the representation of the executive team. Then decide whether the company cares about D&I. I think that’s actually not a complete heuristic. I don’t think you should use that as the only signal, because if you’ve ever tried to build an engineering center in Sydney Australia, well just try that. Then try to have a balanced executive team, because of the historical legacy of that. I think it’s so useful here as what’s more important is actually asking what the executives are doing to help build balance.

Aubrey Blanche: I don’t think he’ll get mad at me for sharing this. For example, about a year ago I [inaudible] — we have two CEOs and they’re Australian. I basically flagged to him, I was like, “Hey.” We’ve had a lot of conversations about him being a straight, white guy. I was like, “Hey, our black employees, they’re not having the same experience as other people. It’s showing up on our data, Latinx folks, we’re all happy.” I said, “One of the things that’s coming out in the comments is that they don’t feel like leadership is advocating for them.” We had a really frank conversation and he was like, “Oh, fuck.” He was like, “No, but I do care, I just don’t know what to say.” I was like, “All right, oh why don’t we give them voice.” He literally sat down for an hour and every one of our black employees was invited to call in and just talk to him. He was awkward and he got rules about what he was allowed to ask versus not. He was perfect. He walked, he’s like, “I have heard that you don’t feel like I’m advocating for you and I’m nervous and I don’t know how, but I’m trying to understand and hopefully you’ll help me figure it out. Please believe I’m trying to do well and tell me when I’m not.”

Aubrey Blanche: We had a really raw, uncomfortable, honest conversation and now — so that happened last year. Then he and I were preparing to give a keynote in Europe. I promise this has a point. In Europe, like the word race is very different than here. If you use the term race in English it’s like very Nazi-adjacent. A lot of our European kind of started feeling uncomfortable saying the word race for that reason. I never say things like people of color when I’m giving a talk in Europe. This is for our user summit. I’m in like a private rehearsal with some VPs and Mike, he’s like, and I listed a bunch of under represented groups. He’s like, “Why don’t you say people of color?” I was like, “Well because it’s Europe and the market doesn’t get it.” He’s like, “Yeah, but our employees are going to hear it, you have to put it back in.” I think that that’s the stuff that’s important, because the fact is our CEOs are straight, white men who are billionaires, but they back me up in the room when I’m not there. Or they are like, Mike is like, “No, our black employees are going to hear that we didn’t say that and that’s not acceptable.”

Aubrey Blanche: I think that those are the things you should ask about and that’s what you should do as a candidate. Right, don’t ask like, “Does your company not care about diversity?” Yes, of course we do. Don’t be like, “What programs do you have?” Your average hiring manager won’t know. What you can ask is something like, “What have you done to help people have more of a voice? How do you try to include people?” Like that’s something that anyone should be able to answer, so that’s what I’d say. I also don’t think starting at the top is enough.

Aubrey Blanche: At Atlassian, the reason we’ve been successful is because our leadership gets it. I do not justify my job here. We talk about how, but also because our culture and grassroots support it. There’s so many things that have been built in this office that were just built by Atlassians. I had nothing to do with it and that’s the mark of success is when I’m useless. I think it’s that, it has to be top down, it has to be bottom up. I wish I had a more helpful answer, but that’s it. Yeah.

Dominique Ward: Can I say one thing?

Aubrey Blanche: Please.

Dominique Ward: I just started two months ago and Aubrey did my onboarding. Before we even started she gathered the new people and we were going upstairs. Before we even went in the direction of the stairs she said, “Are stairs okay for everyone?”

Aubrey Blanche: Did I do that?

Dominique Ward: Yes.

Aubrey Blanche: I mean sounds like a thing I would do, but I’m thrilled I did that.

Dominique Ward: As someone who like disability rights and accessibility’s really important to me, that was a very subtle thing that she could have done that just like, I was like, “Okay, I’m in the right space.” Even though I accepted the job and heard about the values, I’m like, “Is that really what it is?”

Aubrey Blanche: I’m like a little teary right now. Anyone on my team will tell you I cry all the time. Oh that makes me so happy. I feel like I want to end on that note, but it’s a little weird and self serving. What the note that we probably should end on is an enormous thank you for the absolutely fantastic brilliant panel that you have in front of you. Also claps for all of you who showed up tonight and for all the things that you’re doing because the fact is that you’re really the future of tech and I’m so grateful that you’re all here.

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