“Every Job is a D&I Job. Every. Job.”: Aubrey Blanche with Culture Amp (Video + Transcript)

Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, everyone. Welcome back. Our next session is with Aubrey Blanche. She is the Director and Global Head of Equitable Design and Impact at Culture Amp. We first discovered her at the Atlassian event. And if you need more stuff to watch later, please go back and watch her talk from Atlassian that’s on our YouTube channel. Which by the way, housekeeping notes, we are recording these. They will be on YouTube. You should subscribe now and then you will get them all.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Why I’m particularly excited about this session today is Aubrey did a post where she said a lot of people ask her, how do I get a D&I job? And she said, “My advice is don’t get a D&I job. Really, don’t get a D&I job. No, really, don’t.” You should read the post. It’s exactly what she says. And then… Aubrey, you’re muted. Yes. Okay. I just want to hear you laugh. It’s so good. Okay. And so her suggestion was that you could have more of an impact doing D&I within your own role than you can sometimes in an actual D&I position. And so we said, “Hey, could you come in and expand on that? Because that sounds amazing.” So without further ado, please welcome Aubrey.

Aubrey Blanche: Thank you so much. I love being here. I love Girl Geek so much, so I feel really lucky to get to join you all for the live stream today. And yes, my other talk was about why diversity is a problem. So clearly, I’m a little bit of an iconoclast, but I promise I’m also pretty reasonable.

Aubrey Blanche: So to give folks context, I’m currently the Director of Equitable Design and Impact at Culture Amp. And basically what that means is I help the business and Culture Amp’s customers think about the ways that they design fair and equitable experiences, which is what actually creates diversity, both internally and then for their global customer base. Before that… Oh, hold on. I got to figure out how to do this. There we go. I was the Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian for about five years. And all the time, I am the math path. So if you know anything about my work, I am trained as a social scientist, and I take a really rigorous analytical data and science based approach to creating organizational change and fair workplaces where people who have been unjustly denied their rightful opportunities can actually thrive.

Aubrey Blanche: What I found is I get probably more than a dozen reach outs every week of people asking to pick my brain on how to get a career in D&I. And the fact is, one, brain picking is really violent. Don’t do that. But also, it turns out that I’m both not the right person to reach out to about that for a couple of reasons. The first is super practical, which is that when I got into this field, it was really different. And so I’m not confident that my advice is going to be as relevant as someone who’s getting into the field now. And it also turns out there’s a lot more folks in D&I than just folks with the title head of. So I encourage folks to diversify who they ask. We are busy, but we like to help.

Aubrey Blanche: But secondly, because most of the time I really, really believe that you should not get a D&I job. Now, that’s probably pretty surprising for me to say. You’re probably wondering, Aubrey, do you hate your job? And the answer is no, I adore my job. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do the work I do every day. But I want to be honest with you about what that job entails, because often what people think it is has nothing to do with what the job actually is, and they’re going into it for the wrong reasons.

Aubrey Blanche: So one of the things people who come to me often say is, “Well, I’m just so passionate about this. I want to help people.” What is also usually true is those folks are underrepresented themselves, and they’re burning out in their roles because they’re feeling crushed under the weight of sexism or racism or ableism or other isms, or a bunch of them combined. And what I’m going to tell you, which I wish I didn’t have to, is honestly, it is more emotionally draining to be in a D&I job. Because those moments… A reflection for me was, after the Pulse nightclub shooting. I’m a queer Latina, and for me, I didn’t get to go to work and work on a marketing campaign or go focus on software. I had to go think about the Pulse nightclub shooting at work and find other space for me. So I would say that if you’re just frustrated with the kyriarchy, understand that getting a D&I job is likely to make your burnout worse.

Aubrey Blanche: So we talk about this concept of compassion fatigue. And it’s something, that, if you’re not careful in a D&I career, you will get. So compassion fatigue. What is it? The technical definition is that it’s an indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of those who are suffering, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such requests. There isn’t actually good data on how many D&I professionals suffer from compassion fatigue. But I can tell you that I’ve never talked to one of my peers who hasn’t at some point in their career suffered from this. So we know that 40% of nurses suffer from this. And given that D&I is also a caring profession in a lot of ways, because we’re not only asked to be organizational strategists, we’re asked to design HR and people programs, we’re asked to write policies, advise on sensitive legal and ethical issues. But we’re asked to be therapists and counselors, not just for underrepresented folks who are needing support, but also for majority group, often leaders, who are going on their own journey to understand what they’ve done to re-entrench the systems that keep people out.

Aubrey Blanche: It’s heavy work. And I will be honest that I, and almost every effective practitioner that I know, has completely rearchitected my life to be able to sustain this kind of work. So it’s a thing you can do, but I hope that folks know the totality of the work and what it is. So now that I’ve been a little doom and gloom, I do want to tell you about why I think you don’t need a D&I job. Why, if you’re passionate and you care about making the world better, you don’t need the job title in order to actually create change.

Aubrey Blanche: Oh, one quick thing. I want to talk to you a little bit about my self care routine to make it a little more real. So I do meditation yoga, I take physical supplements, daily affirmations, and I mostly have gotten sober. I also have a huge community. So I have my girlfriends, a bunch of them, on WhatsApp. I have a personal integrity coach, a coach that helps me deal with my family system and ancestral trauma. I do somatic bodywork to remove the secondary traumatic stress that this work requires. And I also have a therapist to deal both with a lot of my childhood trauma and the stuff that I deal with every day. I recognize not everyone has access to all of these resources for economic reasons. But thinking about leaning on your friends or journaling or the amount of time it takes to offload the emotional work that you’re doing in this field is super important.

Aubrey Blanche: So now I want to talk about what the job actually entails, because it’s probably not what you think, even though I think it’s really fun. So first, you are educating, always. You know that feeling where you say, people of color shouldn’t have to educate you? The fact is when you’re in D&I, you do have to educate them. You have to do it patiently. And if you want to be effective, you have to do it compassionately. And you have to be comfortable answering the same, very, very basic questions a lot. The fact is that creating change, while we can do it on a systemic level, often requires those one on one conversations to really take people from good people to active allies, or people who aren’t blocking the types of change that you’re wanting to make. So if you like repeating yourself and if you love teaching, it’s a great thing. I love it. But again, check your own patience and your appetite for that work.

Aubrey Blanche: The second is a lot of this is HR strategy. So I’ve seen a lot of people who wanted to go into D&I who have expertise in things like engineering. And while they’re incredible advocates who have amazing ideas for this, often they’re not actually interested in the day to day work of the job. So crafting HR strategies, designing programs and communication, measurement strategies to make sure that the programs you designed actually worked the way you wanted them to. And I say this, not as a deterrent, but so that folks who get into it know what you’re doing.

Aubrey Blanche: And a part of this job that no one wants to talk about, but we really should, is that you spend a lot of time convincing leadership to do the right thing, in most organizations. And I mean that both on an ethical sense. And also, most of the time, leadership will fund branding projects and unconscious bias training, the first of which definitely doesn’t solve structural racism, and the second of which, if not done really carefully, actually makes your organization more racist. So I think what we see is often that even the most exceptional leaders have smaller impact than they want because the amount of their time they have to spend convincing folks to do something and then justifying their budgets is a lot more than folks in similar roles in an organization that aren’t coded as diversity and inclusion roles.

Aubrey Blanche: The last thing is you have to like designing processes. So I think the previous wave of D&I looked at ERGs and building community and running splashy brand campaigns and trying to get your company on the best companies for diversity list. But the fact is that that work, while some of it can be crucial to creating safe spaces for underrepresented people, the things that matter the most in an organization are the structural aspects. So evaluative processes. So if you’re not jazzed about designing a performance review process and then measuring to see whether it was actually fair, there might be a different job for you than diversity and inclusion where you can have even greater impact on these things that you’re passionate about.

Aubrey Blanche: So like I said, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince you not to go into the career that I’m in. But the reason is really because I believe that each and every one of you have something incredible to offer this mission, but you’re often thinking about it differently. And what I mean by that is you can do a D&I job. You can do diversity and inclusion, equity and justice work in any job that you have in an organization. One of the reasons I’m really passionate about this topic is because of this idea. I’m sure folks have heard of the Uncle Ben principle: with great power comes great responsibility.

Aubrey Blanche: I will be really honest with you that when you take a diversity and inclusion job, in most organizations, you give up all of your power but still have all of the responsibility. So often, diversity and inclusion teams are under resourced in terms of headcount. Often at multi thousand person companies, there’s only one person doing this work. And the budgets that they are allocated are so small, to be spread across so many groups, that they’re set up to fail. And so what I’m suggesting is that you go into a place in an organization where you have great power and then take great responsibility.

Aubrey Blanche: So the fact is, every job in an organization is a diversity and inclusion job. Let me talk about what that looks like. So let’s say you’re a director of marketing. The fact is, you’re responsible for hiring and promotions, compensation of your people, the culture in your organization, you probably have control of a budget, and you have influence over how others in the organization act and think about these issues. You can simply demand that the hiring processes in your organization are fair and that they’re audited. You can insist on pay equity audits to make sure that people are compensated commensurate with their value. For the culture, you can enforce standards of behavior and respect for other people. Budget, you can pay people to do diversity and inclusion work. You can decide that the employees in your organization that lead ERGs, that lead work that creates equity and belonging, deserve spot bonuses, deserve special leadership opportunities for the initiative and the impact that they’re bringing to the organization. And you can influence, just by your behavior, the way that other leaders in your organization can show up as allies.

Aubrey Blanche: So when I say don’t get a diversity and inclusion job, I’m not telling you to give up on creating systemic change. What I’m recommending is that you go from influencing people to bring equity and justice in the world to actually bringing equity and justice into the world yourself. As someone who deeply loves my career and does this all day and feels very grateful, I always know that the leaders who step up and don’t need my help are the ones whose organizations thrive. The ones where underrepresented people grow and get the opportunities that they deserve, and so do majority group folks. And so I would encourage you not to think about your job title, but about what you’re doing every day to make the world just a little bit more fair and balanced than it was before.

Aubrey Blanche: That’s what I have for you all, but I’m excited to take Q&A.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Thank you. That was just exactly what we asked for. So perfect. We have quite few questions. We’ll try to get through a couple.

Aubrey Blanche: Awesome. I’ll try to be snappy. And oh wait, if folks, for some reason I can’t answer your question, you can tweet at me later. Oh, my Twitter’s on there. Great. You can find me on my digital soapbox.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Also, you should just follow her, because once I discovered her at Atlassian, I’ve been following her ever since. And so now I’m a superfan and it’s a little awkward sometimes.

Aubrey Blanche: No, it’s great. It’s fun. We have fun online.

Gretchen DeKnikker: First question. All right. So I’ve been fired and/or retaliated against for organizing against sexism, unfair pay, racism, and other D&I work as an IC in engineering and product. How do I gain the social capital to point out the uncomfortable truth about organizational failings without the shield of the job title?

Aubrey Blanche: Totally. So I would say that the job title doesn’t actually shield you that much, so I want to just give you that honesty. I think one of the things is I would say going in, be really honest with leadership about that’s the type of leader that you are. Because what I’ve found is that, and obviously this is speaking from a place if you feel that you have choice in your career path. But I think there’s that… is be really honest about the types of things in your values. Know that, especially if you’re an engineer, this is a very, very competitive talent market. Also, cultureamp.com/careers, call me. I’m Aubrey at Culture Amp. I can pass your resume on if you’re not interested in us. But I think that’s, it is go in and make it really, really clear who you are and what you want to advocate for so employers who aren’t going to support you can select out.

Aubrey Blanche: The second thing is, quite frankly, crush your day job. People try to act like advocating for this work is somehow opposed to being really excellent as a contributor. And I hate that I’m saying that, but it’s very practical advice, which is being excellent is a good way to veer from that. And I think second, especially when you don’t feel like you have organizational power, try not to do things alone. So something that people forget is that collective action is still possible. One, if you can get out of your forced arbitration agreement when you come in, please do that. But number two, something that I think people often forget is the power of banding together.

Aubrey Blanche: So I’ve seen at a large enterprise software organization, women were concerned about promotional equity. And one of them, I happened to know her through my network, and she was talking to me and she said, “We’re all really upset and we’ve all talked to our managers and nothing’s really happening.” And I said, “Well, have you all gone to the director together?” And she said no. And I said, “Well, why not? Why can’t you?” And about 15 of them got together and went to the director and they did an audit, and they actually ended up changing the procedures. So that’s the other thing I would say, is slowly start to build a community of people who do support you and are willing to do that. And maybe start with that step before you start a lot of really active advocacy so that you’ve built that safety net, and people who will speak up, whether those folks are also from your community or acting as allies or accomplices.

Aubrey Blanche: But my last piece of advice is, if you can, and I recognize this a somewhat privileged piece of advice, so couch it with that. Work somewhere where they’re happy to have that voice. They exist.

Gretchen DeKnikker: We need a secret list of them, though. They’re hard to find and very difficult to vet. Or some of them make it very obvious, but you know. Okay, one more question. So she wanted to thank you for your honesty, which I do too. But this is a thing that I really, really appreciate about the way that you do the work, not just the work that you do, but the way that you do it. So her question was, what can we do as an individual contributor to make sure our company is moving in the right direction with regards to D&I if we don’t have a D&I person?

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah. So I would say ask simple questions. And this is the most boring thing, but I swear it’s the key to good D&I, is really enforce structured process. So this goes to a question I saw around recruiters. So ask questions about what processes are being followed. If you’re an IC, ask your manager for the next role. What structured process are we using to make sure we minimize bias? What sourcing strategies are we using to make sure that we connect with underrepresented communities? Because often what I’ve found is that folks don’t do that unless they’re asked, but many of the changes that you can do to make a hiring process more inclusive, those are not that complicated. Not that they’re easy, but they’re not that complicated. And when it comes to team dynamics, I think you can make small suggestions that shift the needle.

Aubrey Blanche: So I’ll give you a couple things. One of the best tactics, so a fact, is that women are interrupted three times more often while speaking, by people of all genders. So this is a thing that happens to women, and especially women of color and often Asian women, in particular. But be really careful about interrupting the interrupter. So this is one of my favorite tactics, really simple, also. Let’s say Sarah has just had a really great point and Naveed has just interrupted her. Say, “Naveed, so, sorry. I just wanted to hear the rest of Sarah’s thought.” Suddenly, Sarah has the floor in a way that she didn’t before. And the fact is Naveed probably did not mean to be rude, but we have these socialized patterns of behavior. Or make sure that you claim credit for underrepresented peoples. Help them claim credit for their contributions.

Aubrey Blanche: So women in the Obama White House had this tactic called amplification, where what they noticed is that men were basically stealing their ideas. Not necessarily intentionally, but it was still happening. And so it can be as easy as saying something like, “Oh, Angie, that was an awesome idea. And…” Because it’s now claimed that idea for Angie. And what it does is it actually changes the balance of who’s contributing to the room. And there’s an extra bonus if you identify as female when you do this, or are on the femme side, I would say, is that women are expected to socially support other people. And so when you do that, you’ve not only claimed the idea for your maybe female or femme colleague, but you also now get social brownie points, if there is some kind of thing. So I think watching for those collaborative behaviors is something huge that you can do. It feels small, but you know what it’s also just going to do? It’s going to make your team work more effectively together. So this is good management training.

Aubrey Blanche: But I think often, we think of D&I as super social justicey, which it is, but the way that it shows up can actually be very simple. Hey, let’s pass around the note-taking responsibilities. No, I don’t think that Cheryl needs to plan the offsite this time. Maybe Derek should do it. That type of stuff is interrupting the outcome of inequity that ends up hurting people’s careers. But it doesn’t always have to be couched in the same type of language that we would talk in justice oriented circles, because sometimes people don’t get it when we don’t use language that they’re familiar with. So I would say just do that stuff. It’s basic. And also, it’s really, really hard for your manager to get mad at you for things like, hey, I don’t think we should interrupt each other. And let me know how you go. If you come up with any other great tips, please let me know. I love to share them and I love to get better too.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, thank you. We are at time, but this was amazing. Thank you so much, Aubrey.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. Have a wonderful Friday. I’m excited for the rest of the live stream.

“What’s Holding You Back Might Be You: Imposter Syndrome”: Sara Varni with Twilio (Video + Transcript)

Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Rachel Jones: So next up is Sara, we’re so excited to have her. She is the chief marketing officer at Twilio, so she joined Twilio two years ago from Salesforce and today she’ll be sharing her thoughts on imposter syndrome at various stages of her career, from climbing the ladder at Salesforce to her current role as CMO of Twilio, and the tips and tricks that she’s learned along the way. All right, Sara.

Sara Varni: Great, can you hear me okay?

Rachel Jones: We can, yeah.

Sara Varni: Fantastic. So, hi everyone. Good morning, good afternoon. My name is Sara Varni and I’m the CMO here at Twilio and thank you so much for letting me share this session with you. I’m here to talk about imposter syndrome and this is a real condition that I have experienced at all different phases in my career and I say whether I was 22 or now 42, this is a condition where I’ve heard that voice in my head that says, “You’re just not ready for this role, or this is too big of a leap for you.” And today I want to share with you some of my techniques that I’ve used to push through that internal dialogue in my head and to take my career to new heights. But I thought I’d share and start with a personal story. Back in my time at Salesforce, I was tapped to run marketing for one of the biggest products at the company and I was by no means a shoe-in for the role.

Sara Varni: I had worked on a much smaller product line before that, I was just not very well known at the company, and even the team that I was going to be taking over had no idea that I was in the running for this position. And so, when the announcement was made, when I got the role, I did what any manager would do and I reached out to the team, I said, “Hey, I’m so excited to take on this role and to drive some great projects and efforts with this team,” and I expected a warm welcome back and what happened was crickets, basically. And I kept checking my email feverishly, trying to get some sort of inkling of encouragement and over the course of the next 24 hours, only one poor soul responded to me and they didn’t even respond to the group, they just responded to me directly.

Sara Varni: So you can imagine how I was feeling, here I’ve been given this role of a lifetime, this opportunity that I always thought I wanted, and in that moment I felt so insecure and so questioning of if I was deserving of the role. And there was two things I could do with that feedback in that moment, I could say, “All right, I’m going to go curl up in a ball and just be paralyzed by the feedback,” or I could take it and use it as fuel to show why I was supposed to be in that role, why was in the right place at the right time, and to just start on that journey of building trust with that team. And so, I mustered up the courage, I wrote the team back and I said, “Thanks for the warm welcome. I can’t wait to get started with you guys,” and that was the start of that journey. And three years later, we had built an amazing team, we had built an amazing culture and we put some huge wins on the board.

Sara Varni: But if I had just taken that feedback and that experience and let those inner voices take over, we never would’ve gotten to that place and I would have been stinted in terms of where I was going with my career. But just to tell you a little bit about me and my whole journey and this will give you a little bit of color as to how I’ve faced imposter syndrome along the way. I always joke that if there was an award in your high school yearbook that was the least likely to be a tech CMO, you might’ve seen my picture there. I grew up 40 minutes outside of San Francisco in the boondocks, pretty close to the windmills, if you’re a San Francisco local, and I came from a family that was mainly focused in real estate and farming. And so, I flew the coop. I decided I wanted to move away from that and move to the East coast and I became an equities trader, so going from the farm to the trading floor was definitely a culture shock for me, but I loved the energy of being a trader.

Sara Varni: You got there and it was just like you were on the floor of a casino every day, but long term, I was still wanting to scratch a creative itch. I always loved, and seemed to gravitate towards, work that drives me creatively. And so, I went back to business school and ultimately landed a role at Salesforce, which at the time was not a very well known company, but obviously it was a great platform for me to learn and grow. I spent 10 years there, essentially working up from the mailroom of the marketing department to ultimately running marketing for the biggest product line, and that set me up for my role today to be the CMO of Twilio. And one thing that as I reflect back on that journey, I see that there are certain things I gravitate towards. I love being in a high growth environment. That’s exactly what I saw on the trading floor, and I love gravitating towards things that are creative.

Sara Varni: And I think as you’re listening to this presentation, I encourage you to think about what are those things, what are those three to five characteristics that gets you up in the morning, that get you excited about your work because in these times when you have self doubt and these times when you’re wondering if you’re the right person for the role, you need to call back on that and remember these are the things that you’re great at, and it’s most likely the things that got you to where you are today and are highlighted to people that they think these are the reasons that this person should be in that role. So that all sounds easy, it was a breeze, I just went from job to job and ended up in this amazing place but that’s not the truth.

Sara Varni: Obviously there are many bumps along the road, and I had an amazing support system, I’ve had some incredible managers and leaders that have absolutely helped me get to where I am today and have encouraged me at every step of the way. But for all of those people that were encouraging me, those are not always the people that you listen to. And often what creeps into your head is the negative feedback and the naysayers and the haters, I’ll use the term haters a lot in this session. And at every step of the way I heard things like, “You know what? She’s not technical enough. She’s too nice. She’s too positive. She’s too negative.” You often get conflicting feedback. She’s a dark horse for the role. My favorite, when I started at Twilio, there was actually a post online that said I was a low-end Barney. I’m like, at least you could spell my name right. And so, again, I had two choices of what I could do with this feedback, just like the situation that I started out with when I was taking over that team.

Sara Varni: I could let this eat me up, I could let this just completely paralyze me and stop me from moving forward, or I could use it as fuel and turn it into energy for me to go out and prove them wrong and to just start putting wins on the board, given the traits and energy around the things that I like to do, like I said, working in a high growth environment and really being creative. So now I’m going to walk through some of the techniques that I’ve consistently used over the course of my career and I want to put air quotes around the word “techniques”, these are not heavily researched activities, this is not something you’re necessarily going to read about in Harvard Business Review, but they are things that have helped me. So first, I want to say that you have to just say no to haters. And I think it’s really important when you’re entering a new role or taking on new responsibility that you need to be in confidence building mode.

Sara Varni: And there are going to be those people that are always going to have something critical to say. And I think one thing I’ve learned over the course of making these transitions a few times is that often the real feedback that you’re getting from that person often has more to do with them and where they are mentally and what’s going on in their career than it does what’s going on with you in the crux of their feedback. And I recently watched Miss Americana, Taylor Swift’s documentary on Netflix, which I highly recommend, I think it’s incredible. And they highlighted her session at the VMAs where Kanye West jumped on stage, she had won best new artist or best song for the year, I don’t remember the exact award and Kanye jumped on stage and basically grabbed the award out of her hand and said, “Hey, I love you, Taylor, but this was supposed to go to Beyonce.”

Sara Varni: And in that moment, the whole crowd was booing. And Taylor, just in the emotion of everything happening so quickly, thought that the audience was actually booing her, but what they were booing was Kanye, obviously. And I think in these moments, when you’re unsure of your new role, if you’re unsure if you’re up to snuff to do this job, you’re often likely to believe the haters. And I think you have to remember, there are a lot more people in your corner rooting for you then you think. My second piece of advice is to establish a solid network around you that you can call, that you can reach out to, that you can connect with at any point. And this helps you to defer some of the questions that you might be afraid to ask in the early days of taking on a new responsibility and just give you the confidence to push forward to the next part of this role. You might be lucky, you might have this one person that can answer all different types of questions under the sun.

Sara Varni: For me, I have a network of people that I ask different topics for different things. I might have someone that I call for very tactical, practical information on demand gen or how to think about a website. I have people that I call for general strategy and leadership questions. I have people that I call for recruiting and hiring, and I think it’s really important to build a network across all of the different parts of your job that you might encounter. And a big part of this is there’s got to be a give get. If you’re going to reach out to someone and ask for their advice, you also have to offer back like, hey, if you need this, if you need help with X, Y, and Z, please call me anytime, that will build your strongest network. My next piece of advice is that at some point you’ve got to get over the initial fear and doubt of the role and just put your head down and get some wins on the board.

Sara Varni: Who you’re seeing on the screen is Julia Mancuso, she’s one of my favorite athletes. And I posted on my Twitter handle yesterday an article that was written in and around 2014, it’s the article I read almost once a year. And Julia, I think, is super interesting because she came to be famous and came on the world stage at a time when Lindsey Vaughn was super popular, but Lindsey had had a number of injuries and Julia was the lead person for the Sochi games. And so, when reporters would talk to Julia, Julia was an amazing skier herself, but the questions were always about Lindsey and the competition between Lindsey, and Julia was just positioned as being in Lindsey’s shadow. But Julia didn’t let that get to her. She focused on why she loves skiing so much, just like I am trying to focus on the parts of my career and the elements of my roles that I love the most to keep me going and keep me energized.

Sara Varni: And she said, “I just love skiing. I’m going to focus on racing the best race possible and even though I don’t have the appearance or the same style as Lindsey Vaughn, you’re going to see me on that podium.” And they did. Ultimately, no one really realizes this, but Julia Mancuso is the most decorated Olympic female skier in American history. And I think there’s something to be said for that to just put your head down, remember why you have this role and focus on those strengths, start putting some wins on the board. The next piece is once you feel like you’re in a groove in a role, I think you can always be looking for ways to improve. I think the best leaders are constantly thinking about what they could be doing differently, where they have blind spots and really matching programs and training to help sharpen that.

Sara Varni: And this is a place where you do want to get some of those people that aren’t the people that are telling you you’re great all the time, you do want to surround yourself with people that can give you that constructive feedback. I know personally this year, I employed a leadership coach and that has been life changing for me. Through the process I’ve gotten 360 feedback, I’ve worked on roleplay exercises in certain situations where I know I have blind spots and it’s really helped me. Another area that I recommend for all types of leaders is working on your executive presence and especially working with a speech coach. I think that there are so many forums where to move up to the next level you need to present in a clear and concise way and I absolutely think that this is a trait that you can learn. I remember early in my career I just felt like this is something that you’re either born with or you’re not and over the course of the years and over working with a number of different people on my teams, that is absolutely not the case.

Sara Varni: In a lot of situations, your company will sponsor these efforts, so absolutely ask your manager, ask your leadership team what access you can get to these training programs, because I think they can make a world of difference. And my last piece of advice is do what works for you. I think in the course of trying to overcome imposter syndrome, you want to make sure that you don’t become an imposter yourself. You’re going to get all types of feedback, some of it you’ll agree with wholeheartedly, some of it you’ll think is completely not you, and I think you have to take the spirit of the feedback and apply it in a way that still is authentic to how you operate and what your core values are. So these are my five core pieces of advice, my techniques to overcome imposter syndrome. I truly believe that the best leaders are authentic leaders and I encourage everyone listening here, lean into new opportunities and find your confidence, remember to remind yourself that you’re here for a reason and just be your badass self. And so, with that, I would like to open it up to Q and A.

Rachel Jones: Great, thank you so much, Sarah. So now we’re going to start the Q and A. Our first question, how do you keep haters at bay when the hate is coming from your own family?

Sara Varni: Yeah. I mean, I’m one of five, I don’t know if I mentioned that and just speaking from my own personal experience, I think my advice doesn’t change whether it’s a family member or a colleague. And often when I get feedback from my siblings that I think is overly harsh or negative, I take the spirit of the feedback, if there are things that I need to work on I absolutely think about that and try to apply it, but if it seems overly harsh and out of line, it’s often something that’s going on in their own life or something that they’ve encountered in their own journey and I try to diffuse that and try to help them. I try to get to the root of where that’s coming from and figure out if there’s a way that I can help them, as a sibling, to overcome whatever confidence issue they have.

Rachel Jones: Great. For our next question, do you have any recommendations or resources for a career coach or a leadership coach?

Sara Varni: I know here at Twilio, we use a program called Year Up and I know that there are a number of different organizations that provide this for companies. I’ve unfortunately only gone through the companies I’ve been working at, so I don’t have one that I’ve worked directly with outside of a company myself.

Rachel Jones: Sometimes we can be our own biggest haters. So how do you recommend overcoming our own negative self talk?

Sara Varni: I’m sure that you have a network of people that you’ve grown up with, that you’ve relied on through the course of your career and I think it’s a matter of connecting with those people. And I want to be careful, you don’t want to surround yourself with people that are always just going to tell you how great you are because that’s not the right setup either. But I do think it’s important to have a mix of people who can give you constructive feedback and also your cheerleaders. I have people from all different phases of my life. I have a great friend from high school, she’ll say that she’s my fan club president. And if I have a big presentation where I’m nervous to go on stage or I’m just not feeling right about it, I’ll call her as part of my phone a friend network, she’s the first person I call and she’s the person who’ll say, “Hey, you’ve got this, you’ve done this a million times, think of how many times we’ve had this conversation,” and it just helps me get over the hump.

Rachel Jones: How do you stay confident in a junior entry level position without coming across as arrogant?

Sara Varni: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think always being eager to learn and being willing to be vulnerable and saying, “Hey, look, I don’t know everything yet,” but I think it’s the way that you phrase your responses and how you approach certain conversations. I think that you have to come at it from a, look, I might not have all the answers here, but I do have a fresh approach to this and this is how I think we should go about achieving it. I think always presenting some level of humility while also being convicted in your belief, I think it’s just an approach that people will be willing to work with and help you along the way. And I think being open to feedback.

Sara Varni: Honestly, the people that I’ve managed over the course of the years, there’s the difference between people who have been able to excel and grow has largely been based on their ability to take feedback and work with it. I think people who can’t take feedback or can not digest it well, you create a feedback loop where your manager might be afraid to give you more feedback. And so, I think to the extent you can be open to it, you will have a better partnership with your manager and they will be more willing to help you grow and continue to take on new skills.

Rachel Jones: All right. That’s what we’re going to wrap up this session. Thanks again, Sara.

Sara Varni: Thank you so much. Have a great rest of your session.

“How to Quickly Ramp Up on Open Source”: Marianna Tessel + Rocio Montes with Intuit (Video + Transcript)

Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi everyone, I am back. I’m Sukrutha and we’re next going to be joined by Marianna Tessel, the Chief Technology Officer at Intuit. She’ll be joined in conversation with Rocio Montes, who is a Staff Software Engineer. Together they both at–Intuit Girl Geeks will share how Intuit is tapping into its engineering community to advance the company’s mission to power more than 50 million consumers, self employed, and small businesses around the world. So go ahead and get started. I can’t wait to hear.

Marianna Tessel: Hi, everybody.

Rocio Montes: Hi, everybody.

Marianna Tessel: First of all, I think Rocio and I will introduce ourselves a little bit more. Maybe I’ll start, Rocio. What do you think?

Rocio Montes: Yeah, go ahead.

Marianna Tessel: So I’m actually a software engineer in my background. I started my career in Israel, in the Israeli military. So ask me later on about how it was like being a captain in the army there. It was a lot of fun. After my military service, I actually came to the US to the Silicon Valley because that’s where all the cool kids that were working on engineering were.

Marianna Tessel: And I worked here in a variety of companies, starting from General Magic. There’s a documentary about the company. It was a really interesting company. Arieba, VMware and Docker. I joined Intuit about two and a half years ago, and about a little over a year ago, I became the CTO of Intuit. I’m having a lot of fun of this role, and this is how I met Rocio. So, Rocio.

Rocio Montes: Hi everyone. My name is Rocio Montes and I am a staff software engineer. I started my career at Intuit working on TurboTax, specifically on the electronic filing engine. Then I moved on to Turbo where I did some front end and mobile development, and now in my current role, I lead open source and InnerSource efforts at Intuit.

Rocio Montes: So I create tooling processes and automation to make these two initiatives successful at Intuit, and to enable our engineers to participate in the open source community. Which brings us here.

Rocio Montes: Marianna, I know that you’re very passionate about open source. How did you get introduced to open source?

Marianna Tessel: You know, Rocio, I always liked this idea of open source. This idea of, like, software, developed in the open, shared, free. And what I noticed over the years is while open source was this fringe movement early on where I remember we were talking about, “Don’t use the open source code because it’s not really quality or it’s just kind of this movement that is out there.” What happened over the years, it became really, really robust code and a real option for me as an engineer, and later on as a leader, to use. So I got fascinated by it, but then I also joined Docker, which was one of the, and still is, one of the biggest open source projects out there. And I have to say during this time, I completely fell in love with this idea of open source and what the impact and the opportunity of it could be. So that’s kind of a little bit of how I got into this and now I’m a complete fan.

Rocio Montes: That’s great. You definitely like it a lot, but can you tell us why is it important?

Marianna Tessel: I think open source is super important for many, many reasons. And it’s important to understand that it’s important to both companies, as well as developers themselves. You as individuals, it’s important for you as well. For employees, you can contribute to open source. You can learn a lot of new software this way, and it’s actually a great way to work in something you’re passionate about and boost your resume. I’ve seen a lot of developers starting their careers in open source and getting their ground in open source. Then later on, they actually can show, even though they might not even have work experience, they can show a lot of resume experience with their open source contributions, and they can become known and really be part of the community.

Marianna Tessel: There is also this, I think as engineers, you always want to have this impact. And one of the nice things about open source its very lasting impact on software. It’s always there, it’s open and it’s not bound within one company. So it’s super great way for you to learn, to expand your experience and also to get known sometimes.

Rocio Montes: Absolutely. So you’ve mentioned why is it important for individuals, but why do you think it’s important for companies to focus on open source?

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, that’s an excellent question because a lot of companies don’t understand that. They don’t understand the importance of open source for them, but I think it is super, super critical. First of all, one thing to understand, remember when I said that open source used to be this kind of more on the fringe and things that were like out there? Today, open source is actually where a lot of the innovation is happening, and a lot of new things start from open source. So you can get some of the most robust and the most advanced code from open source.

Marianna Tessel: And it used to be that the code in open source wasn’t necessarily super high quality because there wasn’t a company behind it, but today that is actually not true. This is one of the most high quality code because a lot of companies contribute to it and they actually harden the code. So you can find very innovative and very high quality code.

Marianna Tessel: And then, obviously, as a company when you consume open source, you’re not really attached to a vendor and you can take and evolve the code that you use in the way you want, and be kind of more in control of what you use and control of your destiny. So it is actually really, really good this way, but then there’s other benefits.

Marianna Tessel: From a talent point of view, you boost your image as a company when you’re involved in open source and you boost your reputation. Then, when you hire people, if you use open source components, you immediately get people that are qualified to work at your own code base, because they might know already GraphQL, Kubernetes, or whatever the challenges are out there. You don’t need to train them because they already know. And like I said, you can hire people this way and you boost your reputation.

Marianna Tessel: The last thing that is kind of really, really cool is that companies should consider open source things themselves. And what it does, it actually gives your software longevity as well. It means that it’s out there in the communities and others are going to help evolve the code. So that’s super other a great attribute of having an open source software. You know, Rocio, some companies actually make a business out of open source. And like I said, I have some background in a company like that, but that’s a whole different business though. I’m not going to talk about that.

Rocio Montes: Okay. But let’s go one level down to actually talk about what does it really mean to participate in open source?

Marianna Tessel: Yeah. Participating in open source is… Let’s break it down because we said, there’s individuals and there’s also companies. So let’s start from individuals. For individuals, you can participate in multiple ways. First of all, you can just get familiar with open source. You can browse and see what’s out there. You can start using it. You can start playing with it because open source is highly available and free. There’s almost no barrier to get going. You don’t need to get a license, you can really easily start using it. So, also, I highly recommend to people to get comfortable contributing to open source and say, “Oh, I have something here I can start working on.” You can start from something super small and increase your contribution, but it opens up a whole world for you as you do that. So, and you can start proving yourself in the community.

Marianna Tessel: And, last, one day you may become a maintainer, which means a really high contributor, and one of the people that actually decide what goes in the open source. You might become a maintainer as part of your community and maybe one day you will write an open source software and you put it out there and it will always have your name on it.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, absolutely. And I know that for some of our engineers it has actually created a way to participate in conferences, and give talks, and be part of the engineering community in a better way.

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, this is such a good point because I saw engineers that actually worked in open source and before they know it, a lot of people use it and they become community stars, giving talks to people asking them “How you do that?” And it’s so hard to do it if you were just working on a code in your company.

Marianna Tessel: You know, Rocio, before you move off this question, I also say for companies, there’s a lot of ways that companies can participate in open source. There’s probably three main ways that I can think about. First of all, as a company, I encourage companies to use open source software when it’s viable, when it fits your needs, and then have your teams also contribute to the open source software that you use. Having maintainers in open source is always so great because that actually means that you can influence the direction of the software that you use. So whatever software that your company uses a lot, consider having contributors there that are actually becoming maintainers.

Marianna Tessel: And last, as you know, Rocio, I’m really encouraging people in the company to open source software themselves and make more and more components available out there. Like I said, it’s good for the engineer that worked on it, but actually it’s super great to have your code out there evolving, and continues to have this longevity of life, and you get people that are trained on your code because it’s out there.

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, actually, can I ask you a question?

Rocio Montes: Of course.

Marianna Tessel: You talked about how important for people to contribute to open source and you actually one of these people that started contributing to open source yourself. So how did you go about it, and what project did you start with, and what was that experience?

Rocio Montes: Yeah, absolutely. I actually started contributing to open source during a college hackathon that I attended, and it was actually a great experience. We appeared to be blocked because we have found these bag on this library for Farsi and JSON files at the time. I really don’t remember the name of the project, but it appeared to us that we were completely blocked. And then one of the more senior engineers told us, “Well, this is an open source project. You can just forward the code and fix it.” And it was kind of like a “wow” moment for us, really, that realization that the open source community was there for us.

Rocio Montes: And for the hackathon, we actually used our fourth project because we had a time limit, but after that, we actually contributed back our fix to the project, and it was really nice to see that the maintainer of the project was actually really nice, even though I had forgotten to add the steps to replicate it. He took the time to ask me about it and just in general, nice about it. And then the fix was merged in and it just felt really gratifying. I think pushing your code to someone else’s project and having that collaboration experience. It’s something that to me is very gratifying.

Marianna Tessel: You know, Rocio, it’s funny. It sounded like it started from a need, but you got hooked and part of you getting hooked to this, he also leading here, inside Intuit, a movement to elevate our level of contribution to open source and awareness. How do you do that?

Rocio Montes: Yeah, absolutely. So two years ago, we started really working closely with Intuit technology evangelist, Aliza Carpio, to bring focus to open source in our engineering community. So we focus mainly on two things: Awareness and culture. So for that, we first launched our open source site. Everyone in the industry actually had a site, so we thought we need to have one too. It’s called opensource.intuit.com. I actually suggest everyone to go and check it out. And there we highlight our most popular open source projects.

Rocio Montes: We then established a community of global open source leaders. And this means that we actually have engineers at each one of our sites that share the passion for open source with all of the community. These engineers are actually a physical presence at each one of our sites, and they help us deliver global workshops for open source, where we are actually training our engineers to do that first step. Right? To get started with open source, because for some of us open source is still some sort of scary world and they just don’t know how to come in, but having someone physical and having that presence there actually helps. They are also responsible for guiding members through the open source process of their projects, and to actively look for potential projects to open source.

Rocio Montes: We also started participating in community events like Hacktoberfest. It’s something that Intuit hadn’t done yet. So we jumped into our first Hacktoberfest and we had really amazing results. We also looked into enabling our engineers to easily open source their own projects. And the process for open-sourcing a project was a little lengthy and confusing. So we pretty much set some automation in certain areas of the process to allow engineers to quickly and easily share the work that they have been doing internally with the open source community.

Marianna Tessel: Wow.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, it’s been really gratifying.

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, you mentioned lots of efforts. Are they paying off? Is it working?

Rocio Montes: Oh, absolutely. So we have reviews a process for open sourcing a project from six months, down to three, to two weeks. And we have actually, as a direct result of that, we quadruple the amount of open source projects. We now have 112 open source projects at our public organization on Github. And something really amazing for us is that we didn’t have any women-led open source projects, and we now have three of them and that’s an amazing win for us.

Marianna Tessel: Woo!

Rocio Montes: Yeah. And then Intuit started getting recognized for speaking engagements. We are now going to be participating at Grace Hopper as open source day co-chairs and open source track leaders. We also talked at ComicCon, we talked about open source at Developer Week. So it had really opened up the opportunities for Intuit.

Rocio Montes: During Hacktoberfest, we had over 170 PRs from our engineers, and really my goal at that time was, “Well, maybe we get 50 PRs, we’re going to be successful,” but the response was overwhelming. And it was really nice also to see that 23% of those contributions were from women, and that is actually really outstanding because the participation of women in the industry for open source is 6%. So to have those results are very, very, very nice.

Marianna Tessel: Totally agree.

Rocio Montes: Yeah. So Intuit is definitely focusing on open source and we’re very glad to be making those efforts. And many companies actually talk about also InnerSource, Marianna. What does that exactly mean?

Marianna Tessel: That’s a super great question. There’s InnerSource, and sometimes we call it internally open contribution, but the idea is that you open source your software inside the company. This means that you move away from the traditional model that there is just that one team that is responsible for the software, and you’re allowing everybody to contribute. I love this idea. First of all, people don’t have to be blocked if they need something from another team. They can go into code and they can help change it. So you can see the benefit of that.

Marianna Tessel: But also to get your code ready to be InnerSource, that requires a certain level of hygiene and that really pays off because as anybody who actually manage a successful open source project will tell you, you need to have a high degree of understanding, first of all, readable code, great automation, understanding what are the areas where you need contribution, a very strong CICB pipelines, and all of that to really make sure that other people can come in and contribute.

Marianna Tessel: So you might not get exactly the same level of rigor that you will get of managing an external community, but it does require you to elevate your code hygiene quite a bit. And like I said, it has the benefit of people coming in and helping you on something you need. You can put the issues out there and let other people in the company join, or when they need something from you, they can just join the party versus put it on some requirement list and make it through rounds and rounds of internal back and forth until it makes itself in.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, and extra meetings and just conversations that are not needed. We should definitely communicate through code.

Marianna Tessel: Totally.

Rocio Montes: So that’s great. It’s great to hear. So now going back to open source, what are your favorite open source projects these days?

Marianna Tessel: You know, there’s so many, but let me mention a few that are a little bit more in the infrastructure realm. I’m, as you know, I came from infrastructure, spent time at VMware and Docker so I tend to really know what’s going on in that space and gravitate to it. I still love Docker and this whole notion of containers, if you haven’t started using it in your company, please do. And Kubernetes is clearly the way to became the way to orchestrate containers, so that’s, again, a wonderful tool.

Marianna Tessel: And since I mentioned this through tools, I will remiss not to mention Argo, which is an Intuit tool that we open source. It’s actually a set of Kubernetes native tools and it helps you run and manage your jobs and applications. It is used by over a hundred companies, including companies such as Google, Tesla, et cetera. It’s really became an amazing, totally, very proud of it. We have other open source projects as well.

Marianna Tessel: I also like what’s going on with observability these days and you look at the project such Open Telemetry. We are very curious about them. And AI is another space that as it’s evolving, it’s good to see that there’s a lot of evolution of it that is actually open sourced. A good famous example is, of course, Tensorflow, but also Apache Spark has some very interesting ways that it brings help for AI jobs. So I recommend people take a look at them. And again, there’s a lot of good lists out there of open source projects, but go browse, go to Github, go to other places, and get yourself familiar with open source.

Rocio Montes: Awesome. That’s great advice. And also opensource.inuit.com, as well, for projects that you can collaborate.

Marianna Tessel: Totally.

Rocio Montes: Great. I think we’re ready now for Q and A.

Marianna Tessel: Yes, we are.

Rocio Montes: Let me go turn on the lights it shut off. Okay.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, we’ve got some great questions. First thing is more of an observation, I think, than a question, but people have called out as a female CTO, as a female leader in open source on, in this talk, you must work in a female-friendly engineering culture. Do you want to speak to that?

Marianna Tessel: You know, I would like to… First of all, I think, obviously, our culture is very friendly, and in general at the company, which makes it super easy and welcoming to be a female CTO. I don’t have to justify it, or talk about it, or apologize it, and I actually don’t even think about it. So that’s super great. My role in that, as well, is to make sure that our culture in the company, and particularly in engineering, is super welcoming to women and be a true champion for women. But I think it’s a very, very friendly culture and one that really is helping women. Rocio, what do you think?

Rocio Montes: I agree. I agree that the culture is very supportive. As a female engineer, I do feel that I can go after any of the goals that I set out to work on, and we always get that support.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great. As you all know, there’s a lower percentage of women typically in contributing to open source. What do you think might be the reason behind it? Do you feel like there’s just a lack of accessibility or this lack of awareness? Where do you think, in your own experience, the variety of reasons that may or may not have contributed to this lack of diversity in open source?

Marianna Tessel: I think that open source could be a little bit–as Rocio described her own experience–It could be a little bit intimidating. It does feel like you walk in a community of strangers and you’re starting to contribute your code and you don’t necessarily know the people. First, I totally agree we need to increase the awareness of open source and that’s important, but also let’s not be afraid of contributing and let’s have women actually take over open source. I think works. Women are really natural community builders, so we actually going to see increase level of collaboration in the community.

Marianna Tessel: And just like any other community, there’s also not everything is great in open source and the way the community sometimes behaves, but you can always flag that and it gets addressed. But it’s super welcoming environment and don’t be afraid of it. Tiptoe in, go in, and you can really, really start flourishing in it as something. So I really encourage people to get more awareness and then actually not to be afraid to start. And then it will become a lot less foreign once you do.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, and to add to that, there are, I think that when we started seeing the projects coming on from female engineers to open source their projects, I think that created a chain effect. Seeing one woman do it, and then the other ones actually follow because they see that representation in that community. So I think that looking into open source projects that are from women, maybe, or just going to a meetup where people are focusing on open source will get you that security and that community feeling that will encourage you to keep going and participating in open source.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great advice. If there’s anything you wanted to take away from this talk, be fearless, go ahead and contribute. It’s actually not that scary of an environment, it sounds like. So go ahead and get out there in the open source world.

Rocio Montes: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The next question we have is about how if you want to contribute, but the company might have policies against it. There seems to be a lot of draconian contracts when you’re an employee, right? So what advice do you have there?

Marianna Tessel: Every company has their own policies for open source contribution and when you are in a company it’s important for you to understand the specific policies… Sorry, my earphone is falling. It is important to understand the particular policies of your company and stay within that. Obviously you can also contribute to completely unrelated open source projects normally on your own. Again, ask for a company’s advice, but I recommend you get familiarize yourself with the policies and stay within.

Marianna Tessel: My word of advice here is for companies is to get really open to the idea of having more and more people in your organization contributing to the open source. Encourage it and open source software yourself. Recently there was an article that went around at Inuit where somebody said that open source software by companies is really the future of software. Especially when companies open source software, not for the purpose of monetizing it or making profit out of it. So I would recommend the companies get on this bandwagon, go open source a software. It’s really good for you. It’s good for your employees. It’s good for the world of software. And for employees, if you’re not sure, ask your company, ask your legal department, HR departments, your managers for a guidance of what to do. That’s always the best thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you. I think people really, really are looking for mentors generally. Especially as a woman in tech you want advice, you want to bounce ideas off of someone. So do you think that it’s helped you or it will help people to have mentors in open source, and how do you go about finding one? Besides attending a Girl Geek dinner, of course.

Marianna Tessel: Mentors always help, and for me, what works is not necessarily have… And again every person is different, so I don’t want to say that the only way, but for me what worked is not necessarily have one or two mentors, but I have a variety of mentors that I go to for different questions. And maybe some people I go to because they have just unbelievable advice about people and they always know what to do when I get a tough situation in that area. Others might help me when I get a really hard technology question and I might go to them with technology questions.

Marianna Tessel: So different mentors for different areas are great. I think in open source community, what you’re likely to find is mentors that can help you understand how to become a maintainer, how to become more of part of the community, and there’s ways to get close to the communities. Many of the open source community actually hosts the in person events and more. There’s conference that are in that space. So you can actually find mentors there. I think they’re more appropriate mentors that will help you to understand how to be active in the community and how to flourish there.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you. This has been an amazing session. I know I’ve learned a lot and I’ve seen from the comments and the questions that everybody’s really, really appreciated it, especially some call outs about how the talk was structured as an open dialogue. So thank you so much, Marianna, and thank you, Rocio, for making time for all of us today.

Marianna Tessel: Thank you for having us.

Rocio Montes: Thank you very much.

What action can you take today for Black Lives Matter?

Many of today’s calamities feel beyond our control — a global pandemic, a recession (and bonkers stock market), but the Black Lives Matter movement — we can actually DO SOMETHING about this!

We asked the team at Girl Geek X to share a good resource, or something we are doing right now, and loved the range of actions we raised:

This journey is ongoing and we are excited at the broadening coalition participating in the forward momentum for change!

Recently a letter in Fast Company circled the Internet: “Dear tech industry: Protesting is important, but it’s not enough” from Code2040’s Mimi Fox Melton and Karla Monterroso —

“Tech’s inability to diversify its workforce as it defines the future puts all of us in danger. Racial representation and equity means creating the economic, physical, psychosocial, and social conditions at your workplace where Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people can thrive.”

The framework provided includes stages from acceptance to action and advocacy — for example, building “budgets that include financial commitments to recruiting and hiring Black, Latinx, and Native people, as well as training so that they are not hired into abusive organizations and managed by people who have not done the work to unpack their racism and anti-Blackness.”

For employers looking to support #BlackLivesMatter, executive Laura Silva has solid advice:

To the companies, I am not applauding your #blacklivesmatter post.

I want to see a picture of your Executive Leadership Team and company board.
I want to see your HR sanctions against micro-aggressions.
I want to read about your diversity guidelines and promotion policies.
I want to see the numbers on company hiring of Black people and people of color and your retention results.
I want to see the funding for your affinity groups.
I want to read about your community outreach.
I want to read about your accessibility efforts and guidelines.
I want to read your immigration assistance programs.
I want to read your family paid leave guidelines and child care assistance.
I want to read your health care plans and mental health assistance programs.
I want to see your political donations.

I’m not giving out participation trophies; DO the actual work and then post a picture.


“Girl Geeks Gone Gov”: Martha Wilkes + Lisa Koenigsberg with United State Digital Service (Video + Transcript)

Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Gretchen DeKnikker: This session, yes, we are recording them. They will be on YouTube later. Subscribe now, and all of your dreams will come true. If you’re hosting a watch party or you want to tweet or have questions, throw them in the chat, send them out on Twitter. Definitely have the pictures. We saw the ones earlier of the watch party with the dog, and that was amazing. That just gave the whole team life because we’re all a little tired after this week.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Submit and upvote your questions during this session, down here using this Q&A button and be sure to check out the job opportunities from our sponsors at girlgeek.io/opportunities. That does include jobs where you could work with these amazing ladies that I’m about to introduce to you at U.S. Digital Service.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Martha Wilkes and Lisa Koenigsberg are both working at U.S. Digital Service, and they’re out here to tell you a little bit about mid-career malaise, a very important thing, knowing that everyone in this audience is more senior than our average audience, and the fact that we work in this ridiculously ageist industry that never gives enough attention to these things, and that all of us are going to face it. You guys are going to come, you’re going to give us life today, so I’m going to stop talking and let you take it away.

Martha Wilkes: Thank you, Gretchen. I’m Martha Wilkes, and I work at U.S. Digital Service. I’m one of the two Girl Geeks Gone Gov. They asked us to come up with a cute title, so that was our alliteration to the next level. We both found ourselves in the government with no intention. Lisa, what is US Digital Service anyway? What are we doing here?

Lisa Koenigsberg: Yes, yes. U.S. Digital Service. It’s comprised of about 170 technology geeks, and I use technology in air quotes, across different expertise, products, engineering, procurement, developers, designers, really smart bureaucracy hackers, which we’ll come back to again. We work with various government agencies to mostly give them permission to try something new, keeping in mind that the mission to do that is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the greatest need.

Lisa Koenigsberg: We’re hiring, by the way, usds.gov/apply. Check us out. We’re going to tell you more about it as we go. I’ll tell you a little bit about how I got here. It was 12 years in a nonprofit, 12 years of coming in one day and finding out thank you very much, but no thank you. Here I am, a mid-career, middle-aged woman who has to go out and fend for herself.

Lisa Koenigsberg: It was hard. I had heard about USDS from a conference, actually a diversity and inclusion conference, that I had gone to several years before. I pocketed a card and made some LinkedIn connections and put that in the back pocket, doing what you typically do is, “I’ll never go and do that. There’s no way I’d work for the government. I’ve heard horror stories about how hard it is to get into the government and who wants to go from private sector to public sector?”

Lisa Koenigsberg: I’m here to tell you that I have done it and it ain’t so bad. I don’t know, Martha, if you want to say a little bit about your journey?

Martha Wilkes: Yes. Mine was a little more fraught. I didn’t ever have USDS in mind and if I did, I don’t think it ever sinked in. I technically live in North Carolina. We’re here in Washington, DC right now.

Martha Wilkes: I, too, got laid off and here’s lesson number one to the people. When you get the mandatory HR meeting with no agenda and you have to attend on the day, there’s your sign. We scrambled, and this goes to my other lesson for you. Keep your portfolio and resume updated all the time. I heard this all my career. Did I do it? No, because on that day, I was scrambling like everybody else was. We knew what was happening.

Martha Wilkes: You have to be ready to go. I was at a company for 16 years, thinking I’d stay at that company 16 years, and guess what? That’s not what happened. I would say that was my first lesson, to be ready to go.

Martha Wilkes: I really also was not finding a lot of jobs locally, and it took me a while to find work, even any jobs, really. I was actually finding that the ones I was getting were the ones that were where the interview process was sight unseen because I have a lot of gray hair, people. That’s what I have, and I’m a middle-aged woman in the tech world. It turns out ageism is real and both of us have experienced it. I think you also liked the fact that the USDS interview process was on the phone.

Lisa Koenigsberg: Yeah. Let me tell you a little bit about that process. I’m going to lead in with an example that tells you what United States Digital Service is. We refer to it as USDS.

Martha Wilkes: Sorry, United States Digital Service.

Lisa Koenigsberg: Inside baseball here, so I apologize, an acronym heavy world.

Martha Wilkes: It’s the government; there are acronyms.

Lisa Koenigsberg: Typical government placement takes a long time. The USDS process took two clicks. You don’t need a government resume. You can use your regular resume. You go online, you pick a few checkboxes and upload your resume and you’re done.

Lisa Koenigsberg: What our counterparts that predated us did, one of the things that we did was hack the US Government hiring process to make it so that we have a much more human-centered approach to hiring. We’ve been talking a lot throughout today about bias. The entire interview process consisted of three pretty detailed interviews. All of it took place on the phone. I did not physically see a human being until I accepted an offer.

Lisa Koenigsberg: Then I said, “Well, wait a second. I would like to see who I’m going to work with and maybe where I’d be working and see a human being,” just because I didn’t trust that it was real. It doesn’t remove all of the bias because there’s still voice and tone and language that comes from different parts of the country and the world, but it definitely removed some of the ageism bias because they couldn’t see what I looked like or what I wore or any of those things.

Lisa Koenigsberg: That gives you an example of what USDS is. USDS is still working with the office of personnel management to make the hiring process more user friendly, meaning that you don’t have to write a 25-page computer readable resume that does keyword matching, and then maybe if you did everything right, you get to talk to a human. We start with human and go from there, so there’s ongoing work happening, but USDS started that with their own process. Did I say that we’re hiring?

Martha Wilkes: Yes, usds.gov/apply. we won’t be offended if you go to our website in the middle of our talk. That would be awesome. We’re always hiring people.

Martha Wilkes: Speaking of other people who work here, the imposter syndrome here at U.S. Digital Service is turned up to 11, because there’s incredible people here. I have to say, in my career I’ve worked with what I thought were awesomely smart people. Everybody here is smart and also nice because that’s one of the things that we’re looking for at U.S. Digital Services, not only people who can do the work technically, and we all have to be able to do that, but there’s an extra special secret sauce to USDS, U.S. Digital Service members that we don’t always own the thing.

Martha Wilkes: Mostly what we’re doing, because of our reputation, is that we don’t have all the answers. Our agency partners and the folks that work in the agencies are awesome people. They just are stuck in the bureaucracy and the red tape maybe of their agency. We mostly partner with them and elevate them and make sure their excellent ideas come to fruition. We can, because of where we are, locate a breakthrough a little bit. Do you feel like that imposter syndrome, Lisa?

Lisa Koenigsberg: Oh gosh. In any given day, I’m sitting in a room full of a combination of agency staff, let’s say at Office of Personnel Management. I’m sitting in a room with USDS staff that could go anywhere from former CTO of companies, to the people who started–the famous five or seven of Google, and the chairman of the Office of Personnel Management. Then there’s me.

Lisa Koenigsberg: I’m with my sweatshirt and my tennis shoes on thinking, why am I here? What could I possibly contribute? Then they ask me a question and it’s amazing, the support that you get in the feedback. They’re just looking for help. They’re looking for people from the outside to help them realize how to deal with the American public and create user-centered services and product ties and use modern technologies.

Lisa Koenigsberg: It’s hard, but it’s super fulfilling. I have given the example of if you want to do something in a place that has the big impact, forget Google and Amazon. Those numbers are minuscule. There are millions and millions of people in the United States and the people that we work with every day, those are their customers, not the couple of million that belong to Google or Amazon. It’s huge. If you’re looking for something that has purpose and meaning, there’s nothing bigger than you can do than work for a government agency.

Martha Wilkes: The other good thing about working for the government, which again, neither of us ever thought we’d be in, the benefits are really good. I think this is our advice and our lesson to especially middle aged women and also planting seeds in younger women who maybe one day, so may be thinking about this, because we are looking mostly for people who can walk in and handle themselves and have had maybe some life experience.

Martha Wilkes: I think both of us has had some life experience. Not only have we had life experience, but to sound like a Hallmark card or an Oprah episode, the hard things in life, the disappointments we had by being laid off in mid career, I almost can’t believe it’s coming out of my mouth, as cheesy as it sounds, but it literally has brought me to this experience, opened my mind to, “Okay, I have to broaden my horizons because I’m a middle-aged woman in tech and I need to find something, the next thing.”

Martha Wilkes: Also, that–having gone through that now has given me something, so when something hard comes along, maybe I can keep it in perspective a little bit, or maybe be like, “I’ve been here before and it’s been a hard thing, but I’ve come out the other side.” I think that’s the lesson, to be open to the adventures in your career. I never really thought I would. I never envisioned myself here. What do you think?

Lisa Koenigsberg: Yeah, when I dropped my resume in, I thought, “Nah, that’ll never happen. I’m just going to do it for the experience and have another interview through my belt.” I do want to, again, echo some of that, don’t be afraid to stretch yourself. Don’t be afraid to try something different.

Lisa Koenigsberg: I know the average government employee works in a place for 20 years plus. We have terms. We’re limited to two two-year terms, so a total max of four years because that is the industry standard, right? That’s how long people stay at a job. That’s how long you don’t become succumbed to the inside baseball. There’s a purpose for that, and it’s hard.

Lisa Koenigsberg: I also come from a woman perspective and I have found that, because I’m with the United States Digital Service, that has given me some carte blanche to walk into a room and be heard. As a woman in technology, I offer give every opportunity that you have to be heard. Don’t be afraid to have your voice. Don’t be afraid to say what you think. It won’t always go well, but don’t shy back because you’re sitting in a room full of men. Your voice matters. Find a place where you can be heard.

Lisa Koenigsberg: I will also just give a few examples of what USDS does, talking a little bit from our own experience. Do you want to throw in a few things that you’ve done?

Martha Wilkes: I’m a designer. My first project, when I joined U.S. Digital Service was to actually dig on a hiring pilot. We have a pilot and we’re trying to improve the government hiring because we have had stories and evidence of people with upwards of 60-page resumes. That’s what it takes to even get through the hiring process, which is crazy, especially when you’re trying to hire awesome tech people who might be coming from the private sector who have a two-page resume, like we all do.

Martha Wilkes: That was my first project. Now I’m at the Department of Veterans Affairs, working on tools for healthcare for our awesome veterans. They’re such fantastic people, who have paid the price up ahead, assuming that they did the right thing up ahead for their country, and now we owe them all the stuff that they sacrificed for.

Martha Wilkes: They’re wonderful, wonderful users. I listened to some user testing last week, usability testing last week. I told everyone I’m biased because I fell in love with everybody. They’re awesome, awesome people, our veterans.

Lisa Koenigsberg: Yep. My original few months, maybe six months, was at the Veterans Affairs Administration and I focused on the authenticated experience. Once you’ve logged into the VA.gov website, what do you see? What is your dashboard? What is your profile? What services do you have rights to and how do you find out about others? Super exciting.

Lisa Koenigsberg: We did a three month in-depth research and discovery phase that directed probably a two-year roadmap that’s now being executed against. I got to come in and just make that happen. I’ve now handed that off to another really smart group of people, and I’ve been working at Social Security Administration to help them better transactions, like getting a replacement Social Security card or getting proof of benefit from them or finding out your claim status. We’re helping them bring the consumer to the forefront and get the- I guess our time is up.

Martha Wilkes: USDS.gov. That’s our final thing. USDS.gov/apply. Sorry about that. We made it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Wonderful. Okay.

Martha Wilkes: We’re happy to take questions, you guys.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yes, and I love that U.S. Digital Service, they sponsor–they join us as a government participant every year. Every year, the speakers are just phenomenal. You think at the beginning, there’s no way I would ever work for the government. Then you meet these women and you’re like, “You know…?”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Then you guys talking–not you guys, y’all talking about impact…

Lisa Koenigsberg: Oh.

Martha Wilkes: We’re Girls Geek Gone Gov.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Just the impact, you touch everyone, everyone in the entire United States. That is scale and that’s amazing. I think a lot of people, for the first time are looking at it, going, “Oh, wow. This sounds really cool, and I could work with you two.” Okay–

Martha Wilkes: It’s daunting. It’s a little scary, truly, when you walk in and you realize that when you’ve been operating at a different level, maybe, especially for me in the private sector, but it is thrilling and also you’re not by yourself. There’s an awesome team of people. Again, mostly the agency folks are the ones who really have that expertise and you partner with, I would say. Do you agree?

Lisa Koenigsberg: Yep.

Martha Wilkes: Cool.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Our most popular question is, well, it’s switching as they do. One is around the technology stack that’s used. I know you all work in different departments. Is that even something you can share? Is it a secret?

Martha Wilkes: Does COBOL strike anybody’s fancy because we’re huge in COBOL at Medicare/ Medicaid, and guess what? We actually can’t change that out. That runs the–

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, the scale of that, yeah…

Martha Wilkes: That runs, what is it, 84% of the economy, so that COBOL code, thank God, is still up and running and safe.

Lisa Koenigsberg: I feel like a lot of what we do when we go in is there are a lot of mainframes sitting in use, okay? I’m not going to lie, but a lot of what we do is try to figure out how to build API services or microservices on top of that, so that we’re not hitting the mainframe for every request that we have, as a starting point of trying to then understand the business roles that drive that, so that we can then replace it some day.

Lisa Koenigsberg: It is not the forever solution, but unfortunately moving from static servers to AWS doesn’t work very easy here. A lot of what we do is try to incrementally get them to do that API transition, so they can uncover business logic and then have it written down when they’re ready to replace it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right. You’re the [crosstalk 00:18:22] inside the government.

Martha Wilkes: At the VA, The Veterans Administration, the project that we’re working on, React, microservices, like modern stuff…

Lisa Koenigsberg: There’s React, there’s Ruby. We do have modern services, but they’re often layered on top of very legacy systems.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay. There’s two questions. I want to try to get them both in, but we’re like close on time. One is do you need to have a technology or engineering background to apply to U.S. DS Digital Service?

Lisa Koenigsberg: I would say most of our folks do. Most of the on the ground work at the agencies is technology based, so we’re typically looking at people from the technology industry and design and engineering and product. We do have some front office and some talent parts that don’t require that, but knowledge of how to find that is also necessary. I would say most of it does come from a technology background.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, and then the other one, I know it can be confusing… If you guys can get the owl to go back to have you centered, too. Focus just…

Martha Wilkes: Well, the owl has a mind of its own. When I start talking, it literally just…

Gretchen DeKnikker: The other one is how the terms work. You come. It’s a year or two years or four years. Then do you stay, do you go to another department? How does that work?

Lisa Koenigsberg: Neither of us have had to deal with that. I’ll give you the 30,000 foot view of what I’ve heard. Everything goes smoothly. Your two years hits and you can easily just roll over into your next two year term, or you can choose that this is enough, or you can choose that I’m all in on government and try to get yourself placed in a permanent government position.

Martha Wilkes: That’s what I want to do.

Lisa Koenigsberg: Right,

Martha Wilkes: Right now.

Lisa Koenigsberg: You could do your two years and then opt into your next two years. Usually, around year three, you’re starting to look at, and even the leadership at United States Digital Service is starting to talk to you about what is it that you want to do and help you get whatever direction you’re going to go.

Lisa Koenigsberg: We know that right now, there’s a 30/30 split last year of people who went back to the private sector or stayed in some kind of civic tech. Most of the people who stayed in civic tech went to other companies that were doing civic tech work, not necessarily with the government, but a lot of people are staying in the civic tech space because it’s super compelling.

Martha Wilkes: It’s so addicting, having worked at a private sector company, to come and work someplace that really has a mission of serving American people and people who are applying to be Americans citizens. To go back to just selling stuff for a company or just making stuff… It’s a little bit addicting I have to say, and I can’t imagine going back. I don’t want to go back.

Lisa Koenigsberg: I’ll also offer that a lot of the big companies, Microsoft, Google, offer sabbaticals to go do things for three to six months. We’ve had a lot of people come in, thinking I’m going to do my three or six months and have either done that or have stayed and said, “This is amazing. We want to stay.”

Martha Wilkes: There’s no experience like it in the private sector.

Lisa Koenigsberg: Our current administrator, Matt Cutts, came with a six months’ sabbatical from Google and stayed.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I don’t think you guys mentioned: Are you hiring?

Lisa Koenigsberg: Always.

Martha Wilkes: We are hiring. We’re always hiring because people are always coming and going. A lot of people don’t even stay for their full two-year term. People, for various reasons in their careers, are always coming and going, so we’re always hiring.

Lisa Koenigsberg: usds.gov/apply.

Gretchen DeKnikker: There we go. All right. That’s what I wanted to get in one more of. All right. This has been a pleasure, a true pleasure. Thank you so much.

Martha Wilkes: Thank you.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Thanks, everybody.

Lisa Koenigsberg: Happy National Women’s Day.

“Lift As You Climb: Morning Keynote”: Carin Taylor with Workday (Video + Transcript)

Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Gretchen DeKnikker: We are ready to kick off the morning. Carin Taylor, our keynote speaker, is the Chief Diversity Officer of Workday, where she has global responsibility for the development and execution of Workday’s inclusion and diversity strategy. Prior to joining Workday, she was the head of diversity, inclusion and innovation at Genentech, where she was responsible for strategic initiatives, including executive coaching, building, and leading highly effective teams and increasing play engagement. She is here to kick us off with our theme today, Lift as You Climb.

Gretchen DeKnikker: We are so, so, so excited to have you, Carin.

Carin Taylor: Good morning. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much, Girl Geek X for actually having me. It’s my pleasure to be here, obviously being your keynote speaker, but also just really as a sponsor as well. I’m going to go ahead and share my screen. What I’m going to talk about today is I’m actually going to talk about building a culture that vibes for all. You’ll find out what that means in a few minutes, but I’d like to start off with just a couple of things. First of all, thank you again for having me. Happy International Women’s Day or weekend.

Carin Taylor: Most of us, or a lot of us, are starting to celebrate today, but a lot of folks will be celebrating on Monday and next week as well. But thank you all for actually being here. I’m going to talk about something that is important to me as I think about this work around belonging and diversity, and how it actually impacts us, not–as women, but also our entire work environment in the world that we’re in. So I’m going to talk a little bit about that. And I’m going to start talking about the fact that a culture that vibes is a culture that thrives.

Carin Taylor: But I also want to acknowledge that it starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with us understanding what is our journey and who are we in the context of this conversation. For me, I was born and raised in California. Obviously, grew up as an African-American girl. I was in a family with three other brothers, so I grew up in a really competitive environment, have lived in Silicon Valley my entire life. I’ve worked for some pretty big Silicon Valley companies, as you heard from Gretchen. Doing that and being a lesbian, an African American, a mother of two beautiful biracial kids, that has shaped how I actually see the world and how I think about this work.

Carin Taylor: It wasn’t until I started doing work on myself and understanding my points of view around this that I really began to be able to have a perspective that actually was able to help other people. I’ll share a quick story with you. These experiences have shaped my life. One of the things I had an opportunity to do is live and travel all around the world. And so, being acknowledged as someone who was very different while I would be traveling in different countries was something that really stuck with me. But one of the real pertinent and impactful situations that I was involved in was actually an experience with bias.

Carin Taylor: Ad so, I’ll paint the picture for you. I was at a sales conference, there were about 200 or so people there. I was one of about 10 women. I was one of two African Americans, and I was the only African-American woman in the room that day. The topic of conversation that day just happened to be diversity and this was long before I started doing diversity work. But as I sat in the front row listening to the speaker, a typical-looking executive, white male, I had a really adverse reaction to looking at him talk to me, African American, traveled the world, etc., etc., talking to me about diversity.

Carin Taylor: It was really bothering me. It was like kind of hitting me in the gut. So I walked up to him during a break, and his name was Mike, and I said, “Mike, look, I’m really sorry, but I can’t receive your message.” And he said, “Why not?” I said, “Because of what you look like. I just couldn’t get past that.” I had cut off everything. I couldn’t even hear what he was saying anymore. And he said, “Why not?” I said, “Because of what you look like.” He said, “I’m gay.” It was the first time that unconscious bias really, really hit me upside the head.

Carin Taylor: But it wasn’t until later that evening that I really understood the impact of that story and that interaction that had happened. What happened was I was sitting at home and all of a sudden I burst into tears. Because what I realized is that what I had done to Mike, people had been doing to me my entire life. They had been judging me simply by what I look like and I in turn had started to do it to other people. I share that because that experience really kind of kickstarted my personal journey around understanding who I was as a person,. understand how I viewed the world.

Carin Taylor: But it wasn’t until I had very similar experiences in addition to that one, that really led me to believe that there was something about how I saw people and how I saw the world that I needed to work on and that again shapes why I feel so passionately about this topic. So let me go ahead and get started. So, VIBE. VIBE, if you VIBE, you can thrive. Vibe for us at Workday stands for value, inclusion, belonging, and equity for all. It’s really important that we put that for all on top of this conversation, because, as we’re doing this work and you talk about inclusion, and you talk about belonging, it has to be in the context of every single person that you interact with.

Carin Taylor: It can’t just be for women. It can’t just be for black women. It can’t just be for certain categories of people. You have to think about how you are inclusive of every single person within your workforce, and that’s what VIBE means to us. If we break it down in the areas that we focus on, it’s these areas that you’re seeing on the screen right here. So the inclusion, belonging, and equity, I’ll kind of go a little bit deeper into, but I want to kind of just lay this out for you. VIBE means that we value diverse representation.

Carin Taylor: It means that we look across our organization and want to make sure that there is a healthy balance of the workers that are actually in our workplace. Uniqueness is about how, how does my individual uniquely–uniqueness play a part in the environment and helping our company thrive. Inclusion is about the environment and the conditions that are being created for you to have a culture and a place of belonging for everyone. And so it’s interesting because inclusion, that environment, can be really healthy and you think you’re doing all the right things, but not everyone may necessarily feel like they belong in that culture.

Carin Taylor: So it’s important that you provide different ways of building inclusion so that everyone has an opportunity to feel as if they belong. Belonging is a bit different. Belonging is personal. Belonging is about how am I, or how are you personally feeling in that environment of inclusion that’s been created for you. And I’ll talk about that a little bit more. And then there’s equity. The way that we look at equity is really from a standpoint of does everyone have an opportunity to succeed in our company, and I’ll talk about equity a little bit more as well.

Carin Taylor: So here’s why belonging matters and at the end of the day, it really kind of gets to the bottom point there. And that is when you feel like you belong, you perform at your best, you are your best person. So think about situations where you feel like you have not belonged and think about the emotional capital that you demonstrate in terms of whether or not you’re showing up with imposter syndrome, whether or not you’re giving your full self, whether or not you’re being as creative as you can possibly be. If you don’t feel like you truly belong in an environment, you’re really not giving your best.

Carin Taylor: And so, as we think about this transition that we’ve seen within the diversity space, where back in the ’60s, it was about affirmative action and equal opportunity to today how we’re talking about inclusion and belonging, this thread of how we want to make sure that everyone feels as if they’re included is really a critical part to the work that we’re doing. Obviously not just myself, but all the belonging and diversity HR practitioners out there that are really striving to make strides in this particular area that we’re working in.

Carin Taylor: So let’s talk a little bit about equality versus equity. So you can see from this pictorial, the equality, it really gets to sameness. It kind of assumes that everyone is starting from the same level of platform. The reality is we would love to think that that were true across the board, but the realities are, is that we’re not all starting from the same place. And so when we think about the difference between equality and sameness and making sure that everyone is treated exactly the same, that doesn’t necessarily lead to equity. And so, as you see, what’s depicted on the right hand side, equity really is about fairness.

Carin Taylor: It’s about giving everyone that opportunity to succeed. And sometimes as you can see here, it means adjusting the way that you do things or how you provide opportunities for people in the workplace. And so we think about those things. We want to strive to make sure that there is equity in the workplace, but in reality, until there is equity, there really can’t be equality. So why does this matter to us? Why should this matter and why does this matter to us really as a culture and as a society? Well, it’s because of this $16 billion a year stress that it’s causing corporations. And this $16 billion, this is from a study that was done by the Kapor Center.

Carin Taylor: And what they found out is that when people feel like they don’t belong, they feel like they can’t thrive within a particular culture, there’s a ton of turnover, which means that it’s impacting retention. And the interesting thing is it’s not just impacting underrepresented groups of people. It is really impacting everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, white, black, gay, straight, in tech or not. This is a $16 billion a year issue in Silicon Valley. So think about that around the world. Think about the complexity of what this really means when we have cultures that do not strive to do something like value, inclusion, belonging, and equity for everyone.

Carin Taylor: So I wanted to leave you with some tips to, as you’re thinking about how do you build a culture that really vibes, and I want to share some things and really think about this from some learnings that I’ve actually found. So the first one is really around leadership buy-in and accountability. And what that means is you have to have your leaders not just buy into what you’re doing from a diversity standpoint, but they’ve got to participate as well. They’ve got to be executive sponsors, they’ve got to be parts of councils. They’ve got to be talking about diversity and inclusion, both internally and externally, as you think about the impact of this on your business.

Carin Taylor: They have to do things like model behaviors so that those behaviors are demonstrated in the workplace and other people can actually see that they’re modeling those behaviors and benefit. One thing that’s super important though, it’s not just the verbal buy-in that’s super important. One of the also critical things is how do you get your leaders to document and really ultimately document to your CEO that they are committed to this work and making sure that the workplace for all, and particularly for women, is really a place that thrives.

Carin Taylor: The next thing is approaching this through a learning lens. And so I have found that one of the real important things is how you view this work. And the more that you accept that we all come from different backgrounds, perspectives, experiences, and you leverage those things as a way to do better for your business, you’re looking through a learning lens. And so you’re doing things like starting from a place of curiosity and empathy and forgiveness. We’re currently in a state where we’re fearful of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing and therefore, in some cases we don’t do anything.

Carin Taylor: And so approach it really from a learning lens and allow for stumbles, allow for stumbles and resets. Don’t take this as if you do it wrong the first time, you’re going to continue to do it wrong, or don’t not move forward with asking questions because you may not know how to ask the questions, but really look at it through a learning lens. The next one is around sharing data. So as you all know, one of the things that really resonates with people is sharing data. So whether or not you’re looking at that data from a gender or race, a generation, a location perspective, a leadership perspective, it doesn’t matter, sharing data so people can actually see what’s happening, see what the trends are is super important.

Carin Taylor: But what’s equally important are the stories, the personal stories that come along with that data. It’s really important to attach personal stories, people, to the data that’s actually happening because data for most of us is just data and there’s no personalization to it. But when you attach it to a story, something that’s real life happening for people, then it tends to resonate a lot, a lot more. It’s really important that you have to look beyond just the numbers. So the next thing is ensure everyone is aligned. And what this is about is this is, what’s your one strategy that you may have?

Carin Taylor: So for us, it’s VIBE. Regardless of where you are at in the company, VIBE is really what we strive for and everyone at our company understands that. But I also have to make sure that there is some flexibility based on the region, the organization that you may be in, because there could be differences. And I’ll give you a quick example. If you’re working in a typical engineering environment, we all know that engineering is more dominated by men than it is by women. And so when you’re having those conversations, everyone’s trying to VIBE to make sure that this is an inclusive culture for everyone.

Carin Taylor: But in engineering, you may need to put more of a focus on how you’re inclusive of women. If I flip that story, and I think about an organization like human resources, they almost have the opposite problem. They have the issue of they are more dominated by women. And so their organization may think, may need to think about how did they create more of a balance when it comes to gender diversity, but on the male side. So you have to allow for that flexibility as well. The one other thing that I’ll talk about here is making sure that you’re able to differentiate the difference between your personal values and your company values.

Carin Taylor: And I share this because one of the things is sometimes those things can conflict. Sometimes when my personal values come in conflict with my company’s values, I need to know which one is on top, which one takes precedence. And if you’re working in a corporation, it should be your company’s values. And so, even though I like to share that, if I decide on Monday mornings I want to be a really nasty person and every Monday I come in and I’m a real B. Well, that doesn’t necessarily align with my company’s values around integrity and valuing people.

Carin Taylor: And so I have to leave that part of me outside. I can’t bring that side of me in. And if we talk about this in real terms, we’re talking about the things that really damage our relationships in our culture, such as people being homophobic, people being sexist, people being racist. Those types of things that crumble your culture are things that you want to make sure don’t impact your company culture, even if that conflicts with a person’s personal values. The next thing that I’ll talk about here is provide clarity because words matter.

Carin Taylor: So people need to know if you’re in a corporation like we are of 10, 12,000 people, we have to be aligned on what matters and how we’re talking about things. And so if everyone has a very different definition of what diversity and representation are, or inclusion and belonging, and they don’t understand the difference, or equity and equality, or visible and invisible differences, you have to often define what those things mean in your culture so that everyone has more of a common understanding and lens in which they’re looking through those things.

Carin Taylor: And so know that words really matter. The next thing that I’ll talk about is, you have to talk about the hard stuff. This is a one that makes us feel most uncomfortable, but it’s also the one that’s probably one of the most important. So whether or not you’re talking about Black Lives Matter, or the Me Too Movement, or immigration or race or politics, or lack of diversity in leadership within your company, these are the hard topics that we need to overcome that we need to talk about. And I say, don’t ignore them because these are the things that our employees are thinking about.

Carin Taylor: These are the things that they’re talking about at the water cooler, in the bathroom, when they’re going for walks on breaks. Our employees are talking about this, which means that we need to have much more of a lens of how do we appreciate the fact that we have all these social issues going on and they are impacting the productivity and mind share of our employees. And so we really have to make sure that we’re not throwing the hard stuff under the rug, but that we’re really taking the opportunity to talk about them. The next thing that I’ll share around building a culture that vibes is around getting everyone involved.

Carin Taylor: How do you find ways to make sure that all of your employees can participate, regardless of the level in which they are at? So whether or not it’s getting involved in employee resource groups or councils or functional diversity councils, or how do you get your remote employees involved, how do you think about what this means from a global perspective, find ways to get people involved. And I’ll talk about that around a couple of things that Workday has done to really make an improvement in that area. You’ve got to measure progress.

Carin Taylor: So I talked about sharing data and stories before, but you have to measure how you were actually doing and measurements go up and down. And I’ll talk about this in a couple bullets, but this is a journey. This is not a destination. There are going to be stumbles. There are going to be resets, but as long as you’re measuring progress and then putting things in place to continue to build upon that, then you’re actually headed in the right direction. The next thing is to celebrate the big and the small. Remember that we’ve been doing this work for a really long time and creating a culture that vibes for all people requires not just that every one of us participate, but it also means that there are great things, big things, big wins that you’re going to have and then there are also small things that are going to happen as well.

Carin Taylor: But at the end of the day, the thing to remember is that this is a journey. It’s going to take you a long time to get there. No matter where you’re starting is–wherever you start is where you start. But the fact that you continue to make progress and look at it as a journey is really important. So that’s what you can do in reference to a culture of vibing. Let me switch a little bit to what you can do as a person before I wrap up and open this up to some questions. So one of the things is, understand your story. So I shared part of my story in the beginning.

Carin Taylor: In order for you to expect that other people are going to share their story and lean into the difficulties of this conversation sometime, you have to understand your story first. So that’s the one thing. Welcome difference. Make sure that you’re looking for different perspectives and experiences and ways that people think as a way to do better in the work that you’re doing. Lead from a place of curiosity, empathy, and forgiveness. I talked about this a little bit earlier, but we can’t have an environment where people are afraid to speak or afraid to ask questions and think that we’re going to make progress if we shut people down.

Carin Taylor: I’ll share a quick story. I was in a meeting one day and an employee says to me, Carin, I don’t believe in diversity and I don’t believe in equal pay for women. And so as a head of diversity and as a woman, you can only imagine how that kind of took me back a little bit. But the beauty in the conversation was two things. One is we had a culture where an employee could share what they were truly feeling about this work, even to someone like myself. The other piece of that is I didn’t jump on this person and shut them down and go, oh my God, why, why am I having this conversation?

Carin Taylor: I listened. I asked questions. I led from a place of empathy and understanding so that I could better understand what the perspective was from this person. And at the end of the conversation, we got to a really happy place, so that’s great. Demonstrate inclusive behaviors, demonstrate them for all, speak up, speak up for people who don’t have a voice, whose voices are not heard. When you’re sitting in a meeting and you’re listening to someone steal someone’s idea or repeat something that someone else just said. This happens a lot to us as women.

Carin Taylor: Make sure that you are being brave and stepping up for that person. Engage in a difficult conversation, share your experiences, actively participate in making your culture better. Whether or not you’re calling it VIBE, whether or not you’re calling it DEI, whether or not you’re calling it diversity and inclusion, it doesn’t matter. But in order for us to make significant progress in this space, everyone’s got to participate. Again, provide that space and airtime for others. And if you are in a position, mentor others, sponsor others.

Carin Taylor: Help give each other that leg up so that we can all survive in the workplace. This really is just a quick little picture of how Workday vibes. And this is what we call, this is a day that we had last June called VIBE Week. But you can just see how multiple people around the world are getting involved in the activities to help us build a culture of inclusion. And then lastly, what I’ll do is just share this quick little video and then I’ll wrap it up.

Speaker: Our love gets better every day.

Speaker: Our friendship has no religion.

Speaker: Love is about who you are and not what you are.

Speaker: I don’t see a wheelchair. I see the love of my life.

Speaker: Our love is greater than anyone’s hate.

Carin Taylor: And so with that, I leave you with this question of what can you do to make sure that you’re building a culture around you that values inclusion, belonging, and equity, and what steps can you personally take to make sure that you’re creating an environment where everyone around you can thrive as well? So with that, I’ll go ahead and open it up to some Q&A. Gretchen.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Thank you so much, Carin. That was amazing. We have tons of questions. We just have a few minutes, but we’re going to get through as many as we can. So first, this is the one I really want to hear your answer to. Where do you find your inner strength to standing up to bias?

Carin Taylor: To standing up to what?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Bias.

Carin Taylor: Yeah. That’s a …

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s a good one, right?

Carin Taylor: That’s a fantastic question. So I think a lot of it has to do with almost that story that I talked about with Mike in the beginning and having been someone who demonstrated bias and actually seeing it on both sides. And for me, what I thought was I felt the pain and the hurt and the damage that it meant to me and then I felt the hurt and the pain and the damage as I witnessed myself doing it to someone else. And having both of those perspectives and being able to then say, oh my God, how do I compartmentalize this and how do I never make another person feel undervalued for who they were was something that was just so prevalent in my life in terms of how I personally can translate when I see bias happening, how I kind of like try to just kind of shut it down.

Carin Taylor: And so for me, I think that’s where that inner strength comes from is really thinking about it and feeling it from both different sides.

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right. Okay. So our next question, thank you for the brilliant insights. How do you measure belonging at Workday and what aspirational goals have you set?

Carin Taylor: Yeah, that’s a fantastic question.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And this one comes from Dublin, also. Okay.

Carin Taylor: Fantastic.

Gretchen DeKnikker: That could be like Dublin, not Dublin, but okay.

Carin Taylor: Ireland, Dublin, California.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. I could have like got really dumb excited for a second.

Carin Taylor: So we measure belonging at Workday through something that we call a belonging index. And the belonging index is a subset of really kind of 34 questions that are a part of what we call our Best Workday Survey. And so we survey our employees every Friday. As a matter of fact, I took my survey this morning, but we survey our employees every Friday with only two questions from this set of 34 questions. But part of that, what we’ve pulled out are six questions that go directly to belonging. And that’s how we measure belonging in the workplace.

Carin Taylor: We measure it by gender, generation, race, location, and level that you are within the company. So individual contributor, manager, executive, etc. But that’s how we measure it. And it’s a part of that entire Best Workday Survey that we leveraged.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay. This is a good one too. Is leadership buy-in and ultimate accountability dependent on the organization style, like flat, hierarchical?

Carin Taylor: No, not necessary. Not necessarily. So if you think about leadership and who actually sits in leadership today, it can be hierarchical. But even if it’s not, making sure that the key point there was about making sure that people, that your leaders are talking about it and that they are participating in it. They can’t just go out and say, oh yes, I believe in diversity and not do anything about it and not do anything to support it and not build it into their organizational structure. It’s got to be a piece of what they do.

Carin Taylor: And part of it is hierarchical because if you have it coming from your very top leaders, and they’re saying that this is important, it certainly is going to spill down to the rest of the organization. But if you think about almost everyone being a leader within your company, also everyone having an opportunity to lead in some way, whether or not it’s on a project, it’s on a team, everyone can really play that leadership role. Everyone can take accountability and certainly everyone can participate.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining us this morning. This has been amazing. Again, everyone we have recorded this, so if you missed any part of it, it will be available later. And, Carin, thank you for your support, both personally, and from Workday.

Carin Taylor: This has been my pleasure. Have a fantastic day.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Thank you.