Episode 21: Listener Questions

Girl Geek Podcast Episode 21: Listener Questions

Resources mentioned in this podcast:


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast. Connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And this is Sukrutha, by day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen. I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: We’re back for season two and we’ve got some exciting things coming. For our first episode of the season, we’ll be answering your questions.

Rachel Jones: That’s right. You sent in questions a few months ago and now it’s time for answers, so let’s jump right into it.

Rachel Jones: Our first question, how do you strike a healthy balance between hustling to make your dreams happen and keeping mentally and physically healthy?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it’s hard. I think what my goal is every single day now, is to just try to do the top three things that need to get done in priority order and nevermind the rest of the things on my list. So I have a to-do this every day. I only do the top three things. I don’t try anything else, and that makes it a little bit easier on me. I also have this thing where if something takes a minute or less to do it, I just do it. So that includes like clearing a messy area in my house or scheduling a meeting that I seem to keep procrastinating on, or sending an email. So that’s helped me. But I can’t say I’ve [inaudible ]. That is still very difficult. It’s a challenge every single day and I don’t think there’s any sign of me solving it. I’m just going to try to get better at dealing with it.

Angie Chang: I think it’s really interesting how, in 2020, we are going to gyms and SoulCycles and people are just really into fitness right now. And I don’t know how to explain it. There’s this huge culture of, “If you don’t go the gym in your leggings three times a week, you are failing somehow”. And “if you’re not going to yoga class with your friends, if you’re not going to various bootcamp, you’re not taking care of yourself,” and I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. I feel like if you eat somewhat healthily and take it easy and don’t go to the gym, you can still be physically healthy without having done all these extra things. And then to the keeping mentally healthy, just boundaries and making sure that you feel good about what you’re doing. And the weekends you can work on your side projects and maybe just making sure you’re time boxing yourself to let yourself even read a book or journal and have gratitude and such. Rachel, what do you think?

Rachel Jones: Yeah. I think for me it’s really kind of a mindset thing, and just thinking about how much of my life I want to be taken up by career. And just remembering there’s more to life than my job and trying to do well and advance there. I think at the times where I feel the least balanced, it’s when I’m just thinking about work all the time. Coming home from work and just eating and going to bed and doing nothing else. But, when I remember it like, “Oh, there are other things in my life, like relationships to invest in or exercise to explore”. Or any other kind of option, and remembering like the day doesn’t end when the work day ends. Yeah. That’s what’s really helpful for me. And also therapy. Yeah. Everyone, go to therapy.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I second that for sure. It’s the one place where you can go every single week and there’s no stakeholder in the room. Like you can just be completely honest about whatever you’re feeling, in a way that you can’t with people in your life.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I also champion therapy a lot. Personal therapy. Also, I found support groups to be incredibly helpful for various things in your life. So it’s not just your own mind, but also kind of getting a broader perspective on other issues.

Rachel Jones: All right. Moving on. How do you deal with work drama?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Poorly. Oh, were these asking for suggestions on how to deal with that?

Rachel Jones: I think that’s probably the question, just a guess.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s just if you have an issue, talk to that person directly if you can before you talk about it with other people. Yeah, just creating and spreading things I think usually makes workplace drama worse.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think you can just assume venting to anyone in your workplace about something is probably not safe. That’s a really good baseline assumption to make. Just cause tables turn and things happen and you never really know. Or you just might be venting and hot in the moment and then later you’re like, “I feel really bad for saying that”. And so it would just be better if it wasn’t said to someone that you work with.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I’d agree with that. I have colleagues first and then friends. I know a lot of people make lasting friendships from people they work–with people they meet at work. I learned very quickly that, treat people like colleagues first, they’re employees just like you. I think the best that you can do, is to stay away from the drama. Not participate, meaning not even be a listener to conversations that pop out of the drama. Extract yourself from it, and if it isn’t something that’s making you happy, I think just change the environment because you don’t want the environment to change you.

Angie Chang: What is work drama to people? Is it like the water cooler talk that you do or do not want to hear? Or is it when people bring a lot of emotions to work inevitably and just… Yeah, I agree with the idea that just finding a way to not wrap yourself into it and focus on the work and not a drama.

Angie Chang: It’s always easier said than done. I know when we’re in it we’re like, “Oh my God, it’s terrible,” and then you can step away and see that in some perspective.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah I’ve been in so many situations like that, but I found that the only way to have mental happiness is to really exit the situation completely. Whether it’s leaving the team, leaving the company, or just not being in areas where people typically talk about the drama or participate in the drama.

Rachel Jones: Our next question is more related to career advancement. So what are some ways you can have a conversation about moving up in your company and when should that start?

Angie Chang: I think that conversation can start as soon as you want it to start. I think always stating where you want to go and that’s not necessarily by title, but in terms of goals you have for yourself to learn to do. And then also how is that reflected? How are you rewarded by promotion or whatnot?

Gretchen DeKnikker: One thing we hear at the dinners a lot, and even at our annual Elevate virtual conference, like last year, I remember Leyla Seka, who was then the EVP at Salesforce, was talking, she did a session called “Always Ask for More,” and her thing was just let people know what you want, as soon as you want it. And that theme comes up a lot, especially when women that are fairly senior in their careers are talking at dinners. They’re always saying like, I think it was Robin from Survey Monkey had said, “I never got a promotion I didn’t ask for”. You don’t have to say, “I want this promotion”. You can say, “What do I need to do to get this? This is a goal of mine.” Let them know it’s a goal and then have them give you what they would need to see from you for it. Otherwise you don’t know.

Rachel Jones: I think this conversation should really start when you’re interviewing for the role. Yeah. You should be asking kind of what advancement looks like in this company. What that pathway would be. Yeah. What the opportunities are. And then as soon as you start kind of building this plan like, okay, here’s what I’m interested in, where I might want to go. Yeah. What do you need to see for me in order to get there? Like really as soon as you start.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. And if you have a boss and particularly somebody who signals that in an interview, that’s a boss that you want. Who’s trying to figure that out and not in some generic like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But being more like, “I know you want to go in this direction, here’s the skills and here’s how we can build them in your current role.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Before I even ask what I need to do… Actually, I look around me after I’ve joined the company or the team to see what role it is that I see other people doing that I think is something that’s interesting to me. I go ahead and talk to those people and ask them. Get more information on what I think they might’ve done to get to that role. And then I also talk to people who helped, either managed or mentored people who got to the role that I wanted, and ask them what they look for when they grow people to that role. And that’s helped me tweak or create a list of things that I believe I would need to get to that role or next level. Creating a list like this is often helped me create opportunities that either didn’t already exist or identify opportunities that weren’t available.

Rachel Jones: So one question that we got, is how do you overcome insecurities throughout your career?

Gretchen DeKnikker: If it’s something that I’m just terrified of, it’s like I’m going to run through all of the scenarios of how this could go wrong. And once I feel like I’ve come up with the very worst possible thing that could happen, which is generally not that bad of a thing, right? When it’s mostly just like you’re having some just sort of internal crisis of confidence. And then when it’s like, well the worst thing that can happen is they say no. Like, okay then I’m going to go do it. And then if I can’t convince myself that way, then sometimes I just start… it’s almost like I close my eyes but I don’t. But I just start having words come out of my mouth and then it’s like started, and then I can’t stop it. And then it’s over, whatever it was that I was just feeling really worried about addressing or asking for.

Rachel Jones: Yeah, I think that’s helpful. I try to think about like, okay, what are you actually afraid of? [crosstalk 00:11:48] Yeah, really similar. Just doing that worst case scenario situation. It’s like, okay wait, if this actually does happen, it’s fine.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Rachel Jones: We’ll keep living.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So they said no, okay, that’s answered and now I can stop having this dialogue in my head 24 seven.

Angie Chang: I think a way that I look at the fear based, try to do something new is not just trying to focus on just one thing, and just trying to create two or three different goals. So going after them at the same time so that, sure if I get nos or things don’t work out, I’ll still have another option as a way to not just feel like I just need to do this one thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. So what I do when I have insecurities is that I like dig into why I feel that insecure about something. What is it that I’m feeling insecure about? Is it the lack of knowledge? Is it something about my style? And I try to see if I can fix what’s causing it. If I’m feeling like I don’t know something and as it is very, very quiet in a meeting, if there’s a followup meeting or the next meeting and I try to read up and study before that. So then I can come prepared to participate. So there are things like that, that I typically do. Not all of it works. It’s not like I never feel insecure as it is after that. But yeah, that’s the sort thing I try to do, whenever it’s possible.

Angie Chang: I also feel like a way to overcome insecurity is ask yourself what would a mediocre white man do in this situation? And then I’d be like, yes, I know what to do now.

Rachel Jones: Next question. How important are degrees and credentials versus work experience?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Practically speaking, obviously work experience is much more important. In this little echo chamber that we live in where people have gone to a handful of different schools, and the people who are hiring went to those handful of different schools and they’ve all decided that that makes them all amazing, and they look around, and they nod, and they agree with each other that they’re super extra amazing for having gone to these handful of schools, and they recruit from those schools and then they say there’s a pipeline problem. That’s the reality of it. And so it depends on, are you talking about getting your foot in the door or are you talking about actually being really good at your job, right?

Rachel Jones: Yeah. This brings me back to the interviewing.io conversation that we had where the sad truth of it is, a lot of people who do hiring do put a lot of weight on the degrees that you have and specifically where those degrees came from. Even though when you kind of look at people’s actual performance, it doesn’t really make that big of a difference. That’s still kind of the shorthand that people have instead of really trying to understand you and what you can bring. It’s like, oh, they went to Stanford, so I know they’re good. I don’t really have to check that deeply.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Angie Chang: I think work experience is the most important thing. And I think the question really is what happens when you’re starting out and you don’t have work experience or a degree. And being able to get that chance is really important.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. So kind of flowing from that. Is an MBA a worthwhile investment if you plan to stay in the startup world long term?

Gretchen DeKnikker: The one with the MBA will answer. Sure. You have to think about what you think you’re going to get from it, and is that worth the trade off? So for me, I went because it was nuclear winter in Silicon Valley way back at the turn of the century when all of the companies failed. And so I was trying to figure out, I wanted to leave the startup that I was at, there were literally no other startups in the world, it felt like. And so I decided to go back to school partially, like what I was talking about before is I really needed, I thought I needed like more of a pedigree. I’d gone to like a no-name undergrad and it didn’t really matter that I got two degrees in five years and paid for 100% of school myself and was the first one in my family to graduate from college. Like none of that really mattered because I went to a school that no one had ever heard of and that was in my head, and something that I thought was important.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So I went to business school because I wasn’t going to go do something else at the time. But if you’re going to go to a top tier school, you’re spending a year applying. You’re spending a bunch of money. Getting ready for the GMAT and applying to different schools and probably visiting those schools. Factor that in, not just two years of lost income. And then how has this degree going to help you when you get into the world? Like, I actually appreciate mine because it gave me, I had like all of this on the job bits and pieces that I’d learned at my first startup, which we already covered. It was during the crazy years, the very, very, very crazy years. And so I felt like I’d learned a lot in a really short amount of time and the business school sort of helped me figure out how all those different pieces fit together. I think it’s really benefited me. But if it had been a prosperous time in startup land and there’d been other places to go, I probably wouldn’t have even considered it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So it’s mostly what do you want to get out of it? What is it going to cost you?

Angie Chang: I think some people get MBAs because they want to learn something, and they want to be able to feel more competent asking for more salary. And for that reason they decide that it’s worth taking off that time and that putting in that money. And also consider, is there a way to work at a bigger company and have them pay for your MBA? I’ve heard people do that and it worked out better for them than for other people. But also I think MBAs, I feel from my perspective, no one says, I wish I didn’t get my MBA but I also don’t know if anyone’s like, yes, you must all get MBAs. That’s not something I really hear. So I personally am erring on the side of, I like to think that you can learn most things in the workplace and you can learn most things from other people. And if you have someone in your life or on your team or on YouTube that you can get most of it without taking off those two years.

Rachel Jones: I also have spoken with people who have done MBA programs or are currently in them, and not having a great time. I think if there’s something really specific that you want to learn, or something really specific that you want to get out of it and you have to get all of this general knowledge, then that can be a little frustrating. So there might be a better route if there’s a really specific thing that you’re trying to do. Like I had a friend who, she really wanted a specific internship in a specific industry and thought that yeah, she had to like get her whole MBA to do that. And then got that internship after a couple months and is now like, wait, why? Why am I here? Am I going to keep doing this?

Angie Chang: It sounds so prescriptive. Like, if you want to do something different, get an MBA. If you want to do something, you have to go back to grad school, or you need a PhD to do that. But I feel like in 2020, we have learned that to pursue knowledge, you don’t have to go to school for that in that prescriptive way. There’s so many new ways, like coding bootcamps and things are now online that we didn’t have online 10 years ago, 20 years ago, that now you can actually learn and get things done without recommitting to a four year institution, a two-year institution, or even those night classes.

Rachel Jones: Moving onto our next question. So we got a question from an aspiring founder. What are ways that women improve their financial wellbeing while founding a company? And how do technical founders prioritize their time?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, I think improving your financial wellbeing is to keep your personal burn low. Like always keep your personal burn low. There’s just so much that’s going to happen. When things get rough, making sure that you can get through it and that you don’t have the stress of your company being in dire financial straits compounded by being yourself in personal financial straits. So when I was a founder, we paid ourselves not enough. And we were thinking that would only be for like a year or so and it ended up being for almost three years and that took me quite a while to dig myself out of the hole of having paid myself just barely enough to live on. That added a lot of stress that I think was maybe unnecessary. Even though I kept my personal burn super, super low, it didn’t mean that I should have tried to live on that for as long as I did.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And then on the technical founders prioritizing their time. I think this question is around like, I’ve definitely seen if you are the solo technical person on a founding team, it’s overwhelming, and you should just never be the only technical person for any length of time is what I’ve observed at a couple of companies. Prioritize your time by outsourcing some of the work to somebody else just to keep yourself sane, from what I observed from the technical founders I worked with.

Rachel Jones: Great. So we are nearing the end of our questions episode, but we did get a few questions from listeners just wondering about Girl Geek dinners. So first, how can someone host a Girl Geek dinner at their company?

Gretchen DeKnikker: First, thank you for asking.

Angie Chang: You can email us at sponsors@girlgeek.io and we will talk to you. There’s also information on our website at girlgeek.io/sponsor about how to get a Girl Geek dinner at your office this year.

Rachel Jones: What does that process look like? Setting it up?

Gretchen DeKnikker: So the sponsoring company is usually responsible for food and drink. They provide the venue cause we love to come and eat your food at your office with your employees and check it out. And then of course as attendees, you all know that everybody loves some co-branded swag. It’s not required, but it is certainly appreciated greatly. And then we’ll work with you to come up with programming and content, and help you get a diverse range of perspectives from your speakers. Getting people that are early in their career and later in their career, and making sure that you’re bringing the most marginalized voices to the center and really lifting up everyone by doing that. You’ve seen how we bring everyone in, and then we also bring a photographer, a videographer. We make a cool thing afterwards, a video and a highlight reel, and we put those on YouTube. And so there’s all sorts of fun benefits. So if you’re thinking about it, the answer to “Should I do this?” is absolutely, yes. It’s the best.

Angie Chang: Yeah. We’ve put together over the years a comprehensive event sponsorship package, where we work with employers very closely toward their goals of recruiting, retaining, and hiring women in tech.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: If you’re thinking about getting your company to sponsor and then you’re like, ugh, I don’t want to deal with the effort, I want to tell you it’s super, super important to do it. And the returns are greater than the effort. I got to meet Angie the first time because I got the company I was working at to sponsor a Girl Geek Dinner. Those skills I gained at the end of it were… Not sure I would have gotten that short amount of time anywhere else. I ended up getting exposure to the executives at my company and they knew that I was helping with recruiting, and diversity and inclusion, all in one event.

Angie Chang: I think people organize girl geek dinners because they are working at a place that they are really excited about, and they want to provide a way for people to learn more at the company. And the way a Girl Geek Dinner is organized, is we have really high quality talks.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: If you’re working on figuring out what the content is with us, consider what you would want your company…. What you would want someone who doesn’t work at your company to know about your company. The culture. The technology stack. What sort of cool tips and tricks that you apply that’s very unique to your company. We’ve had companies that sponsor talks about, how they do user research because it’s very different than the way they do it. Or how they came up with developing a product, keeping women and children in mind, because that was the larger user base. And when [inaudible] things like that.

Rachel Jones: Does anyone have tips for someone who works at a smaller company with not as many resources, and how they might be able to get a Girl Geek Dinner?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I know I also had to be creative about getting budget for the Girl Geek Dinner at the company I used to work at, and this is not just a recruiting event. This is a diversity and inclusion effort. This is a great marketing and advertising [inaudible] and so there’s a variety of departments across which I could get funding, and the cost is so low in comparison to the general cost to hire somebody who is skilled and who is different from everybody else and brings unique perspective.

Angie Chang: I think it’s really good exercise in consensus building for people. Like being able to go around to different departments and socialize the idea and get people excited at this opportunity. Invite people to speak, invite them to volunteer, invite them to go to a Girl Geek Dinner with you, so that you two can get to know each other outside of work. And I think it’s really an opportunity to rally around women, and have an event that showcases the women at the company and also the organizers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: If you do get your company to sponsor, make sure that you are also either one of the speakers, or you are moderating a panel, or you are kicking off the event. Be loud and proud about your involvement in making this happen. So definitely make sure you’re seen.

Rachel Jones: Okay. We’ve come to our final question. So of the companies that have hosted Girl Geek X events, what have been the biggest challenges and biggest wins?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think the biggest challenge for us on the organizer side is we do these basically every week. And so we have a pretty strong sense of what’s going to work and what isn’t. But in trying to find a balance between that, and what the company sort of has in mind so that they all stay unique, that it doesn’t become cookie cutter and just us saying… Cause we do want it to be representative of the company itself. But I think there’s definitely hard conversations that we’ve had, particularly around content of like, are you going to say something new about this? Like are we going to talk about work life balance in a way that’s some breakthrough new thing that we haven’t heard a million times? Because men aren’t getting up on stage and talking about this. Right? So how do we… So having those uncomfortable conversations, definitely conversations being really specific about, please look for like the most underrepresented within your company.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Look for your black and Latinx and your trans and LGBTQ plus and not just your standard speakers. And so those can be… I’m not uncomfortable having a conversation, but I feel like other people get kind of uncomfortable when you get really specific. But, the only way things will change is if we call out people’s standard way of just looking at the same people all the time and to really sort of break into that thought pattern, and put a thought in there of like, hey this could actually be better and different.

Angie Chang: To be fair we also just answered a question about work life balance. So apparently it’s a very constant thing but yeah they [crosstalk 00:29:28] want to make it there. It shouldn’t it be their topic [crosstalk 00:29:30] Girl Geek Dinner.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: [inaudible 00:29:34]product manager.

Angie Chang: Right.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s the only thing [inaudible 00:29:35].

Angie Chang: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Let it come in the Q and A. That shouldn’t be the goal. [crosstalk 00:29:40].

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. You know you have this one opportunity, we’re filming it. We’re going to make it look great later. Do you want to talk about my 15 years as a female engineer, or do you just want to talk about the really cool stuff you’ve done in those 15 years? Because that’s the talk I want to hear.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I think we should ban, oh, what’s it like being female in tech?

Rachel Jones: Yeah, that’s always good to clarify, because I think just people’s ideas of what a woman in tech, or what women in tech content is. It’s actually yeah, people just doing their jobs and talking about it, and not just talking about being a woman.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: If you’re a listener and you want to speak at an event, think about what it is that you want to be known for, and what sort of content can only come from you. And I’m pretty sure it’s not about, what is it like being a woman in tech.

Rachel Jones: This sounds like a great place to wrap it up. Does anyone have final reflections on the questions that we answered or anything that you want to just throw in there?

Angie Chang: Our biggest wins at Girl Geek Dinners.

Rachel Jones: Oh yeah.

Angie Chang: We love hearing from people who have gotten jobs at Girl Geek Dinners. We hear it from people usually like a year or two later. They’ll come up to us and like, “By the way, I got my job from this Girl Geek Dinner a year or two ago and now I’m at the company and doing great.” So it’s always great to hear.

Angie Chang: Next time you get a Girl Geek Dinner email, just hit reply and say, “I got my job through Girl Geek Dinners.” We love to hear it. We know more stories. Like we have a short list of companies that people have gotten their first job in tech, or another job at places like Khan Academy, Pinterest, Stripe, Slack, Sugar CRM. So just make our list longer. Let us know.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I thought this episode was really fun to do, to have questions. So if you want to send us your questions, you can send them to hello@girlgeek.io or tweet us, or post them on Facebook. Or we’re very reachable in many different places, but send us your questions and we’ll do another one of these if you enjoyed it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. And if they’re topics that you’d like us to cover in the future too, you should definitely tell us[inaudible] Gretchen said.

Angie Chang: Thanks everyone for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe and leave us a rating, or review us on your favorite podcasting app. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. With event recording by Eric Brown, and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io, where you can also find video and transcripts from all of our events.

Episode 20: Branding

Branding to Stand Out - Personal Branding

Resources mentioned in this podcast:


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you with insights for women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And this is Sukrutha. By day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen. I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences. Where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: Today we’ll be discussing branding.

Rachel Jones: Why is it important for women in the tech world to think about their brand?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s really hard to set yourself apart and stand out in the sea of other people working in tech and, especially, with whichever company you’re at. There are so many other people doing similar jobs as you. As the company that you might be working at gets larger and larger or so, it’s really, really important to be cognizant of what it is that you want to be known for.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Part of it is just understanding yourself and your own identity and what you care about. It’s the self reflection that’s actually the important part of the branding, not necessarily the, I’m so on brand in all my Insta posts, or something. Of understanding who you are at the core. What you believe in and what you want to associate your name with.

Angie Chang: I feel like as, when I was earlier in my career as a Girl Geek, I would run from the idea the topic of branding. Because I’m like, “That’s just marketing.” I didn’t want to deal with that. As you get more experienced in your career, you start to see what Sukrutha talked about which is the bigger picture and how your manager or other people need to be able to pick you out from a crowd. And then the branding issue becomes something that you actually pay attention to. What you want to be known for, and then tying it to, as Gretchen said, your authentic self and making sure it’s aligned.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think you see companies that have inauthentic brands. They’re trying to be something that they aren’t and it just comes across and it works in such a negative way. There was so much talk this year around Pride of all these companies that were changing their logos to rainbows, who had literally never done anything else and how inauthentic that was.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I see a lot of it now with a lot of fashion designers who are trying to get on this size inclusive bandwagon and talk about it. But they don’t change the way that they present their clothing and they don’t change anything else, they just add a few more sizes and they’re like, “We’re inclusive.” It really smacks of inauthenticity.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Is that a word?

Rachel Jones: Yes.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, good.

Rachel Jones: I think about that idea of inauthenticity a lot with branding. Just for me personally, I’ve struggled with this. Just doing podcasts and just being not great at self promotion in general. It’s so rare for me to post on Instagram or on Twitter, here’s a thing that I made. Just wanting to avoid… I just want to do the thing. I don’t need to be out in the world as the person who does the thing. But I think branding and having a personal brand doesn’t just have to mean, oh, I’m using this to get Insta famous. It’s also how you announce who you are just to the people who are around you.

Rachel Jones: When I first moved to the Bay, about a year ago, I was really putting myself out there as a podcaster. Just believing that and claiming it, even if I wasn’t putting it out publicly online, that really helped me just find a lot of opportunities. Because everyone that I was interacting with, anytime that anyone they knew just mentioned the word podcast, then they’re like, “Oh, Rachel knows about this. I should connect you.”

Rachel Jones: So I think knowing your brand and putting that out there, it really helps to unlock your career transition and your career trajectory.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right. And I think– Sorry.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Go ahead.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think, also, not to conflate self promotion with brand. That they’re two distinct things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I found that, when I was very deliberate about what brand I wanted for myself or what I wanted to be known for, I then was very clear about what opportunities I wanted to seek out for myself, in addition to what I was already doing. That helped me.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I was thinking about this last night as I was thinking about we’re going to record this episode today. This mentor I have told us about this three word exercise that you do for your own company brand. The company that I founded, we did it. I was looking at it last night to be like, “What were our three words?” It was irreverent, soulful, and effortless. And I was like, “Oh, two of those three are actually my personal brand of being irreverent and soulful.” But we can talk some other time about how you run that exercise.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But it’s really cool. What I really loved about my mentor is she even has her three word exercise for her marriage. So they have three words that are their marriage. Thinking about it in the context of the company, there would be marketing copy and I could just send it back and be like, “It’s not irreverent enough. It’s too corporate, it’s too whatever.” Or, when we’re debating a product feature and it’s like, “Is that effortless?” Or, something about it being soulful. That humans were behind this thing. That humans are part of every interaction and how that really guided the company and I could totally see how it could guide your marriage.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I was thinking maybe I should take at least two of those words that I feel like apply to me and I’ll find my third word and then I have my brand. But I’ve never thought about it so explicitly before.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: For me, I wanted to be known for… You know, when someone asks for something, or there’s work to be done and I sign up for it that it’ll get done. That people can trust for sure if I’ve signed up to say I would do anything or execute on something, it will happen. I don’t know how to phrase that in one word.

Rachel Jones: Dependable?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Dependable?

Angie Chang: What’s a better word?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, we can punch that up a little bit. We can thesaurus this later. We need a way more exciting–

Rachel Jones: Set aside more time for wordsmithing.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. You know I’ll play this exercise with you for hours, Sukrutha. I love this stuff.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I definitely want to do it. Angie, what about you?

Angie Chang: I haven’t had the problem of working in a bigger workplace for a decade and needing to distinguish myself. I think, as someone who is in very small companies most of the time, my brand is more about the women in tech aspect of creating communities of women. First, in entrepreneurship and then in the Girl Geekdom. And just amplifying voices and creating this place where women are doing great, interesting things and just making sure that people know about it, as well. Since day to day, a lot of workplaces are very male dominated. I think that became my brand.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Your hobby became your brand.

Angie Chang: If you had to ask me, when I graduated college would I wanted to have done this? No, I didn’t even know about this. It’s just a really interesting pathway to get here. I found feminism in my first job after college because that was the moment I realized the world is the way it is. I was like, “Oh, this is different than UC Berkeley” and then realizing that we needed to have places, in the evenings at big tech companies here in the Silicon Valley in San Francisco Bay Area, where we can feel empowered and see others like ourselves who are also really excited to build new technologies and fast forward our careers together.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Do you think that it’s mostly at a big company that you need a personal brand, or do you feel like one would need it regardless?

Angie Chang: I think you’ll need it regardless. It just happens differently.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I agree.

Angie Chang: I didn’t get to build a brand around a job per se because I’ve done so many one year, two year stints. I feel like more now that it’s been 15 years in this Silicon Valley life, then you’re like, “Okay, I guess my brand is women in tech.”

Angie Chang: And then, is that really something you want to be known for and as your core competency? I’m like, “I don’t know.” It feels like a really fun side hobby so I’m still negotiating my brand.

Rachel Jones: I think, following that, your brand goes so much farther beyond the one specific company that you’re working in. It really exists in your whole network. It’s how you represent yourself to your whole network. Within your job, outside of your job.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s similar with you having your entrepreneurial projects and me having podcasting. I think what’s tied all the things that I do together is definitely storytelling and social impact. With everything that I’ve done in my career and all the outside of work things that I’ve been doing, those are the threads that tie them together. That’s how people view me. Regardless of what aspect of my career I’m showing up in.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Khobi Brooklyn moderated a conversation on personal branding during our dinner with Aurora. Here’s the story of how she found her own brand.

Khobi Brooklyn: We’re going to talk a little bit about brand and building a personal brand. And what that means and how that can have an impact on your career. I think what’s interesting is, a lot of us have a brand but maybe we don’t think about it. Because what is a brand? We often think about companies and what a brand is in a company but the reality is that we all show up in some way. Really, when it comes down to it, it’s how you show up.

Khobi Brooklyn: Part of what a brand is, is an emotional connection. It’s how you’re perceived. It’s how we’re perceived in the workplace. And I would say, as a woman in business, and as a woman in often at tech companies, you’re either too nice or too aggressive. Or, you’re too mean. Or, you’re too sloppy. Or you’re too proper, or whatever. The list can go on and on.

Khobi Brooklyn: I think, for me at least, and I think for a lot of us up here, throughout our career we’ve found a way to find that balance of, how can we show up at work in a way to be super effective and so that people listen and we can do really good work? And how do we stay true to who we are?

Khobi Brooklyn: I’ll give you one personal example. I spent the first part of my life being an athlete. Every coach I ever had said, “You need to be really serious. You’re here to win. Put your head down and win.” And I literally was told not to smile because it would waste too much energy and I needed to be putting that energy into winning the race. So that’s how I shaped my brand in the beginning. I was very serious. I never smiled. I was heads down. I was there to win.

Khobi Brooklyn: Then, I got into communications and I ended up in meetings with other people. I got feedback that I was way too serious and that I needed to smile. In fact, I was literally told I needed to be a ray of sunshine in every meeting. I thought to myself, “I’m not a ray of sunshine. That’s not who I am.” Of course, I don’t want to be bitchy, but I’m also not the sunshine at the table. It was conflicting. It was super challenging for me to find out how can I be true to who I am? But clearly, I need to smile more if I’m going to be effective in the workplace. I think that’s just one example.

Khobi Brooklyn: I’m sure everybody in this room has some anecdote of a time when they felt they got conflicting messages or they weren’t quite sure how do I show up in this meeting? Everybody else in this meeting is in sweatshirts but I love to wear floral prints. Or, you know, like seriously. Or, everybody else in this meeting is super serious and I like to crack a joke every so often. Is that okay? I think that’s something that we all think about.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I just felt like when I was listening to it, like, girl, same.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, me, too.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I just really think being told… I’ve definitely had to soften up a lot to be heard. I was just really relating to the like, “Oh, these are the amount of things I have to do to get along.” But I think, at some point, in your career, you come in as who you are and then your environment gives you feedback and shapes you to a certain extent.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But at some point you also have enough authority, or enough experience, or whatever it is, that you get to be more of yourself. And you get to bring that back in. I’m just not a person who’s going to take anything too seriously. I’m going to make inappropriate jokes. I’m going to curse all the time. That’s just sort of me and if it’s not a cool thing for you, we’re probably not going to get along so let’s not work together anyway, kind of a thing? But, for a long time, you don’t get to define that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I felt like she was talking about me. I’ve got the, you’re too nice, and you’re too serious. I’ve got the, you don’t seem… You come across like you don’t know what you’re talking about. And then I’ve also got the opposite, where I come across like I think I know too much. Finding that balance has been so hard.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And then I’ve realized, I can’t overthink it too much because then I start to become this really totally different person. Sometimes, you know, people just get more comfortable when they don’t know you they jump to conclusions and they brand you a certain way. But once they become more familiar with your working style, they then realize what your true working style is.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s what we were saying earlier, right? If you’re trying to be someone that you’re not, it comes across as so inauthentic. If I was going around and I was being very prim and proper and professional all the time, you guys would all I think that I had a fever or something. Right?

Rachel Jones: I know we’ve had similar conversations in our episode about personality and how that can be shaped just by the people around you and their expectations. I think it’s really interesting to think about your brand as negotiation between being true to yourself and being effective and showing up effectively in a workplace. Because we talked about branding being a way to announce your career intentions and have people support you in that. But sometimes, things about your brand that rub people the wrong way can keep you from effectiveness.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I can’t even list all of the ways that I’ve got in my own way.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Oh yeah, it’s still happening to me.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I haven’t stopped. I’ve just slowed down a little bit.

Rachel Jones: I was going to ask how to navigate that and not do that? But, yeah, it sounds like we’re all kind of struggling.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I mean, I’m struggling less. But I’m still struggling. You get better at it but you’re not… You may or may not meet that ideal, perfect state because you’re constantly trying to reinvent and improve yourself.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And you’re a human. Who has a life. It’s just not all perfect all the time.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You don’t ever want to get to where it’s all good feedback. You want something that’s an area of improvement so you can focus on something else.

Gretchen DeKnikker: A little bit, but I don’t know. I think maybe that’s the advice of the feedback that really feels like it’s asking you to be someone other than who you are. Why I never worked for a really big company was that I just didn’t think I could fit into that mold. That I need to be better behaved all the time, and that that would feel very stifling for me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Feedback about your brand, in my opinion, or how you’re perceived, specifically, is just a wish list. I don’t think you should take everything super seriously. Especially, if, like you said Gretchen, it’s like disingenuous. I just look at it and I’m like, “Hey, who is this feedback coming from and do I really need to be too smiley today? Or too serious today? Do I really, really need to follow that feedback?”

Angie Chang: I think the most memorable feedback I got was to smile more when I was working a front desk at an event. But I don’t know… When you’re working and you’re very stressed, and you’re trying to be effective, oftentimes sometimes your face may not be the happy, shining person people want you to be. That’s just a point for improvement.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Also, do you guys just bristle whenever smile and woman are in the same sentence? I just have such an issue with that at this point.

Rachel Jones: There are women who have been super successful and branded themselves as colder, harder, not as a warm. So, it works for some people. Not having to feed into these expectations and that can even build a stronger brand for yourself. It just depends on how that helps or hurts your career.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I looked at it, also, who do I want to be working for or working with people who always look angry or look serious? No, I don’t want that, either. I want it to be a comfortable environment. But that does not mean that the perception that you’ve created is the true one.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: For example, when I was pregnant, I was really going through a difficult pregnancy and I was sick all the time. I was told that there was a lot of feedback that I was looking angry. Constantly. So one day, I just turned around and I said, “Well, I am angry because I’m really tired. So, people just need to be more patient with me.” I think that made it easier for people to be more sensitive. Sometimes somebody is going through something difficult. You don’t know what they’re going through.

Angie Chang: That’s interesting that you got that feedback.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

Angie Chang: So, on top of what Khobi said, in response to feedback that we get, I think there’s also so much that we can do in the modern day of Twitter and LinkedIn, being able to control our own authentic brand with social networks.

Rachel Jones: It’s interesting that you bring up the point of social media giving people more control over how they express themselves. I think it’s definitely a really powerful tool for that. But at the same time, sometimes maintaining a brand on social media just necessitates so much performance that it can lead to more inauthenticity at the time.

Angie Chang: That is true. I feel like I see on LinkedIn, a lot of LinkedIn employees going, “Here is my picture of the week.” And it’s very consistent and almost inauthentic, but it is… I’m sure Google employees would be using Google Plus or Wave if it still existed. And Twitter employees are the ones who use Twitter a lot. That performance is kind of normal for the job.

Angie Chang: For example, Sukrutha’s at Salesforce. A lot of Salesforce employees are really excellent at Twitter. I think it’s part of working in this day and age that we are always on the social networks asserting our “loving our job” hashtag “love your job” or something, that people do almost feels like performance art sometimes.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think, on the topic of social media, if it’s not authentic to you to use it, then it doesn’t really make… It’s not very on brand to post things because you feel like you should.

Angie Chang: Leah McGowen-Hare, VP of Trailhead Evangelism at Salesforce, shared her own thoughts on this during our 2018 Elevate conference.

Leah McGowen-Hare: I often tell people, “You see my glory.” People be like, ‘Oh, you know, you just sashay up there. You just get up there and you do this.” And I go, “But, what you don’t know is my story.” And everybody has a story. I think, while it’s wonderful and it’s amazing to be on these stages and sharing and inspiring, really knowing sort of a piece of the story behind the scenes, has a lot more power. From my perspective. So, I’m going to share with you very little bit about my story.

Leah McGowen-Hare: I share this because people often go, “Well, Leah, I have questions about branding and my branding.” And I’m often like, “Don’t focus on your branding. Focus on the value you add and everything else will begin to fall in place.” It’s really easy to get caught up in that branding piece, particularly with social media and all this good stuff. And I’m always like, “Well, let’s take step back. What is your story? What are you trying to build? What is the story you’re trying to create?”

Leah McGowen-Hare: With my story, I moved from Anderson. I moved out from New York offices to San Fran. I started working for a company called PeopleSoft as a developer. I did a lot of development there. After doing development for a while, I realized, “You know, I’m good at this. I’m okay. I’m good.” But there was a piece missing for me. And that was the interaction with other people. I really liked interacting with people. Even talking about technology. So, my manager, who was really nice, at the time said, “You know, Leah, when you’re in the office, morale goes up but productivity goes down.” And I was like, “What!” She goes, “You get this but I think there’s something more you could do. I think there’s something different, a different path, that you should look at.”

Leah McGowen-Hare: While she wasn’t saying I didn’t want you in my group, she was just saying, “I don’t think this is serving your innate talents well.” So she said, “What about, there’s this position to be a trainer. Training developers how to code using the PeopleSoft tools.” And I was like, “Trainer? Mmmm, no way, that’s too close to my parents. My father’s a professor. My mother’s a teacher. I’m not trying to become my parents.” She was like, “Just give it a go and see what it’s like. Just go ahead and try it.”

Leah McGowen-Hare: So, I went in and tried out. Well, tried out, because you actually had to do a test teach for this position. A little begrudgingly. I did it and I then soon quickly realized I actually loved it. It mixed the two things that I loved, which was technology and talking to people. I really stepped out on faith and was like, “Okay, I’m going to try something that I didn’t think was for me.” And it turned out it was.

Leah McGowen-Hare: My story is lots of curves and turns and downward turns, upward turns. It’s just been amazing and it’s been lots of learning that I’ve truly embraced. And I’ve just learned to be open to opportunities that I may not initially seek for myself but allowing myself to at least try and go out and take a risk.

Rachel Jones: I think people think about brands, like what you said with the exercise to choose three words, it’s just like, oh here’s this little thing that I’m going to present. But that misses how, even behind the three words that you would choose in that exercise, it’s a whole lifetime of experiences that help you get to that point. When we get so focused on just putting up one little Instagram story, or one LinkedIn update, people can miss that whole narrative over just one moment that exists just to get a little attention.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I really like Leah’s talk, which was titled, Focus on the Story and Not the Glory. That definitely is a reminder to ourselves as we live our lives, what do we want our story to be at the end of our lives? Not necessarily what’s going to be on our tombstones, but what do we want to be known for and focus on that – not necessarily the times we get to give a TED talk or have nice Instagram story, but in the long run – what are our goals?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think also not being so focused over like, this is my brand and so these other things don’t make sense. I follow Ijeoma Oluo on Instagram, and she’s an author that I love who wrote a book that everyone should be reading called, So You Want to Talk about Race? But half of her posts, she does amazing makeup every day. She posts something and then she posts a picture of which palette she used and whatever. And those are both her. It’s very authentic.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, I followed her because I love what she has to say on topics of racial discussions. But I keep following her because I’m like, “Oh, wow! You’re making me care about makeup all of a sudden.” I think bringing whatever pieces of yourself, even if they don’t make sense, or you think that they don’t tell this cohesive story, they do make sense in the story of you.

Angie Chang: That makes sense. Giving people more data points and that’s actually really interesting.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: No one is uni dimensional. There are so many ways to represent yourself.

Rachel Jones: Following that, there was a point in Leah’s story where she first got presented with the opportunity to do the training role, and even just by the sound of the role, the name of the role, she automatically was like, “No, that’s not for me.” But, yeah, just being able to actually try it out and do the work, it was tapping into skills she already had and interests that she already had. Just being able to widen her idea of her brand a little bit really unlocked a huge part of what she seemed to have been meant to do.

Angie Chang: And now she’s a VP at Salesforce, which is really impressive.

Rachel Jones: So, our conversation so far has been focused a lot on personal branding. But company branding is also a really big part of this topic. Does anyone have thoughts on why it’s important to think about how companies brand themselves or advice?

Gretchen DeKnikker: When we wrote the copy, and particularly job descriptions, at my company, trying to keep that irreverent voice. But it also helped people who wanted a more regimented type company from… They would look at that and just be like, “These people don’t take themselves seriously enough. I don’t want to work there.” Which would be great because you want the people who are going to fit your brand and your culture.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, the brand that the company has is directly related to the people that they attract to come work there. That’s really important to have a brand that matches the people that you want to come work at your company.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I don’t know if you guys remember, but we did the three word exercise for Girl Geek in the beginning. I had to go back and look at what our words were. It will be interesting, two years later, to decide if they still made sense.

Gretchen DeKnikker: One was transcend, meaning creating a future where being a female isn’t notable, and going above and beyond. One was belonging, and one was empowerment. We were never totally happy with transcend as the word. It didn’t quite match. The concept is right but maybe the word isn’t. The other two, I feel like, are very much–

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it’s still relevant.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Woven in. But I thought that was really interesting because I was like, “Wait, we did do this for Girl Geek early on.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and it was so difficult for me to do it. I remember now. I must have been difficult to work with at that time because it was so new for me. I never had to do it for anyone but myself. When you are coming up with your company’s brand or your company’s vision, be patient and definitely work through it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Don’t be afraid. It’s just a bunch of words. It just has to be a word that means all of the other words to you. It doesn’t really have to make sense to other people as much.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You’re not setting it in stone, too.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right. Well, I don’t know. It’s in a PowerPoint.

Angie Chang: When I think about companies and brands, these days you always hear about which companies have taken on defense contracts that are being protested by their employees.

Gretchen DeKnikker: We see you, Chef.

Angie Chang: We see companies that are supplying software to ICE, as well. As I think the next generation of young people very much care. As we’ve seen in this climate strike that has affected millions of young people. That they strongly believe in doing the right thing. And I think Google was one of the few companies, maybe the only company, that explicitly had a motto of Don’t Be Evil. Which they changed.

Angie Chang: And now every company is really trying to keep their employees because they’re starting to do things for a profit and not really listening to their employees. I’m sure there’s a lot to be done there, and sometimes it just feels like you have… There’s always compromises to be made to work at a big company.

Angie Chang: I remember I was in an inter- Yeah, this is also the point- I was thinking about this. I know this isn’t really relevant. But I was at an interview with a company that had a really good reputation as an employer. And someone, a white man, literally asked me, across the table, and says something about, “Open the kimono.” I was like, “This is really off brand for this company.” And I gave this feedback to the recruiter. But I felt really surprised that for an employer that has such a good reputation, they still manage to have that happen in an interview.

Rachel Jones: I think that’s where you get into the authenticity of brands. Obviously, right now, a lot of companies are trying to brand themselves as super eco friendly, or like they have a really positive social impact. At the same that they’re doing a lot of contracts or making decisions that don’t look so great. Then it’s on us, as consumers, to see the extent to which people are authentic to their brands because anyone can perform this level of social caring. But, at the same time, the decisions that they’re making behind closed doors don’t support it at all.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, we actually have an extra segment from our interview with Aline Lerner, founder and CEO of interviewing.io. She gives us some advice for how companies can brand themselves better to attract employees.

Aline Lerner: When we were earlier in our growth, we spent some time trying to identify who the right customers are for interviewing.io. The companies that tend to have the hardest time hiring are also ones that don’t really have a brand. We were trying to figure out, can we serve smaller companies or are we just going to be like we’ll just help Uber hire? Both have their merits.

Aline Lerner: One thing that we discovered is that there are some traits among companies that do well on our platform. And a lot of that has to do with branding. That doesn’t mean you have to be a household name. But, on our platform, when you’re a candidate… Everything is candidate driven. We don’t have recruiters that call you and try to match you with companies. We just say, “If you’re an engineer, here are all the companies we work with. Book interviews with any of them. We’re not going to pressure you. It’s self serve. You do what you need to do and we will just get out of the way and empower you to run your own life.”

Aline Lerner: But that means that you’re looking at this long list of employers. Some names, like an Uber, you might recognize, but then there are smaller companies that you may never have heard of. Those companies just have a few seconds to capture your attention. Some of them do very well and some don’t. We’ve tried to see what engagement looks like on smaller companies and what makes people click stuff and not click stuff.

Aline Lerner: The reality is that it’s really important to be authentic and to own the things that make you special. So many companies that are smaller are like, “Ooh, we are a startup which means you can have impact.” And maybe that was cool before there were a lot of startups, but that’s not a differentiator anymore. A lot of the time, companies are scared to say something polarizing about themselves because they don’t want to miss out on talent.

Gretchen DeKnikker: There is such a lack of–

Aline Lerner: Conviction?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Aline Lerner: Yeah. That’s actually in your interest. The companies that just own whatever their culture is, own their flaws, own… Yeah, we use a shitty stack. And what? You know? Or, yeah we do advertising but it’s awesome for this reason. We’re not going to change the world through hyper targeted, Silicon Valley… No, but we have shit ton of data and it’s awesome and maybe you don’t care about mission and that, maybe, you’re one of those people. It doesn’t matter, right? Not everybody has to have a social impact into their company but everyone’s kind of trying.

Aline Lerner: Just own who you are. Figure out what that is. When you describe it, describe it the way you’d describe it to a friend that doesn’t know what your company does. Instead of trying to write a bunch of weird bullet points. All this is obvious, but for some reason, it’s so hard to do it at work. To just get out of that corporate mindset and just be like, “Yeah, we do this!” But that’s the kind of tone and writing that has helped our customers craft the brand that gets attention.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I feel like Aline, when she talked about smaller companies needing to have their message go through in just a few seconds, that was really something that I’d been thinking about. How do you make sure that your brand is clear in just a few seconds without it sounding fake? Because that’s all the amount of time you have to attract a potential employee.

Rachel Jones: I thought that one thing that she said that was interesting was, try to describe your company as you would describe it to a friend. I think that’s an interesting challenge when you’re thinking about how to communicate it so quickly. A lot of people, when you have to communicate about yourself in a short amount of time, you default to zippy, fun kind of words. But just coming back to a simple this is what we do as you describe it to a friend can really stand out.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and you can practice it to a… Oftentimes when you meet people, they’re going to be like, “What do you do? Where do you work?” And you just try it there and you practice it. You see the reactions and modify it along the way based on that.

Rachel Jones: So one thing that I really like about this quote is Aline talking about this fear of alienating. Where people don’t create a strong brand because they just don’t want to exclude people. That’s not what a brand is. When you’re making a product, your product is for someone. You can’t just say, “We don’t want our brand to be polarizing because we might miss out on customers.” But I think, yeah, if you do that you end up with such general messaging that you’re missing the customer that you actually are going after. Because they don’t see themselves in what you’re putting out there.

Gretchen DeKnikker: When you’re trying to be all things to all people and you just sort of end up with this word salad and you can go to, especially newer start ups, and you just go one after the other after the other and you read a paragraph and you’re like, “I have no idea what this company does.” I read a paragraph, over and over again, and I’m like, “I still don’t know what they do.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: But being like, “We do this for these people.” But I think at an early stage start up, they’re so afraid of like, “But we want to sell the salespeople but we also want to sell the marketing people and we also want to sell HR people, and so, we don’t want to hone in on any one message for fear we’ll miss out on something.” Instead, you become nothing to no one.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think there’s the companies that go in hard, right? Like, Expensify. It’s just like expense reports that don’t suck. There were probably a lot of discussions of like, “But we do reporting! But we do blah blah!” There’s all these other features but just honing in on that one thing has really worked well for them. And then, they were really early in this more… Less corporate marketing style, too? Now there’s a lot that are trying to be clever or controversial or something and it comes across a little bit disingenuous. But also trying to go down that route.

Angie Chang: So, having a very good, edgy tagline.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, if you are edgy, then it makes sense. If you are not edgy… Angie, you should not have an edgy tagline. I should not have a nice tagline. These are not things that go.

Angie Chang: Yeah, right now in the BART, there is nothing but advertising for Facebook. I think at Power Montgomery there’s a ton of advertising for the Facebook Groups product. Their tagline, apparently, is More Together. As I’ve noticed on this advertising. And I was like, interesting. Marketing’s definitely thought hard about this.

Angie Chang: In Aline’s talk, when she talks about writing a very colloquial company brand, I’m sure that marketing fights with product and everyone else about what that tagline, or that brand, should be. Hopefully, the best one. And it can always switch every season or another campaign. Or not.

Rachel Jones: Does anyone have final thoughts on branding?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: To summarize, I think I’m learning that it’s super important to continually, not just create your brand but, keep it up to date. Constantly reevaluate what it is that it says about you because you are going to continue to build your skills as you grow in your career so that will automatically evolve your brand, as well. Don’t just stick to the one that you created when you were straight out of college. Then, yeah, it’s not just the personal brand that’s important. It’s the company’s brand that’s important, as well, and staying true to your brand without being fake about it is super important.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s a work in progress and you should always think of it that way and don’t be afraid to… Have an idea and try to stay on brand with your idea. But if something starts feeling off, then you need to go back through and think about, is it the brand that’s off or have I changed or what’s going on?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s definitely something worth reexamining every now and then. I think Sukuthra mentioned that. Your brand in college is not the brand you had in your 20s, and is not the brand you had in your 30s, in your 40s, in your 50s and 60s. It’s going to continually be a work in progress.

Rachel Jones: I think this conversation is really challenging me to think about branding outside of the social media space. It’s really about just how you move through the world and how that allows people to come alongside you and support you in what you’re trying to do.

Angie Chang: That’s a really good way of putting that.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yes. Well said.

Rachel Jones: Thank you.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. Please rate and review us on your favorite podcasting app and we’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones, with event recording by Eric Brown, and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. Where you can also find videos and transcripts from all our events.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by Aurora. Aurora works at the intersection of rigorous engineering and applied machine learning to address one of the most challenging, important, and interesting opportunities of our generation. Transforming the way people and goods move. This podcast is also sponsored by interviewing.io. Interviewing.io lets software engineers practice technical interviewing anonymously and land great jobs in the process. Become awesome at technical interviews, get fast tracked at amazing companies, and find your next job all in one place.

Episode 19: Switching Job Functions

Angie Chang: Welcome to the Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. This is Sukrutha. I’m, by day, an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen, and I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast. And we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences, where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be discussing switching job functions.

Rachel Jones: We’ve covered career transitions before. So how might this topic be a little different?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, career transitions tend to be any… I guess it would be a subset, right? So, career transitions are you’re switching companies, you’re getting a promotion, you’re… whatever. And the job function is, I was doing X, and I’m now going to do Y. Whether or not that’s with the same company or a new company, you’re moving really far out of your comfort zone, and you’re about to try something really new.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, you could be working in the exact same area, but your role could be totally different too.

Rachel Jones: Have any of you, during your career, switched job functions?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The only job function that I ended up switching that was really noticeable was from being an engineer to a manager. But, while I was an engineer, too, I changed job functions a few times. I was primarily a backend engineer, and then I switched to being a frontend engineer, and then full stack. I feel like, after you work in a particular job function for some time, you’re working… playing to your strengths, so you start to lose the distinction between doing, really, more of what you’re good at, versus being comfortable and then complacent. So, just the fear of not constantly wanting to be too comfortable is what forced me to look around and switch around.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think there’s only one time that I went from one company to the next where I didn’t switch job functions. I had more of an operational role, and then I went back to business school. And I thought I was wanting to go into marketing, but I realized as I was doing a marketing internship, that business development was a lot more interesting. And business development has a lot of operational functions, right? You’re dealing with accounting, and sales, and product, and engineering, and you’re kind of working all of those things together. So, if you look at my resume, it makes no sense. But the core functions and sort of making the pieces work together is what I do. And that always comes with a different title or a different scope of what’s most important, but I end up working with all of the pieces in different ways.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Angie, you changed job functions quite a bit too. You were a web designer, and then you also did product management. You were doing so many various roles in the education startup you were in, as well.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I think there were… I was pausing on this, because I feel like I change careers a lot, and so it didn’t fall in this category of job functions. And I’ve been at, like Gretchen, tiny startup companies with less than 50 people. And I’ve been there for only a few years. So I don’t feel like I’ve… in the situation where people at the biggest companies worked there for decades, and then they’re switching their job functions or after years of doing a job. So, for me, I didn’t really identify with this switching job functions. But we’re right. Because, we were trying to differentiate between career transitions and job functions. Yes, I’ve definitely, happily, jumped and tried new things. I went from product management, to marketing, to editor in chief, to… I think that, like Gretchen said, at startups, you give yourself names, and they’re not totally serious sometimes. Or sometimes they are. And you wind up doing so many things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: What about you, Rachel? Tell me what changes you’ve experienced in your career.

Rachel Jones: I think one transition that I made early in my career that was kind of subtle is when I was still working with students in youth media. And when I first started, my role was really focused on the tech side of production with them, just showing them how to use the cameras and how to edit. And I switched to being more on the storytelling side. And even thinking about approaching media from that different perspective and how you teach technical things versus how you teach a kind of softer skill, I really had to think about the work that I was doing in a completely different way, even though I was working in the same space with the exact same students and creating the same kind of content. Yeah, my whole approach had to change completely.

Angie Chang: Lerk-Ling Chang is Vice President of Strategic Ventures at Guidewire. She leads Guidewire’s venture investing efforts and drives acquisitions and strategic partnerships. We heard about her transition from product to corporate strategy at the Guidewire event.

Lerk-Ling Chang: I did product management at Guidewire for… I guess it was probably about 12 years… and then decided to switch out of that role into something completely different, focusing on corporate strategy. What that means, initially, was two things. Strategic partnerships. And then second is acquisitions. It’s been kind of fun doing that, because I worked on acquisitions and as an investment banker before. But at that time, you kind of run numbers. You kind of say, “Hey, you can cut costs here, and you can add here, or you can increase revenues by 10%, 20%,” but you don’t really know what it looks like.

Lerk-Ling Chang: Now, I’m on the other side of the table, where we have to go through systematically to understand… Hey, can we really grow revenues, work with all the different teams around the company to understand how to plan an integration, and make sure the acquisition actually comes to fruition. So, I’ve been involved in all the five acquisitions that we’ve done, and it’s been a really interesting experience seeing that. And now I’ve had the opportunity, as part of this, to now lead up our venture investments, which are going to be starting up and doing a lot more of. So, taking the initiative when you see something that’s a problem that you think you can help fix, taking the initiative to suggest solutions, and then working with people to see if that can actually come to fruition…. That has helped quite a bit.

Angie Chang: Wow. 12 years. That’s really impressive. When we were at Guidewire… listening to the women at Guidewire talk about how long they’ve been working there, I think we were all just amazed and had a lot of respect for people that can spend a decade or more at a company and continue to grow.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And respect for the company that could retain that many amazing… because that panel at that event was amazing. You guys should check out the Guidewire YouTube.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I remember it wasn’t uncommon, at least 10 years ago, to stay at your company for that long. But, now it’s becoming less and less common. When companies are able to retain their employees for that long, it’s obviously because they have a program or they have the environment where people can switch around job functions, which is what keeps the profession exciting. It’s interesting, the way Lerk-Ling was moving around in job functions the way she did.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I think it makes total sense, right? She had the investment banking background, but then she did product. And now she’s doing corporate strategy. And corporate strategy is all about product. Right? And understanding… Is this going to be additive, and understanding how the potential acquisition is going to incorporate into an existing product. So, the transition makes perfect sense, and it’s so cool that she was able to make that. And I think it takes a certain amount of bravery. Especially when you’re 12 years into something. You’re very comfortable. You’re a total expert at it to be, “Okay, I’m going to go do this other thing. And I’m going to have to have a beginner’s mindset, and I’m going to have to make mistakes. And have to probably make mistakes that other people are going to see, but I’m going to stick with it”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: What I find really interesting is her seizing this opportunity to see what are the areas she can make changes in. Often times, we don’t really look for areas that we can make changes in, make a difference in, because we’ve been in a particular role or a job function for a while. You stop looking outside of your area. That really fascinated me, and I know it’s going to push me to continue to do that. Because I’ve done some of it, but not at the degree that I would like to. What did you think, Angie?

Angie Chang: Yeah, I liked how she is very assertive and ambitious, and trying to look around corners, and seeing how she can lend her expertise and grow her domain of expertise. And, hopefully, it’s not so scary. I remember… At an Elevate conference, when Shawna Wolverton, the SVP of Product at Zendesk, was talking about all the jobs that she’s had. And how, taking them, you wouldn’t think that being a handbag designer would actually benefit your career, but it actually gave her a lot of really important insights that helped her in her career later on. And I think, similarly, a lot of people talk about the time they spent as a bank teller, or as a waitress, or as a barista, and how that experience has really helped them later in their careers. So, yeah, always having those different job functions can be very beneficial for your overall journey in life.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. It’s always when you look back, you see the pieces of the puzzle that fit, that at the time you didn’t think they would fit. So, having different experiences definitely makes you better at whatever next role you take. Because, you have a closer chance to a full picture.

Rachel Jones: I think one thing that I took away from Lerk-Ling’s quote is just how when you’re switching job functions, it doesn’t even have to be something that’s completely unfamiliar and brand new. A lot of times, you’re using the same skill set that you’ve always had. You’re just applying it in a different way to have a different kind of impact. [inaudible 00:10:49] That was interesting to me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Full stack software engineer, Samantha Puth, shared her experience with her colleague, Cathy, as they moved between job functions, during our recent dinner with Amplitude.

Samantha Puth: Initially, we had created this really safe space to learn and be challenged. But over time, we realized that we became too comfortable and too complacent, and that in itself was the scariest thing. Being comfortable is not necessarily a bad thing, but being complacent means you’re stagnating your career. And we really try to prevent that.

Samantha Puth: So, that’s how we started getting to know each other, and we tried to discuss, “How can we keep improving our career? How do we keep growing together?” It’s hard to find advocates that are going to push you to do more. And as my manager was trying to do it, I still felt like I needed more. So, from there, I personally tried a few different things. Cathy tried similar things, where we moved to different parts of the product, different parts of the tech stack. And I, myself, as a traditionally more frontend engineer, did a rotation in DevOps for a quarter. And while I learned a lot, I just didn’t feel like it was super sustainable.

Samantha Puth: So, we knew the inevitable was coming. But that didn’t make it any easier. And as scary as it was, we were more fearful for the fact that our careers may be stagnating and we were missing out on valuable opportunities. So, with that fear in mind, that job is to really dive down deep and figure out what it is that we want. What is it that keeps us happy? What sustains this fulfillment as a developer? So, over lots of deliberation, on cocktail hours, happy hours, and wine, we came up with this. This was our need. We needed to find an ability or an opportunity to continually learn while providing a lot of impact. We knew we were the kind of people who would get bored if we weren’t being challenged. Yet, we were the kind of people who didn’t feel valued or fulfilled, if we weren’t proving to ourselves that we had an impact for those around us, as well as our customers.

Samantha Puth: So, that led us to Amplitude, where we’ve been actively trying to measure whether or not we’re actually doing this. This goal is something that we’re trying to keep each other accountable for. Or as I like to say it, accountabilibuddies who like to drink wine.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Hers really resonated with me, because I do get bored pretty quickly. I like to build things. I like to create something from nothing. I make this dumb analogy that if you put me in it a junk yard and said, “Take all these weird parts and make an engine,” eventually I would make an engine. And then once it ran fairly consistently, I would be bored. And I’d be, “Okay, so somebody else needs to come in and soup it up, and make it go fast and make it whatever.” But I get bored. And so, I think that’s probably the reason why I’ve always kind of switched functions to keep it interesting and to keep myself challenged. Because I’m one of those people who gets kind of self-destructive, if I’m not being challenged. I was the kid who was always in trouble, because I’d be talking or whatever else, because I was bored in class.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That was me too. But I found that there were moments that I was letting myself be complacent before I got bored. So, you can be enjoying what you’re doing, but you’re just not getting any better… playing to your strengths.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And there’s nothing wrong with being complacent, if you are drawing what you need from some other part of your life, right? My life has always sort of centered around my job. But if you’ve got a hobby, or a volunteer thing, or your family, or whatever it is that you focus your time on… Right? Then, have a job where you can be a bit complacent, right? Because you’re growing in other areas of your life, and you need one part to be simple on some level.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: My thought is that I don’t want to let it reach that point where I’m like, “Oh my gosh. I’ve been bored for a whole year.” You know what I mean? I don’t want it to reach that stage that I’m reacting so late. Yeah, I think I’ve gotten better at looking for signs when I’m starting to go into that complacent stage. Because usually, for me, what it turns into is me feeling like I’m not getting appreciated at work, or I’m not getting my due. And it coincides with me starting to feel like I haven’t been challenging myself enough. Because it takes time to even make a move in your job functions, you want to get ahead of that, is what I feel.

Angie Chang: I was thinking of what Gretchen said about it being okay to be complacent. So, I’ve had… two times I was a product manager, and I know that in the Silicon Valley everybody was like, “You should be product manager. It’s very respectful, [inaudible 00:15:57].” So, I did it for two different jobs, and I knew it was kind of… I’m not saying complacent. But I feel like, maybe, that was not the ideal fit for me. It was weird because, I was like, “I’ve been very entrepreneurial. I shouldn’t do this, being CEO.” But, as Gretchen was saying, if there’s other things in your life that you are doing that light your fire and that you’re interested in… I was doing Women 2.0 on the side and Girl Geek dinners. So to me, I think, that was my saving grace through working at a job in tech… is that Women in Tech aspect on the side.

Rachel Jones: I was kind of thinking the same thing when Gretchen made that comment. For me, a lot of times when I do feel complacent at work, my response isn’t to go in that same job and think of a new function, but to find something outside of work to give me that fulfillment. That’s why I do podcasting outside of work… feeling like, yeah, I can still use a part of my skill set that’s exciting that I don’t get to use in my job. So that’s interesting to explore… not just within your strict career, but what things you can add to it on the outside to fulfill that need to challenge yourself. So, when you decide that it’s time to make a change, how can you go about doing that?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. So, in terms of advice, I like Samantha’s approach where she and her friend Cathy… They were really deliberate about making sure that they talked through all the ideas of what they should do next and finally came up with what it is that they wanted to switch over to. I mean… Having someone you’re doing it with makes it a lot easier. Especially because they were looking specifically for opportunities where they were able to provide impact, while also learning and challenging themselves. And I think that sounds like a really good way to do it. I’m sure there are various ways. [Inaudible 00:17:56]

Angie Chang: I think from some of the ways that I’ve seen… For example, women in Product really succeed is when they work in Product, they create these Facebook groups or communities, these women in product meetups. They become little organizers of these different cities all around… I think, the Bay area and beyond. And it gives them a leadership opportunity, and also the chance to talk to other women in Product, and kind of share their experiences, figure out how to navigate the interview process, the different hurdles and challenges. They’re getting together. And that’s been really helpful for people’s careers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And this stage is when you want to have a network, or mentors. They don’t have to be someone who is far ahead of you in your career, but it could be someone who’s just had those experiences before you have, where you can bounce ideas off of them. So, that’s why we, at every Girl Geek Dinner, we’re recommending to everyone to make their network before they actually need it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think the first thing you need to do is figure out what you like and what you don’t like about your current job. And then kind of doing what Sukrutha was suggesting of talking to friends. Definitely talking to former bosses who sort of understand your strengths and weaknesses and understand you as a whole person, in a way that your colleagues or your friends don’t necessarily understand. And just sort of talking through, “I don’t really like doing this. I’d rather not do it anymore. I do like doing these two things,” and talking to as many people as you can who can give you ideas of, “Well, that same skill set would actually apply to this,” or “Have you considered moving into a role like this one?” And that’s where the best advice for me has come from… is particularly from former bosses who probably know, probably better than you do, what you’re really good at.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think that’s a great tip. I wouldn’t have thought of asking a former boss, but that’s… That’s really cool. I know I’ve asked a product manager I’ve worked with, because she was sort of working the [inaudible 00:20:08] role as me where she would be able to see what I was good at and what I wasn’t shining at and be able to give me similar advice. That’s really cool. I would think about that.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, that’s usually my starting point. When I’m frustrated, or bored, or just thinking, “What’s next?” And, of course, if you have an Angie… An Angie’s always very helpful with this. [crosstalk 00:20:33].

Angie Chang: You mean somebody who tells you all the things you could be that are two levels or one level above you? Whenever I hear women talk about, “Oh, I gave someone advice, free advice, I might be like, “You should charge for that,” or, “You should be an angel investor, or a partner, get tax credit.” [crosstalk 00:20:53]

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Why not?

Angie Chang: People are like, “No, I have to take a class. I have to just be [inaudible 00:21:00]

Gretchen DeKnikker: Angie’s next career transition is going to be into Life Coach, though.

Angie Chang: I mean… I guess that’s one way to categorize it. But I feel like… I don’t know. I think that’s the way we should be, just helping each other out. At these accountabilabuddy wine sessions, just help each other, elevate each other. So, for example, when I was looking for roles, I would always look for something very tactical and creative, and people would be like, “You totally deserve to be a director somewhere.” I’m like, “What? No.” And like, “I can see it.” And like, “No.” And so, you know, it’s daring to think that they’d… You always need that person, at least one, in your corner telling you that, you know, [crosstalk 00:21:43].

Gretchen DeKnikker: You need lots of them. Because, you’re not going to, generally, do it on your own. You’re not going to be like, “I’m so ready for that,” and be surrounded by people who don’t think you are. It’s normally your network pulling you, and being like, “Oh, come on, girl.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: We’ll give you that push you need.

Angie Chang: We are like the best wing women, I think… for each other.

Gretchen DeKnikker: We are actually. Yeah. [inaudible 00:22:07]

Rachel Jones: [inaudible]

Gretchen DeKnikker: I don’t think any men- [crosstalk 00:22:13] Yeah. Even if we do, it totally bears repeating. It’s awesome.

Angie Chang: I think that a common trait of women is we can help each other out, almost more than we can help ourselves. But in that practice of helping out another woman, you’re like, “Well, I just gave Catherine that advice. I need to give myself that same kind of advice.” [crosstalk 00:22:39].

Sukrutha Bhadouria: When you’re mentoring someone else, you’re assisting someone else, and helping yourself as well.

Rachel Jones: So, one piece of advice that I have… But I think, yes, for myself, as much as other people… is to just try it. Because, I think I hold myself back a lot of times when there’s something new that I want to do. Just like, “I didn’t go to school for this. So, I didn’t have this many years of experience like the other people doing it.” And yeah, I just won’t even try because of that. But that doesn’t make sense. Just taking that first step of trying it, instead of holding yourself back based on the experience you don’t have.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Angela Buckmaster shared her own insights in navigating job function changes during our dinner with Poshmark, where she’s the Director of Community Operations.

Angela Buckmaster: I actually have been at Poshmark for a little over six years now. And so, I found Poshmark through a friend who still works here. We were friends through middle school and high school. And she heard that I had graduated college and was looking for my first big girl job. And she was on the community team here and said, “Hey, you should come interview.” So I did. And at the time, we had basically one role, which was Community Associate. And through that we wore a lot of different hats, as is typical at a startup. And from there, we kind of started to build into different teams. And so, from there I moved into the support team, still under the community umbrella. And I did some management for a couple of years. And through that, I noticed that I started having more and more of an interest in our KPIs and our SLAs. And I wanted to know why are they the way they are, how can we make them better, and to really understand them on a deeper level.

Angela Buckmaster: And so, I started speaking to my manager, and LyAnn, our SVP, and just letting them know, “I’m really interested in this. I would love to move into more of a data driven role.” The time wasn’t right… right at that moment. But I kept telling them, and I kept trying to get into projects that I could kind of dip my toes into the analytics area. Until the day came when LyAnn approached me, and she said, “Okay, the role is here. Let’s do it.” So, I happily went into that… more of an analytics role on the community team, which was awesome. I got to stay with my community family and did that for about a year. And then LyAnn approached me with another opportunity and said, “Hey, let’s build out this team.” So now I have the three areas. I have a data analytics team, a product knowledge team, and a training team.

Angela Buckmaster: And so, I’ve learned a lot over six years, right? I’ve learned that you can’t just keep your dreams to yourself. I think something I really believe is… Whatever you think about and you talk about all the time, is what you are or what you will become. And so I was very open, and I kept telling people about my dream. And I truly believe that that’s why it happened, because if you don’t speak up, no one knows. Right? So, that’s my little tip. I would encourage you all to just be very open about your passions and your dreams.

Gretchen DeKnikker: The thing that Angela points out is that she expressed her interest long before it was available. And I think sometimes it’s hard to know… To be like her, you have to know what your dream is. But, I think having a really strong relationship with your boss and saying, “Oh, that’s really… I really liked working on that thing.” And letting them know your interests and your preferences helps them, especially at a fast growing company like Poshmark, really build out those goals.

Gretchen DeKnikker: As a manager, you’re always in your head, especially in a really fast moving organization. You’re always thinking about what your next hire is going to be, and how that’s going to change the team, and what the skill set is going to be. And you’re just moving these players around on a board constantly. And having that bit of information, as a manager, is hugely important. So, even if it feels weird for you to express that, or they’ll think you don’t like your current job… It’s really a gift to your manager to tell them the things that you like.

Angie Chang: I think that’s a really good reminder for managers, also… to know where their reports want to be in a few years. So they can keep that in mind, as roles open up.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s really hard though. Because, sometimes the manager is more wanting to keep the person who was great for that team or with that for that project, when that project may not be good for their growth anymore. So–

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, but that’s not a good manager. Right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: No, it’s not.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You definitely want one that–

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Not everybody has… realizes that they don’t have a good manager, until it’s too late.

Angie Chang: Right. And a lot of managers… not to knock the manager… learn that… learning curve of the first few years of their career. So, there’s always that chance that you don’t have a manager to help guide you, and you have to be outspoken like Angela.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ve seen managers who have been managers [inaudible 00:27:53], and not provide that insight to the person who’s reporting to them. So, as that person is looking for changes, you need to manage up really well. You want to look up to your manager. If they’re not supporting you or not helping you, you need to realize that early.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And, I don’t think that her story is that much of an uncommon one, as far as joining a very fast growing company early. But, what she really had going for her, beyond just being able to speak up and say, “These are the things that I enjoy doing,” or “These are things I’d like to try,” is having someone who was in her corner that was championing her the entire time. Right? Like her… the person who keeps coming to her with these opportunities… You don’t leave a manager like that, right? If they’re going to keep growing you within a company… You don’t hear of people, especially in a company that stage where Poshmark is, of someone being there for six years. But why would she leave? She’s got the wind at her back and all the support that… at least from this little bit that we know, that she needs. And she’s growing. So, if you wonder why people only stay for 2 point whatever years in Silicon Valley, it’s because they don’t get that.

Rachel Jones: What stuck out to me was Angela’s process as she was waiting for something to become available. She didn’t just announce her intentions and sit back. But she mentions kind of dipping her toes into projects that let her get close to what she was trying to do. So, really just taking any opportunity to really demonstrate to people around her what she was interested in. And give her the kind of experience, so that when something did open up, she was really poised to take it. I think that level of initiative and intention is definitely something to strive for.

Rachel Jones: Do we have any final thoughts on switching job functions?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I liked the suggestion, Gretchen, that you had where you said, “You should talk to a former boss who knows your strengths and anyone who knows your strengths,” to discuss what your next opportunity should be. I also like the idea of constantly looking out for opportunities where you can learn and make a dent. So, I feel like I should constantly be doing that. So, you don’t want to only be learning, but not have an impact. Because then, unfortunately, you’re not moving the needle, and that that energy is probably better spent where you can always make a change.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think you just have to be willing to be courageous and understand that it would be hard to make a transition. And you’ll be out of your depth, but that ultimately you’ll be so proud of yourself, one… once you’ve like gone through it all. But also that you’re learning and you’re growing, and not just sort of sitting comfortably out of fear.

Angie Chang: But, I think also just this idea… People always say, the FOMO feeling of you’re missing out and things. Trying new things, though, is good…. And just taking new opportunities to see how it goes. You can always go back. If that’s not your company, someplace else. [inaudible].

Rachel Jones: So, one thing that I would say, just for people who might not work at an early stage company where there’s tons of flexibility to try different things. Or maybe you just don’t have a manager where it’s safe to announce your intentions like that. Yeah, if you’re feeling stagnant, also just think about maybe some outside of work channels that might be able to fulfill the things that you’re looking for.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X Podcast. Please rate and review us on your favorite podcasting app, and we’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones, with event recording by Eric Brown and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit Girlgeek.io, where you can also find videos and transcripts from all our events.

Angie Chang: Thanks to our sponsor, Amplitude. Amplitude is a leader in product analytics, providing digital product intelligence that helps companies ship great customer experiences for systematic business growth. Amplitude has defined the future of how companies interact with data build better products. This podcast is also sponsored by Poshmark. Poshmark is currently the largest social commerce marketplace for fashion. Anyone on the platform can buy, sell, and share their personal style with millions of other users. Poshmark brings together a vibrant community every day and encourages them to express themselves and share their love of fashion. This podcast is also sponsored by Guidewire. Guidewire believes that P&C Insurance plays a vital role in protecting people and businesses and enabling society to function. Guidewire specializes in serving P&C Insurance, exclusively with a focused commitment that puts customer success above all else. Their core competency is software development, and Guidewire holds themselves accountable for ensuring that the customers have the right technology to execute on their promises and policyholders over the long term.

Episode 17: Emotional Vulnerability


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X Podcast connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha. By day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen and I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences, where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: And today, we’ll be discussing vulnerability.

Rachel Jones: For our last episode, we discussed vulnerability related to software security, but now we’re taking it back to our normal general career advice type of episodes and talking about emotional vulnerability. So what does this mean to you all?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s something you learn over time. I think you spend the beginning of your career trying to figure out how to pretend like you know what you’re doing when you don’t and worrying about a lot of what other people think. And then I think you move into managerial roles, and you start thinking about, “How do I get these humans to do what I want them to do?” And then at some point, you start thinking about, “Rather than just manage people, how do I lead them, how do I pull them to me?” And then I think you start really realizing how important vulnerability is.

Angie Chang: I think Gretchen’s absolutely right. It’s something that you don’t arrive to until you are a more experienced person. Often when you begin your career, you are doing the fake it ‘til you make it kind of approach of bluffing and doing things. And then oftentimes a vulnerability part comes into play when you maybe hit roadblocks when you become a new manager, or you go to therapy or some kind of group therapy for the first time, and then you realize that this is something that you can be working on.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I definitely have changed how transparent I am at work. For example, when I first graduated and I started work, we were a whole bunch of new grads who joined the company, and we all did everything together. So, sort of like that same environment you create in college. You think you can replicate it at work, and so you hang out at lunch, and then you work together, and then you go home, and then on the weekend you hang out again. And I realize the dangers of something like that and the benefits.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Obviously with the benefits, you make friends for life. It’s great. You are happy at work because you’re working with friends. But then the dangers of that is that at the end of the day, people are your colleagues and coworkers first before they are friends. It’s what I come to realize. Everyone has a different opinion on this, but this is how I feel like, if for some reason, one of you grows faster in the company or one of you becomes the other person’s manager, then it becomes very complicated and difficult. So, I’ve started to scale back how much of myself I shared at work.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, Sukrutha, it sounds like you’re sort of equating vulnerability with sharing personal details.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Not only personal details, but just sharing anything beyond–there’s a line. You don’t want to share too much beyond your work persona, sometimes, because then you’re viewed differently. Whether you want to be viewed differently… What that means in terms of being viewed differently. It’s what I’ve struggled with.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I guess I define vulnerability just a little different. And that’s probably something that’ll be really interesting that’ll come out of this podcast as we all look at it in a slightly different way. I don’t necessarily look at it as being transparent in my personal life or, but I did… and I mean, I came to vulnerability in the worst way possible, kicking and screaming. But I think what I realized was I didn’t have to know all the right answers. And actually, when I got to a point where I was so exhausted that I had to turn to other people for the answers or for the help that I thought that they shouldn’t have to give me was when I really learned that I had a team that really was behind me. They liked being needed, and they wanted to step up, and that was really cool.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: How you show your weak moments at work is very dependent on your working relationship with the people around you and how comfortable you are. Right? If you are more than just a work relationship but a little bit more of a personal connection, then you show it differently. And so, I think that’s where it’s been really tricky for me where when I’ve been stressed at work or I’ve been unsure about the decisions that I’ve needed to take that impacts the team, how comfortable I am to show what’s going on in my mind or what emotions I’m going through or when I need to take help, and when I don’t know the answer. That’s where, you know, the difference is.

Angie Chang: Yeah. When Sukrutha was talking earlier about appearing stronger, it seems like there’s this trend now with social media to have as, the rumor was that Cheryl Sandberg’s conference room at Facebook was called “only good news,” and you’re really allowed to only share good news on social media and with others, let’s say for example at work or some kind of, I don’t know, sanitized environment. So there’s definitely, I think, a trend toward maybe needing to have someone with some vulnerability and maybe articulating it in a different way. I think that’s what Sukrutha might’ve been getting at.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Recently at our dinner with HomeLight, Tina Sellards shared her own thoughts on the importance of vulnerability.

Tina Sellards: It was really important to me as I started to move into a more people role in organizations that I was doing. How do we as a group, as a community, really build that interaction and not silo ourselves into these easy data groups or easy breakup groups that we can put ourselves in? I think one thing that really just kind of zoomed in for me was fear. Fear is really kind of a driving factor, right, and why we allow ourselves to be siloed into some of these groups: fear of maybe that big tech company to break up your industry, or a fear of the unknown of a different group of people or community than you. Unfortunately, fear really can kind of drive some of these things, and I think that’s kind of where we’ve come with some of the data in technology. How do we get away from that, right, is the next question.

Tina Sellards: I very much subscribe to Brené Brown. I don’t know if any of you listen to Brené Brown or any of that, but vulnerability is how we do that. And leadership with vulnerability is a really key point in the human connection. I think we can really hurt ourselves and break ourselves up by just kind of communicating with the groups that we know and doing the things that we always know. Being vulnerable and letting ourselves be open to that information and being open to other people’s experiences is really how we build these communities.

Tina Sellards: Something here that I really appreciate about HomeLight and just kind of bringing it together is a core value for us. And it’s not only a core value, it’s something we really live is being a part of our family and really being that open, unique kind of environment I think is super important because I don’t think we’re going to conquer these fears and these issues that we have as a larger society if we don’t start opening up to that and really starting to have those conversations as a group.

Tina Sellards: So, I just wanted to share a little bit about my experience on that and data and the human connect and hope you all stay vulnerable, open, and communicate as a whole community together because that’s important in building communities like HomeLight, and Girl Geek, and things of that nature. Keep those communities open. Be vulnerable.

Rachel Jones: I think that this quote is interesting because, just like Gretchen said, there are a lot of different ways to understand and think about vulnerability. In our discussion so far, we’ve been talking about vulnerability as in, “I’m going to share something personal about myself.” Or “Yeah, I’m going to reveal that I don’t feel competent,” or something like that, but also thinking about vulnerability as even opening ourselves up to those kinds of situations. So vulnerability as in, “I’m going to take on this project that scares me, and I don’t feel completely secure in,” or vulnerability as in, “I’m going to work with these people that I haven’t worked with yet and see how that can stretch me.” So, even getting outside of just like vulnerability that’s revealing something personal about yourself. It’s also a way to open yourself up to challenge and new experiences and have that space where you don’t know everything, but even take that step into that environment.

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s a really valid point. You actually have me thinking just sort of the backstory on how I kind of figured out how to be vulnerable and then eventually came to embrace it, at least on some level, was being a founder and having so much pressure. You’ve taken money from VCs, you’ve hired people and they could have a job somewhere else, but they’re coming there every day to build your dream. But as a founder you’re wearing so many different hats but no matter what you think you’ve done to prepare for it, you’re never really ready. Most of what you’re doing, early stage is, like, just a crapshoot, like you’re literally could flip a coin for a lot of the decisions that you make.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And me just being at the end of my rope and not having answers and feeling like I was letting everybody down is sort of what led me to just, I just didn’t have the strength to pretend like I knew what I was doing anymore. And that’s really when the employees and my co-founders really came through and shined was they thought I had it and once they realized, like, “Oh she doesn’t have it, that’s cool. We can come and help her.” And that was huge. Because then I realized this kind of changes everything about how I manage people and a whole bunch of other things. I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone that I had no choice left but to be vulnerable, right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. When I had been… You know, I have been a manager now for a few years. I think over the last year, the position I’m trying to take is that when someone gives me feedback, I don’t respond to it right away where I would sound defensive. And so, I try to respond in a way where I sound more open and I ask questions, and so someone says, “You know, I don’t like the way blah, blah, blah happened.” And I’m like, “Okay, can you help me understand how that made you feel and what I could have done differently or tell me more?”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And I think that has helped people feel like I’m more open to listening, and that makes them feel like there’re in a comfortable situation. And so, that has been so difficult for me to get to that point because my natural instinct is to try to assure the person that there was no harm meant, and in essence sound defensive, but that quickly shuts down the conversation.

Rachel Jones: I think even just asking for feedback is such a vulnerable thing to do because you’re literally opening yourself up to scrutiny. But as much as you can model that and even show you’re kind of making changes based on that feedback, that just makes everyone’s work stronger, and it makes your team more able to trust you.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And you do really–I mean, it’s such an important thing because if you’re the type of manager who’s like, “Why do I never find out something’s broken until it’s come off the rails?” It’s like, well how do you take that information? Right? How does someone get treated when they come to you early with a problem? You know, do they feel safe doing that? Because that’s a really good way to get information early and a really good way to not get information early depending on how you treat them. So, I think, you know, what Sukrutha’s saying is also she’s taking the feedback, but she’s also creating this open line of bi-directional communication and building that trust also.

Rachel Jones: Tina references Brené Brown in her quote. She’s done a lot of talking about leadership with vulnerability. Is this a conversation that you have heard in the tech world recently?

Gretchen DeKnikker: You know, I think you’re hearing a lot about Brené Brown also because she just… her Ted Talk was pretty famous. But I think now that she has got the Netflix special, she’s really come on to more people’s radar, which is awesome to sort of create this courageous, and yet, vulnerable culture.

Angie Chang: I was made to watch the Brené Brown Ted Talk at a group support offsite thing where we were all apparently high-performing people that were starting to see some struggles. And I noticed in the group, they’re all very Type A early stage startup founders or high-performers who were at early stage companies.

Angie Chang: There was this point in the day where people were just getting really stressed out and then breaking down emotionally because they had built up a lot of themselves to be so strong, and they realized they weren’t. And they were admitting their vulnerability of, “Maybe I could be a better CEO,” or “Maybe I could have been a better manager,” and then having some tears shed and come to Jesus moment. And we were instructed to watch Brené Brown.

Angie Chang: Recently, there was the Amy Poehler Wine Country special where Brené Brown has the entire cameo where everyone in that birthday party is like, “Oh my God, Brené Brown!” and was talking to her – and she’s being very nice. I think we should maybe go watch this Netflix special that Gretchen mentioned, The Call to Courage, and check it out.

Angie Chang: Sandhya Hedge and Samantha Pluth responded to a question about the potential risks of being vulnerable during our dinner with Amplitude.

Sandhya Hegde: Being vulnerable is hard, and people who struggle to do that, for them it’s like you’ve taken over the agenda for the conversation by being vulnerable. It can be a very powerful thing to do if you lean into it and do it very confidently. The bad way to do it would be, “I don’t know if this is the right thing to do right now, but I kind of have something to say.” Don’t do that. All right? Just lean into what you’re doing, which is to say, “Hey, I have something to share. I can’t really read how you’re feeling about my work, and I would like to know more just so that I have a good understanding of whether I’m on track to keep up with what you would expect from someone like me.” You can make it very professional and very direct, and that’s a power move. That’s not going to detract from anything.

Samantha Pluth: I want to add another note. When you’re vulnerable, you’re inviting people to care for you, and if there’s anything I’ve seen, like our CEO is constantly vulnerable in a really powerful way. He recently led a fireside chat and second question he chose to answer was, do you think you’re the right CEO for the company at this time? That was like, an, “Oh, you’re going to take that question?” and he answered it gracefully. He was honest. There are things that he’s still learning, but he truly believes that he can lead us, and he’s doing everything he can, and he’s constantly getting feedback. Vulnerability and feedback tie into each other, and I think that’s garnered a lot more respect because he’s doing that.

Rachel Jones: I love this idea of vulnerability as a power move because I think, yeah, when people think about vulnerability, it is very much like this, “Oh, here’s how I’m feeling. I’m sorry, don’t hurt me.” But it actually really is powerful and direct to say, like, “Hey, here’s how I’m feeling. Here’s what I need. Let’s be clear about this and move forward.” I think that’s a really empowering way to frame this conversation.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I like how they both have like different ways to talk about vulnerability, especially when Samantha’s talking about how her CEO is vulnerable, but in such a powerful way. I think that’s really, really interesting to me. You know, when you’re tying the word powerful with vulnerability, to me, I think if you can strike that balance, that when it doesn’t put you in a situation where it may work against you. So I wonder what it’s taken for the CEO to get to that point where, you know, they can actually be strong and powerful while being vulnerable at the same time. What did you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, I mean I think what is attractive to Samantha about that and many, many, I’m sure other people at the company, is that it shows a level of humbleness and you can be humble and admit like “I’m not the best at this and I’m not the best at that. But we’re kind of working on here as a company, the direction that we’re going. And here’s why I think I do have some skills to be leading right now.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: But to just talk about the ways that… I mean there’s no perfect CEO for any company, but I think the fact that he’s humble enough to even take the question, I think is what really builds that trust and definitely loyalty to you as a leader.

Angie Chang: When I first heard that quote, I was like, of course the CEO’s going to be vulnerable. And then I realized that not all CEOs are vulnerable. So maybe it is setting the tone from the top, where if you are a CEO that is vulnerable, you are giving permission and creating a safe space for other people in your company to be vulnerable as well.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I think if you have a blustery wind bag CEO, then you’re going to have a blustery wind bag management team, right? And that’s going to be your marketing style and whatever. And if you have a very transparent leader, you’re going to see that within the organization also.

Angie Chang: I was just trying to imagine, like the girl geek who was in the first decade of her career trying to come to a place where, like she can be, feel comfortable saying things and being vulnerable as opposed to the CEO.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I don’t know. I didn’t figure it out until I was 40, and then only because I was just at such a point that I had no other choice than to.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s usually how it happens. You know? Because, you aren’t taught to be… You’re not born with the ideal leadership and management style, right? You pick it up based on what you think is effective and which is why you suck when you start.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Because you manage everyone the way that you would want to be managed, which is not the way other people want to be managed, generally.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. Or you are trying to control the situation when you know you can do things faster, right? There’s that other problem, too.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And so just like giving up control and letting people fail and then being open to improvement yourself, all of that only happens when you literally have no choice.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, so what I would say, to answer your question, Angie, is what I realized when I finally gave in or gave up or whatever it was that happened, was they were just waiting to help. The team was right there, just waiting for me to say, “Come on in. Let’s all work on this together.” Right?

Rachel Jones: Also coming back to your question, Angie, a lot of an early career person being able to be vulnerable depends on having CEOs model this behavior and having managers create these kind of environments that allow for people to be vulnerable.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Colleen Bashar spoke about the importance of creating an atmosphere for vulnerability during our 2019 Elevate virtual conference.

Colleen Bashar: So, I think everybody has career aspirations, and sometimes they’re hesitant to tell you what they are because they may not be on your team. It might be an aspiration outside in a different organization. And creating an environment where people can feel comfortable being vulnerable and telling you that can change the game. Because now they feel like there is a special relationship between them and their manager where they can be honest upfront, and their manager can help them develop skills that will get them to that next step.

Colleen Bashar: And in that skill development, they might find that the relationship they have with their manager has made them grow so much that they no longer want to leave the organization. They want to stay within. But it was the willingness to have that conversation of I don’t care if you want to go to a different org within Guidewire, please, let’s just talk about what makes you challenged and happy and inspired.

Rachel Jones: So, I think here Colleen introduces yet another way of understanding and thinking about vulnerability. Here, it’s kind of being vulnerable about what you want in your career and what your goals are. I think, yeah, she’s right. Sometimes people don’t feel comfortable sharing that with managers because they don’t want to offend if it’s not what you think your manager might want for you. But as a manager, building the space for people to be able to share those things so that you can partner with them and help them in those career goals is definitely a valuable thing. So how do you create that environment for vulnerability?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I’d try to do it from the outset in the sense of like what Colleen is talking about, of you start having those conversations during the interviewing phase of tell me where you want to go with this, and not tell me your five-year plan, but tell me what you like about this. Tell me what you want to learn. Right? And you’re having these conversations all the time, and you’re explicitly saying, you’re here to like grow, and I’m here to help you grow. Whether that means that you move on from this company, or you move to a different department, or I can create a path for you, or whatever it is, I’m on your side, and I’m here to help you as a human. And I think you have to be explicit with that from the outset.

Angie Chang: It’s an interesting approach of creating it from the interview.

Rachel Jones: I think this also shows the benefits of vulnerability even just outside of for you as a person. This quote came from a talk about building high performance teams, and it was actually a response to a question about losing high performers and creating a vulnerable space, really being a tool to encourage people to stay. So, I think, thinking about just what’s the benefit of creating a vulnerable environment. It’s not just so people feel like open about their feelings and we all get along. It’s also how you can make your work and your team the strongest it can be.

Angie Chang: To play devil’s advocate, I think of companies that are older and more established, I think Guidewire has been around for two decades where they have a big enough infrastructure, and they know what they’re doing at this point. So they can be vulnerable, and they can take their time and invest in people. Whereas a lot of the more, you know, VC-backed companies that are growing, growing, growing may have less of a tolerance for this type of attitude, unfortunately. And that’s kind of what we’ve been hearing in the news. I think we’ve seen a lot of poor management and abuses in workplaces when there is too much emphasis on growth.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think generally why we need to figure out how you can create an environment where it’s safe to be vulnerable. The best thing that comes out of it is people showing that they want to improve, they want to make the workplace better for their teammates and for their team. And so, maybe if you’re struggling to put yourself in a situation where you feel vulnerable or you’re exposed that you’re vulnerable, come at it from that angle so you’re focusing on the good that’s going to come out of it. That’ll make it easier then for it to trickle beyond just your team where more and more people are comfortable in asking how they can improve and do better. Like the example where Colleen talks about, the manager helping grow people while also not trapping them and helping them. They’re helping that feedback that he or she would get to then make the team a better place, or the org a better place, within Guidewire.

Angie Chang: I just realized that when I was looking at this vulnerability topic, it seems like something that’s “feminine or feminized,” like it’s something that is more equated to women than it is for men.

Rachel Jones: I think that’s definitely true how vulnerability is kind of a gendered idea. I wanted to ask even with the, going back to the last quote from Samantha, do you think if it was a female CEO who answered that question that it would’ve gotten the same response that it did from this male CEO thing? Like, “Yeah I can mostly do this job, but not all.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I question whether it’s related to also sometimes women being more susceptible to imposter syndrome where then that makes it even more difficult to show that you don’t know something, or that you are struggling with something, or you are open to hearing feedback. Because sometimes you, that moment are too afraid to hear anything negative.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, I think men and women actually suffer from imposter syndrome the same. I think they just process it differently. But I think it also comes from being in the right environment. You know, we’re talking about it sort of coming from the top and creating that environment and definitely if you’re someone who’s able to create that environment for other people. But there is that double bind. Right?

Angie Chang: I think you touched on an interesting point about the double bind that women face, and as much as we want all leaders to be vulnerable and still perceived as powerful and smart and able to command, there is always the risk that, you know, it’s not just you, it’s you and your imposter syndrome with the world at large, that’s going to be assessing your competence when it’s not necessarily about the competence, it’s about the bias in people’s minds as they assess their competence.

Angie Chang: I was listening to a podcast with the StitchFix CEO and founder, Katrina Lake, and I was listening to her speak about how she says the word like in interviews and someone called her out. I think it was [inaudible 00:30:30] that called her out and then said, “Did you know that people can take you less seriously because you said, like,” and she said, “I want to lead with my authentic self. I say words like, ‘like,’ and that’s fine, and I may have had a harder run.”

Angie Chang: I think she mentioned that their road to IPO was not easy, but as a result of that longer road, she was able to do things like “I’m just going to hold my son while I’m up there.” And I didn’t realize that that photo op wound up with a ton of response from women coming up in many industries saying, “I’m really proud of you for standing up there, ringing the bell at the first day of trading with your infant son and being the CEO and founder of this company, and this kind of having a balanced that and being okay with that.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean I think it does. I will tell you if you’re in your 20s or 30s and listening, it does get easier. You just start caring less what other people think. I don’t think you ever feel like more competent, but you have life experience wisdom that seems to be helpful. But you also just stop caring as much. And I’ve been told by women in their 50s and 60s and 70s that it gets even better, and so, I can’t wait for that.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And if you’re in an environment where you really don’t feel supported by the people around you, then think about that too, of, is this the best place for me? Is it temporary? Would I thrive more if I had people around me that I didn’t feel like I had to put up a front as much?

Rachel Jones: Do I need to go to a Girl Geek Dinner and surround myself with people who feel like I feel?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Please.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You do.

Gretchen DeKnikker: At the very least you can just come and listen to other women and be like, “I’m not crazy. This is a thing.” And you can feel better.

Angie Chang: Yes, Girl Geek Dinners, where you realize you’re maybe or maybe not being gaslit.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X Podcast. Please rate and review us on your favorite podcasting app, and we’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones, with event recording by Eric Brown, and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io, where you can also find videos and transcripts from all our events.

Angie Chang: This podcast is sponsored by HomeLight, a Google-backed startup with a line of data driven real estate products that empower people to make smarter decisions during one of life’s most important moments, buying or selling their home. This podcast is also sponsored by Amplitude, a Series D funded leader in product analytics. Amplitude provides digital product intelligence that helps companies ship great customer experiences. Last but not least, this podcast is sponsored by Guidewire. Guidewire Software provides core backend services software to the global property, casual and workers compensation insurance industry.

Episode 16: Software Security


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X Podcast, connecting you with insight from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha, by day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen and I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences; where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be discussing software security.

Rachel Jones: So this is a lot more technical than our general, more career advice episodes. Why is this still relevant to our audience?

Angie Chang: We noticed in the news that there was a huge hack exposed, with Capital One being hacked with 100 million, I think, identities stolen. So it’s definitely always made the news that these types of data breaches are happening consistently and it’s always a software problem at the end of the day or potentially a human problem, but definitely always in the news.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, real lives are on the line and we’re paying for everything that we do. Whether it’s a car service or it’s a delivery of groceries, we have all of that, all our credit card details and our bank account details all set up. So it’s even more important for our information to stay secure and it’s just one click. It’s very easy for us to have all of our information stolen and replicated.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think from a company standpoint, there’s this idea of, particularly when you’re an early stage startup, that there’s, you’re sort of trading off things and you know, things aren’t as secure as they should be and those are generally known things. But I think why this topic is interesting to dive in deeper is that this happens to much bigger companies, too. And there are kind of known vulnerabilities or things and patterns that are repeated from company to company that sort of leave them wide open for something like this to happen.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. And generally we tend to forget about making our software secure when we need to be doing that from the first design of it. It’s so easy to go in and gain access of one’s database and just like you said, Gretchen, it’s been happening. There’s a lot of stories of it happening to bigger companies where they hold more data, and those are the ones that are usually under attack because there’s more that you get for the energy, for the effort of hacking into the database of whatever company is easy.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, and I think there’s a common saying, at least among founders, of well, if your company hasn’t been hacked into, it’s just because you’re not important enough yet, and not because you don’t have vulnerabilities.

Angie Chang: We hear at Girl Geek dinners from security engineers and companies with a security mindset that building with a security first mindset is really important and I really enjoy hearing, at various Girl Geek dinners, people talk about security issues.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It is always one of our top topics too. People get really excited to show up for this content too.

Rachel Jones: I think it is really exciting getting to see the back end of this because, yeah, as a consumer, it feels kind of mysterious. The ways that your information is vulnerable and seeing all these stories come out in the news. Getting an understanding of what these attacks look like and how, what approaches companies are taking to protect against this… Having that kind of information that isn’t always included in these stories. It’s definitely interesting to know.

Angie Chang: Angie Song is a staff software engineer on the sync team at Okta. Here’s what she said at the Okta Girl Geek dinner.

Angie Song: At Okta, we always ask questions about security in the beginning stages of development because… And this is because it is much more difficult to retrofit security into an existing system. A great example of this is actually the internet. In the early days of the internet, the only people who had access to internet were researchers from trusted organizations like government organizations or universities. Because of this, a lot of the networking protocols that were designed during this era were built on the assumption that everyone on the internet was trustworthy and cooperative. Now that we have 4 billion users on the internet, we are now suffering from the consequences of this early naivety. This is exactly why Okta is pushing zero trust. But it doesn’t matter how secure your system is, if your users are not using it or, even worse, if they’re using it improperly. So let’s say your company decides to be secure and they decide to start using Okta, but at the same time they also decide to implement this password policy.

Angie Song: Your password needs to be a automatically generated 17 character-long password that would upper case, lower case, all the numbers and hyphen and everything, and it needs to be changed every month. What is going to happen is people are going to start writing down their passwords on Post-It Notes and then start sticking it out on their monitors because they can’t remember it. So human factors matter and security systems must be usable by non-technical ordinary people because it will be used by ordinary people. An average person is not going to remember a 17-character long password with upper case, lower case, numbers, hyphens, everything that changes every month. So when you’re building a security system, you have to make sure that you have to take into account the roles the humans will play when they are interacting with your secure system.

Angie Chang: That was a hilarious talk. You can check it out at our YouTube channel at youtube.com/girlgeekX. So look for the Okta Girl Geek dinner talk and find the Angie Song segment. But she said some good things about enforcing least privilege, which is the really excellent way of thinking about it. I really like using my One Password manager to have those incredibly long 17 characters alpha-numeric passwords for ultimate protection, but at the same time, you have a lot of normal people who don’t use One Password, or say your parents forgetting their iTunes password, and you need to figure out as the designer of that system, what’s the trade offs for having, requiring such long passwords or not?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I think designing security is like product design, right? You have to think about what the human’s going to do and the human isn’t going–frequently going to do the rational thing, right? They’re going to do the easiest thing. So I mean I think her point is that you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do something secure. Right. Which I think is why you use One Password. I use One Password, also. I finally became a convert when I got locked out of like trying to pay my mortgage for like the 10th month in a row and I had to call them every month to get unlocked because they just had some crazy password I couldn’t remember and I’m not one to write it down on a Post-It, but it did after like so many months of friction. It finally did draw me to One Password.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So I think like when you were starting software design, it should be just as important when you’re learning how to program and design systems that you should be like a compulsory part of that or a prereq to call that program complete is to be exposed to security and design. So I really like her and she talks about implementing it from the get go and like she says, it is definitely very, very hard to go back and you know, update your product to be more secure later because there’s just so many different things that you could miss along the way. So you want to probably like weave it into the design.

Angie Chang: I remember you started as a software engineer in test and then you did a lot of like testing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, so I did a lot of security in addition to writing test frameworks and such. I did a lot of–what I got exposed to was performance testing and security testing as well. So that’s why it was important to be involved from the early start, early stages of the architecture and design.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Senior software security engineer, Nicole Grinstead shared how Netflix approaches security during our 2018 Elevate conference.

Nicole Grinstead: The first thing we do is we enhance our data and make sure that we have everything that tells the full story about what user action, what action a user has taken. So then we start to take those actions and model what their normal behavior is like. So just to give you kind of an example of a few of the things that we think are interesting. If you think about what a user typically does, their agent is a really common thing that you can see in a log where you know, we can tell what kind of machine they’re coming in from and that usually doesn’t differ. You know, sometimes people get new machines, sometimes they upgrade their browsers, like we have some logic to kind of dampen those kind of upgrades or things like that. But if all of a sudden that changes, it might be a signal or an interesting thing to look at.

Nicole Grinstead: So, as you can imagine then just generating anomalies and figuring out where things are different doesn’t necessarily give us a full picture of when something is malicious or if something might be going wrong. So that’s where the next step is on top of these kind of raw anomalies that we’re generating. We apply some business logic to be a little bit smarter about what, what we think is important to investigate. Because just seeing raw anomalies it could be interesting, but it also can be a little bit noisy because as you can imagine, people do deviate from their normal behaviors sometimes. So this is then kind of the step where we try to figure out is that actually risky to our business if this action is occurring.

Nicole Grinstead: So you think about accessing really sensitive financial data. That’s something that’s higher risk than maybe accessing our lunch menus. If I never access lunch menus for Netflix and then all of a sudden I do, well, yes that was anomalous, but does the security team care if somebody’s looking at lunch menus? No, we don’t care. There’s no sensitive data to be gleaned there and it’s not something that we want to spend our resources investigating. So that’s one aspect. We also kind of look at what type of user it is and if it’s a certain type of user they might be a little more or less risky. And so these are the types of things that we apply after the fact to kind of weed out the noise a little bit and see what are the really high risk things that we should be focusing on and looking at. Then that final step is where we get information from outside of just our anomaly generation and tie that up with other interesting data sources.

Nicole Grinstead: So if we’re looking at, not just that interesting event, but then events around that. What does the user typically do? What kind of applications do they log into right before? What types of applications did they log into right after? That type of thing. Also, you know, what organization they’re in, what type of job they do. So any other extra information, that extra data that we can use to kind of enhance that and tell the whole picture of who this user is, what they typically do and why this was a weird behavior and if it’s risky.

Rachel Jones: So we basically just got a Netflix play by play of threat detection. Is there anything that stood out to you all?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: In 2018, a lot of companies had to make a lot of changes in how they design their systems and how they logged the user actions and user information simply because when the GDPR regulation was enforced it was meant to be for the European Unions, individual citizens, but it also had enforcement around how that personal data was transferred outside of the European Union. And so what Nicole talks about is a bit about logging customer behavior and you know, being able to see details like what machine they’re coming from and such, which usually is–was originally meant to sort of track usage and be able to troubleshoot when customers have issues.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: But what software designers didn’t think of along the way is that how much information is okay to log? And so there was a lot of like rushing to the finish line, sort of scrambling situation was going on to adhere to the rules of the European Union at that point. So that whole reaction to it really that spoke to how security does end up becoming an afterthought. And so when Nicole talks about how they do it at Netflix, it’s really interesting to see how they’re trying to weave it into their process. But you know, you will always, if you don’t keep a constant eye on it, you’re always going to find something that slipped through the cracks. And so it’s really important to have regulations like these to protect people and their data.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You know, a tangential topic to this is we’ve been pulling all of this data for so many years and I think there’s a lot of questions coming up now around like, do we even need that? We just do it because we can, right? Thinking about like something going–it started off like send a bug report to Microsoft, like after it crashed or something, right? Or even within Apple apps, but now it’s become, when you look at something like OAuth and how much information that pulls, and how unaware people are of what they’re giving up just so that they don’t have to remember a user ID and password, right?

Angie Chang: And it’s true that it is unfortunate over time that our trust has eroded in these big tech companies, but even like Apple and Google are like, wait, do they even, should we give, are making them, are they really doing something useful? They need it. Maybe we need our own GDPR here in the United States.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I know a lot of people who unplugged their voice assistance systems that they have at home because they feel so uncomfortable about the fact that it’s constantly listening and just waiting for those wake up words to actually respond. In other words, they’re constantly listening. So it’s almost like the more we learn about the data that that is being collected and stored, while it does make life a lot easier, it does get more scary and dangerous.

Rachel Jones: I think that’s interesting, thinking about also who these security measures serve and who this data collection serves. ‘Cause this quote from Nicole, it’s really about how Netflix protects themselves. It’s interesting how much data they collect on their users in order to protect their own system. But how does having all of that user data actually put the users at risk?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think that perfectly summarizes, sort of, the issue that we’re kind of looking at right now of do we actually need to get all of this information? Are we just getting it because we can? And then at what point does this become… When you’re not using it to improve the product, then what are you going to use it for? And I mean, and the answer of a lot of these, it’s to sell more ads, right? So that shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re a company and they’re putting their economic interest ahead of an individual, right? That’s the part that I’m not sure how people get surprised about.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Oh, when I was traveling last year, I noticed that every time I had to pay for the service, they would ask me for my phone number and it occurred to me midway through, I’m like, why do you need my phone number? And then they said, Oh, it’s just about a process that don’t mean that I should ask it every season. Why do you need this information from me?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And like, a lot of times we just wanna connect to that lock down wifi so we can get stuff done or you know, look up the next place we want to go to. And they ask us some information that we don’t need to share. Just like you said, Gretchen. And I think is just like how much information can we gather just cause we can and we’re not–we aren’t also questioning it as consumers when we should.

Rachel Jones: We aren’t always able to question as consumers what’s being collected. Like even everything that Nicole references Netflix collecting, these are not things that we like click a button knowingly to opt into. It’s stuff that they just automatically know. So do we just have to like read every fine print piece of terms agreement with a magnifying glass to be able to protect ourselves or, yeah, where can we expect to be able to do?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think the practical thing is to think about what data would this company collect on me, right? And then keeping an eye out for things that sort of go past that. Like if you’re doing a Facebook OAuth to save time, you are absolutely 100% giving away like a tremendous amount of information that they don’t need. Whoever it is, they don’t need it. So it’s a little of understanding how those things work. Like OAuth in with Twitter. Like they know practically nothing about you, right? If you have a choice or just don’t. Like use One Password and have an email account like that sort of stuff where you’re really… Where people get like really upset about it. You gave it away. So I think you know, where we started was talking about how we as individuals have a responsibility to be a little bit less human maybe. This last quote that we have coming up is awesome because she’s talking about security within your QA environment, which I think is probably a huge vulnerability for a lot of companies. So at our dinner with Palo Alto Networks, Meghana Dwarakanath spoke about her solution to this common vulnerability.

Meghana Dwarakanath: When it comes to production environments, we are very thoughtful about protecting them and we should be, because it has our customer data, it has our reputations, and it needs the protection. By the time we come to our QA environment it kind of tapers a bit. Right? Why? Because you’re thinking it’s QA, we don’t have customer data in there. Hopefully. And you know, it’s an afterthought, we really don’t think about it. But if you really think about the challenges we have and the kind of products we are testing today, we need to think about why we need to secure QA environments. Because when somebody gets to your QA environment, there are a lot more things they can get out of it apart from customer data. For example, they can get an insight into your system internals. They can figure out how your systems and services are talking to each other and you’re literally helping them make a blueprint to attack your production environment.

Meghana Dwarakanath: You have proprietary code, of course, that is running in your QA and staging environments and so there’s a potential loss of intellectual property there. This is just your test environment. What is the other aspect of testing? Test automation, right, and now anybody who is testing the SaaS service will tell you they test against production. Every time you release, you want to make sure that your production is doing okay. All the features are doing okay. So what do you do? You run your test automation against production, which means your test automation now has credentials that can access your production environment. You probably have privileged access because you want to see better what you’re testing and now you’re co-located next to customer data. Which is a very–potentially, a very unsafe mix. So how do you do the security? One of the ways we have been able to do this successfully here is to consider test as yet another microservice that is running in your production.

Meghana Dwarakanath: So all those production microservices that you deploy. Test is just another one of them. How do you microservices store credentials? That is exactly how your test automation will store credentials, the same SDLC process that Citlalli talked about where security is not an afterthought. The same thing applies to your test automation code as well. You are deploying monitoring for your test automation services just like you would do for your production services. And then whatever deployment automation you have, your IS automation code, you first test deployment into the same very architecture and now you have all the added protections that your production microservices are getting.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m sure there’s a lot more controls in a larger company, but in a smaller company, this is like 100% of vulnerability that most people aren’t even thinking about it. It’s one of those ones that goes a little off the rails when a company starts scaling and there are these things that haven’t been… Systems that haven’t been put in place to prevent that sort of thing, but, you know, having… like she was talking about a blueprint for your backend system too. It seems like a really good entry point in thinking about it at the developer level of you’ve got these guys here and they’re building things and they’re taking bits and pieces of code. Like whenever you create a friction point for a developer, they’re going to create a work around to make their job easier. And so making sure that the security that’s built into your QA isn’t making friction that they are going to work around.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s an interesting example of the kind of blind spots that can exist with security. There are so many vulnerabilities that you have no idea that you’re opening yourself up to even through all of these different stages of the process. Cause I know we talked about folding in security during development, but yeah, once you think that stuff is done and you’re just testing it and getting it ready to go, yes. Why would you even think about security as much at that point? How do you prepare for these kind of blind spots?

Angie Chang: I guess that’s why companies like Palo Alto Networks exist. To be a leading provider of security.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and it’s definitely a really important point to not save your customer information. Even when you’re trying to test your system, you don’t want to save that information to replicate your vulnerabilities to test them out. You want to do it with customer-like data. So that was really important to call out as well.

Angie Chang: Yeah, that’ll be super embarrassing if you got an email later, like we’re sorry we just sent you that by accident because we were doing some testing with your data.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: Does anyone have final thoughts on this topic of security?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Think about humans and humans will find the fastest path to anything, whether it’s in their own best interest or not.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Well, we think about security throughout your development life cycle. It gets harder if you don’t pay attention at the start to make adjustments along the way.

Angie Chang: At the Palo Alto Networks Girl Geek dinner, we learned about having a security first mindset versus security as an afterthought.

Rachel Jones: Anything else to say about that? I can’t just pop that in.

Angie Chang: So if this is interesting to you, you can check out Women in Security and Privacy, which is a 501C3 group helping people get into the field of security engineering. OWASP also has a lot of knowledge and a top 10 list and you can also check out conferences like the Diana Initiative.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s challenging and also really exciting to get to do an episode like this, that advice and more specific women talking about the cool stuff that they’re doing at their companies. But I think that’s so much of what happens at these dinners is just women sharing. Like this is what I’m doing and it’s cool and here’s why. So yeah, being able to put that on the podcast, even if it’s not as universally relevant of a topic as like mentorship, I think. Yes, it still really highlights just what’s great about Girl Geek.

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

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones, with event recording by Eric Brown and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to one of our dinners, visit girlgeek.io, where you can also find full transcripts and videos from all our events.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by Okta, the leading independent provider of identity for the enterprise. The Okta Identity Cloud enables organizations to both secure and manage their extended enterprise and transform their customers [inaudible 00:28:52] This podcast is also sponsored by Netflix. Netflix has been leading the way for digital content since 1997 and is the world’s leading internet entertainment service. This podcast is also sponsored by Palo Alto Networks, a global cyber security leader known for always challenging the status quo insecurity.

Episode 15: Managing Up


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X Podcast, connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha. By day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen. I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This Rachel, the producer of this podcast and we are the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences, where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be discussing working with your manager.

Rachel Jones: So I think this topic of working with managers comes up a lot regardless of the topic that we’re thinking about. Just ways to work with your manager kind of weave into the conversation. So, what do you think it is about this relationship that can be so hard to navigate at times?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think managing up is so hard that no one really taught me or it didn’t even come to my attention that I needed to focus on it until, I don’t know, maybe at least five or six years into my career. It’s really hard to know what’s expected of you, how you’re being evaluated if you just don’t know how to manage up. And the best way, I think, is to get on the same page and understand a bit more about what your manager… Or how your manager thinks, what your manager wants to see, what their goals are and how you can help them reach their goals. But it’s not the easiest process to get onto the same page as your manager, for sure. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think what may make it hard is that if you’re very early in your career and you’re figuring out your way in the world and how you work and how you work with other people and how you work with a manager and then your manager might be only a year or two into managing. And so they haven’t really figured out how to be a manager rather than an individual contributor to help you learn how to manage up, right? So there’s this sort of… Everyone’s sort of figuring it out as they go along and I think that might create a lot of frustration and confusion.

Angie Chang: Just generally speaking, it’s one of the very popular topics of conversation from a career advancement perspective. But when you’re in the trenches, it feels very differently, right? You’re like, as Gretchen said, you’re doing the things and your manager’s probably also building the plan on the way down. There is oftentimes just too many things going on to really consider the management side.

Angie Chang: But that’s because we come from startups where people are often just kind of learning about the rules as they’re in it. I think definitely having a lot of conversations around what the expectations are and making sure that you have regular meetings that more people will show up to, to discuss how your goals are going to align.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s super important, like Angie said, but to be really direct with this stuff, there’s sort of two ways to think about it, right? Like if you want to just kind of be a better employee thinking about what is my manager measured on, what would make them look good to their boss? What are the metrics, what are the things that they really care about? And when you’re sort of prioritizing your time, definitely prioritize and think about your decisions in the context of like, “How can I get my manager promoted?”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Because you can get your manager promoted, you can make everybody look good, right? Not that you have the ability to do that directly, but just sort of as a way of looking at it. But the other thing is, have direct conversations. Do not guess. Do not try to guess. My example is, I was hired for a job and two weeks in, my boss was fired. My brand new boss was fired and he’s really, him and a few other people who were brand new to the company and brand new to the team – we were opening a San Francisco office – they were all I had to turn to.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And so we had a trip planned to go to New York and my colleague who’d only been there a few months longer, he’s like, “Well, I don’t know if we should go.” And I was like, “I’m going, and I’m going to sit down with the CEO while I’m in New York and I’m going to ask him, ‘what were your expectations for my role? What were the goals? What are the things I could do in the first 90 days?’ Because I don’t have a manager anymore and I need to know.” It was a brand new role. And if I hadn’t asked those questions, I would have worked on the wrong things. I wouldn’t have prioritized my time in a way that my substitute manager for the time being, what his expectations were going to be.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And my colleague’s first response was this idea that you shouldn’t go meet and you shouldn’t go ask and that you should just sort of like sit back and wait to see what happens. And I’m so glad that that wasn’t my first instinct and that I went in and I had the conversation.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, that’s a good example. I think for me, I have asked questions like, “What is–” to my manager, I’ve asked questions like, “What is the thing that’s worrying you the most, work-wise? Or what is your biggest goal? What do you want your org to be known for?” And through that I get a sense of where I can insert myself and make my manager successful because that is the main thing. When you’re managing up, you want to make your manager a success in their job by basically managing them. And if I take myself and how I’m doing out of the conversation to start with and focus on what their needs are, then I put myself in that and say, “Okay, which of these align with what my goals are and how can I step in and take ownership of this particular area that’s going to make my manager successful as well as me successful and excited?” Then I’m starting to align our goals together.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Our first quote is from Sandhya Hegde who is the VP of Marketing at Amplitude and she shares her own advice on building relationships with your manager.

Sandhya Hegde: One of the challenges that I had to figure out was this idea of what builds a relationship with your manager and depending on your manager, it can be very different. So like over-simplifying, I would say there are two types. People who find it really easy to build relationships so that you don’t have to do the work. And then there are people who are just like less open, more private people that you can’t tell, “What’s this person thinking? Does she like me? Does she like the work I’m doing? She’s not, I can’t really tell what’s going on.” And so I’ve been in that situation often where I am the over-sharer – I can talk about my feelings for like three days – but I’m working for someone who does considers like, “hi” a conversation. So now, I’m like, “I don’t really know what’s happening here.”

Sandhya Hegde: And that was kind… I think the first time I had a job with a manager, it was like that. Like I really couldn’t tell what was going on. And at first I was just frustrated for a while and then actually just started talking about feeling confused. So I said, “Hey, you’re kind of hard to read and you don’t really talk about like what’s going on in your head, how you’re thinking. And I’m not really looking for like affirmation for like, ‘oh good job, Sandhya.’ Like that’s not the point. It’s not about the work. I can tell when my work is good or bad, like that’s very obvious. But I want to know do you feel like I’m making the right kind of progress?”

Sandhya Hegde: These are the things I would like to know and it wasn’t easy to do this because you have to be vulnerable. You have to say stuff like, “Hey, I care about how you feel about me,” which is a vulnerable place to be. But when I worked up the courage to say it, it made a huge difference. Because you are vulnerable, the other person starts being more vulnerable. So yeah, if you feel like you’re with someone who’s not opening up, honestly the best thing to do is just be vulnerable with them and create that space for them to reciprocate.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I like how she is… when she gave an example of being pretty direct about trying to get on the same page as her manager. How you do that is really up to you and your personality and how you feel comfortable. But just, I think, the essence of it is trying to understand, what about your manager? Do they like going for walks in their one-on-ones or do they prefer it to be a coffee? Or do they prefer it to be in a conference room? Trying to understand more about what their working style is will help you get on the same page for sure. It will break the ice initially and then you can get to the real stuff. Like what is important to them.

Rachel Jones: I think that comes back to even episodes that we’ve had about personality and communication and just knowing how to relate to individuals specifically. Because if you’re writing your manager these emails that are like, “How’s your weekend?” And all this extra stuff and they are only really reading it for that one bit of information. Knowing that is important. So yeah, just how this person relates. How do they like to show up in the office and how can that kind of inform the way that I’m building a relationship with them and aligning with them on the goals that we’re working towards? I think, yeah, getting to know them and their personality as a manager is really important.

Angie Chang: We’re hearing about this, as Sukrutha said, the personalities definitely shine through and being someone who’s always told that it’s hard to read my expression. I was like, “Oh yes.” So like having a person who is able to tell you, “Hey, you’re a little hard to read. Can you give me a little more? Or like how are you feeling?” And someone who like works with it instead of just getting offended and not asking the hard questions.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I really love that she brings up the concept of vulnerability. That’s in any relationship, right? The willingness to be vulnerable generally is going to bring out a different side in the person that you’re willing to sort of show that softer side to.

Angie Chang: It’s also like the willingness to do a little bit of work and ask more questions instead of just being like, “Well, my manager is not giving me what I want and I’m just going to be resentful.” And just actually like asking more questions to figure out what’s the working relationship going to be with this type of person. I’m sure there’s like professional tests that will then name this personality and give you hints on how to best interact with this type of person that you can investigate.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s also making me think about there’s this piece of software if you’re using Gmail for work – I think it’s called Crystal Knows – but you can go in and it’ll tell you actually how to communicate with that person through email. Like if you read mine it would be like, “Use short concise sentences, make your point quickly, don’t use a bunch of flowery language.” That sort of thing. And I thought it was pretty accurate, but it’s super interesting, and I think you can get it like an initial thing for free and then you have to pay, but it’s pretty amazing. Even if you just run it on your own inbox to see, “Oh yeah, that is like how I like to get emails.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it looks really good. I just Googled it, and I think I’d use it. One more thing that I’ve done, actually, is when I’ve gotten a new manager or I’ve been assigned to someone new or moved to a new org, I talk to people who reported to them for a long time to get a sense of what it’s like to report to them, what their managing style is. Just so that I’m better prepared. And that’s helped me so much to know what kind of things do they focus on from someone else’s perspective instead of just relying on how they represent to me.

Rachel Jones: So it’s nice having ideas for ways that you can build a relationship with your manager, but what do you do if you’re having a little more trouble navigating that relationship? Like how do you tell your manager that you need more from them?

Angie Chang: That’s a hard one because sometimes you realize that your manager has technically done it before but is not necessarily a good manager. So I am actually really interested to hear what Gretchen and Sukrutha have to say about working with your manager.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I personally don’t think anyone is a perfect manager, so you know, how good that person is as a manager to you, I feel a lot of that is in your control. I also have had some good managers in the recent past, but I’ve also seen other people struggle to report to them. So just taking into my own hands and really, really focusing on the relationship and managing up. Like I said, doing my homework to get a sense of what it’s like from other people to report to them, what they like and what they don’t like. And whatever they don’t like, if that resonates with something I wouldn’t like, then I would figure out how I would work around it or improve that scenario. I haven’t had a situation in a really long time where things just aren’t working because I invest a lot very early on into the relationship. So, Gretchen, have you had a situation where despite investing energy and time into the relationship, it’s still wasn’t working?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think, I mean, my advice on that is don’t try to read somebody’s mind, but also when you’re trying to have this conversation of going in and if they’re like, “Yeah, that’s fine,” or whatever, and it feels like there’s something else going on, saying like, “I feel like this isn’t quite what you were looking for.” Or saying, okay–Or they’re like, “Yeah, that’s good.” But you don’t feel like they mean it. You know? It’s like, “Oh well, for next time, how could this be better?”

Gretchen DeKnikker: And really opening those things because sometimes your manager isn’t going to take the time, but you can obviously tell that they’re not happy with what you’re doing. I definitely had managers where I can just tell it’s time to over-communicate and to keep them updated on every step of the way that there’s something going on that maybe they don’t even know how to articulate themselves.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But then there are people that are just not people that you enjoy working with and that’s managers or colleagues or subordinates and at some point, there’s only so much you can do to kind of try to smooth that over and then you just either take that person at face value and accept that there are just times where things aren’t gonna work, or you, particularly if it’s a manager, going somewhere else where you just feel like… If you have a manager and you know that they are never going to lift you up. They are never going to put you center stage. They are always going to keep you in their shadow, and I’ve had those, and you have to move on. You absolutely have to move on. You cannot let someone steal your spotlight. Not on your career path.

Angie Chang: I think there’s things people could do if they’re in a bigger company to find a new manager or team or project to work on, hopefully. Being on a smaller startup, it’s nice to imagine, like what Sukrutha mentioned, finding other people that this person has like managed before. I was like thinking back on my tiny startups and like there was nobody that I can ask those questions to, so…

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well maybe not in that company, but definitely people… It’s not like they’ve never worked with anyone before. Right? So you definitely can go back. I’ve done that with a new person at a small company, and seeing if there was someone I could reach out to that they’d worked with before that could give me advice. You just have to approach it from a really positive angle of like, “Hey, I’m just trying to do really great. Like if you could give me three pieces of advice on how to be successful, what would you say?”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s an interesting way of asking for constructive feedback about the person.

Angie Chang: So Sandy Lao, Head of Talent, Culture, and People Operations gave some tips on working with your manager during our dinner with HomeLight.

Sandy Liao: For us as a company, we started doing performance review on an annual basis and then we also do a year-end check-in. We want to understand, hey, even if it’s not a measurable bullet point percentage that we’re looking at, at least on a regular quarterly basis that you are speaking with your manager to talk about like, “Hey, I want to be able to achieve these five goals for the for the quarter. And are you able to do that?” At the end of the quarter, you guys should be sitting down, looking back at all the goals that you have set in this initially. And if you find out that hey, I’ve been able to achieve three out of those five goals, what can the company provide you? With what type of training or what are some of the resources for you to be able to hit the two bullet points in order for you to fulfill all of the achievement and goals that you had set initially.

Sandy Liao: So incorporating performance data is just crucial to the business, as well as yourself. So for any of you guys sitting here, if your manager has not spoken with you for the past quarter or past six months about how you’re doing from a performance standpoint, it’s just super, super important to like hold that in your hands and make that calendar invite and make them have that conversation. Right? Because especially working in a startup, these things kind of get out of hand when we’re trying to do like 100 things at once. But before any of us sitting here analyzing whether or not we’re excited to look for new opportunity or whatnot, it is just necessary to take that step to have that conversation with people that is mentoring you and that are working with you directly.

Angie Chang: I think she [inaudible 00:20:11] put that onus on people to come and tell their company what they need to succeed on the things they could improve on.

Rachel Jones: And using the data as the way to ask for it. Yeah. It’s like, “Okay, we set these goals and I didn’t meet two of them, so like, here’s what I need to meet the rest.” It’s an easier… If you’re able to kind of frame these conversations with your manager objectively, then that’s the way to navigate… If you just have a manager who has a troubling personality or communication style or other people have had difficulty working with them, really taking it back to this objective place of like, “We’re here to do this job. These are the goals along those lines and can you just tell me the extent to whether or not I’m fulfilling that”? I think being able to bring the conversation back to that is a way to navigate a more challenging relationship.

Angie Chang: It’s a good point. So, yeah, finding those, in this case she named five points every quarter, but whatever the companies set up is for those metrics that they’re trying to ask people to indicate in their performance reviews, of the self-performance reviews and using that as a way to advocate for things that you can get from your employer. Like more education, a conference ticket to go learn this thing or maybe you want to go to some kind of training group. There was some excellent t-groups for startups that I went to. Session where you can be with other startup leaders and talking through some of your management or other professional difficulties in a safer setting than your tiny startup.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think that probably the hardest part of this bit of advice if you’re earlier in your career is you just may not know exactly what you need to hit those. And being able to articulate to your manager, this is exactly why. “If I had XYZ, then I feel like ABC would…” Right? Because I think the danger is you’re like, “Oh well if I had this one piece of software, right, that I could do this better. Or if I had an extra person I could do this better.” And those are hard cases to make to your manager, particularly if there’s an impression that you’re not hitting your goals already. And so you do want to be very specific on what it is that you’re asking for and what you think the ROI will be. Because a fuzzy ROI is a hard argument to make to a manager to get additional resources. Sukrutha, does this come up in a larger company context?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Out of what Sandy said, I think the aspect about making sure that if your boss doesn’t bring up how you’re doing, it’s just as important… It’s equally your job to bring up how you’re doing. And Gretchen, like you said, all in your career, maybe you just don’t know how to identify what these goals are and where your goals can align with the larger organization goals. But I think that’s when you need to seek out people who are a year or two ahead of you in their career and talk to them. Try to build your resource group that way.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And definitely I don’t think that your career growth is just fully your manager’s responsibility. It is just as much yours. And so if you don’t see those conversations coming up, you need to be bringing it up because I’m… As a manager, I can say I’m super excited and motivated to help people who seem like they want to be helped and who are motivated as well. It’s really difficult to grow someone’s career when they’re just not as motivated to do it. And that’s fine too. Sometimes people want to just stay at their level. That’s totally cool. But if you really want to grow, you want to be bringing it up a lot with your manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You know, I think what struck me in her comment was also if you haven’t talked to your manager in X number of months and you definitely want to be having more time with someone and making sure that you have those meetings. And like for me, advice I give to managers is that those one-on-ones are sacred and don’t move them and let the other person set the agenda. And not every manager shares that same philosophy. And you may have a manager that doesn’t look at it that way. But I always felt like I had a lot less fires and a lot less just random unexpected things happen if I kept my one-on-ones. And that also whoever knew that they had this time, my undivided attention, no one was allowed to interrupt and that I wasn’t going to move that meeting unless there was literally no other option.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And that they always had that time with me. And a lot of managers don’t do it that way. And if you have a manager like that, but if you can never get their time… This person has control of your career. And on some level, right? At least your advancement and of your visibility within the company. And if this person, if it seems like they’re investing in other people and not investing in you, rather than just being a manager who doesn’t really invest in anyone in their team, definitely think about, “Is this the right place for me? Is this the right path for me?” Because a manager can have a huge impact on your career and you don’t want to be begging for attention from someone who’s just really never going to give it to you.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. So Gretchen, you mentioned just how important that manager relationship can be for your career. How does that change as you progress in your career?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it changes because you start, you know, managing up and managing down as you progress in your career and you have to… I think you become a much better employee. I think someone said this on one of the dinners, you just become a much better employee once you become a manager because you realize like, “Oh, this is what a manager actually needs from me. And you become your manager’s best employee after you kind of figure that part out.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Vidya Setlur is a staff research scientist at Tableau Software. She spoke about this during an elevate conference last year.

Vidya Setlur: I have found personally that some of the best mentors that I’ve come across have been people who were my managers in the past, maybe at a different company or in a different line whom I have respected and trusted, but because they are not my manager anymore there is a different type of relationship where it can be more mentoring as opposed to managing. There’s a lovely inflection there that happens. So kind of seeking out into your network and finding those canonical examples of people that you’ve worked closely with or that managed you maybe directly or indirectly. And seeing if they can help mentor you in your next path or next effort.

Rachel Jones: Have any of you seen this happen during your career? Managers becoming mentors?

Angie Chang: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve definitely seen former, previous managers serving in mentorship capabilities. Our favorite, I feel like in Girl Geek’s dinners we hear about micro-mentorship quite often and getting really great pieces of actionable feedback or suggestions for future projects or career paths and potential career paths from former managers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, most of my former managers have turned into mentors. I reach out to them for various… With various questions about my career or just like… I’m sure, Gretchen, you have as well.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I keep really strong relationships with managers and they kind of do go on to be my mentor, as in they’re people that I go back to when I’m looking for a new job because… Not necessarily for them to hire me, but they know me so well and when I’m kind of trying to figure out what am I good at and what do I like doing and what direction might I go in. It’s someone who knows you really well to be able to kind of give their two cents, even if they haven’t been working with you recently. I mean, not all of your managers are like people that you want to necessarily keep taking advice from, but I think I’ve been really fortunate that most of my previous managers are people that I would want to, that I still do go back and be like, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, help me.” And they do.

Angie Chang: That’s great.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s really awesome.

Angie Chang: This is a great reminder of the importance of continuing to always try to find ways to do more. Like the woman from Amplitude said in figuring out the way to work with your manager, regardless of whether your personality is completely different, which is often the case in the world. Finding ways to ask more questions and figure out how to make your relationship work and benefit your career in the long run because it is your career that you need to own.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think it’s like any other relationship where you need to invest. You need to have candid conversations and to not think that somehow this relationship, because of the dynamic, isn’t something that should be managed like your others. With communication and understanding and clarifying questions. And that it’s not, like Sukrutha said, the manager’s responsibility solely. And that you definitely are half of the equation of the relationship.

Rachel Jones: Just knowing how awkward that transition into management can be for people. That’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re working with your manager. Like a lot of people are put into this role without getting any kind of specific training or support on what it means to be a manager. And so keeping that in mind when you’re interacting with your managers or setting expectations for what that relationship should look like. I think, yeah. Definitely just focusing on the work that you have to do to maintain that relationship and drive your career forward and involve your manager in that.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech. Be sure to like and review us on your podcasting service of choice, whether it’s iTunes or Google Play, Stitcher, or Spotify.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones with event recording by Eric Brown, and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to one of our dinners, visit girlgeek.io where you can also find full transcripts and videos from all our events.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This podcast was sponsored by Amplitude, a leader in product analytics, Amplitude provides digital product intelligence that helps companies ship great customer experiences for business growth.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by HomeLight, a Google-backed startup with a line of data-driven real estate products that empower people to make smarter decisions during one of life’s most important moments, buying or selling their home.

Episode 14: Advocating For Others


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X Podcast. Connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha. By day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This Gretchen, I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences. Where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be discussing ally-ship.

Rachel Jones: So in our last episode we talked about how to advocate for yourself in your workplace. So this time we’re kind of reversing that and talking about how to advocate for others.

Angie Chang: To be honest, mostly we hear about girl geeks looking to advocate for themselves, but I think this message of advocating for others is really important for allies in the workplace. And also a really good reminder for people who are really feeling like they’re going into the arena every day to fight for their careers, but also they should be advocating for others around them. And I think people who are managers would be especially interested in this topic.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I think when you are someone who already has a seat at the table, it’s a good idea to look around and see how you can be an ally for someone else because you’re already in the room. And so, if this topic has come up at the Girl Geek dinner, it’s usually I’m the context of how can I find an ally. But a lot of times the answer does lead to how one can be an ally.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So that’s been interesting to hear both perspectives. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think you can hone your skills on how to advocate for yourself by advocating for others. Sort of figuring out what is it that I can do for this other person? It’s sort of that same thing. Like when you sit and you’re like, “Okay, if I were sitting down with me right now, what advice would I give myself that I’m completely not taking right now?” And then how would that work?

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think it’s very similar to that. And I agree with you, Sukrutha. I think, once you do have a seat at the table, you really need to be looking around and outside of the room of what other voices could be added to the mix of this table and how can we bring more marginalized voices to the center.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think that if we want to see more diversity in the room, we need to do our part, wherever we can. And if we see people who have a tendency to want to help us out, we should engage with them and ask them, like requesting someone to be an executive sponsor of your specific ERG. Or asking another ERG that’s made more advancements in terms of recruiting and diversity efforts. Asking them to support your ERG efforts.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And on an individual level, I do think that I’ve gotten a lot of help from a variety of people who’ve been allies to me, and I’ve found that to be super useful. Just identify those people who are in that position and ask them for advice and ask them to vouch for you. What do you think, Angie?

Angie Chang: I do think in this kind of dog eat dog world that we feel like exists today, it’s really important to reach out and advocate for others. In doing so, you are kind of checking in and making sure that you understand what other communities’ needs are, desires, ways to grow, ways to help. And really listening to them and creating that line of communication and then advocating for them when you’re able to do that correctly, in the spheres that you can operate in.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I think when we think about ally-ship, right, it’s the key to lifting everyone up and to go back to something Rachel was saying in our intersectionality podcasts, which was great, you should listen to it, is when you lift up the most marginalized, when you solve the problems of the folks at the margins, you’re lifting up everyone. You’re solving the problems for everyone. So rather than solving the easy problems for the majority, solving the harder problems is actually the way forward.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Last episode we heard from former Salesforce EVP Leyla Seka on how to ask more for yourself and today we have a quote from her about showing up for others.

Leyla Seka: The reality is for a lot of women, the generation before me, specifically, they really yanked the ladders up after them. Because in lots of ways they were forced to make decisions like not having children or not having relationships or not taking care of aging parents or not doing these things in order to have a career, which, that’s a really terrible choice to have to make. And I am truly grateful to all of them because I didn’t have to make that choice and I credit them with a lot of that. But that mentality existed a lot throughout my career, just women not helping women as much as they should.

Leyla Seka: I’m now the executive sponsor of BOLDforce at Salesforce, which is our black employee resource group, so I spend a lot of time trying to understand what it feels like to be black in technology and black in America.

Leyla Seka: I don’t understand it, but I try to be an ally. So look, for me, and I think a lot of people said it in a lot of ways, but if we don’t help each other, a lot of these things aren’t going to change. And I think that for us, making time to mentor people and help people. Man, I wanted that going up, you know? Man, I wanted someone to talk to, that was a woman that could sort of empathize with being a mother and wanting to be very professionally successful.

Leyla Seka: And you have a platform, whether you think you do or you don’t. And I would actually even challenge you further to say like, how are you using your platform to help people? Are you sponsoring a woman of color? Are you trying to mentor a woman of color? Or are you thinking, even beyond just our own plight, the most important, equal pay, all of this was super important, but the work I’ve done with BOLDforce, in many ways, is probably some of the most cutting edge and interesting stuff we’re doing because we’re really trying to tackle the notion of ally-ship inside of corporate America. And we all can be allies. There’s always someone that can use your help. So it’s important to give that forward. I think that really helps you find your path as well.

Angie Chang: That just reminds me of how we have seen ally-ship from top company executives. Executives often being the white men, sure, but the best allies to sponsor women and other under-represented groups, ERGs, efforts such as Girl Geek dinners and Salesforce’s group. The best allies don’t necessarily come and talk, and they’re not necessarily speakers getting the limelight. But I feel like, I remember back to one of our earlier Girl Geek dinners and we had the CEO of Pinterest speak. And sure, he spoke for like five minutes in the beginning, but that wasn’t the important part. The part that really, I think, resonated for all of us who were there is that he stayed and listened and talked to people in the room until the very end of the event. He was there actively listening to the Girl Geeks and talking to them and mostly just listening and just, that participation, that kinda support just, felt was like really resonating to Pinterest. And I think they made at least one hire that for their engineering team that night, from that event, as a result.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I do resonate really well with what Leyla brought up about how sometimes we feel like it’s really hard to challenge the patriarchy. I, myself, with situations that I’ve been, I’ve heard people say things and do things that have made me uncomfortable, but I don’t feel comfortable to bring it up right away or be an ally right away because it feels like I’m ruffling too many feathers too quickly, too soon. And so I also ease into it a bit. However, sometimes when you don’t act or you don’t step in when needed and you don’t support when needed, that’s another missed opportunity.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Have you all been in situations where you’ve had to deal that problem of the discomfort of challenging patriarchy or making changes to what’s already out there?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, first, ally is a verb and not a noun, right? Like you can call someone an ally, but if they’re not like practicing ally-ship, then they’re just sort of a figurehead. And so I think the way Leyla was speaking about her involvement with the Black ERG, I think that she’s definitely taking that as a verb.

Angie Chang: I think one thing that I’ve been working on is to just have a … So when someone does something say, patriarchal or sexist or racist is just react quickly. And so like anyone can just open their eyes more. Just like cough or hopefully give a signal to that person that doesn’t quite yet realize what they’re doing is not really okay.

Angie Chang: And hopefully, and then there’s like a lot of studies that are starting to trend toward, I believe, that previously for the last five years, we’ve thought that diversity inclusion training was going to be the salve to solve all our problems.

Angie Chang: And then more recently, I’ve heard a lot about training coworkers and people in the workplace to step in for others and react and defend underrepresented groups when they are being … Those thousand cuts that you receive in the workplace and helping make sure that someone’s stepping in for them. So just reacting in a small way at the very least, and then not necessarily saying we’re going to go protest on the streets tomorrow, but like sure. Like, start now by letting someone know that this, giving them a signal that this is not okay.

Rachel Jones: Yeah, I definitely agree. And I think it relates to how Leyla says anyone can be an ally. We all have a platform. Because I think sometimes when people hear ally-ship they think, yeah, it means they have to be on the front lines protesting or they have to be in a position where they can give someone a promotion that elevates them in their career. But it can definitely look like smaller ways that you’re supporting the people around you. And it can be something like language like we discussed or just speaking up if someone gets interrupted or seconding someone’s idea in a meeting to make them feel supported. There are just so many different ways that you can practice ally-ship.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The other thing Leyla brought up, which I’ve felt personally too is you know, previously women wouldn’t show up for other women like they should have. How do you feel like you face that challenge? Because I know I’ve had to deal with situations where I don’t know why that would happen, but we weren’t really supporting each other enough at work.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And sometimes I’d look around and be like, we’re just, we’re the only two women in this room, we should be helping each other out a little bit more instead of competing against each other. Has that happened to either of you?

Rachel Jones: Yeah, that’s definitely something that I’ve seen. Not even just with women but with race also. This is a conversation that happens a lot in the black community. This idea of like crabs in a barrel, where instead of lifting each other up, people can climb over each other to get to the top. But I think what’s really behind this is a sense of scarcity. When you feel like there’s only so much space for women or only so much space for people of color, then seeing another woman or another person of color can be like a threat to your own success.

Rachel Jones: So sometimes, yeah, you don’t want to reach out and see how you can lift someone else up because there’s only so much room at the level that you’re lifting someone to. And that’s definitely a sad reality. And I think a lot of the reason why the situation looks so different now than it was at the time that Leyla was describing, is because women still chose to lift each other up. And by doing that, it created more space. But I definitely can see, just that feeling of threat that can motivate someone to not want to do that work of being an ally.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, I think–Leyla and I are very close in age and, what it felt like at the time that it doesn’t anymore, I mean, I totally agree with the scarcity, but it was also like we were just trying to quietly be in the room. And it felt like if there was a woman that was going to come in and she was going to act more, I don’t know what, but like be more female in some stereotypical way, that had been somehow made us feel like we couldn’t behave in that way, that she was gonna make it worse for all of us.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And then also that idea of like, every single day, I need to not be any of those things. I can’t be emotional, I can’t be whatever, because I’m also representing all women on some level, was very much what it felt like. I mean this is like over 20 years ago, but I think that’s sort of what she is alluding to.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s so fascinating to hear. I mean, luckily I’ve been experiencing the positive side of things when people are a bit more comfortable to be noticed as the woman in the room. But I do see traces of what you’re talking about still linger even now.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. And I mean I think it’s almost a reaction. Like, Leyla and I are similar in many ways, but definitely I think women our age were like, “You know what, I am so sick of this.” And so we did a 180 and were like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. And, once there were a few more of us that were there, it was a little bit easier to do.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s great just hearing from this discussion how important ally-ship is, but what does it actually look like in practice? Have any of you seen examples of this in your careers?

Gretchen DeKnikker: At my last company we booked–we did a really large 10,000 person event and learning how to get more women on stage, more people of color on stage was a process. But I think like the proudest moment I had was when there was this very high power panel, like very, very important people in the Valley speaking on this panel and my boss insisted that, like he said that there would be no panels that didn’t have at least one woman on them. And this panel and he, because it was such a large conference, he would task the people on the panel with finding a woman to speak on the panel. And these people were like, “Nope, we can’t find one. We can’t find one, we can’t find one.” And I could hear this guy was like very pissed on the other end of the phone and he’s like, “Well then I’m going to cancel your panel.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: And this is a couple of days before the event. But my boss held his ground and they actually did find an amazing, amazing woman to speak on this panel. But for weeks and weeks before that, “Nope, there’s no one, there’s no one,” until their own egos were on the line. And if this had gone south, if they hadn’t found it, it would have been not good for my boss. Like, it would have really hurt some critical relationships that he needed. But he was willing to do that and I was like, “I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder,” like sitting and witnessing that because he was using personal capital along with his career capital to stick by something that he felt was right.

Angie Chang: I imagined, when I was previously working at a women’s coding bootcamp and helping women get hired by companies and them celebrating that they have hired, say this woman and potentially women from an underrepresented group. And then sure they’re hired, but sometimes they don’t get cultivated. And I think something’s really lost there when you hire and you celebrate that hire, but then you fail to actually develop that woman in her career, so she stays. That’s been a huge opportunity lost, in my opinion.

Angie Chang: So a few years ago, the Kapor Center had done a study on thousands of people that have left tech, and they found that the number one reason for people leaving the workplace is a perception of unfairness. This can be that they were passed over for a promotion when they saw other people around them, probably the male counterparts, white male counterparts, getting promoted. And so, just addressing this perception of unfairness in both the promotions and pay can really help retain women and underrepresented groups in tech.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I mean, I think if you fail to foster a sense of belonging, particularly in this phase that we’re in right now where there’s actually a phrase, diversity hire, that’s a pejorative term of, “Oh well …” and taking away from people and being, “Oh well she was promoted because she was a woman.” Or, “That person was the less qualified candidate, but they were a person of color, so they got the role.” And there’s this whole sort of backlash that, whether or not that was the case in anyone being hired or whether or not that’s even something that should exist. Once you have folks there, if you don’t foster that sense of belonging, plus they’re already fighting this idea that maybe they didn’t earn their seat at this table, you’re going to lose people.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So it can’t just be getting more underrepresented candidates through the door. It’s how long can you keep them there? How do you change your workplace in a way where everyone is comfortable and feels valued?

Angie Chang: Yeah, I think belonging is definitely not any of the things that recruiters try to sell you. Like, we have foosball tables, ping pong tables, we have, what is that game, corn hole, super popular here and I don’t understand why.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s the worst named game ever. So bad.

Angie Chang: Belonging is about involving and inviting people to the table, to projects, to dinners, to enjoy their lives and learn from each other. I feel like yes, we definitely need to do more, all of us, to help people feel included and that they are really rewarded and learning and contributing to what we’re working on.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Rachel, I’d love to hear your thoughts on belonging.

Rachel Jones: So we’ve talked about this in a lot of different ways, in episodes that we’ve had, like with tech leavers and with inclusion and our intersectionality episode. I think doing that work just to listen to people and find out what they need and then challenging yourself to do the work. I think that’s also the difference between yes, celebrating a hire versus celebrating someone staying. It’s easy to get people in, but making them stay takes more than just talking about it. You have to be ready to make that systemic, hard change within your institutions to be able to create a place that people want to stay in.

Angie Chang: So from the intersectionality side, I think when we talk about women and then we talk about women of color and how, as I mentioned, I’ve heard more than one story of a woman being hired to a top tech company and then just being left to sit there for years without proper management and then expecting women to just rise to the occasion or advocate for herself, I think, is an unfair expectation. And people around this woman, women actually, there’s quite a few of them, should definitely speak up and help people get out of that situation.

Angie Chang: Erica Weiss Tjader, VP of Product Design at SurveyMonkey, shared an example of a male ally she had during our dinner with SurveyMonkey.

Erica Weiss Tjader: Unlike mentors, allies are not big investments in relationships over time. They are episodic, they are based on a specific purpose at a specific place in time. And as a result, they can have a really, a much bigger impact on something you’re trying to achieve at the time.

Erica Weiss Tjader: And so a good example that I thought of is in a previous role I was the design leader of a smaller team and one of my biggest challenges that I was facing was making inroads with our engineering leadership around the notion of the importance of front end development, design systems, some of the topics that design leaders and engineering leaders often talk about. And I was having a hard time getting traction and it was one of those tough problems because it was probably the most important thing to my team, and yet the thing I had the least direct control over. This was an example, like I have to influence because I don’t own the answer to the problem.

Erica Weiss Tjader: And so this particular ally was a new engineering manager that joined the organization. And in my initial meet and greet with him, I learned that he had some expertise around developing front end teams and design systems and sort of an interest. And perhaps most importantly I learned that he had a personal relationship with our CTO, who was the person I was having the hardest time making inroads with [crosstalk 00:22:44], that they were personal friends. [crosstalk 00:22:45] It wasn’t, no, it’s a different story. I’ve got a lot of stories.

Erica Weiss Tjader: And so what I did is, like I really just started out by befriending this guy. I’m like, I’m going to make your transition into this company really easy. I’m going to introduce you to people. I’m going to tell you all the secrets. You know, we had lunches, we had coffees, we started to build a relationship and in a very short period of time, we were able to transition that relationship into finding a mutually beneficial place where he was able to leverage his expertise and his influence in the engineering organization to start a front end team. And I was able to give him disproportionately more resources and support from the design team to really prove the value and success of that.

Erica Weiss Tjader: I think it’s just a great example of an alliance that was very intentional but looked very different than a mentorship relationship, because it was really about a place and a time and a need and a relationship, right in that moment.

Rachel Jones: So I think this is interesting. This is the discussion of ally-ship is different than the rest of our conversation. What do you all think about that?

Angie Chang: I think what I got from that is thinking about things more episodically than long term. And we’ve definitely also talked about mentorship and sponsorship, well mentorship, as something that can be episodic where you are just asking questions of a person and and gaining knowledge and finding micro mentorship. So I think she’s talking about micro ally-ship, and how you can find your answers and make those relationships work for you. What do you think?

Gretchen DeKnikker: You know, she figured out a way to not only sort of leverage that, but also a lot of times in our career we find ourselves having to influence without having any authority. And particularly in the middle of your career, you’re going to spend a lot of time trying to sort of leverage the people around you, figure out what their interests are and figure out what you can do in exchange for them, so that you can sort of get them in your camp to help you with your things that you’re trying, your particular initiatives.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think hers is a great example, particularly where she had a weak tie to someone, the CTO, that she needed a stronger tie with, but was able to sort of offer a lot in return.

Rachel Jones: I really liked this quote because I think somewhat in our conversation and a lot of times when people think about being an ally, it gets framed and people think it’s about like making someone feel better or like feel included or feel supported. But I really like what Erin says, because it’s not just about how people feel in a space, it’s also about being strategic and getting things done.

Rachel Jones: And I think, yes, thinking about ally-ship in terms of how can I do my best work and really make what I’m doing the best it can be, you’re thinking about forming alliances not just in terms of identity but in terms of skills and roles and influence and what people can really bring to support your growth and yeah, the projects that you have going on.

Rachel Jones: So I think, yeah, that’s an interesting way to think about this topic.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I genuinely like how she called out the importance that she saw in befriending someone who she was having the hardest time making a connection with. And I’ve found that when people start to view you as a person, not as an employee or as a team member or as head count, they are more likely to then listen to you and discuss ways where you can have a mutually beneficial relationship.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And then you can make changes and be a better ally or get the ally-ship aspect from that other person. If they continue to view you as a number, there’s no chance of that happening. I think that regardless of whether you want someone to be an ally to you or not, or you want to be an ally to them, you have to have some sort of a common ground with them and do what she did, where she said she had lunches and coffees with the person and worked on building the relationship, and very quickly you’ll see results I bet.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I really liked that you picked this one, Rachel, because it’s sort of an example of, it doesn’t have to be a hierarchical power structure for someone to be an ally and to be able to sort of open doors, that it can be your peers from a reporting hierarchy standpoint, but that there’s still a lot that you can get, even if the power dynamic doesn’t seem to be what you would think of, in this sort of traditional ally-ship.

Rachel Jones: So what advice would you give to someone who’s trying to think of ways that they can be an ally?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I feel like when we’re considering what our goals are at work, we should also consider in those goals what are the wins that we want to see in someone else that we influenced. And so, something like that would then, or just to look around, find people that need allies, find groups that need allies and actually help out.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: If, in your regular goals and accomplishments, you also considered how you are making other peoples’ efforts better and how you are helping someone else’s success as part of your success, I really feel like it can go a long way.

Angie Chang: I think back to when I was in the workplace, what are things that made me feel like people were being allies? It’s the little things, like who you ask to go to lunch or happy hour with. For some reason it always made me feel really butt hurt when people were inviting other people to go and I was not part of that crew. So I think just … And then now everyone goes to soul cycle together or … I just feel like there’s so many ways to leave people out and if we want to keep people in this industry for the long run, we have to be more inclusionary in who we make friendships with over time really, and kind of like involved in these little things.

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s a great lead into our next quote from Erin Dees who’s a principal software engineer at Stitchfix. She did a talk on Dossiers of Awesome, one way to help folks get the recognition they deserve, which honestly you guys should go watch it. It’s probably one of the best Girl Geek presentations that we’ve ever had and she gave some tips on supporting others and here’s what she had to say.

Erin Dees: How many of us are in a job where we are expected to give feedback on our peers regularly? It’s exhausting. It takes forever to write and by the time you’ve done your fourth or fifth one, it’s hard to come up with something that is unique and that could only apply to that engineer. It should be something that we keep up with in little increments throughout the year, instead of having a big deadline dropped on us. And again, it should be actionable. It should give our peers information that they can use to grow their career.

Erin Dees: So one idea had been sitting right in front of me this whole time, which is an engineering journal. So in addition to what I’d worked on, I might add a couple of bullet points that a teammate worked on and tag them with a hashtag which comes in handy later.

Erin Dees: So then, if you’re in a culture that does sort of quarterly feedback cycles, when it comes time to do this, I can click on that person’s tag in my journaling software. Now then what you do with this information depends a lot about your feedback culture. If you’re in a place where you’re expected to write your own review for starters, a self review, you can give your peers the ammo, the raw material that they can use to write their self review. So here’s what that might look like. You can compose an email and if your manager is someone who is supportive, write it to them and cc your friend. And this now tells them a story. If they’ve been waiting for like a great opportunity to write a promotion pitch for this engineer, you’ve just given them all this ammo. There’s a lot of cultural pressure on us not to brag and we should fix that too. But if this is all stuff that happened, this isn’t bragging, it’s data. So it’s a good idea to share it with, again if you have a supportive manager, and with your peer.

Erin Dees: So how to make this feedback actionable so that somebody can act on it and grow their career. One way to do this is to work these data points into a story so it’s not just data, it’s a narrative. And what this looks like, for example, if you start noticing this person developing or showing an aptitude and interest in tech leadership, is to call that out and say, “Hey, maybe it’s maybe it’s time to start handing this engineer larger projects and have them run bigger initiatives. They seem to have a knack for it.”

Rachel Jones: What do you think of Erin’s advice, to use peer feedback as an opportunity to lift others up?

Angie Chang: Feedback is such a gift. I think, definitely if you are able to give actionable feedback to help people grow, it’s a great thing to do.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think what makes it so powerful is, it’s this very simple way of keeping track of your own accomplishments and other people’s, but also being able to see that over time in this way that isn’t super cumbersome, and I love, oh, I can’t, what’s the exact quote? This isn’t bragging, it’s data, which I just think is so amazing, especially given how women sort of have a hard time … I hate making those sweeping statements, but how often women feel like talking about their accomplishments is bragging, and sort of brings this full circle back to what I was saying earlier, that it’s often easier to be an advocate for someone else than to be an advocate for yourself. But what’s so brilliant about Erin’s little system that she has going, is that it allows you to do both.

Rachel Jones: This makes me think back to our last episode where we had the quote from Arquay Harris, encouraging you to keep a record of what you’ve done, your accomplishments big and small. And I really like this idea from Erin, that it doesn’t just have to be yourself that you’re doing that for, but you can provide that for other people and that can be a tool for them to advocate for themselves. I think that’s really powerful.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. So when I’ve had consultations with people to help them advocate for themselves, I’ve asked them what is it that they want to be known for? And through that, we then come up with ways in which they can, if they find that there are areas of improvement for them, they could focus on that. But if they find they’re already doing what it is that they want to be known for, how they can find various forums to advocate for themselves. Are there show and tells where they can present what they’ve worked on? Are there meetings where I can pull them in and have them speak about what it is that they worked on, instead of me representing them?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So we come up with various ways where they can be recognized for what they want to be recognized for. Where, when someone thinks about a particular area or a particular feature, this person is who comes to mind. I don’t need to take all the credit and be the face of everything, and there’s no benefit in doing that. And so that’s how I … If I have control over it, if they’re working on a team of mine, that’s where I pull in other people to speak as opposed to me representing for the whole team. I know I learned this from my boss because he always gave me opportunities to come in and speak, no matter how senior the rest of the audience was.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think that’s like the perfect definition of ally-ship. First listening, but then also not, if you have the mic, not speaking on someone else’s behalf, but handing the mic over and creating that opportunity for that person to speak for themselves.

Rachel Jones: Just be the advocate that you would want for yourself if you find yourself wishing you had someone to speak up for you or shout you out. Or wishing you had a little help, think about that next time that you have the opportunity to do that for someone else.

Angie Chang: Great reminder to continue to speak up and think about ways to help others in your career. Whether your title has manager in it or not.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, give other people a chance to represent the work that they’ve done, help them be better at speaking for themselves about themselves.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think keeping in mind that that ally is a verb, it’s an action, it’s listening and it’s creating opportunities. But it’s also understanding that doing nothing is doing something. That if you’re not actively trying to break down some of the patriarchal and racial and the endless list of issues that we have, that you are participating in it continuing.

Angie Chang: Yes, complicity is not great.

Angie Chang: So thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech. Please rate and subscribe to Girl Geek X podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones with event recording by Eric Brown and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to one of our dinners, visit girlgeek.io where you can also find full transcripts and videos from all of our events.

Angie Chang: This podcast is sponsored by SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey is a leading global survey software on a mission to power the curious. The company’s people powered data platform empowers over 17 million active users to measure and understand feedback from employees, customers, website and app users and the market.

Angie Chang: This podcast is also sponsored by Stitch Fix, the online personal styling service for men, women, and kids, that is blending art and science to redefine the retail industry, with a mission to change the way people find clothes they love by combining expert styling, proprietary technology and unique product to deliver a deeply personalized shopping experience.

Episode 13: Self Advocacy

Resources mentioned in this podcast:

Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life by Stuart Diamond


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X Podcast connecting you with insights for women in tech. This is Angie.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen.

Rachel Jones: This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we are the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be discussing self advocacy.

Rachel Jones: How do you see these topics kind of come up?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it definitely comes up like if it doesn’t come up with the speakers talking about their own personal experiences when they were growing. It does come up in the Q&A, for sure, because the attendees want to get a sense of how they can navigate through the challenges that they’re navigating at work, and it’s usually about how do I not get overlooked and how do I push myself to be more visible without being obnoxious, and so that sort of topic typically comes up, obviously, in different spots. What do you think, Angie?

Angie Chang: I find that when I am with a ladies lunch, women who brunch, group of women, you always find yourselves egging each other on to do more. Apply for the next job, or for you’re headed for some new writing residency, and so advocacy is something that we find ourselves doing to help encourage each other to self advocate.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I mean I think it comes up even if it’s not with that language, around how do I negotiate the right salary? Should I be going for that promotion? How do I present that?

Rachel Jones: Have any of you had personal experiences where you’ve had to advocate for yourself?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I mean not the more obvious way of advocating for myself, but when I wanted to move to management, I basically… when I would meet people that I needed to take advice from, I would ask them what they looked for in a manager, and then I would talk about myself in the context of those qualities that they brought up, and I would ask, “Okay, how would you like that to be–that to have been exhibited,” then I would give examples of when I have done it just so that the VPs would keep me in mind if they had a manager position open, and I do think it worked. It helped me get better at describing what my strengths were, and whenever I needed to actually talk more about what I’ve been doing and what my highlights have been, I definitely found the language better.

Angie Chang: When I hear about self advocacy, I think about how you get what you asked for if you ask for it. So, I self advocated when I was at a start-up when I went in as a director, and then kept asking for a higher title. Arguing that it would help me get meetings more easily, and then I asked a few times, over and over in different ways, and then I got a promotion and people would always be like, “Congratulations, you got promoted for recognize,” and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s because I asked for it. Many times.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Because you were already doing what defined what a VP’s role would be in that company.

Angie Chang: Right, and you’re not going to get things unless you ask for them, half the time, more than once.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Earlier in my career, the thing I would have to advocate for the most because I worked at such small companies was another resource. I was the only one doing something, and so I think I got good advice really early on of keep a good list of what things you work on, but then divide those up into things like if you could get rid of, what those things? What would those be, and then at some point, those will be another role, and then you can off-load most of the stuff you don’t like doing and you have all this stuff to make a case for the hire, which was advice I got from at my very first start-up that I’ve given again and again.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, I don’t know if that’s self advocacy as much as self preservation. I can’t keep doing two peoples’ jobs but–

Angie Chang: That’s a really good point. I’ve had several friends over the last year tell me about their difficulty in getting the team to manage at their companies. So, make a list of things you do and the roles you need to hire for and advocate for your resources.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, and then also, an extra case for–the frosting on the cake and the way that you really get it is you’re like, “Okay, this is what this person would do, and then here’s what I would be free to do if I wasn’t doing this stuff and this is how I would be able to add a whole bunch more value.” That’s where, if you were coming to me as a manager, you would really get… instead of just, “If I could get rid of this, you could hire this person,” but if you can make that second half of the argument, then you’re sold.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The good thing, also, about asking for whatever it is, whether it’s for another resource, or a promotion, is you end up getting feedback that you may not be getting in that context. So then, you get a sense of what is it that you need to do in order to get what you need? If you’re not yet there, which I found also useful when I would ask for whatever it was that I felt like I deserved, I would hear feedback about what it is that they needed to see, and then that would help me. If I was already doing those things, that would help me realize what I needed done, which is more of and what I wasn’t able to.

Gretchen DeKnikker: How’s this come up for you, Rachel?

Rachel Jones: I think, just coming from the non-profit world, you’re put in a position very often where you had to advocate for yourself, like, “Hey, this is too much work for a person to be doing and making this little money,” or, “These decisions that you’re making to get this type of funding don’t actually make any sense for my program.”

Rachel Jones: Yeah, it’s definitely something that I learned to do, and had some more success in some spaces than others and with some methods more than others, but I just think a lot about responsibility and where that falls and how it sucks that self advocacy is even a thing that you have to do, because you hear a lot in non-profits, and I’m assuming other work spaces, where everyone’s always like, “Oh, we really want to support you. Tell us what kind of support you need,” and even me just sitting down and listing for you all the stuff I need to do my job is extra work and I wish that you, who made this job and hired me to do it, already knew what I needed and could provide it for me, but that’s not the case.

Rachel Jones: Self advocacy is definitely a skill that you have to develop.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I also hear it in people who are in a job and like you said, Rachel, in a non-profit. I also see it in start-ups and tech companies where people go into a job and they’re like, “My manager isn’t amazing. I don’t have the resources to succeed,” and then they have to do a lot of self advocacy to get what they need, and they thought, “I graduated from a top university. I did the right thing, and then I thought I was in this kush job, and then I realize that no one’s paying attention to me and I’m just in this seemingly glamorous job at a company that a lot of people have heard of, but I’m not being supported,” and that’s where the self advocacy comes in to really digging your heels and figure out where you want to go hire because you’re not getting stuff handed to you.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, there’s also the… if you haven’t developed your own self advocacy, who are those people that you have around you, kind of like Angie was talking about. So, our next quote is from Nupur Srivastava. She’s the VP of Product Management at Grand Rounds, and she shared her personal experience on self advocacy during our dinner with SquareTrade last year.

Nupur Srivastava: There was a time when I got promoted to director, and I was really excited about it, but we were scaling as a company, and my CEO told me that he’s looking to bring in a VP of product to consolidate different product functions that we had, and I was actually really excited. I helped interview. I was actually vouching for a couple of the candidates, and once I was in the room with him, we were discussing a candidate, and he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Why have you not asked me for this role?” And I was like, “Because I didn’t think it was an option? I didn’t know that that’s a thing you can do,” and it really was a pretty shocking and pivotal moment for me, because he saw my leadership potential way before I believed I could be a leader, or even deserved to be the VP of product.

Nupur Srivastava: I was lucky he gave me the role. Now, I lead the product team and I’ve grown the team out, but I think the biggest thing that taught me is you miss all the shots you don’t take. It really made me think about what are other opportunities where we are not raising our hand for, and what other things are passing us by, but that is a moment that has stuck with me, and I constantly think of that, even with my own team, which I certainly tend to have it be female heavy, because why not? And you’re always looking out for these instances where people are not asking for what they deserve, and I see it time and again.

Nupur Srivastava: If my CEO hadn’t said that to me, I would have been probably still happy, but reporting to another VP of product and probably not talking to you guys tonight.

Angie Chang: I love how honest Nupur was about the fact that she didn’t see herself as a VP until her boss reminded her of it. I wish I could say I have a similar appearance or something, but it was just really nice to hear her say that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I resonate with what she talked about. The only thing that I took objection to was when she called herself lucky that her boss gave her the role because I believe there’s no such thing. Obviously, she worked hard and she seemed deserving, which is why he even recommended it to her, but it is fascinating to me how she said something like she would have happily reported to another VP had he not brought this up. So, just being more self aware of what you bring to the table is really important. Perhaps you’re not even thinking of putting yourself in that position.

Rachel Jones: I think this relates a lot to a discussion we had a few episodes ago about imposter syndrome and just what you think that you’re capable of, because I think self advocacy is about asking for what you deserve, but you can’t do that before you actually know what you deserve, and you take time to figure that out. So, that’s definitely important work and sometimes we’re lucky enough to have people around us who will recognize what we’re doing and push forward, but I think just within ourselves, really figuring out what we do deserve is super important.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I also want to say that if you’re a manager, or in a position where you are the one recruiting and able to spot talent or grow talent, you may not always have someone who might be great at advocating for themselves, but if you can grow someone, or nudge someone in the right direction, you should absolutely be mindful of those chances that you should take, and take them.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This has just got me thinking. I had so much support at the beginning of my career of just people who saw that I could do a lot more than I thought was even remotely possible, and it was in the late ’90s and the middle of the boom. So, it’s sort of like that whatever raw skills I had meets timing meets opportunity, and so I was able to take on so much, but I questioned them the whole time of like, “I don’t know what a 401K is. I’ve never heard of one. I can’t pick one out for the whole company,” right, because we didn’t have 401Ks, but then I think about managers I’ve had since then, and they’ve all pushed me in a different way.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Some of them, I don’t like and I don’t particularly appreciate the way that they pushed me to see that I could do more, but all of them have shown me a new part of myself where I didn’t think I was capable of something until they pushed me to do it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That motivation that you got a lot of support, does that make you to be more likely to then look around your team and support other people?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Oh, totally. Keep pushing something back to, especially someone who’s really junior, who’s like, “I don’t think I can do that,” and it’s like, “Okay, well let’s talk about it for a second. You need A, B, C. That feels like something you could do, doesn’t it?” And just keep pushing it back because I had that so early on that it’s… I’m really grateful for that because I think it just forces me to be like, “No, I think you really are capable of doing that. What else should I take off your plate so that you can have time to do that or whatever else?”

Rachel Jones: Do you think there was a point in your career where you transitioned out of needing people around you to point those things out?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I don’t think you ever get… I mean, what sucks when you get really senior is that you have fewer people to push you, and you’re the one doing the pushing, and so you’re providing more support and getting less, and that’s hard and you have to… I think we’ve talked about that, in the mentorship podcast, of finding those people who can still do that because I have somebody like Angie, or Sukrutha, or you around. Angie, for a decade now, has been behind me just like, “Nope, you can do that.” I was like, “First, you’re my PR person. Then you’re my life coach. Then you’re my this,” right, but she’s always, always, always pushing me to do something that I wasn’t comfortable with, and so that’s, I think, when you get more senior in your career and you don’t necessarily have a boss boss, you have that. Y’all have an Angie?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Or go find an Angie.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, we’ve got our Angie busy, so you’re going to have to get your own.

Rachel Jones: So I hear conversations around self advocacy and even a lot of what we’re talking about with imposter syndrome being framed, specifically, around women in tech. Do you think this is something that women struggle with more?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, there’s study after study shows that women don’t negotiate, and we have so many instances of it, of you get your salary offer. You’re like, “Yeah, that’s great,” and this huge percentage of men always ask for more, and so that’s the number one thing when you start thinking about the wage gap, and it’s just maybe five or ten thousand dollars in your first job out of school, but then that compounds over time and every time you get a promotion, and if you’re never negotiating at the top amount where those two things can divide where you actually have played some role in it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m not saying that it’s women’s fault because I do believe that employers have a responsibility to be more responsible about this, and by the way, in California, they are not allowed to ask for your last salary. That is illegal, so definitely don’t answer that question because it has nothing to do with the job you’re about to get, and that’s another way to help in there.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: But they will ask you what salary you want.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yes.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think it’s going back to what you said earlier about imposter syndrome impacting whether or not you do think you deserve something, and then if you think you deserve something, only then will you advocate for yourself.

Angie Chang: So, the topic of gender and self advocacy came up in our recent Elevate conference with Salesforce EVP Leyla Seka. She pushed for the gender wage gap at Salesforce to be closed and convinced CEO Marc Benioff that it was a really important topic. She spoke to this issue this year at Elevate.

Leyla Seka: Over time, throughout many companies and throughout my career, I’d had the sense that the men made more money. Just like shop talk in the kitchen kind of thing. Nothing super sophisticated, but just a feeling, and then I got Salesforce and I got totally… I got raised up and I got this great opportunity to run one of our divisions called Desk, and it was bonus time. When you’re the boss, you get the money and you decide who gets what money, what stock and all that, and so I really fought hard to get a lot of it for everyone, and when push came to shove, I really just thought they all deserved an equal amount.

Leyla Seka: So, I gave them all the same, but I gave them a lot. A lot more than any of them had ever gotten before. I worked hard. So, then you have the meetings with the people. So, my assistant set up the meetings that just happened to be the two women went first, right? So, I sit with the first woman. Great job, this, this, and this. Here’s your bonus. “OH, Leyla, thank you so much. It’s so amazing. Oh my gosh. I love my job. Thank you for the money. Thank you, thank you,” and then the second woman. Great job. “Oh, thank you for the money. Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you.”

Leyla Seka: And then the first man. I said it to him and he looked at me and he said, “I want more,” and I thought in my head like, “What? What? How could you want more? You’ve never gotten this much. What?” but I straight up was like, “Okay, I’ll try to ponder that,” and then the second man, who was really my COO, and really my partner in running the business, my primary partner. I told him the money, and he looked at me and said, “I want more,” and he was a close enough partner that I could say, “Okay, stop a second. What is this?”

Leyla Seka: And he started to say, “We’ve always been taught to ask for more,” and it was like someone slapped me across the face because I thought of all the times that I had gotten a bonus, or a promotion, or a job, or any of these things, and I had been like, “Thank you,” because that was the way my mother raised me.

Rachel Jones: So, I really like, actually the end of Leyla’s quote where she talks about how her mother raised her to say thank you because we’ve talked a lot, even in this conversation, just about imposter syndrome and how women struggle with it, but it’s not just like a thing, biologically, that women deal with, or some difference. It’s because of how we’re socialized and how we’re conditioned in society to be grateful for what we get when men are taught and encouraged to ask for more and push farther. These are messages that we’re given even as children. It starts super young.

Angie Chang: That was interesting to me because I’ve never heard of that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I haven’t heard of that, specifically, but I’m very, very aware that women don’t want to come across like they’re complaining. So, I feel like that’s what it leads to, where you want to sound grateful. You don’t want to sound like you’re complaining and not thankful because you want your boss or whomever to be like, “Oh, they’re easy to work with.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I mean there’s certainly the likability thing that comes in. You’re negotiating for a job and you know that you have to ask for more like, “Okay, we’ve listened to all these other women say that. I know I have to go back and ask for more,” but there’s still that part of you and you’re like, “Well, is this going to make them hate me?”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Of course, then you could have the argument with yourself and like, “Well, fuck them,” if they hate you and they didn’t really want you, but I always feel like it’s going to create some sort of friction before something even gets started, and I’m so worried about carrying that into by asking for more, but if I was giving myself the advice, it would be like, “If they came back and that was a problem, then that was not the right job anyway,” but it’s just so much easier if you go talk to another person and have them tell you that, than try to get yourself through it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: When Jenny was telling this story of when she negotiated at PayPal and how Judy was like, “Ask for more everything. Don’t just ask for more salary. Ask for more time off. Ask for more stock.” Literally, go back and ask for more of all of the things that they’ve offered, and she got all of it. Not the entire amount, but also just Negotiation 101, give yourself all the levers. I’m not just going to ask for more money. I’m going to ask for more stock, and then you know which things are more important, but if you go back and ask for more of everything, and then you already have your idea of the things that are important, then you can trade those off of like, “Okay, I don’t need that much stock, but I would like my base salary, or if you can’t give me the base salary that I want, then I need an extra week of vacation, or I need the signing bonus,” or whatever those other trade offs are, but I’m going to have Judy help me next time I go negotiate.

Angie Chang: There’s a book called Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life, which is a book that I think Google has recommended to all of their employees in helping you to become a begrudging negotiator and learn that negotiation, how to do it in incremental ways and how you’re perceived. It’s really helpful.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, and that book’s good because if you’ve read other books, then it’s like, “You need your big, hairy, audacious goal and your, like, BATNA, the best alternative.” It’s like business school stuff in negotiation. Your best alternative to a negotiated agreement or whatever, and all of that. This book is not that. This book is for real people that are in real life situations.

Angie Chang: It’s about how to plan better vacations, how to have happier encounters with your bank account, how to make little wins in your career.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s not your standard negotiation book. I highly recommend it, also.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And just as a take away, I think you want to consider whenever you’re being offered something, it doesn’t mean… when you negotiate that, it doesn’t mean you’re being less liked, going to be perceived as less likable, or difficult to work with unless the way you say these things, obviously. You can negotiate, but be respectful when you’re negotiating, and not sound apologetic, and also a lot of the times, situations like this, people are expecting you’re going to negotiate and they already have a limit to how far they are willing to go, and they’re just honestly going to tell you that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The last time I had to interview for a job, I was attempting to negotiate for a salary increase, and the recruiter started to sound really irritated with me and I just froze and I gave up, and then maybe six months after that, I asked my boss where I stood in comparison to everybody else in terms of my salary, and I told him what happened with the recruiter, and he said, “I want to tell you something. No one’s ever going to revoke a job offer just based off of the fact that you asked for more.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, going forward, if I’m ever in that situation, I definitely want to be asking for more while sounding appreciative at the same time.

Angie Chang: Yeah, you always hear stories of people getting their offers revoked.

Gretchen DeKnikker: What?

Angie Chang: There are stories of that happening.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ve heard that, too. I know someone for whom it was revoked. I don’t know what led to that, whether they ended up hiring someone, offering the position internally in the meantime, but there are ways you can negotiate without sounding obnoxious. That doesn’t mean you don’t do it at all.

Gretchen DeKnikker: If they did revoke it, again, fuck ’em. That’s probably not the place for you. We need a whole one on just negotiation.

Rachel Jones: If that’s so ridiculous to this place that I think I deserve a little bit more than they’re offering, yeah. I don’t want to work there.

Angie Chang: And thought maybe it was just that recruiter that didn’t hire her making that mistake and losing out on a really great candidate.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t think it’s only a gender issue where women are less likely to negotiate. It’s also culture, and a lot of cultures, you were taught not to, whether you’re a man or a woman. Anyway, they can’t list of who you are if you’re in that group of people that feels uncomfortable with negotiating. It’s understandable to be worried, [inaudible 00:24:29], and, for example, even now when I get a raise, or more stock, I know that that’s the best that could have been given to me because of how the system works. Then to negotiate further than that when I know there’s not going to be a change. I have to pick which ones I negotiate for and which I don’t. It makes more sense to me to discuss the promotion and getting to the next level as opposed to, “Okay, there’s a fixed budget. The entire company is going to get a certain amount.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Negotiating that, I don’t know if that’s going to lead a different result. There’s other ways for me to get a dialogue going instead of me saying I’m not happy with what was given to me.

Angie Chang: I think just inserting negotiations normally into your life, a lot of them, so that you’ll make some ones here and there, and nothing is ever depending on one thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, what I was trying to say is I have to be ready to what I’m negotiating and why I’m negotiating it. I have to be convinced, first, that it’s what I want and what I need and I can make an impact. I can change. I guess, for sure, I should be pushing for getting to the next level when I do believe I deserve it.

Angie Chang: Are you negotiating your vacation?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: No, because it’s a fixed thing. Some companies have fixed vacation policies.

Rachel Jones: Yeah, you got to know where and when and how. How do you advocate for yourself?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The how is the hardest part. Arquay Harris, Director of Engineering at Slack, at the 2018 Elevate Conference, gave her own advice for advocacy.

Arquay Harris: So, even though others help you along the way, you are your own best advocate. I keep a running list of all the projects, outlining every single thing that I’ve worked on, and more importantly, the impact of those things, and I encourage you to do that, and also to do it maybe just in your personal Gmail, in your personal docs, or wherever, someplace that’s external to your current job, because you want to be able to aggregate this information, and also take it with you when you go to other places. It’s good to look back. Because what happens is when it comes time for promotion, or comes time for review cycles, you get recency bias.

Arquay Harris: You think about the things that you’ve done in the last six weeks, or maybe even the last couple months, but if you make it a part of your practice to every week, or every couple weeks, sit down and say, “Oh, what did I do? How does that impact the company?” Because the other thing that people do is they outline the things that are shiny, but even if it’s shiny, if you didn’t work on it, would it have still launched? If you didn’t do it, would it have mattered at all to the company? What is the impact of this thing and why is it important?

Arquay Harris: So, I encourage you to do that, and also, it helps you when you go and have a conversation with your manager so that you can say, “Look, these are the things that I’ve done.” That said, I have never in my professional career had a situation, I mean never, had a situation where a manager has said, “Great, Arquay, you’re doing awesome. Time to promote you to the next level.” Never happened, every single promotion that I’ve ever gotten has been me saying, “I am operating at this level. I’ve done all of these things, and I think I’m ready for the next level and here is why. Here is why,” and you can hand this to your manager and have a conversation with your manager to demonstrate these things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I love the idea of keeping a running list of projects because sometimes we just forget, or we don’t think it’s important enough to highlight, and so absolutely. I remember when I first heard her say this. I was like, “Oh, I should do it,” but I haven’t been as good about keeping a list up to date, and it definitely inspires me to keep doing it. Same with Arquay, I’ve never gotten a promotion that I didn’t ask for. Perhaps I’ve gotten appreciated through salary increments and through more stock that I didn’t ask for, but never a promotion.

Angie Chang: What about you, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think I’ve just spent a lot of time advocating for more resources, just because when you’re employee four, or employee 17, that’s the thing that you’re always looking for, and I’ve always been close enough to the CEO that I generally know the salaries of everybody around me, so I know when that stuff’s coming. So, it’s also not something that I’ve really looked at.

Rachel Jones: I think tips for advocating for more resources. Earlier in our discussion, you definitely had some helpful thoughts about that. So, it’s not even just getting a promotion, or getting a raise that you have to push for.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And advocating for my team, which it’s definitely easier to advocate for your team than it is for yourself, I think, but a lot of times, the stuff that you get for your team elevates you, too. There’s very rarely it doesn’t.

Angie Chang: I feel like this activity sounds really great, and I’m like, “Oh, I love it,” and then I’m like, “Can someone just share with me their brag list so that I can then copy and replace,” because it’s just always helpful when you have a rubric of what it looks like.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like yours, Angie, like Sukrutha’s would be five bullet points of no more than four words each. Yours would be 17 pages written like long form. The two of you would say the same thing in like this very different way. I can see why this would be hard for you, Angie. Angie likes words. She loves words, especially writing words.

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

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

Angie Chang: This podcast was brought to you by SquareTrade. SquareTrade is the top-rated protection plan trusted by millions of happy customers and offered by top retailers like Amazon, Sam’s Club, and Target.

Episode 12: Intersectionality

Intersectional feminism

Resources mentioned in this podcast:

Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED Talk “The Urgency of Intersectionality”

Spring Reading: 20 Books to Help You Become a Better, More Self-Aware Ally


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

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen.

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

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be discussing intersectionality.

Rachel Jones: Is this something that comes up a lot at the dinners?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think so, and you see it a lot in the press also, and I think there seem to be a lot of different interpretations. There’re the people who are deep in doing the work, that are using intersectionality in the way that it’s intended, and then you see on the other end of the spectrum where it’s become like a buzzword, and people hear it and they start saying it without actually fully understanding what it means.

Rachel Jones: What does it mean?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, there’s a great TED Talk by Kimberlé Crenshaw, where she outlines everything. For years and years it existed and it was called a bunch of different things–double jeopardy–it was something that black feminists talked about a lot, and then there was a case, I think in the seventies, with General Motors where there was a woman who was suing them and the court wouldn’t let her combine race and gender. So because they hired white women in the secretarial pool and because they hired black men to work in the factory, she could not prove a case that she was being discriminated against as a black woman because they wouldn’t let her join the two intersecting–where the word comes from–parts of her identity that were preventing her from getting a job. So that’s kind of where it started.

Angie Chang: That’s wild.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: Silly pop culture example that I always think of, there’s an episode of Scrubs where Elliot, who’s a white female doctor, and Turk, who’s a black man, are having this debate about who has it harder, black doctors or female doctors, and then thankfully a black woman doctor walks by and they’re both like ooh. Wow. This argument is dumb for the two of us to be having. And how have you seen this definition play out in tech and how people understand it in that context?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I see it a lot, where you’ll hear diversity and inclusion and intersectionality and they’re not the same thing. You know, if you wanna back up and really try to understand intersectionality, then you first need to understand privilege. But then once you acknowledge privilege, then you can really understand how these identities intersect, because each time you add one, right you’ve got “I’m a woman”, and “I’m a black woman”, and “I’m a lesbian” or even a trans woman, right, and you start adding and then you can look at, as you add those identities, how marginalized those people actually are. And I think that’s my definition, what do you think?

Angie Chang: A group called Project Include, which includes a woman by the name of Ellen Pao and in case her name doesn’t ring a bell, she’s a woman who sued the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins for gender discrimination and–

Gretchen DeKnikker: Thanks, Ellen.

Angie Chang: –and lost, and I remember feeling so sad and everyone feeling so sad when that happened because we all felt in our bones that we were being let down in the workplaces around the world and we can’t prove it in court. Anyways, she is now part of this amazing Project Include and they have so many resources on the web, I read some on Medium that were very illuminating in terms of the stories that we are not living ourselves, we can listen to in podcasts and documentaries, talk to people on the street.

Angie Chang: So the blog post that really struck me was one called, it was actually titled #FFFFFF Diversity, and if you don’t read HTML, that’s the code for white diversity, and it was written by a engineer, now engineering manager called Erica Joy, and she talks about how her experience at Google–when she worked there, she was confused when the company started spending a lot of money on very outward facing initiatives about how they’re inclusive to women, and women of color, and yet she was feeling like they were not really spending any of that money internally on their black women at Google, who were a very underrepresented group, and she said that if she was a white woman in tech she’d probably have been delighted that they were investing in a diversity initiative but she’s a black woman in tech so things didn’t feel so good to her. And whether by design or by inertia, the favor seems to land on white women.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Every time I read any news that’s celebrating how many more CEOs that are of Indian origin and you notice that none of them are women. Microsoft and Google and so many other big companies that have visible Indian men running the company, and maybe, I don’t know if people are starting to notice now this obvious ceiling for Indian women and Asian-American women in general, for rising in the ranks, and so there’s this Harvard Business Review article titled “Asian-Americans are the least likely group in the US to be promoted to management,” where they say Asian-Americans are the forgotten minority in the glass ceiling conversation. We have, like I said, you know, not just for Indian men but when you see the Asian women and Indian women at the top very rarely.

Gretchen DeKnikker: When you’re talking about privilege and talking about intersectionality and diversity and inclusion, I think sometimes they all get swirled together and you can lose sight of what those things are individually and what they mean individually and that they are very unique distinctive things.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. Language, it gets tricky, there are so many words and some of them mean similar things, and there’s new ones, which never travels well. I remember even when people were getting really fed up with diversity as a word because it was losing its meaning and they’re like, oh we’re not gonna do that anymore, now it’s about inclusion, and now inclusion has lost all of its saltiness so it’s interesting just what happens with language.

Angie Chang: And now we have the letter X which has… has the letter X, as a variable it’s supposed to be more inclusive, I think the word come around the corner as the next big thing.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, it’s a good thing we got on that train early then.

Angie Chang: So, Sarah Staley leads communications and culture at Realtor.com and she spent a portion of her talk at the Realtor.com Girl Geek dinner touching on intersectionality. Here’s what she said.

Sarah Staley: You know, intersectionality–we often talk a lot about–you may not know what this means, but intersectionality is beyond inclusion. It’s beyond diversity. It’s when you really take time to get to know a person’s story, and that’s when the real color comes in.

Rachel Jones: What would you add to Sarah’s definition of intersectionality?

Gretchen DeKnikker: What’s not in the quote is just before that she’d had people think of something unique about themselves, then turn and share with the person sitting next to them, that unique thing about them. So I think, she’s very much trying to bring out a full personality, find a way to bring someone’s full self into a conversation. It’s not quite the traditional sense of how intersectionality would be used but you can sort of see where she’s headed and she’s really close, but I think we see that a lot, right, like people are understanding part of what it means, but not all of what it means. Or we see it where it’s very close to inclusion, which as Rachel was saying earlier, has also lost its shine and luster, given that the word itself is trying to say that it’s an assimilationist theory that the group needs to be brought in and assimilated into this environment, they need to be included in the existing environment as opposed to the environment adapting to all of the people.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think it’s important when you’re trying to create an equal environment that there’s no one definition of equal, right? That’s the whole problem when you assume there’s one definition of what it means to feel marginalized or to feel like a minority, so you have to identify where you stand and what the differences in experiences are for other people and perhaps that’s what she was driving to. Like, learn more about other people’s experiences, especially when they’re different from yours so you can be more informed when you’re trying to create a more equal environment. But you have to have a good understanding of what it means and not have this blanket oversimplified definition of what intersectionality is in the first place. What do you think, Angie?

Angie Chang: I don’t like to define what intersectionality is, I just like to talk about the different ways it shows up.

Rachel Jones: I have definitely been in a space where I’ve had to challenge people bringing weak versions of diversity. So when I was working in my last job in Chicago, I became a member of our “culture committee”. You can’t see this on the podcast but I’m doing air quotes.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Oh yeah, they’re very cute air quotes too.

Rachel Jones: Because, so we were a nonprofit organization serving mostly black and brown youth, and a lot of what was happening in the organization was just plain racist. The way that student stories were being used and the ways that they were being tokenized and positioned. As we were trying to hold the organization accountable for that ,they were like Oh! Let’s have a culture committee help figure this out. And for a while, the only assignments that we had were planning parties and that was very confusing, like this is not why we exist. And then we brought in a consultant to help do a race and justice training, that ended up getting us in trouble with our executive director and HR, and so it was like they were asking for diversity and inclusion and asking for our expertise and outside expertise, and then when actually confronted with, “Hey here are the ways that you’re falling short and here’s exactly what you can do to make a change,” they kind of faltered. So even just by the show of creating a culture committee they thought the work was done, when we were trying to do the actual work.

Gretchen DeKnikker: No, no, they wanted you to do the work–

Rachel Jones: –But it’s just like–

Gretchen DeKnikker: –right oh we’re gonna have a committee we’re gonna put people of color on it, they’re gonna solve this problem. We, the white people, the executives, the whatever, we don’t have to stop and look and think about our role in this.

Rachel Jones: And, yeah, I think that’s the danger when these words kind of lose their meaning, it’s something that you can just pass off to someone to figure out, and that’s something that takes actual investment and work and thought and a complicated lens that’s looking at these issues in an intersectional way.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, this is a great lead in to a quote from Audrey Blanche who is the Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian. She did a talk called Thank You, Next, at our recent Atlassian dinner and she is amazing, and she purposely doesn’t have inclusion in her title for the reasons that we were kind of talking about a little bit earlier, and in this quote talks about how you build a greater sense of belonging within your culture.

Aubrey Blanche: We need to move away from ‘diversity,’ which has a limited meaning and actually is not aligned with the goals that we’re trying to build. We need to build balance in our organizations. We also need to move away from ‘inclusion’. Inclusion assumes that I can fit like an add-on into a power structure that was built for straight white men, and I have no interest in doing that. I’m not any of those things and I don’t know how to show up that way. I wanna actually build belonging, I wanna show up in a space where I was considered and where I was thought of.

Aubrey Blanche: And that doesn’t mean… it can be the littlest things that show me that. You’ll see here, research shows that women feel like they belong when there’s more plants in an office. You’ll see that our bathrooms, even the ones that because of building codes have to have gendered words on them, do not actually contain pictures of what a man or a woman looks like. That might not matter to a lot of you. But to folks who are gender-nonconforming or non-binary or transgender, that has huge meaning. That little subtle clue actually tells their brain that they belong in that space, and that’s what we’re trying to build at Atlassian and I think we can all resonate with wanting to feel like we belong.

Aubrey Blanche: We need to stop thinking that women = diversity, and embrace an intersectionality-first strategy. So how does this look like? It’s pretty simple. If I think of someone who has intersectionally marginalized identities, let’s say myself. If I as a queer Latina woman can succeed in the organization, any changes that are made are definitely gonna benefit straight white women, too. But when we start with diversity = women, we only build programs, processes, and structures that help straight white economically privileged women succeed. Who certainly face barriers compared to their male counterparts, but we end up further marginalizing anyone who doesn’t fit that bucket. And I genuinely, genuinely believe that we can all win together, this does not have to be a competition.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I love her. I’m gonna get like, I love Aubrey t-shirts printed, stickers, I might just stand outside Atlassian with a sign.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Ooh, maybe I could do the Say Anything where he’s holding up the boombox, play her a song. I love her that much.

Rachel Jones: Everything that she said is every critique of white feminism, ’cause there are so many approaches like white feminists organizing and trying to push for women in workplaces and just leaving so many people out, but what was harsh about that was that so many times when people would try and give that feedback and hold these women accountable, they’re saying oh we’re trying to find solutions that work for all women, and you’re proposing things that are just specific to you, not realizing that the things that work for white women are specific to white women and not just the general universal solution for everyone. It’s actually solving the easiest problem, and leaving most of the struggle still there and saying like, “We did a good job.” So I like that she pointed that out.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And white women, if you’re out there trying to figure out how you play a role in this: Pull up a chair. When you get a seat at the table, pull up a chair for someone of a different race, or sexual orientation, or whatever.

Angie Chang: It is a little frustrating to me whenever I hear about ‘a woman has cracked this big tech board!’ And I’m like, “White woman. It is another white woman.” And it’s gonna be, if we’re lucky, the second white woman on an all white male board, so definitely, if you are a person of privilege, pull up a chair for someone that doesn’t look like you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah and [inaudible 00:15:55] other women with different experiences will start to see someone that they can identify with, because not everybody will identify with you, they’ve got that amazing ability that we really need.

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s what I love about the dinners, ’cause it’ll be all different roles and all different levels of experience, and the more diversity we can get there from even just a cognitive level, that means that there’s one more person in the audience who, at least one more, who’s like I wanna be her someday or like I finally feel this connection with this person and I see it being possible, kind of like you were describing earlier, Sukrutha, that panel where you were like, Oh I’m out of excuses, all of these women have all of the things and now I feel empowered to go do it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: A lot of times–speaking of intersectionality–I’ll go to a panel or at a Girl Geek dinner, I will find something that I can connect with each speaker because we have so many different identities, and I also notice that the meter of how diverse the panel is or the speaker roster is defines how diverse the attendee group is, so we have to be really mindful of, look beyond just gender or [inaudible 00:17:25].

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, as we’re in the fourth wave of feminism and I feel like we can get it right this time, and not end up in a bunch of fragmented… with different goals.

Rachel Jones: How do you actually use an intersectional lens to create inclusion or belonging, in your…?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like as a manager you have to, particularly once you start managing a team, you have to start thinking about how each individual person is approaching this, and at that point they’re individuals and they come with their own little unique snowflake selves that you have to start thinking about how those things impact. Right, and someone who’s more soft spoken, right, and at that point you’re not really thinking about what the race of the person is who’s more soft spoken but like how do I help this person get their ideas out there, stuff we’ve talked about on previous podcasts.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But I think from a day to day management level it’s really thinking about little things, the way that Aubrey talked about like simple little things, the not using the male and female icons on the bathroom, like at tech conferences for a long time and you still see it sometimes they wouldn’t have women’s t-shirts, and it’s like, oh well, you know, there just weren’t very many of you so they’re unisex shirts. And the conferences that I’ve planned, it’s like you have to have women’s shirts and they have to be nice women’s shirts, cut for a woman without a huge logo right in the middle of her breasts, right, a smaller logo moved up a little bit so she’s not some weird warped billboard with your logo on it. But it’s like those little things that make people feel welcome, it’s those little things of like, oh you know I was gonna be here and you knew there weren’t gonna be a bunch of me here, but you thought about it, and there’s something for me. And so I think, it’s not in the big things, it’s in the teeny tiny little details.

Angie Chang: You talk about little details and in Aubrey’s talk she mentions putting plants and magazines in work spaces so women can feel more comfortable within their workplace and studies have shown that women and girls react better to a workplace that has plants and magazines, so just little things to make women or other underrepresented groups feel like they’re part of this culture.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, but I mean that’s also not, if there’s someone listening to this and they’re like oh if I get plants and magazines women will feel more included, it has to be unique to your company, you have to be thinking about what are these things, because it can work in the opposite way too, right. You walk in one day and they’re like we heard women like plants and magazines like, oh perfect, well I must be like all other women so I’ll be thrilled.

Angie Chang: I think the study was probably meant to say if you were, I don’t know, very technology heavy environment and there were servers everywhere, maybe do some things to make it more hospitable.

Rachel Jones: There are big and small changes that you can make that communicate to a person. Yeah, you do belong here, or it’s something that’s actually accommodating needs that are specific to different groups, like providing childcare, providing transportation or other things that specific groups have a harder time accessing or could be more of a barrier for them for participating. It really should be led by what are people’s needs, what are people’s barriers and how do we respond to those?

Angie Chang: Yeah, I think it’s also understanding and helping people who are fasting for Ramadan through their work day that month, and not making them… helping them feel not so awful when they have to remind people this is why I’m not drinking water right now and stuff like that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And even when you’re pregnant, or you have someone on your team who is pregnant, being mindful of all their unique things and calling for the appropriate number of breaks, and when someone’s just had a baby, they shouldn’t feel stressed out or pressured to dial in while pumping.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That can be very stressful so just, I mean…

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thinking about barriers, scenarios and barriers. Situations that everyone else might be in, and building a team is like building a puzzle that when you take one piece out you have a totally different piece that you might want to add to it just based on who else is left on the team, so constantly thinking about who your next hire should be based on the team that you have. In terms of filling the blank, not extending the blank that might be there. Heidi Williams offered her own advice during our recent Elevate conference. We met her when she was the VP of Engineering at Box, and now Heidi Williams is changing the world for women as the CTO and co-founder of tEQuitable. At her Elevate conference talk, which was hugely popular by the way, she recommended using an engineering approach to debug the workplace culture and make systemic change that improves the lives of working women everywhere.

Heidi Williams: Psychological safety more than anything else is critical to making a team work. And so what is psychological safety? It’s the shared belief held by members of the team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. Psychological safety may sound like it’s all about the emotions or about the mental aspect of the game, but really it’s the way that you encourage and promote behaviors that reinforce trust and respect and mutual empathy and authenticity, and discourage behaviors that tear those down. So the key here is don’t measure how people feel, measure how people behave and the impact it has on others.

Heidi Williams: So let me give an example of one of the things that we’ve seen and how we identified behaviors and talked about the possible systems that might have been causing those behaviors, and of course then what actions you can take to improve those systems. So the example we saw at one company was that interactions between teams were being reported as aggressive and bullying. So you could imagine that those people are just mean. But that’s probably not really the case. There’s some reason why they’re being aggressive and bullying.

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

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

Rachel Jones: I really like that she says don’t measure how people feel, measure how people behave, because I feel so often in these conversations, they get lost in this place of feelings and people don’t feel included and they don’t feel like they belong and then it makes other people feel like they don’t actually know what to do in response to that. But thinking about behavior, that’s something that you can observe and easily change and that doesn’t let you get away with, oh maybe people are always gonna feel some type of way, like no. We can actually change these behaviors. It also takes the pressure off of the person who is marginalized, so they’re not having to explain why they feel the way that they feel, we’re focusing on the behaviors that are damaging and working to change that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah and you also don’t wanna wait till someone tells you how they’re feeling. You need to be observing their actions, and whether they’re showing up to events, those events aren’t inclusive enough, and when I say events I mean we do a lot of, in tech companies we do have a lot of events that are supposed to be team building and team bonding events, happy hours, ping-pong championships, and if you’re not seeing people participate, people of various groups participating, don’t wait till they tell you why they don’t.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You know when you were talking about don’t wait to have someone tell you how they feel, right, but if someone does, there’s certainly better ways to handle it than if you… a common thing that you’ll hear is giving feedback to a white person then at first they’re defensive, then eventually they feel victimized in some way, so then the person who is just trying to express their feelings is not only not getting their needs met but now they’re trying to meet the needs of the person who’s upset at having their behavior called out and called into question, which is sort of the thing that you really wanna stop doing and start avoiding, and listening. I don’t know, do you guys have tips on how people could hear feedback differently? Giving feedback and…

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I wish that when people–when I give feedback and I try to do this when I receive feedback–I wish the listener or the person who’s supposed to receive the feedback asked questions instead of responding to the feedback right away. I think the worst thing you can do is start to get defensive, is try to explain your actions when you’re getting feedback about something specific that you did or said. So if they ask the questions to get the context, to understand why someone’s feeling the way that they’re feeling. I’ve found that I’m more likely to give feedback if the person that I’m giving it to is listening and asking questions as opposed to responding to it straight away.

Rachel Jones: I think another thing you can think of, kind of flowing from what Heidi said, is really to focus everything on behavior, because it makes sense to be defensive if your whole identity is being called into question, and a lot of times when feedback is given people don’t hear it as, “Oh you did this one thing that made me feel this way,” they hear it as you are homophobic or you are a sexist or you are a racist. So it’s saying I’m not calling your whole identity into question or saying that you are one type of thing. We’re talking about the specific behavior that you exhibited and the impact that that had and the causes behind that so lets focus on that. I’m not talking about who you are as a person, so don’t take it personally in that way.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think that’s perfect. And I think white people in this country, me included, need to get very comfortable with the fact that we are all racist on some level and that everyone has racist behaviors and that while the word is really powerful, we need to actually think about the definition of it and what that means, and how to correct those behaviors because even a racist will tell you they’re not racist, they’re just separatists. They just want you live over there. I don’t not like you, I just don’t wanna live with you kind of a thing, so just understanding there are racist behaviors. We all have them every single day and being open to hearing that feedback.

Angie Chang: I think intersectionality just reminds us how much further we have to go and be open to continuing to learn about each other, this evolving conversation and just keep trying to be curious about other people.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, my final thoughts are just a reminder that must be [inaudible 00:29:46], more than just your gender or more than just your race, and there’s all kinds of diversity that you have to pay attention to in the workplace or in your social environment. So always pay attention to the space that you fit into and the space that you don’t fit into that others might fit into.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right, I know for this wave of feminism to be successful it has to be intersectional, and if you find yourself in a place where you don’t totally understand what that means and the ways to approach it, then there’s only like–you know we just did a post on 20 books that you can read–you don’t have to read all of them–that can definitely, on the girlgeek.io site, a book on building allyship, but if it’s not intersectional, it will fail, the same way that the past three movements have failed on some level to elevate all women. And so it’s really, really important, and what’s that quote? My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be full of shit.

Rachel Jones: It’s definitely true, you’re setting yourself up to fail if you’re using definitions of these things that are empty or you’re using solutions that only work for the group that’s struggling the least out of everyone, and we’re at a point where people can very easily see through these things when they are bullshit, like people aren’t just gonna say like we have a culture committee and take that to mean like the work is done, people actually wanna see tangible results so… yeah, I think–

Gretchen DeKnikker: We have an ERG! Clearly, everything’s fine!

Rachel Jones: Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative). Like as much as you can, hold people accountable to do the actual work and not just fly a diversity flag and say the work is done.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Or they think that the people in the marginalized group are the ones who are going to do the work. Ask them what needs to be done and then do it.

Angie Chang: Then give them money to do it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Oh, money!

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

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

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by Realtor.com, offering the most comprehensive source of for sale MLS-listed properties. For years, millions of home shoppers have turned to Realtor.com to find their dream home, and this podcast was also sponsored by Atlassian, a leading provider of collaboration development and issue tracking software for teams.

Episode 11: Introversion, Shyness and Being You


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

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen.

Rachel Jones: I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences, where we’ve been elevating women in tech, for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: Today we’re talking about personality, and how it shows up at work.

Rachel Jones: Is this something that’s come up at Girl Geek dinners? In questions in some way, or?

Angie Chang: I don’t think it really comes up in questions, but you can definitely tell that when a Girl Geek is speaking on stage, and, or off that they have their performance self, and then they have their authentic self.

Angie Chang: So, as an introvert, I’ve always enjoyed discovering who is also an introvert, and how they’ve managed to either shine on stage, shine in meetings, how they manage to speak up.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t think it’s been a discussion point, but we’ve definitely seen it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think as we go through this today, also thinking about that, there’s a difference between being an introvert, and being shy, or being uncomfortable, or sort of lacking confidence in one area. Right? Those are all not the same thing but, they sort of all get wrapped into one.

Gretchen DeKnikker: There are lots of introverts that aren’t shy, and there are lots of extroverted people who freak out at having to get up and speak in front of people, too. I always get annoyed, as an introvert also, that there’s this thing of, you’re shy, and so you’re not talking to me, or you lack confidence, and therefore, you’re being shy, and it’s like no, I’m just introvert. I find the discussions I’m having with myself in my head, way more fascinating than the discussion we’re about to have, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with being shy or anything else.

Rachel Jones: That’s something that I think is really interesting in this conversation. I think so often, personality isn’t even who you are. It’s who everyone else, decides that you are-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel Jones: And it really affects the way that people treat you. So, as soon as they decide that you’re an introvert, then that totally affects the way that they’re interacting with you, and kind of affecting how they perceive your ability to change, or what you’re capable of doing.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel Jones: Like, oh, this person is this type of way, so they won’t be able to do this, or they won’t be interested in that, or this is the reason why they’re acting this way. I think the labels that people put on each other around personality in the workplace can definitely have damaging effects.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Or that being an introvert is somehow some sort of disability. Like, oh, well you’re just gonna have to learn how to be an extrovert. It helps if you can play an extrovert on TV but, honestly introverts bring so much to the table, and should do so unapologetically.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think even the evolution when, Angie, you first started doing the intros, before a Girl Geek dinner, the talks would start, then when I started to join you, we were like so raw, and we were so awkward, and uncomfortable, and now we’re more confident.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: While I do think in a lot of ways I’m an extrovert, I’m very uncomfortable to the point when first started working, and you know you’re introduced to like Agile and Scrum, and you’re to give your update, and say what you had worked on the day before, and what you plan to do that day. I was so intimidated when I would have to give my update. Before, I would look down, and talk, and pretend I was looking at my notebook because I was so awkward.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You know, I just decided there are things I need to do, and I forced myself. I need to know people at work. It’s really important to have those water cooler conversations, to get to know more people, and because I don’t feel comfortable talking right away, I ask a question, and they’re talking. So, that’s how I kick off a conversation. So, even though I’m shy when I first meet people, I found a work around, I guess.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m the opposite because I’m an introvert but, I spent my whole life doing dance, and singing, and acting, and so, I’m way more comfortable presenting in front of 100 people, than I am with three people I’ve never met, that I’m forced to have a conversation with. That’s terrifying to me, so I think it’s just sort of your comfort zone, right? What you’ve done previously that has helped you gain confidence to do it, right?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think those smaller conversations are still, like, but now I think I can just say this is super uncomfortable, right? And bear with me, which I would never have done before. Angie, I feel like you have a lot to add on this because I feel like you are both shy, and introverted, and yet you’ve chosen this career path where you’re this role model, and sort of creating this whole environment for women, and you’re doing it all while you’re struggling with being shy.

Angie Chang: I like to think that the job found me [crosstalk 00:05:28]. I think most of what I actually do is, I’m more articulate writing. So I’ve done a lot of writing, and then when we do all the introductions at Girl Geek dinners, and having to give talks on diversity, and women in tech over the years. It’s really helped sharpen, and it’s definitely taken about 10 years to get to a place where I can actually just give talks now, rather easily but, it did take that decade of really grating through some pretty embarrassing experiences, to get to a place where I can now give a talk, and not think too much about it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Is that your advice? That you just have to keep doing it until–

Angie Chang: You’ve just got to keep doing it for a long time, and I think I’ve definitely seen other people do this as well. Sometimes we see someone be super confident, and then we don’t really think about how long they’ve been doing this. If not in this particular job or industry, maybe they had 10 years of improv experience under their belt, and you just didn’t know it, and that’s why they’re so great with their gesticulations, or something.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You know just the other day someone who’s really shy at work, told me that they wanted advice. They were talking about how they admire how I could just talk to anyone, and I’m like, “Listen, listen, this wasn’t always how it was.” I feel like I need to know everybody, like I said earlier, and I just force myself to talk to people.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Now about what you just said, Angie, being able to give talks, something I struggle with myself. I was saying just giving an intro at a Girl Geek dinner, why I started to force us to do it, is because we needed to get better at it, and we did. I do think that obviously you got better at it faster than I did, but I had to, and everybody takes varying amount of time, but I had to really practice. I would initially write out what I planned to say, and researched the speakers, just in case I needed to say something about them, and I would come prepared. Same thing now, it’s so much easier for me to mentally prepare to give a talk, and I always say yes when I’m asked to speak. I just never say no.

Angie Chang: I like that, over preparing although you don’t have to, and that gives you an extra source of great things to say about people, and be great at giving talks.

Gretchen DeKnikker: [inaudible 00:07:57] quote from Disha Gosalia, who gave a talk at our Quantcast Girl Geek dinner, on how she navigated her career, as a shy engineer. It’s great. You guys should check it out. Now she was recently promoted to the VP of Service Operations and Support.

Disha Gosalia: Growing up in India, when you’re somebody who’s a straight A student, or academically focused, you’re kind of placed on a pedestal, and you always make your parents proud, and so it doesn’t matter if you’re a loner out there. I never realized that I was a shy, loner kid.

Disha Gosalia: So imagine my surprise when after I completed my software engineering degree in Computer Science, and went for my first job as a software engineer. In my first half yearly performance review, when your boss goes through all the great 10 things you did, but that one area of development that you always think about.

Disha Gosalia: He actually asked me, “So are you a little introverted? I never see you walking around the desks of your colleagues, or chatting up with them, and you actually don’t even talk much in team meetings.” And I’m like, “Am I supposed to talk much in team meetings? Well, I’m new. Should I not be listening more?” But, that was honestly the first time I realized that my personality did have a part to play in my career.

Disha Gosalia: Fast forward several years, now as I parent to fairly sensitive kids who are often called shy and quiet. I grapple with this thought on a daily basis. How do I raise confident young adults, who can accept themselves as what they are, but at the same time also has this growth mindset?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I totally get that. I’ve struggled speaking up in meetings, even though I had a lot to say. I just realized that there were ways in which I could prepare myself to be able to speak. One is, of course, I would practice. You always know the content, or at least the goal of a meeting, before you go in. At least most of the times you know, so you can go in prepared with the points that you want to bring up. If someone else brings it up, that’s fine. You can add to it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So that sort of thing is really important for people to at least get a sense of what your opinion is. You can’t grow in any role without people really knowing what your opinion is, and whether or not you agree or disagree. You can’t always be silent. I don’t know if I would have given the feedback to her, the way her manager did, but I can totally see this feedback being necessary, and valid.

Angie Chang: When she was talking at the Girl Geek dinner, I was like, that is so me. I was called out, at least a few times, for being quiet in meetings. Then I’d actually actively have to work on being able to jump in and give an opinion or talk, give an update, make myself known in the room. So that’s definitely something to recognize, and overcome but it is definitely overcome-able.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean I think I come at it from, maybe the opposite angle, right? I have lots of opinions, as anyone who knows me will tell you. I think where I really struggled was, I’m a person who, I can live in this deeply analytical world, and I can live in this very, very creative world. That sometimes that allows me to see solutions, and patterns, and things that are really weird, and non-obvious. It took me probably until I was in my early 40s, to stop hiding that, or apologizing for it, or saying things like, “This might be really weird, but.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Or I would spend days testing something out, to see if it would work before I would suggest it to anyone, and to really be like, “You know what? This is actually what makes me unique. This is the unique thing that I’m bringing to the table.” And to not be afraid to speak up in that way. To be like I know that my brain doesn’t work like, I think there’s some test out there. It’s like 90% of people don’t think that way, right?

Gretchen DeKnikker: So I was like, “Well, I’m awesome. You guys are so lucky to have me here, even if you think my ideas are crazy.” Right? And being okay with, it’s wrong. It’s okay if it doesn’t work out. It’s better to speak up. I don’t think you’ve told us, if you’re an introvert, or not.

Rachel Jones: True. I was thinking about that, when you were talking about what your introversion looks like, and how you are more comfortable presenting than talking with a room of three people. I was thinking, yeah, I’m more comfortable presenting to a room of 100 people than just mingling in a room of 100 people.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right?

Rachel Jones: That’s the scariest thing-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: To me but, I think one thing that was really interesting that stood out to me from Disha’s quote is how she said she didn’t realize that she was a shy, loner kid-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: She didn’t realize until it was told to her, and when that feedback was given to her, it was really just behaviors that her boss was seeing, and not really who she was as a person. So I think thinking of personality as a fixed thing, versus things that you can learn, or things that you can challenge yourself to do. Yeah, I think that kind of complicates this question of personality, and how much it limits a person, or defines a person.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think as a manager, you need to be equipped to understand various personality types. You know the contradictions, where it feels like maybe not everybody knows it. So they don’t give the best feedback, and they don’t call attention to an area, along with what the benefits would be if they were to, sort of, acquire a different way of expressing themselves. If you don’t do that, it gets very confusing, and it feels very strange that you’re being told that you’re quiet, and that’s why that’s going to hinder your growth. That’s something that we need to be a little bit more sensitive about.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I do want to say, though, there are certain tracks and career–study tracks–that you will find more introverts in because you know, especially when you’re a software engineer, a lot of what you do has to be a little bit more solo. You’re not working in a group. You’re not presenting as often as one would if you were in business school.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s this quote I read somewhere that said, “If you’re looking for an introvert in business school, you’re not going to find one because even they know how to navigate the system, and come across like an extrovert.” So it’s not surprising to me that it took her that long to be told that she was shy because that’s just–the fact that she came from Computer Science, it’s not entirely surprising that it wasn’t called out earlier, or she didn’t draw attention to it earlier.

Angie Chang: I completely identify with being a shy, loner kid. I was that person in middle school, but I think that you have to know how you operate best, and even though I’m a shy introvert, I find one on one with people is really not intimidating. So it actually doesn’t bother me to go into a room and be like okay, I just need to talk to one person, and find that one friendly looking person to walk over to, and put my food down next to, and ask if that seat’s taken, or whatever, and just be like, “What are you doing here?” Making it more minimal to you, and not thinking about it as a room of 100 people. That’s also a handy tip from Girl Geek dinners, and having gone to many.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I watched you do that. Man, I would always be very awkward when people were in their own groups already, at a networking event, or even at a Girl Geek dinner. I remember you told me, like, walk over to who you want to talk to, and just look at them, and then they’ll automatically turn to you. Even if they’re talking amongst each other, then you can ask a question, or sneak in a word, or a sentence, and join the conversation. Even if after that you’re just listening, you’re joining the conversation.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I think we’re always feeling like we’re the most awkward person in a room but, I think that everyone feels like they’re awkward person in the room. So they’re usually happy, when you talk to them. They’re like, “Oh yes, I have someone to talk to now. They broke the ice.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I think it’s been good, for me, to identify when I get uncomfortable, and when I do feel comfortable, and so in situations when I know I’m going to be uncomfortable, I bring whatever’s going to make me comfortable, so I’m my best self.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Jumping back what you guys were saying a little bit earlier, I’m curious–being told to speak up…. What advice would you give to the manager because that isn’t super helpful, right? But if you, like Sukrutha, you must have people on your team now, that are kind of shy. How do you manage that, and what advice would you give to managers?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So first, I don’t think it’s been very helpful to tell someone, “Hey, you need to speak up more.” I think I need to be very, very aware of who has opinions, and who’s not speaking up because they’re just uncomfortable. I need to feel responsible, that I should draw them into the conversation. Once they started talking, they’re usually fine, and then slowly as time goes by, I need to be mindful to also draw attention to the fact that their thoughts were really, really helpful, and useful in the conversation, and then automatically they’re more comfortable bringing it up. I don’t know if pointing it out, and telling someone hey, you’re too quiet, just speak up, has ever been helpful, honestly.

Angie Chang: Right. That was great advice from the manager in the room [crosstalk 00:18:26].

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like if you’re giving that advice as a manager, like you need to speak up, then people are going to feel like, they need to add something just to say something, and then-

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right.

Gretchen DeKnikker: How awkward, and detrimental is that, right? To just be saying anything to have your voice be heard in the room. That’s worse right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That is the worst because I do see a lot of women think that they just have to do that, and you hear them saying the most random things-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: But, you’re like you could not have thought that’s going to be useful in the conversation.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, but it’s the advice, that they’re, yeah-

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s more of a function of the advice, than anything.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Totally, and that’s why it became more noticeable to me. There was mostly women doing that, and someone has told them, “Hey, you know you’re going to get overlooked, if you don’t say what you’re thinking.” You can’t always be thinking something useful, so you just say anything.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So all of what we’ve been talking about, relates a lot to our quote from Product Design Lead, Eunice Noh. She shares a story of learning to speak up confidently, during our dinner with Blend.

Eunice Noh: Speaking up in meetings was really hard for me. There is an analogy I like to use. I’m not sure if everyone feels this way but, when I’m on a plane, in like the window seat. I think the entire time on the plane, wondering when am I going to use the bathroom. I’m like, “Okay I’m going to go now. Should I wake up my neighbor? Am I going to get stuck in front of the beverage cart?” By the time I convince myself that I’m ready to go to the bathroom, they’re like, “Seat belts, please.” And you gotta hold it for another 30 minutes, and it’s not a good feeling. It’s really not.

Eunice Noh: I think that’s similar in meetings, you know? I work myself in my head, and I’m trying to figure out exactly what I’m going to say, and making sure that what I say is not stupid. Should I talk now? Should I wait until the person’s finishes talking, and a million other questions in my head, and by the time I get the confidence to actually say something, the meeting has ended, and everyone’s already moving out of the room.

Eunice Noh: That’s, it’s very vulnerable. I was very, very, very vulnerable, and luckily, different from many of the past companies I’ve worked for. I had a great support system through my manager, and I had an outlet to talk to a lot of women during our Blend ladies’ night out.

Eunice Noh: So having people to help build that confidence, and give you those light nudges, and support from people around me. As a manager today, I strive to be like my manager, to give support, and help build confidence for every single person on my team. I’ve realized that building confidence, differs per person, that being thrown into the deep end, might not always be for everybody.

Rachel Jones: So it sounds like Eunice actually gives a lot of advice that was related to what Sukrutha said about how to tell someone they should speak up. How it’s more about building confidence, and knowing that not everyone will thrive if they’re just thrown straight in with knowing kind of, what approaches work for different people.

Angie Chang: What are your thoughts on this?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I thought it was interesting that she called out that, at least at Blend, she was able to get a really good support system, through their Blend ladies’ night out, but maybe it can be a little bit more deliberate. Where you are trying to build your own support system, without waiting for your manager to set it up, or without your company’s ladies’ night.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That will help build the confidence for you to then speak up at these meetings. Especially when you have something to say, that’s when you want to speak up. I like that she called that out, but you won’t always have those opportunities, where a manager’s helping us, or that we have a ladies’ night.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think another thing that has happened to me in meetings, which is different from having a hard time speaking up, is having a hard time being heard. I’ve even tested this, because men will keep talking. If you go to say something at the same time, and they’ll keep talking, and so I’ve literally tested, if I keep talking, and they keep talking, will eventually they stop, and I’ve never talked long enough, that they’ll stop. That’s super frustrating.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This episode made me think about, there was this time, I’d been traveling a lot, we’d gone to the East Coast for a week, and then we’d literally flown on Friday night, and got there on Saturday, and then in Israel, the work week starts on Sunday. You’re on a weird time zone, or whatever. So, I was already extra cranky. Then we went in for a meeting, and this was my domain, and the two men in the room just kept talking, and I kept trying to add something. This was not their domain.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, at some point, and this is not my finest moment, was I just got up, and I was like, “Well, it seems like you guys all have it figured out, I’m going to the hotel.” Up until very recently, I felt really bad about that, and I was forced to apologize to one of the people in the room, and I just thought about it recently. I was like, wait, hold on, and I felt embarrassed about that, and probably wouldn’t have shared it in this forum. Then I’m like wait a minute, no. That was a perfectly acceptable, I probably was not a nice as I could have been about it because I was tired, and I was so annoyed, but, at the same time, if you’re not going to let me speak, why am I in this room because I’d much rather be sleeping.

Angie Chang: I think that was radical candour, and that was a good job.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I want to go back, and be like, dude, I’m actually not–because I also felt like forcing someone to apologize to you, who obviously doesn’t want to apologize–

Rachel Jones: Like, what [crosstalk 00:24:17]-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Is also some ego driven nonsense, anyway.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The danger, for me, when I was learning to speak up, is I started to talk over other people, though.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That was something, and I still struggle with that, when I really rack my brain, that I want to say something, and I’m going to be heard, I tend to talk over people. I don’t want to be part of the problem.

Gretchen DeKnikker: When I feel myself very anxious, to speak, I think, “Why are you so anxious about this, why can’t you let that thought finish,” right? Most of the time it’s just like because I know what they’re saying is wrong, and I just want to be more efficient, or at least I think. Right [crosstalk 00:24:59]? Also, just let them finish their thought, but I think it’s different when you’re in this, when you’re having a conversation, and you’re interrupting people versus, it’s a room full of people, and everyone’s talking over everyone, and literally, you can’t be heard. Right?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’ve raised my hand before, of just like, when you guys are done, and you want to stop talking all over each other, I will wait my turn, but if this is the only way that I’m ever going to be able to say anything, is if I just raise my hand. Which makes people laugh, and they think I’m a little bit weird, but I also get to speak at some point, without having to yell over the top of everybody.

Rachel Jones: I relate to that a lot, and I definitely relate to Eunice’s quote also because I’m definitely the person–My statement has to be completely perfect, before it can leave my mouth, and enter a room. So, I will spend so much time, just analyzing, reanalyzing the thing that I’m about to say, and then yeah, usually by the time I’m ready to say it, then we’re off that topic, or the conversation’s over, or the meeting is over. Yeah.

Rachel Jones: I’ve just really envied people who feel free to just say whatever, whether it’s valuable, or not.

Gretchen DeKnikker: The people who are willing to say their thought process out loud. The speak, then think versus the think then speak.

Rachel Jones: And then ponder over it, for the night, and then come up with the perfect thing to say, and be able to say it to no one.

Angie Chang: Bring it up in the hallway the next day, in a smart email.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, someone told me this, which I’ve never been able to do it, but they said, in a meeting, if someone, or whatever, in a casual conversation, too. Someone is saying something that you don’t like, and you already know that, they’re saying something that’s not right, you have to say, in order for it to not turn into a back and forth. You have to say something like, tell me more, and that’ll give you more of a chance to compose yourself and find the right words to put it back on them, and find the right ways to disagree, in a very civil way. I’ve never been able to do it, though. Once I do try it, I’ll let you know if it works.

Gretchen DeKnikker: In my better moments I do, but it’s mostly like, okay. It literally, tell me more about this ridiculous thing [crosstalk 00:27:19], that seems to have come out of your mouth, but that’s also me, stopping myself from saying something ridiculous that’s not helpful.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right. Right, I think that’s what I want to do because I sometimes just react. Not sometimes, a lot of times.

Rachel Jones: Is it the same for you, at work, and outside of work?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: As I work with the same set of people a long time, yeah, then this–the layers shed, and I end up reacting the same way, I suppose. Some of my peers I’m working with right now, I’ve worked with for three years. So, I’m starting to be less polite when someone says something awful, or does something that’s not cool. When I see in our peer group, a guy cutting someone else off, then I’m the first one to react, unfortunately. Whether it’s in my head, or verbally, I’m probably the first one to react.

Angie Chang: That’s not unfortunate.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There are various ways to shut down conversations, and there are more constructive ways to make the person who is being foolish, very obviously foolish to everyone else but, if I join in that, and I play in the mud with them, then-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right. [crosstalk 00:28:48]

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I look as foolish-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s what I don’t want.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think as I get older, it’s more of the same person. Right? I think, I didn’t bring a lot of my personality, my fun side, to work, for a really long time. Now I think, I spent so many years, at very early stage startups that now I think, me at work is more intense, and I have to pare that back because I’m so used to working on these crazy deadlines, and whatever, that I get overly aggressive about things that aren’t that big of a deal, but I just have to uncondition myself because I’m not that way with my friends. It’s like it’s gone in this further direction, the opposite way, as I’ve gotten older.

Angie Chang: I find work personalities, and every day personalities, that’s something that I’m kind of working on. Sometimes it’s intimidating to go to an office and hear everyone chatting around the water cooler, talking about things, often times pop culture, which I’m really bad at. I’m trying to find something to say, but I’ve nothing to say, nothing to say about sports, and I know if I want to talk about something that excites me, it’s the death app, of five inspirational quotes of the week, and I’m like great, I’m going to talk about death now. So, I think it’s–

Gretchen DeKnikker: And if you’re not understanding her, yes she said death app, like dying people app, yes–

Angie Chang: Yes, like a goth. So, I think it’s definitely some part of me is like how do I be one of the cool kids, and have this great conversation [inaudible 00:30:28] off the bat, about the very topical things. I think it’s just a matter of really making the points when they’re needed, and being memorable with them, instead of just the everyday chatter. The [inaudible 00:30:40] everyday chatter is helpful in greasing the wheels, to get what you want at work.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s just finding, points of commonality, and as you get older, and you get more comfortable with who you are, and you bring more and more of that to work, then I think you sort of find those different connections with different people, and I’m sure that not everyone wants to talk about the Kardashians all the time, Angie–

Angie Chang: Thank the Lord.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Just Sukrutha and I.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Well, there’s so much to talk about. I’m kidding.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, youngster.

Rachel Jones: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: What do you bring to work?

Rachel Jones: Well, thinking about this, I think a lot about just different work contexts, only giving you so much space to be your authentic self.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel Jones: So, I was working with high schoolers for a few years, and the version of myself that I had to be, in order to do that job, was so different from my natural self. There were so many parts of me that I couldn’t reveal, so many things that I had to force myself into, like being more authoritative, and speaking more strongly.

Rachel Jones: It’s definitely nice to be able to feel like you can be fully yourself at work, but I think a lot of spaces are not designed for that, and I think even, just as a woman, and as a woman of color, thinking about how office culture in general, just puts a lot of limits on those kinds of expression.

Rachel Jones: I think the question of bringing your full self to work isn’t always just about your own comfort, or the extent to which you know yourself. It is a lot about the environments that you’re in, and you can definitely work to challenge that, or work to really just show up, regardless of the space that you’re existing in, but it definitely has varying levels of success with people in different situations.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. That makes me think of 22 years ago, when I started in tech, and how you’re just trying to be in the room, and not remind them that you’re a woman, and how much anonymity I started over the years, and now it’s not just, oh I can let them know I’m a girl sometimes. It’s like yeah, I’m a girl, and what? That’s my superpower, what do you have? Right. I think that the industry has evolved, right? That’s nothing that I changed personally. That’s just sort of, how things have gone.

Angie Chang: I want to see it on our shirt. Girl Geek X, that’s my superpower.

Angie Chang: This ties in well with our quote from Sandra Lopez. She brought up a great point about personality while sharing some advice for her younger self during our Elevate Conference this year. Sandra Lopez is a VP at Intel Sports.

Sandra Lopez: I joined Intel 2005. 2006 I had a meeting with an individual by the name of Early Felix, and Early Felix was pulling together executive leaders that happen to be Latinos, and he asked me a question. He asked me this, what does it feel like to be a corporate Latina? A Latina working in corporate America. I was just like, what are you talking about? I was asking what are you talking about because I never made my ethnicity, or my gender, an issue. Yet it was bothering me because I couldn’t answer the question. So each day would go by, I would take showers, I would think about it.

Sandra Lopez: Several months later I was in the shower, and I realized something. I realized that I was just never myself, and so, in the spirit, I wanted to discover who I was. I began to shed the skin that society influenced me to wear, such as the pant suit, and I began to be more familiar with who I was. Who Sandra Lopez was, in her own skin. Five feet, two inches tall. I was destined to wear feminine clothes. I wanted to wear those red suede pump shoes that you see on the PowerPoint, with three inch stilettos. I wanted to wear dresses that would accentuate my Latina curves, because that would be my ability to embrace my unapologetic self.

Sandra Lopez: If I were to advise my younger self, and do it all over again, is to be your unapologetic you, and I say that because in the process of understanding who you are, and what makes you special, you’ll discover your own depth, and what you’re capable of. You get confidence, you’ll know your place in society, in this world, and because I discovered who I was, over 10 years ago, arguably my career started to succeed.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Can I first just say, I love her so much. It’s just, we just need so many women like her to stand up and just say, these are all of the things that make me, me, and I’m going to bring them in with me, and I think it’s different for everybody, right? Figuring out who that is, and who you are, and then not feeling bad about it, anymore.

Angie Chang: I guess, after listening to Sandra, I feel inspired to think about what I do want to talk about at the water cooler, and bring myself to work in a way that works, and also less, I think Sukrutha said, to not force myself to open my mouth in a meeting, when there’s nothing particular to say.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think it was when Microsoft sponsored a Girl Geek dinner, one of the speakers said that, instead of working on your weaknesses, you should work on your strengths. So, when I listen to Sandra, I thought about that because she decided to just embrace who she was, and continue on, and that’s when she ended up seeing her career really start to succeed. I find that for myself too.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Luckily we work in an environment now where people just dress any way they want, and when they’re in tech, but I’m sure at that time, for her, it must have been really, really hard, to be herself. So, yeah, more power to you if you want to wear something different, or whatever makes you comfortable.

Angie Chang: When my sister got tattoos, mom was like, “You’ll never work in an industry”, and we’re like wait a second. Now, I think tattoos are everywhere. Having hair that’s a different color than the one you were born with, is completely natural, all these things–

Gretchen DeKnikker: I hope so, my hair grows purple.

Angie Chang: Right, and all these things, all these ways we differentiate ourselves, and we celebrate our differences, has made us a more interesting workplace, and industry.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, you need all sorts of perspectives, make a good product.

Angie Chang: All different personalities. Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think that’s what attracted me to tech, right? Because I am very rough around the edges, and I could figure out how to get along, and be more polished, and whatever, but instead, I found a place that would take me as is. I don’t go into big corporate environments where I would be just, pretending to be somebody else, in my ways, I stick to smaller, scrappier environments, where a personality like mine works, and so, it’s sort of, rather than trying to change me, I just kept trying out different environments, until I found one where I could just be myself.

Rachel Jones: I think that’s an interesting way to think about it. I really like that Sandra uses the word unapologetic.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel Jones: Because to me, that really sounds like I’m going to show up, regardless of [crosstalk 00:38:33] how well my personality fits into this space, or how anyone feels, or how much space they’re leaving for me, to do this. So, it’s interesting just thinking about that perspective, versus I’m going to find a place that actually supports my personality.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel Jones: I think, yeah, they’re both definitely valuable, and I think, yeah, it would work differently for different people, but it’s really interesting hearing both perspectives.

Gretchen DeKnikker: The thing that is sort of counterintuitive about it, is that you think if you are bringing more of yourself, that you’re being more vulnerable, and people are going to judge, and reject that. Actually what I found, and what I think Sandra found, is that people really embrace that because there’s something very genuine about it, and they know what they’re getting with you, and love me, or hate me. There’s not much mystery to what a daily interaction with me is going to be like, right. I think that people appreciate that, they just appreciate transparency.

Rachel Jones: I like thinking about this, discovering your authentic self, and bringing your authentic self being kind of a key to unlocking success in your career.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And understanding that it’s a work in progress. Right. You’re not one day just going to wake up, and be like, “Oh, I know exactly who I am now”, right? I feel like I’ve made this analogy that you’re like a jigsaw puzzle, and so I thought, around the time I turn 40, which is also around the time I became a venture-backed founder, that not all the pieces fit together perfectly, but that I had a pretty good picture of who I was.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Then as a founder, I was just put in these situations, and this intensity, that I’d never experienced, and I felt like I was suddenly handed new puzzle pieces, and that it wasn’t just, oh, I have to figure out where this goes. It’s like I almost have to reshape this whole thing, to figure out, because there’s essentially extra pieces, that’s all. You get more confident, and more comfortable, but you’re always going.

Angie Chang: When we think about people, and their authentic selves, I am always grateful for those people who came to their authentic self, and do things like quit working in finance, and now open a bakery. That’s super popular in San Francisco.

Angie Chang: Recently I’ve been constantly inspired by Brit Marling’s work. She turned down a job at Goldman Sachs to make films, and pursue her love for writing and directing and acting. So, I look at, not just people being an authentic self to be an executive, but also just be good at a craft, or good at their technical self. Obviously I’m a huge fan of The OA right now.

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

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

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by Quantcast, a global leader in artificial intelligence technology. Quantcast is using machine learning to drive human learning, to help brands grow in the AI era.

Angie Chang: This podcast is sponsored by Blend, a Silicon Valley technology company, propelling the $40 trillion consumer lending industry into the digital age, through partnerships with banks, lenders, and other technology providers.