Queens of Tech Podcast
60+ questions with female tech influencers about their journey into STEM
Melanie is UX Director in the Google Search Team. In her past roles she has built and led UX teams globally at Startups, Schibsted and eBay. Melanie previously founded Rise Network (Prev: LondonTechLadies) a women’s network providing events on soft skill development, striving to develop and inspire women to move up the career ladder and create more gender diversity in the upper levels of management.
Melanie’s’ talking topics:
- Why I created LondonTechLadies –
Lessons learned from building the community to 4000+ women and how empowering and developing women supports organisations to succeed
- Soft skills to succeed –
How women can lean in and develop their soft skills to succeed in the workplace focusing on negotiation, confidence, networking and presence.
- Leading International UX teams –
Lessons learned from building and leading international UX teams across London, US, Mexico, Morocco, Hungary, Belarus, China, Finland, Spain & Switzerland
- Building inclusive (UX) team culture –
Lessons learned from building team culture to retaining and grow talent with diversity and inclusion in mind. Youtube Recording
- My career journey
My learnings and experiences progressing into leadership in tech covering the pivotal moments such as building mentor/sponsorship, negotiating my way into management, working across agencies, startups and big tech (eBay & Google).
- How to run a Google Design Sprint – My lessons learnt running sprints and a toolkit for how to get started Medium Article
- Inviqa – CXcon Experience transformation Conference – Youtube Recording
- Venturi Podcast – Discussing ‘Founding London Tech Ladies’ and my passion for gender diversity
In this episode, I’m very excited to welcome my guest tech queen Melanie Yankin UX Director at Google. I’m very happy to have you joining us from California US today. How are you doing?
Hey, thanks for having me today, I’m doing well.
Now let us dive into your journey into tech. Hope you’re ready for the Queens of Tech’s 60-plus questions.
***FUN FACTS ***
- How would you describe your personality in three hashtags?
#gettingitdone #beforeandafter #fun
- How would you describe your life in three sentences?
A journey of resilience. A journey of finding happiness, and so many adventures which I’m only part way through.
- What kind of music stimulates and motivates you the most?
Oh, the throwbacks. So music from days at festivals growing up like temper trap or house music from my clubbing days or just the classic Daft Punk discovery lives recording.
- What’s your personal motto?
I don’t have a motto, but I have three values; lift others, realize my visions and live with balance.
- What is your favorite book?
“Gone with the wind”, is just an absolute classic of my first-period drama romance that I’ve ever read.
- What is your favorite podcast?
Oh, okay I’m devouring “Financial Feminist” right now. I just realized how financially illiterate I’m and how much more I need to improve and it is so amazing.
- Mac or PC?
Mac, I’m a designer.
- Say something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
I got to the final round and I almost made it onto the Great British Bake Off.
- What is your hidden talent?
Well, link to that I make very elaborate gingerbread. I wouldn’t call it baking I would call it more like architecture.
- If you were going to write a book about your life what would the title be?
- Where did you grow up?
I am a child of the world. Born in Melbourne and split my time between Melbourne and London until I was about 13 because my dad lived in London and my mum lived in Melbourne. So school in Melbourne every break in London and then my dad moved to California, so then I was going back and forth to Melbourne and California. So kind of grew up on planes and in airports.
- What was your dream job as a child?
To be a veterinarian.
- What was your favorite subject in school?
I loved art and science and that’s why veterinarian originally.
- What was your least favorite subject?
Oh my gosh, languages I just could not retain the vocabulary I was so bad.
- What would you say is your earliest memory of technology and the arrival of the internet?
I have two older brothers and I remember my oldest brother James getting his first computer and then that was shortly followed by my own because I couldn’t live without having my own of that. Yeah, my brother actually led a lot of my technology discovery as a child.
- Which were then the three first technology gadgets you owned?
Desktop computer, Nintendo I think it was the original Nintendo that we had, and then my own personal one was a Game Boy.
- Who was your female role model and why?
I had a few. I had my mum, and she ran her own business which I think was pretty exceptional. She ran her medical practice, and then I had such amazing female teachers at my high school, and then my friends I spent so much time with.
- How do you think where you grew up and the school you went to and the generation you come from influence your education and career choice?
Oh my gosh, so much. So yes as I said my mother ran her business that was amazing, a role model for me. My school was so inclusive in terms of diversity and gender diversity as well, and I also had older brothers so growing up like gender never really held me back. I feel like I didn’t get some of the societal conditioning that other women did growing up and I kind of realized that when I started the career. Then also I was extremely privileged to get a great education I had super inspiring teachers who really supported me and would go above and beyond I think that was like a privilege that obviously not everyone gets. I also had access to technology all through my childhood and that became an integral part of my life I think when I decided to focus on design I naturally oriented towards digital design because I was the kind of digital native even though you know I’m a millennial. I’ve had it from as early as I can remember and had the very first thing you know we shipped the iPhone over from the US when it came out to Australia and jailbroke it so that we could use it because I just had to try everything, so I think that like definitely influenced where I ended up in my career that’s amazing.
- What did you study at university?
I studied visual communication at Monash University.
- Who, and what influenced you to get into your chosen field?
I loved art, I did fine art at school, but I wanted to make money, so I ended up doing graphic design. I was actually going to study veterinary science and I did work experience placement and realized I loved animals too much to do that. I actually passed out in one of the surgery rooms and a cat was being operated on, and then I changed all my subjects to art and my brother was studying visual communication at Monash University, so I literally followed him. He was in his third year I was in my first year, so I had a great role model there.
- What professional roles have you had before that led you to the current one?
I really believe that like every part of my journey has led me to where I am now, so I think every single job I have had has contributed to the experience I needed to be in the role that I have. But I think the important ones were where I started to have aspects of leadership in my role and actually my first job in Australia where I went from a graduate to a senior designer I had my first taste of leadership with the intern program and I think that was pretty critical to me because I realized like leading designers is actually the piece that I love the most. I mean I did love being an IC designer, but the leadership part was really influential for me.
- What does your company do, and what is your title?
I’m UX Director within Google Search and I think everyone knows what Google Searches but I’m specifically focusing on part of Google Search where we’re trying to focus on modern creators.
- How did you get the job, and what are your main responsibilities?
Oh my gosh! So Google was like just a place I always wanted to work at. When I first moved to London was like 13 years ago I lived there I think I applied to like five different jobs immediately. I didn’t even get a call back actually maybe I had one call. I didn’t make any progress and then I just kind of gave up on that and I eventually after building up enough experience and my personal profile I was approached by a Google recruiter. Yeah, that was three and a half years ago, and I’ve been at Google since then.
I lead a UX team. So user experience, is made up of designers and different user experience specialties like visual design, copywriting, UX, and engineering, and we also have research for about 25 UX in total. My role is to kind of define the strategy and make sure that we have the right people doing the right things. I manage managers who are then managing the team and basically partner with our VP of Products and our Director of Engineering and make sure that our whole team is working on the right things.
- What does a typical work day look like for you?
So I think being in Senior Leadership it’s meetings all day. I do my job in meetings and what I do in those meetings, I review work, and I give feedback on how the team is progressing. I meet with my team I do lots of one-to-ones. I’m meeting my stakeholders and presenting our work and our status updates to my peers.
- What do you love about your job?
I said earlier one of my values was lifting others up, so I love working on a product that touches so many people and can have such a positive impact on them. I love that Google Search as a product has so much reach but there’s so much opportunity to make it better in the future, so yeah it’s a massive problem super exciting problem space to work on, challenging but exciting.
- What is the best experience you’ve had in your role so far?
Honestly, it’s the people. Like the people, I get to work with in my team or my peers or my leads. Everyone is so talented and so inspiring and just genuinely nice. It’s just so amazing to be in an environment where you know everyone is so humble, but then you chat to them, and they’re like oh yeah I launched Gmail as a 20 project in my spare time, and you’re just like oh my gosh you are so inspiring, so yeah definitely the people.
- What is the biggest challenge, you have encountered so far, and how did you tackle it?
It’s kind of the reverse of what I just said. So when I started especially joining as a leader just like massive imposter syndrome, how am I going to live up to these expectations? How can I be good when there are like giants around me who are just amazing at what they do? So I found that quite hard to overcome and then also it was just quite hard to adjust to the pace of everything in terms of how Google operates because it’s fairly bottoming up so there’s just so many things that you can be doing. So when you get there it’s a bit overwhelming trying to figure out what you should prioritize and what you should actually work on because no one’s going to tell you that you have to figure that out yourself. So, yeah it was quite a learning curve in the beginning.
I have had a lot of coaching through this process to help me focus on just being better at articulating what my own values are and what are the things that I want to work on. Then being very good at prioritization, basically, everything is urgent to someone else, and so I have to figure out what’s urgent, but what’s also important. Then how do I detach when I’m not at work so that I can actually rest and recuperate, and be a healthy functioning human being so that when I am at work you know I can operate?
- What do you wish everybody understood about your role?
Oh my gosh. No one knows what UX is. This is so hard my mom’s like I don’t know what you do, you just put the buttons around on the page. I mean, I guess that is a little bit of what we do, but I wish people you know because every single person who uses a piece of technology experiences user experience. It is basically all the logic defining how you interact with any piece of technology and how that interaction makes you feel and does it help you solve a problem or does it help you do it in the best possible way. Does it bring you delight what are the emotions you experience? There are so many aspects to it and I don’t think people understand what goes into that and I love it.
- What is one of the common myths about your professional field that you want to disprove that everybody has?
I guess maybe it’s what I was just saying before about people just assuming we’re just putting buttons on the screen is all we’re doing. But there’s so much that goes into it in terms of all the different functions that are required in the research that we do to kind of validate what we’re showing to people. I think especially at Google the considerations that we have around the impact of the things that we do and making sure that we are not negatively impacting society or people’s lives or that we are you know respecting privacy and the users who use our product actually put a lot of trust into us. So it’s just so deep way that we have to go, and I think people maybe have a little bit of a shallow understanding of it’s just the visual elements at the top, but that’s just literally the tip of the iceberg.
- What do you love about working in the tech industry?
I love the pace and the ability to innovate and solve people’s problems at scale. That’s what tech enables us. The other thing is it just helps us work and solve things for people in the most remote situations. Tech almost democratizes access to information which I just absolutely love. Like I love serving the underdog or people who have been negatively advantaged affected by the systems or where they’ve grown up, or you know those kinds of things. I think tech can help us fix those things.
- What has by far been your biggest achievement in your career?
I lived in London for 11 years and for like six of those years I ran a women’s network which was called London Tech Ladies it’s now called Rise, and we grew that to about four and a half thousand people. I think I ran like 55 events. They used to be every month, and it was soft skill training for women in tech so that they got access to the skills that men were more naturally inclined to have gotten just in their upbringing, negotiation skills, confidence, and communication skills. So, that’s like definitely one of my biggest achievements. I think also getting a job at Google and then getting promoted to director at Google was a massive moment for me.
- What’s the biggest factor that has helped you be successful? Any success habits?
I almost burned out about two years ago. I think a lot of people suffer during the pandemic so what I’m going to say here is something that I’ve been working on throughout my career but very recently I’ve gotten a lot better at which is the ability to detach from work. I honestly believe you can be better at work if you work less and when you aren’t working you’re actually resting and playing and doing whatever it is that makes you feel good as a person. Then when you are at work you’ll be so much better, and you’ll be so much more efficient. I can prioritize so much better, I can figure out what is satisfying and important for me to do, and I can do much better rigorous time management.
- How do you measure your own performance at work?
We have like a fairly structured performance process. At Google, you literally get a rating, and you get like peer feedback. Your manager gives a summary of the work that you’ve done. We have that, but I think what I actually find satisfying as a person is when we connect with our users, and we see them using the thing that we have made. They talk about how it’s changing their lives in some way that is just such a satisfying moment where you just seem like all the hard work everything that we’ve been doing, this is why we do it.
- What is your biggest failure in your career, and what did you learn from it?
I would say I’ve burned out properly once before in another role and then almost again recently about two years ago. I see that as a failure because it’s my responsibility to be true to myself. There will always be more work, there will always be more opportunities at work. I used to live in a way where I was so motivated by external validation, and I’ve really been reworking on that internally instead to make sure that I’m actually living for myself and that what I think about myself is the most important thing rather than what other people think about me. I think allowing myself to get to a point where work was the most important thing in my life is definitely something if I think about a failure. It’s like something I wish I could go back and change because when I’m 80 I’m not going to be thinking about what I did at work, or I’m going to think about the things I missed because I work too much.
Today, I’m really brutally prioritizing how I spend my time. I very honestly believe that no job is worth sacrificing your mental and physical health, and I’m prioritizing those things above everything else. This enables me to just be much better at work as well as I have to be pretty strict about my set working hours. I don’t work outside those hours. I have actually a manifesto that I’ve written and published at work which I have shared with all of my team, so they can hold me to account for like these rules.
- What is inspiring and motivating you the most in your role and career right now?
So the challenge that I’m working on within Google Search and working for creators is so inspiring. Basically, enabling people to have a voice, to surface people’s voices and their authentic content. It’s really super inspiring for me and I moved roles about four months ago and yeah I’m loving working in the search organization and all the new people that I’ve been meeting and yeah it’s just been a super exciting opportunity.
***MENTORSHIP AND ROLE MODELS**
- Do you have a mentor today?
It’s interesting because my manager now as of four months who is the VP of UX for Search was actually my sponsor and mentor for the last three years. It was a big reason why I got my promotion, so I’m pretty lucky that that person is now also my manager. I have this group of people of Senior UX Leaders at Google who I meet regularly who I kind of see as my network of people I use as my support mechanism which is pretty awesome. The other thing that Google has is they have a group called “We Group”, which is women empowerment, and it’s all the executive level women who work in user experience. So at Google about 76 of us, and we just had a summer get-together for three days and that’s an amazing community. It is so super inspiring to be a part of that group and has so many female seniors UX role models to look up to.
- Who is the female role model you look up to in your field?
Another amazing female lead other than Bree, who I just mentioned is Suzanne Pellican. She was actually my manager in my early days at Google. She’s the VP of UX for Google Ads. She’s super inspiring, and she has also kind of been a sponsor for me throughout my career at Google so far.
- How important do you think it is to have a role model and mentor during one’s career?
Oh, it’s absolutely vital. It’s not just mentoring I think sponsorship is vital. So the difference between a mentor and a sponsor is someone who’ll actually change things for you. Who will help you find a new role? It’s someone who has that ability maybe a very senior person in your reporting line, or you know in a nearby area who can actually advocate for you at senior levels. That is so important. That’s what men get more of traditionally because mentors are a little bit like coaching but with a little bit more practical advice, but a sponsor will actually completely change your career because they will make opportunities for you. That’s what we need more of for women.
- What does leadership mean to you?
Honestly, something I’ve done unintentionally throughout my career, but I’ve realized now is actually a big part of my leadership journey is I almost work to make myself redundant over time in my roles. I actually try to delegate a lot of what I do in my role to the people under me and give them the ability to step up. I love taking breaks because I love to have people have the space to jump in when normally that thing or that moment would have been given to me. I just find that so satisfying. My number one value is lifting others. There are always new roles and new opportunities, so it’s not even a case of me delegating my role away and then having nothing to do. I love it, I love making myself redundant.
- What do you consider a good versus a bad leader?
A big part of leadership I think is the environment that you create in the team. Is that environment inclusive? Can people be authentic? Do they have a good way for them to express their voice independent of the kind of person they are? Bad leadership I’ve seen is more people who they’re not actually listening they’re just listening to responses. They’re not creating an environment where everyone has an opportunity to contribute, they might ask for questions in the last two minutes of a thing and then wait 30 seconds and say okay great no questions we’ll just move on. I spend a lot of time building up trust and empathy in the team to create psychological safety, so you know everyone feels like it’s a place where they can belong, and they can actually be a part of the conversation.
- Who would you say is your favorite female tech leader?
I’m gonna stick to my previous answer and say Suzanne Pellican.
- How would you describe yourself as a leader?
I think I am inclusive. I am a great manager because I get so much satisfaction out of developing other people. I’m pretty obsessed with the product, not in a micromanagement way, but I am really pushing the team to deliver something really exceptional. So like every product detail and detail drove in terms of what we’re actually going to ship to our users.
- What values are most important for you as a leader?
I would say the ability to create psychological safety for the team. The ability to articulate a vision and then enable the team to understand the concrete steps to actually realize that they know that that thing can be achieved. You know, how we’re going to measure our performance on the way to that end goal? The ability to remove roadblocks along that way. There’s something that people really underestimate, which is the power of praise and recognition. For me sending a small note or a message to someone to say like “thank you, that thing was great”, is so influential and powerful. We don’t just give enough positive praise and realize the impact that that has. So it’s something I’ve been trying to be more conscious of recently.
- What leadership lessons have you learned that have formed you into the leader you are today?
A pretty common one that a lot of designers go through when they move from being an individual contributor to being a manager is how you step away from the work and allow others you know to do that. How do you give feedback and make sure the projects are going well without micromanaging? I think it’s pretty easy to especially, in the beginning, it’s much faster for you to just do the work yourself because you’ve gotten to a level of seniority and experience. I definitely went through that when I was in my first formal management role at eBay, and it got to a point where I had someone in my team just saying to me, “you’re absolutely micromanaging us, and we really need more space in this”. That was a real wake-up moment for me that my drive for quality was having a negative impact on people. So, I’ve really been so conscious of that since then and just trying to find ways to make sure the work is going well and the way that I do that now is by asking questions try to very rarely say what someone should be doing, and instead, I just ask them questions about the work that they’re doing. The way I frame those questions usually like implies the feedback that I have so connected to that.
- What would you say are your three strengths and three weaknesses?
Okay, three strengths! I get stuff done. I’m super motivated by taking things off the list so execution. I love to design a vision, so I love taking something that might be seen broken, and then imagining what that thing can look like, so the before and after. Yeah, I’m very good at making other people enjoy their experience like you know working on projects and making sure that they find working on the team meaningful.
Then, my three weaknesses? I’m so hard on myself. I think it’s pretty common with women. I’m my own biggest critic. I actually have a photo on my desk of me as a child when I’m being super tough on myself to actually be like “hey you’re being hard on young Mel here, this is not good.” Well, my other weakness is my default to take on too much myself. I have to be very conscious of that. Yeah, my other weakness is that I have a whole lifetime of programming that I’m undoing right now which is where what I used to care about most was what other people thought about me and you know I was chasing my promotion, I was chasing all these external validation points because that’s what I deemed to be my worth. That drove my behavior a lot actually and so that’s a weakness that I am consciously managing
***DIVERSITY, EQUALITY, INCLUSION & BELONGING***
- What do diversity, equality, and inclusion mean to you personally?
Diversity is the representation of the people who you have in your organization and making sure that you do have a diverse representation and that’s not just race or gender. There are so many aspects. Inclusion to me is that then all of those people feel like they have access to the same things, and feel safe if they kind of contribute their opinion. Equality is actually the most important thing here because there’s this assumption that oh everyone should have the same access to the right solution. Equality is where you actually look at what you’re providing to each person. You make sure that considering their circumstances they have the same ability to contribute which might mean that they get a slightly different framework that they have to operate within the other people so that they can contribute in the same way. I think a good way to think about that is maybe someone who is in a wheelchair. If we give them exactly the same thing as someone who can walk then they’re not going to be able to participate in the same way. We have to make some extra considerations so that they actually receive quality and access to things in the same way a person can walk.
- What do you consider to be three to five signs of good company culture if you were to join a company?
Yes, and this is something you can like to look for when you’re interviewing basically. You should have these kinds of key questions that I would be asking a company. So, I would ask what is the personal development process at this company and how do people progress? Is there a clear way how people receive feedback? Is there a good healthy mechanism for that to happen so that people feel like they have access to new opportunities?
The other would be that retention is good that you know people are happy and satisfied with their manager and the leadership that they’re staying within. I think you can see pretty clearly if there’s high turnover that people leave bad managers right, and they leave bad leadership. So that’s a pretty good indicator of the culture of the team. Another would be what meetings are like. You can tell in a meeting, do you ever hear a dissenting opinion? Do you ever hear someone speak up and ask a pretty open or maybe slightly challenging question? do people speak up? Like is there a way for them to do that? That gives you a pretty good indicator of the culture if people feel psychological safety they’re much more likely to do those things.
- As a woman, what has been the most significant barrier in your career, and how have you overcome these challenges?
I still experienced as a woman the messaging that society tells you, that your value is in your appearance, that everyone has to like you. I still have that even though I was raised around men and I had some strong female role models. So, I definitely still had to overcome my requirement to be liked and it’s really hard for women to be told, don’t be challenging, don’t be seen as being supercritical or aggressive because then you’re just like bossy and aggressive. And, make sure everyone likes you, and you’re bringing everyone together, and you know that’s kind of your role.
In my last few years in my career, I’ve kind of gotten to this point where I’m okay with the fact that not everyone’s going to like me and that’s really liberating because that’s like deep reprogramming my brain from that perspective that allows me to be more myself and dissent and to say things that I’m uncomfortable with. I don’t mind if you know there’s going to be people who don’t like what I’m saying or doing which I think men are much more comfortable doing. So that’s been a pretty big thing for me.
The other is, that there has been so many time in my career where I’ve been the only woman in the room, and I’ve usually been so much younger than everyone else because I progressed pretty quickly. I went straight into the workforce. It has been so hard to be the only one who looks like me. I’ve had to go and find my peers outside my direct teams. That’s why I started the women’s network when I was in London. I was surrounding myself in the environments to make sure that I had that even though I didn’t necessarily have that at work all the time.
- Why do you think it is important for more women to join the tech industry, especially as leaders?
This is amazing. Women hold 75 percent of the buying power. Women are so influential to the economy that the fact that companies have still not realized this. The ability that they have to actually make more money by having more women in senior positions is crazy to me, it is just mind-boggling. So in tech especially it’s definitely more important for women to join. I think actually we now are seeing higher rates of women in education than men, and we need to capitalize on this talent. We need to make sure that women see themselves in leadership and then can like progress through into different levels within the technology industry. Not just women but all angles of diversity. We will make better products in technology if we have better representation because we’ll be much more likely to consider all different aspects of how culture and society will you know interact with this product.
- Do you, and how do you speak with your female colleagues and male colleagues about diversity equality, and inclusion challenges, especially salary gaps?
Yeah, we have quite a few active discussions. I think Google is pretty good about promoting and giving space for people to internally run their groups and committees focused on how we’re improving our team. We do a lot of kinds of representation to the broader team about what it’s like to be from an underrepresented group and what your experience is actually like to build more advocacy and empathy across the group. The other aspect of this which is important that we focus on is not just how our team is set up and who we have in our team but who we’re actually designing for in our products and how do we make sure that the products we make are inclusive so that when people are interacting with Google products they actually can have a fair and equal experience? That is something that the tech industry is still coming to terms with at the moment. Yeah, I guess it’s just about building that advocacy sharing the stories, and then working pretty intentionally on improving our representation as well.
- There are many public and internal discussions about the barriers women face from reaching higher positions in the tech industry. How do you feel it has affected and is affecting you, and what is your advice on how to best unlock these roadblocks?
In one of my roles, I loved the team, I loved what I was doing. I had a male manager, and they left, and then we had a skip-level manager who was a man, and they were all amazing, and then I actually had a woman join. She became my manager and I don’t know if it was just one of those women who see other women as competition rather than you know take the role of the kind of lifting them up. I actually end up leaving that role pretty quickly after that and that’s something that is really sad to me there are so few spots for women.
Society has conditioned us to see each other as competition rather than giving us enough space so that we can see the benefits of having more of us in the room. Because if there’s only one chair for a woman, and we’re all fighting for it, it’s just so unfortunate. So, that was a pretty hard moment for me because I’ve actually had just amazing and supportive women in my life before that experience, and leaving was my best option at that point.
Unfortunately, I’ve mentored a lot of women, and they’ve described the environment that they’re within, and after I’ve had this realization moment with them where it’s like you cannot change that culture. What you can do unfortunately is find a culture that will be more inclusive for you, where you will have equal opportunity and the ability to progress. Unfortunately, a lot of companies are still terrible at diversity and inclusion, so women have to be super intentional about where they apply and not everyone has that privilege which is the truth that they can’t just quit and move on. That is the strongest thing that we have, women have spending power, and we have our decision-making over where we actually work.
- As the tech industry finds it hard to attract and retain women what is your best advice on strategies for how companies can work to build a stronger corporate culture that engages gender diversity?
Specifically for women it actually answers the attraction and retain question; do you have women in your leadership team? Do you actually have role modeling and women who can help other women progress up the chain? What we spoke about earlier around sponsorship is like, do you have people who will advocate and move things around and create opportunities for other women? Usually, that is women who will do that for other women, making sure that we have enough of that representation at the senior levels and that actually attracts more talent.
I’ve done a little bit of consulting for some external companies, and you know someone was saying to me like “hey we really want to hire a woman, but we’re not getting any applications so there just aren’t any”, I was like no that’s not true, and I was like here’s your web page and here are all the white men in your executive team and there are no women. So I’m sure that women are not applying because they don’t see themselves in your leadership team.
The other thing in terms of retention is we have to recognize the fact that women have grown up in a completely different environment from men they have so many different barriers to how they can succeed, so we can’t just give them exactly the same that men have. We actually have to provide a lot more to support them. We have to push them much harder to promote themselves to even apply for promotions because they’re just not naturally going to do those things. So they have to have more mentorship and sponsorship from people who will advocate for them and push them and encourage them to do those things because it’s just not the natural inclination necessarily.
- What would you say then are the few challenges and possibilities of implementing diversity, equality, and inclusion in a workplace?
You still have companies who are thinking about it, because they know it’s how they get good employees in the company. They aren’t actually thinking about it because they want their company to change and that’s like fundamentally going to fail. So honestly the way that improves is by having leadership who believes in it because you have to change so many things at so many levels in the company to make sure that you can actually attract and retain and progress people through all different levels who come from a diverse representation of backgrounds.
What I’m seeing in a lot of companies at the moment is the bottom level people believe in it and they want to improve it but if they don’t have a leadership team, and the ultimate leader who actually believes in it and who will make changes then it’s doomed to fail.
- Why and how do you think companies would benefit from having workplace gender diversity especially better gender representation at C-level?
Yeah, do you want to make more money? I mean that’s motivating, right? Do you want to build products and ship products that meet the needs of more of society? Do you want to better meet the needs of women, who I think it’s predicted to be almost 80% of the spending power within the household in the US in the next few years? If you want to do that you need to have those people representing your organization. Unfortunately, money is the motivator here so the most influential narrative I’ve seen around this is the business case that people build to say why doing this is good for the business.
- How much do you think the tech industry has changed regarding this subject since you joined?
Oh my gosh, so much! This subject was barely even talked about when I was starting. There weren’t even names for the things that I was experiencing. I just knew that it was hard to be a woman. There is a narrative around it now. There’s a much more conscious understanding of it and there’s a lot more experience in the industry to make meaningful change. We still have so far to go, but there is a very motivating amount. I think quite a serious intention to actually improve this because it’s linked to the revenue of the business. Now I think that’s so clear you have a lot of people taking it very seriously.
- Looking back on your career what one thing would you have changed in your working environment to break the bias?
To have people who which is generally cisgender white men, those who are represented in the majority to have had an easier mechanism for them to experience even just for a singular moment what it’s like to actually be excluded. in these environments. Because that empathy, will change behavior, that will change everything. I see this with allies. They’re like I want to help but because they haven’t experienced it themselves it’s so hard to actually make meaningful change.
- Looking forward what will you do as a leader to improve the bias for the next generation of women in tech?
So role models are so important. I still think we have a way to go with girls basically in school. How do we make science cool? How do we make math cool? Those are still stigmatized as male-based subjects and I think in some societies especially more privileged areas there’s been a lot of intentional work with schools to make those subjects more appealing for women and to improve their representation. Honestly, girls will look up well I only see men working in that, so why would I want to do that? I think that’s something that would really improve it as well as thinking about how we message this through all the other subliminal messaging that children receive whether it’s the writing on their clothes or the representation in their stories. These things make a massive difference. I think we’ve been focusing much later on in the journey which is like you know how do we get people at higher levels of education into tech? How do we actually make them think about tech?, when they’re kids I think that’s where we’re really going to make a big change.
**MENTAL HEALTH AND WORKPLACE BALANCE***
- I’m sure without a doubt you have a busy lifestyle, so how do you take care of yourself to maintain good mental health?
Yes, today is very different from if you’d asked me this two years ago. I have my wellness manifesto and in that, I have my values very clearly stated. I have a very clear articulation of how I want to be working and what my role should be. Then I have some kind of principles around how I live with balance.
What am I doing from a wellness perspective? I basically have articulated like work should never stop me from doing the activities that I need to do to be a happy and healthy human being. And so for me, that means three workouts a week, taking an hour lunch break, so I can actually eat a healthy meal. I have a short walk, so I can have a few days working from home where I can be more flexible. These things make such a big difference to me.
But also detaching from work around four or five o’clock in the afternoon so that I can then have the rest of the day to just live my life so that I get a good sleep. Honestly sleep is a huge thing for me and enabling this I mean this all sounds amazing, but unfortunately, a lot of people have to like to hit bottom to actually realize all of these things and when you say it, it’s just like of course eating well makes you feel good, of course, sleeping makes you feel good, but we sacrifice those things for work so much. The reality is I’m not a heart surgeon no one’s going to die if I don’t do my job right, but I might die if I do my job too hard.
- What motivates you every day to get out of bed?
My husband! I have an amazing partner, Max. He is so supportive, and we’ve built such an amazing life together, and we’re true equal partners. He just brings me so much joy. I wake up I see him in bed every day, and you know it makes me smile, and I love living my life with him.
- What is your advice on how companies can create a more mentally healthy workplace in the new now?
I think we have to talk about this. We have to accept the fact that people are so overwhelmed, and they’re burning out at a systemic rate. We need to be really conscious of the fact that this is happening and be intentional about how we allocate work, and how we understand people’s capacity. I’m rolling out an initiative I started a couple of years ago coinciding with my burnout which is a thing called, “A well-being plan”, where basically we train managers on how to facilitate a really structured and helpful conversation with all of their reports about defining what their well-being means for them and the things that they have to do to maintain that well-being. What’s stopping them from doing that today and basically setting an action plan which the manager can work with them over time to kind of improve and just make conversations about well-being regular and intentional?
**WORDS OF WISDOM***
- What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given that has helped you during setbacks in your role and career?
Career flip your internal monologue upside down. So what do I mean by that? When you are hearing that voice inside your head, which is usually so negative and mean, I was told once to instead imagine you’re talking to your friend and just notice how different you are, and how much more kind you are. That’s so powerful. So sometimes when I’m feeling a little bit kind of worried about a situation or getting stressed about something I talk to myself in the way I would talk to my friend. Basically, you feel physically how great it feels to be supported, and we can do that to ourselves which is just so powerful.
- What is the worst advice you have ever been given, and how did you tackle that?
That I don’t have any self-esteem and the best thing that I could do is listen to more Oprah Winfrey podcasts. Yeah, I heard that from a leader. What did I do to tackle this, I mean that was a long conversation all that was just the tip of what was said, was realizing that not everyone’s opinions are important and that some things that I said to you should be ignored. What women tend to do is something happens to them, and they ruminate and like overthink that thing beyond the point of learning. That is valuable, so sometimes something could happen, and you should just be like okay that happened, and you should move on.
- Is there something you wish you would have known or a skill you wish you had when starting in the tech industry?
Don’t know. I’m a real believer in the things that have happened to you have brought you where you are, so I wouldn’t go back and change anything. If I was going to go back I would probably just say to myself “this is going to be hard there are going to be challenges, this is the reality, but you have the resilience, you will rise to all of these challenges and after each challenge, you’re actually going to be better. It won’t feel that way at the moment, but strength comes through these periods of discomfort and that’s where you grow in those moments so maybe just an understanding that it would be hard, but that’s okay that’s expected.
- What advice would you give to young girls and women, wanting and trying to break into STEM fields today?
The best thing that you can do is find a place or a person or a situation where you feel like your future or like your progression is going to be well-supported. What I mean by that is there are role models of people who look like you and there are going to be people where you feel like you’ll be able to be sponsored or mentored. It will be an environment where your best intentions are going to be represented. You might not find that where you are and if you don’t then there are so many opportunities like networks that you can join or people that you can find. Like, Sheryl Sandberg started the “Lean In” circle group which was actually how my network started originally. It was just five of us women getting together and supporting each other and that was the most powerful thing that happened in the early days of my career.
- What is next for you in your role and career in tech? What are your career aspirations?
So I’m pretty new to Google Search, so I’m pretty excited about what the next few years will look like and the things that I’m working on here internally. I mean I just got promoted to director last year, so I’m pretty happy taking a break from thinking about any progression and I’m pretty happy with where I am. It’s kind of a moment for me where I’m actually prioritizing just happiness in my life above career progression and actually feel like career progression will come because I’m making sure that I’m prioritizing being healthy and being happy so that’s my main focus right now.