Women in Tech Roundtable: Innovation, Inclusion and Insights

Listen in to hear strategic career and business insights shared by some of the most talented female leaders in media, marketing, and technology today.

The author(s)
  • Janelle James SVP, Qualitative
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Missed our live webinar? Revisit the recorded roundtable discussion hosted by Ipsos’ Janelle James featuring guest panelists who take part in a candid conversation exploring changing consumer behaviors, unique ways they uncover and use insights, how being a woman impacts their work and career path, and diversity & inclusion as a source of innovation.

On October 20th, we heard from:

  • Erin Egan, Principal, Alexa Business Development at Amazon
  • Michelle Brown, VP Digital Products & Analytics at United Airlines
  • Betty Wong-Ortiz, Director of Marketing Content Strategy at Dropbox
  • Sarah Montante-Garcia, Director, New Products at Facebook

Stay tuned for our next roundtable coming up soon!

AI-generated audio transcript is offered below. Apologies in advance for inconsistencies that have been included.


Thank you for joining us for today's Ipsos’ Virtual Roundtable discussion with some of the most talented female leaders in media, marketing and technology.


Throughout today's session you will remain in listen only mode however throughout the webinar you may submit questions online using the Q and A feature. Time permitting we'll answer questions at the end of today's session However, if time run short then your question will be answered by e-mail.


Today's webinar is also being recorded and will be directly e-mailed to you.


So now without further ado it is my pleasure to introduce today's Janelle James Senior Vice President with Ipsos UU, our Qualitative Research Practice Janelle you have the floor.


Thank you so much and thank you so much panelists I am so excited to be with here with you here today to have this conversation. And so, we're here to talk to women in tech and understand what it's like being a woman in tech.


And so, in terms of introductions, I would love for each of you to introduce yourselves by telling me about something you've recently built, marketed architected, commercialized and its intended impact for your users or your consumers.


I thought that would be a great way for us to get an understanding of what you do and for you to introduce yourself.


So, Michelle, if you'd like to start, perfect. Well, first, thank you, ..., it's so great to be here to share the stage with these wonderful women in tech. That's a great question, and get started. So I'm Michelle Brown. I'm the Vice President at United Airlines. And our Digital Technology Group. I lead digital products and analytics. But something I worked on is a product called the Travel Ready Center. And so what is designed to do is make the process of knowing what you need to travel a lot easier. You know, think about all the relations with entry requirements, code requirements. And so we've used data to understand, based on the passport you hold, and where you're going to personalize to you, what you need to do before you go to the airport. And then last week, we've added functionality where you can upload those documents before you get to the airport so that you can go in with peace of mind, knowing you'll be good to go. Kind of no surprises. And so, that's an example of the type I type of work I do at United.


Love it.


Sarah, would love for you to go next.


Sure, Hi, my name is Montante-Garcia. I'm Director of New Products at Facebook And my team is primarily focused on Facebook commerce efforts. So, an example of something that we're working on building right now is live shopping.


So, think of it like any boutique owner can now do their own cuvee EC style. You know, tell you about their products. Give you special offers to buy them and do all of that on the Facebook platform, which includes both Facebook and Instagram Shopping.


It's a major part of our holiday, e-commerce push for this year, and it's been a super exciting thing to work on.


Betty, you're up next!


Hi, Thanks, Janelle. I'm Betty Wong-Ortiz. I am the Director of Marketing Content Strategy at Dropbox.


I have been a Dropbox for a little over a year but spent the majority of my career in magazines media and so I very much view a storytelling as a key part of my role at Dropbox. Something that I built there is when I first started, we launched an area of our website called experienced dropbox dot com and it's basically our content marketing surface. It's where we tell a lot of our product awareness stories. Customer stories really illustrate use cases of Dropbox. To start to bring to life, and how Dropbox can enable people to work in a more enlightened way, whether that's at home or among a distributed team. And so a lot of the content that we produce also gets translated to other platforms like e-mail social media.


Michael, last but not least, Erin.


Good morning, and good afternoon for some of you, and thank you so much for having me on this panel. Erin Egan.


I'm a principal at Amazon in the Alexa team and something recently that I worked on, Pat was leading an Amazon and Disney partnership with Alexa. So, we just announced, a few weeks ago, that, Hey, Disney, you will be coming to Alexa.


So, we're very excited at this partnership between these two large companies to really bring an enhanced experience to our customers.


Amazing, amazing my daughter will be excited about that. Ladies, what I would like to do next is kind of a fun exercise weird, depending how you think about it.


I would love for you to come up with a nickname for yourself that we can, you know use as a reference point in our conversation, but not any old nickname.


I am interested in your women in Tech nickname that helps me understand what's most important for you, or how you think about yourself as a woman in tech.


So with that, I would love to start with Sarah. What's your nickname?




So since most of my background was non tech prior to joining this sector, and I am not an engineer, my nickname is the outsider.


OK, OK, I can do that. Erin, do you wanna go next?




This is probably cheating a little bit, because I have been given this nickname at work, so I'm going to just deal from something that was already given to me, you know, I work in doing deals and leaving complex deals. And so, at work, I have been given the name, the closer.


If they need a deal done, that's complex, I usually get OK. Betty, you're up next.


This nickname stems from sort of my journalism background. And so a lot of what I'm trying to do at Dropbox is to sell people on something that is as amorphous as the cloud. And so how do you sell something that's very sort of intangible. So I really pride myself on sort of being in that.


Journalists to ask questions And so my nickname is the Eureka Eureka seeker because I'm really always trying to hone in on, like, well, what's in it for me, for the consumer? What is meaningful about this new product change? How can we really like, hang our hat on some key value prop?


And so I'm always pushing our product people to like articulate that.


Show nickname, this is hard act to follow. Anything comes from just my interest, in loving the consumer and always thinking about, how can I design and create really compelling experiences? And so my nickname is the architect, How can I architect great customer experiences using data using insight? So that's, that's who I am.


Love it, I mean you guys, it's such a great job with this. It actually made me a little bit jealous.


I know you didn't ask me for a nickname but if I had a nickname as a woman in Tech, I think I would call myself a Connector.


And I like that because I really enjoy my role of connecting people in tech executives. But I also like connecting users, people, consumers, to brands. And that's something that I think is really important as well.


In terms of really starting this conversation, I mean it's 2021. We're still in the midst of a global pandemic. Technology is shaping our lives in new and different ways daily.


And Brigitte ... is still the most viewed piece of content on Netflix. Passed by squid game, apparently, I just saw today, class.


I should have known I was in that number-one spot for so long.


Um, tell me, given everything that's happening, what's most different or unique about connecting with consumers today for you, given how long you've been in technology working overall. Give me a sense of that, Betty.


I would say, no, coming from a media background where, you know, I was in print journalism for much of my career, You know, Media control, a lot of the methods of communications.


But now, every company, brand, retail shop, they have this direct connection to their end user, customer, consumer, and so the channels of communication, marketing, our ever growing, an ever more complex. And so, you just, your full marketing stack is just so much more robust now, and so you really have to know, like, well, what belongs in e-mail, what belongs, in social, what belongs on your website, and that what you say on each of those platforms will vary, depending on the stage of the funnel that you're trying to target a consumer.


So I would say it's just gotten, you just have so many more avenues now to to reach people digitally, than ever before more avenues. Sarah, tell me what's different or unique about connecting with consumers today for you?




I think Betty really hit it, I mean, if I had to boil it down to one word, I'd say fragmentation, right?


And there's so many more channels, and then also, consumer's attention is so much more fragmented.


So, you know, it used to be that people had an attention span for potentially a 62nd commercial, right on TV. And now, I think we're trying to communicate in five second blasts, you know, on social media, where it's like, if if you're not getting your key message across in those first, like, 1, 2, NaN, and grabbing somebody's attention, you probably have lost it.


And so, I think it really has changed, you know, how we need to structure creative, and also, you know, put more of a burden on marketers to figure out, how are we really, really going to connect with this audience? And where that gets exciting, actually, is where you can identify a niche, you know, both, in terms of the audience to speak to, and the medium through which you're communicating, and really drive some meaningful engagement in, in a bite sized moment.


Michelle, any thoughts to add on this?


Yeah, my experience in connecting with consumers. Although I am in a tech role, I work in a kind of non technical company. And, so the challenge you're having is, our customers are changing. You know, the customer makes over the last 18 months.


You know, people in the air travel traveling are drastically different, and then people don't always expect to interact with us in a technical way.


And so, you know, like, the airlines, you could still go to a travel agent to buy your ticket. You know, people are coming slowly or not slowly people come to our website, but as we introduce a mobile app, as you have more technology and our airport experience, may, finding ways to connect with them. But also helping them understand how the technology can improve their experience, has been a challenge for us because the customers are, we have new customers who hadn't experienced us for a long time, are experiencing our product for a different reason. And that always expecting kind of a technical solution to whatever problem they have.


So that's been an important kind of change that we're navigating, Aaron, in terms of, you know, commercializing some of these products Or is there anything different or unique that you're seeing in the work that you do in terms of creating or designing these programs on behalf of consumers?


Yeah, well you know Amazon is famous for being a customer obsessed company.


And I think you are asking about, you know, the sort of changed world model but we're certainly seeing with Alexa is that, you know, alexa's in people's homes and people are spending a lot more time in their home. And they're engaging with Alexa and we're getting a lot of feedback Because Amazon is so focused on customers. We have a lot of mechanisms to get customer feedback. and we take it very seriously. We review it, we discuss it, and we really look to see how we can improve the product and experience based on that feedback.


And I think we're just seeing a real interest intellects that, based on this shift there was before. But I think it's also really help people's lives. We've, like, specifically seen for older people in homes that are, you know, by themselves, are in no retirement facilities. Alexa has really helped to connect them to their families at a time when it can be challenging to have that personal connection. So it's actually been really rewarding time for the elect.


No. Honestly, I hadn't even thought about that application. So that's really amazing.


I'm curious, for all of you, you know, obviously, we work at firms and companies, and we focus on what we do.


But I know just keeping track of others and what's happening in the industry.


Are there people that or brands that you feel are doing it well outside of your organization, where you're like, oh, that's interesting, that's a new product or a new initiative that has really caught my eye.


Michelle, what do you think about that?


Well, I'd say, for starters, you like, every company represented on this panel has been a source of inspiration. So kinda shout out to you for getting this all-star lineup. But outside of our esteemed group, I know we get a lot of inspiration from companies that are have found ways to enable customers to enact, interact with them digitally. And so like Peloton as an example that we get a lot of inspiration from, like, it's a bike, and you wouldn't think like, how does technology play a big role in this experience? But I see you all smiling. You know, like the way in which you track your leaderboard, the way in which they engage with notifications and communication the way you create community. We think a lot around how do you do the same thing with an airline, you know, Like, how do you help?


How can you help people understand that? You like, interacting with your app, chatting with their agents. You know, like using your, your, your mobile app throughout, your day at the airport can be just as engaging and sticky as they have been able to do with people who were riding a bike, So that's, that's a brand that I get a lot of inspiration from.


Betty, are there brands that you might get inspiration from Or your teams?


Yeah, I mean, at Dropbox, we are sort of shifting the purpose of what the cloud is. Like it's no longer just a repository for your stuff, where you just sort of store it and forget about it. But it's actually an ecosystem for you to collaborate, share, stay in sync on projects, give feedback.


It's all sort of happening in an ecosystem.


And so, I look for other brands that develop an ecosystem. Amazon's a great example. So, as Apple, one other company that you may not imagine as an ecosystem is Tesla.


You know, they have a car, it's electric car, but people mistake it as just a car company, but it's actually collecting a ton of data.


It's freeing up time, because with.


With sort of AI and being, having this system of navigating roads where you no longer have to pay as much attention to the road, you still have to pay attention. It actually frees up time. So you can be looking up a restaurant while you're in the car without like, you could be multitasking.


And they've also developed more of an ecosystem of entertainment inside the car. You can access Netflix. You can access games. You can surf the internet.


And so the power of developing more than just a single product, but more of an ecosystem, is something that I've heard.


Really intriguing about tech and kind of how you can innovate and branch out.


Definitely, Erin.


Any other brands for inspiration, You want to add to this?


Sure. I mean, I just talked at the beginning about, as recently announcing a deal with Disney, and so I had the pleasure of working very closely with Disney for awhile.


And to me, it is just a remarkable company, I mean, and, and such a long history of just creating such delightful, incredibles, surprising experiences for their guests.


And I mean, when you go to the parks, you stay in their hotels, I mean, you get the consistent experience. I mean, you can ask anybody, and they smile at you. They they want to help you and give you an answer.


It's just incredible how they've been able to create a consistent experience across so many different know products like their parks, like their resorts, like their online experiences as well. And then to see then building this he Disney.


and that the attention and craft they're incredible storytellers and I think it's an art form that they are learning how to bring into and have successfully brought into this digital online world. Which is very rare to see. It is very hard for companies to transition into that. And, I think they're doing it so elegantly and thoughtfully and effectively that for me, it was a true inspiration working with that.


Now totally makes sense and just sit.


See how they've stood the test of time in terms of inspiring lots of other brands and companies what I want to do next fill in the blank for me.


For us, blanck group is the hardest to connect with, because of Blank.


Sarah, can you fill in those two blanks for me?


For us, small business owners are the hardest to connect to because they're so strapped for time so it's an audience that's really important to us to serve.


But, you know, when we look at the long tail of small businesses, where the growth is coming from, economically in this country, and particularly black and latin X owned businesses, people are wearing, like, 7 to 10 hats trying to run their company. And so we need to be very judicious about how we ask them for their time to engage with us.


No, I love that. Such a good.


Such a good point. Bettie. How do you fill in those two blanks? For us, blank group is the hardest to connect with, because of blank.


I sort of interpreted that as in terms of like an internal dynamics of working in tech.


So, for me and my marketing content group, I would say, the engineering product and design group is probably the hardest to connect with, because you haven't been to engineers and technologists who live by their feature set.


They are just rolling out innovation, you know, at the speed of every sprint.


And so, getting them to focus on like, well, what really matters to the end user? What's the story here? What's the hook?


Sometimes it takes, you know, pulling back and looking at things from a more macro level or more trend level or trying to just even find product market fit and really knowing more about your end customer. So, sometimes it's for us it's as marketers trying to get them to think more alike.


Storytellers it is hard.


Relating to any of that.


I'm curious, I want to switch gears a little bit and talk more about. Insite.


Specifically, I'm curious, you guys work for some of the most successful companies ever, technology. Or otherwise, what's the most unique or most effective method of gathering insight's learning about your customers that you've come across, Michelle?


Well, there are. There are a few way ways that we go about this, that are really effective. We have a very active, what we call, Test and learn program, where I will launch experiments, I have a team that kind of runs this experimentation.


So, a small percentage of our customers on the united dot com, or on our mobile app, will see things live. And so, it's been a great kind of foundation for us to put new things in market. See, not only how people engage from a transactional perspective, but also understanding like just from a reliability or kind of site performance, what happens. And then another, a very effective tool is, we have a huge contact center organization. Also, frontline airport agents. And we've created a forum that we call Insights to Action, where like using a lot of Amazon, actually, where you take kind of voice to text. and in combination with my analytics team and understanding themes from conversations, and helps us understand what people are saying, in the words that they say them, that then drives how we respond. Not only with new products, but sometimes it's just copy. Because we're learning, like, the ways in which our customers think about things. How they describe it, is different than how we explain it. And so, we've made incredible progress in driving call volumes down to that partnership with our contact center.


Erin, how would you answer that one? What are some of the unique or more effective methods of learning about your customers?


Well, like I said earlier, I mean listening to customers and just customer obsession is such a foundation of Amazon. It's it's embedded in literally everything we do.


So we just have a well like train muscle of always seeking customer feedback.


Always reviewing it, analyzing it, any, any new experience feature capability is it needs to be backed up by insights from the customer, right? Is this something the customers seeking? Is this some feedback that we received? Is this something not working?


And it's just, it's so foundational that Really, we don't, I would say there's not something net new that we're doing. It's more just staying true to a principle that we have that has proven to be a very successful way for us to respond quickly and rapidly and effectively to our customers.


Hmm, hmm, hmm, I'm curious, Is there anything that you wish you could learn about your consumers or your users or your customers that you don't currently know?




Always thinking about this, particularly from the lens of small businesses, and I think the The unlock is, You know, what truly saves them time.


Know what truly would make it possible for them to get more ROI out of our platforms and tools. With the minimal amount of effort like that, to me, is, like the key research question that should be driving the innovation that we're producing for that segment.


Betti, anything you wish you knew about, your users don't right now.


It's we also target small to mid-sized businesses at Dropbox. And, you know, there's so much diversity in small businesses.


Like you could be a solo architect. It could be a retail location. It could be a design firm.


And then each of them use Dropbox in very different ways because the things that they store in it will be just as unique.


And so for us really understanding people's workflows and that is just like the most unsexy topic, unsexy where like, nobody wants to talk about workflow. They just want it to work. They just want a system in place for you to share stuff, collaborate, move things forward. Nobody wants to break it down and actually chronicle it. But you kinda need to do it in order to develop the product that we're developing, and then also market to them to help them understand the use case better. So I definitely would be, you know, digging into workflow pain points.


Go to what I'd want to know.


Anything you want to know Michelle's that you haven't been able to find out so far from listening in on?


I mean, I think they're out.


Like, you learn, I think that the, the blessing and the curse of data and get insights is all the information you have. every time you get more information. It just leads to more questions. And so, I say, I'm lucky that I've been fortunate spot that we have. We have a tremendous amount of, kind of voice of the customer, even our own employees, and how they engage with technology. And so, I'm really informed, but every time you solve one problem you learned, that's something else exists. So, I don't, it's hard to pinpoint in one specific area. But it's also, I guess, a fun part of the job, and that you continue to get to answer more questions.


Makes sense. I know some of you, or many of you partner with insights, partners, or agency partners, or other groups inside your organization, and, I'm curious, is there something that you wish that sort of this intermediary, or this partner would do for you from an insights perspective that they're not doing now?


Betty, you want to tackle that one?


Yeah, I think we have a pretty robust customer insights group.


They do a lot of user testing, a lot of focus groups, to really inform product development.


And so, they'll go to existing users of Dropbox.


I think sometimes you get more compelling insights when you go after the people who were not satisfied with your product that the people who you didn't retain, that expires the, totally. Net, new people who maybe are using your competitor.


And, so, yeah, those people are harder to find, They're more expensive.


And it's defined, but you can, It yields a lot more interesting insights to understand the whys behind their decisions, versus just confirming that, like, what you're already doing is satisfied your cuts.


You want to know what's the whitespace of what we could be doing.


How we could be changing, and so that would be my challenge to like, insights groups, is to make make sure that the mix is diversified enough. So that it's not just your existing install base, but you're going after people outside.


I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about being a woman in tech.


And the first question I have for you is, what, if anything, makes working technology different or even difficult as a woman?






Um, I think something that makes it a bit different, prior to being in tech, I was actually in the aerospace industry, though, working with aircraft.


And I think that tech industry moves very quickly. It's iterating fast. So, I think there's lots of opportunities that present themselves, because you're building something, and then you move on to the next stage.


Versus some other industries that have much longer, no timelines.


I would say, what makes it challenging in some respect is they're very strong and understandable focused on, I would say, engineering and product.


You know, those are two very key groups within it, in tech companies, and the, the voice of other parts of the business, having equal weight, and, you know, being able to hear that perspective as well.


I don't always see there's a clear balance there.


And I think that can be, can be challenging. And from a female perspective, you know, you, there are like amazing women, engineers, and women product leaders, but I would say there aren't that many of that, right? Women tend to be in other parts of the business. And, so, in that respect, I think it can be challenging. Also, I'm in business development doing deals in negotiation, traditionally, there are very few women doing those roles, and, you know, when you're, you know, one of the only women doing a role, and it is challenging in its own way for various reasons.


Sarah, what would you say has been different or difficult as a woman in technology?


Yeah, I think Aaron really hit it on the head.


You know, my background, prior to being in tech. I was in CPG where, you know, as a brand manager and an owner of a P&L, I was considered kind of the hub of the wheel. Right? And in tech engineering, is that hub.


And if you're in a business function, you know, you're removed from it, Engineering and product are extremely male dominated, and, and there's less of an emphasis on cross functional collaboration.


So I wholeheartedly agree with what Aaron was pointing out about business functions, not necessarily having a seat at the table.


Um, you know, and that can be challenging if you're coming from a holistic perspective of how do we make this business work, as opposed to just, as Betty was saying, you know, I'm nearing the end of my sprint. I want to ship, I wanna, I wanna get this code out there, I wanna get this product live. Right. There's the incentive alignment is also very different in tech that I've experienced. In other industries where there's, there's a more holistic incentive alignment, I think.


And, you know, there were, there were two different incentives for different groups that came thing can create some, some friction. But on the flip side of that, I would say that, you know, I do find that there's more camaraderie among the women. Because there are fewer of us if we all find ourselves in business functions.


And we need to collectively influence product or end that, You know, when we're able to form those alliances effectively, it can be really fun and really effective of our bettie.


What would you say has been different or difficult as a woman in tech?


I wholeheartedly agree with everything Aaron and Sarah just said, you know, when you're in a sort of engineering product centric org, it can be all the more challenging to kind of make sure you get a seat at the table.


And that makes sure that you have, say, in sort of driving toward your company, strategy, towards your company, objective.


I think, as a woman in tech, the speed of innovation is so fast. Like everything operates in 10 day sprints. So, you have to just be really agile. And I think, I kinda grew up as a perfectionist. Like Jenna and I went to the same, All girls school, and we did not turn anything in until it was perfect. And, so, you kind of have to just let go of that quest for perfection, that it's actually the process of iterating the process of test and learn.


Like Michelle was saying, is all the more valuable than, um, getting it perfect. And, so, as a woman, that's something that I've had to just, I think, embrace it as a different leadership style than I'm used to from some of my previous roles.


Makes sense. Michelle, what's been different difficult for you as a woman in a technology role?


The non technical company?


Yeah. As, as I was reflecting on this, I'm like, what's been most different is, I've actually felt very supported as a woman in tech. On our senior leadership team, and there are six of us were, 50, 50, The woman who runs, the person who runs, our group is a woman.


And So, you know, like, I almost forget, well, you don't forget that, you're in a male dominated industry, and certainly tech is, like, Usually, predominantly men, But in the group that we're in, you know, like, I do feel really supported in that. There are women who have big seat at the table, and that shows in, like, our rule, how we approach just succession planning and opportunities and think about collaboration.


What I'd say is a challenge. So although I do feel very supported on the technical team, I lead product and analytics on the lease technical of all the techies which can sometimes be challenging to navigate. You know, I don't have, I have an MBA. I've worked in marketing, a lot of people are engineers studied computer science, and so, I know enough about their area to be dangerous. I certainly have perspective on the business, which is value added. But figuring out, like, how, how my voice shows up, how to communicate in a way with people who are like on a very different kind of technical spectrum than me. Has been, I've had felt very supported in the process, but, that has been different. Kind of being, you know, kind of using Sarah's name as the outsider in a technical group, because then I am the least technical one of all the people that I work with.


How he's working from home, impacted, your role, your responsibilities, your way of working, For better or for worse.




No, I'm surprised to see that.


It's, it's, the impact has been minimal, I feel my team is highly geographically distributed. We have five locations in the US, two outside the US.


And so, the amount of co-location that I had prior to work from home was, was maybe 15% of my team and none of my cross functional partners. And so, you know, very used to working across video conference. What I have personally found is that as somebody who's kind of right on the cusp of introversion and extraversion, it's actually been a benefit to me not to be in an open plan office. And do, you know, when I log off the video conference, I truly am by myself, and I can count on those? Pockets of time to do more deep thinking work, which, I think, you know, we talk about that a lot. is that, you know, the pace of the innovation, the emphasis on collaboration.


All of that tends to lead to a strong meeting culture. And those meetings can very quickly eat up any time in your calendar for deep thinking. So I actually had found that it's made me more productive and given me that space to be more thoughtful as a leader.


Aaron, can you tell me about working from home and how that's impacted your experience?


Sure. Yeah, like Sarah, you know, our teams are pretty disbursed as well. And, you know, at Amazon, we do a lot of videoconferencing.


What I would say I find, have found interesting is, you know, the notion of being on a screen and everybody having their own block, it really equalized things in a way that I didn't expect.


So, everybody sort of has an equal position in the meeting if you will, irrespective of their title, their level. The group that they, they are part of an as an example. You know, I shared that I do a lot of deals, and I'm usually doing them for the most senior people at our company, and so I'm usually the most junior person in the room, and that means I sit in the back office. There aren't enough.


People know, and they're always saying, you know, as a woman, you need to sit at the table.


But when there aren't enough chairs and you're the most junior person, the unsaid rule is you sit in the back And in these meetings I'm not sitting in the back. There's no back to sit in.


And I think that that has really giving people more of a voice. My myself, in particular, as the deal lead, you know, I am able to sort of have a virtual equal a table, which I've seen that for other people as well.


The other thing that's very interesting is, I always noticed this in terms of diversity, right, in the room. What is the diversity? Like?


But I'm not sure if other people did, When you're looking at all the equal squares.


I mean, it's just right in your face, right? Like you can really see it directly. If there is diversity, or if there is not diversity.


And I think that's been a very effective reflective tool for our leadership and senior executives to see, and for everyone to see.


So, I've found it to be actually net, very positive in those way.


Speaking of diversity, I came across a, it's, I'm going to paraphrase it a little bit of a quote, but it said, Tech, you know, tech businesses, technology, in general, gets a lot of diverse perspectives. And so, it can be very diverse.


The challenge, however, is they don't often or always listen, took these diverse perspectives.


And that really struck me because it sounded like, wow, very good at diversity, very bad at inclusion.


That was like my initial takeaway. And so, I'm curious, what are your thoughts on that statement?


What are your thoughts on inclusion in technology and sort of the state of inclusion in technology?




Now, this is something I have been thinking a lot about.


I, I think that can be true. Right.


And I think the way to, the way to overcome that is to, to build inclusion into the business, actually wrote a white paper with that title recently. Because I firmly believe that if if DEI is a side hustle, or siloed, or it's only the job of the people who are already underrepresented, we're not going to move the needle. And, there was a proposal I always bringing forward, you know, a year or so ago to a very senior leader at Facebook. And, you know, his comment was, the moral argument always fails.


Ultimately, you have to make a business argument, and the truth is that the business cases there, right? Like, when you look at the demographics of this country, when you look at, you know, the spending power of different consumer cohorts, when you look at who is starting small businesses, so pre cobin, black women were far and away.


The largest cohort of people, founding small businesses, Right, And so, you know, if you think of, kind of like, we're in the business of helping businesses grow, right, So, clearly, we need to be in the business of serving these entrepreneurs, and so the business case is there.


You know, my, my kinda focus is anchored in the business case.


And then I think we have to be be willing to kind of like what Betty was saying, like, look beyond that homogenous, established group of existing users and, you know, go out towards where the growth is. And there's a theory of change. I really love called design for the margins. It's from this professor at MIT named Cesar McDowell.


He's in the Urban Studies department, and he's a professor of civic design.


And what he talks about is the fact that you need to go to the edge, where we're systems are failing people, and that's where you look for the problem statements that you're gonna solve, work to drive innovation, right? And that's where you're gonna find something that's that's spiky and interesting as opposed to being in the mushy middle of what everybody is already doing. That's where you're going to be able to differentiate. That's where you're gonna be able to actually innovate and so those are some of the things that I'm focused on.


I love that.


Betty, I'm curious, what would you, what do you think about that statement?


And what do you think about the state of inclusion in technology?


No, I think it boils down to hiring practices, for sure, you know, we as leaders have it as a At Dropbox.


It is part of our assessments as leaders like how much we are bringing in diverse talent, how much we are nurturing the talent among our team.


And so I kinda take that very seriously when I go to fill roles that we have real, concerted efforts to diversify the candidate pool.


And then, when we go into, so that their reviews, where we're evaluating our favorite candidate, we are very conscious of, like, what are might be internal biases that we have, like, Oh, they went to the same school that we did, or, Oh, they worked at my last company, kind of thing, And to try to break out of that, Does that alone mean that they're the most qualified to do the job? Or is there something else that could make them, just as qualified? So we really try to be cognizant of that in our, in our hiring practices.




Know I and I think that because technology is so big, you know, when you have workforces of 10000 at Amazon and we have a workforce of 3000 at Dropbox, they, I guess, can afford to look outside their circles a little. Their Inner Circle's a little bit more and so, you know, we're representative of that and that we didn't technically grow up in. Technology didn't kind of work at all tech companies and then landed our current tech company.


We kind of all came from different places and said that, I think it's great that they are open to hiring people from outside the tech industry.


But then once you're in it, it's like your responsibility to bring that outside perspective to, like, make sure that that's heard To, to drive, Let's say, business decision making. Because you came from a non tech background.


And so, I think, you know, having fighting for that voice, and carving out that space for yourself, when, when it comes to sort of, strategy decisions, business decisions within a tech company, it's instantly important.


I found what you said about being conscious of internal biases when hiring so interesting, because I recently conducted some research topically on diversity, equity, and inclusion. And one of the questions I had asked, and, you know, one of the questions I asked was a fill in the blank.


I'm a real fan of fill in the blanks, but it was like, you know, what is the most prevalent criteria in your hiring? You know, the fill in the blank question like that.


And it was so surprising, because the vast majority of responses, like three fourths of them were all code words for similarity, cultural fit, background, experience.


And most organizations are not doing the work that you just mentioned of being conscious of what those internal biases are. Unconscious biases are. They're like, Oh, we worked at the same company. Cool. Let's get them in there. I know they can do the job. But unfortunately, that excludes a lot of people because you guys didn't work for me. So I love that. That's something that you're actively doing in terms of thinking about, building your teams.


Michelle, I'm curious, what do you think about, you know, sort of that original statement about tech being in diverse, but not necessarily inclusive, and I'm curious what you have to say, because you mentioned feeling so supported generally in your role, and in your experience.


I agree that you need to be really intentional about how you build kind of inclusivity into your business practices, you know, like when Sarah was speaking. That you never win with the moral argument. It's always the business case, Like, I, I so agree, but I hate that, that is true, because that's always where I go. I'm like, this is just the right thing to do, But the business case that has worked for us is, like, we've been really intentional about kind of creating very diverse teams, and holding them accountable for outcomes. That requires then, we call the mission based teams, But it will have, you know, a product person A developer. Sometimes, a data scientist, you just people who don't always work together, but they have a mission around, like whatever it is we need to solve for the customer.


And one example of that, that then led to You know, we have a slogan actually in our technology department, where we say inclusion, propels innovation because we want an award for the mobile app. And on one of those kind of mission based teams that I described, there's a person who's visually impaired.


And pushing us to the margins was saying, if you're going to have an app, you need to design it for people who are visually impaired, but we learned making it better for people who are visually impaired, made it better for everybody. It's easier to navigate when you're in a time constraint. You know, it gives the accessibility went through the roof, And we want, You know, we're excited that we won this reward award. But when you start to reflect on it, it's like, Yeah, this is inclusiveness at work, you know like this. This was getting people together who don't always interact. This was giving them really hard problems to solve, unleashing them to, like, do what's right. And that inclusiveness created Fantastic kind of outcomes. And so now, it's almost like a rallying cry, or like in an inclusive inclusion, propels innovation, where an Airline so that's propels. I really believe it, and I think our teams get excited about it. And once they see it working, you know, I get, you realize what you have in common, unless you focus lesson what's different.


But, you have to be kind of intentional about it because otherwise, you just get in the breadth of doing things, is the way what we've been doing them for a long time.


I'm a big fan of Scott Page. He's a, he's a professor from University of Michigan, actually. And, he talks quite a bit about diversity and the economic argument behind it, because diverse teams always perform better, and it being sort of a route to excellence, and it's something that. And he's like, It's funny, because when I cross the campus, and I talk to my colleagues, who are, you know, in the psychology department at the sociology department, they always lean on the moral argument. And he's like, that's well and good. But it's actually, better for you. And it's OK to lead with, you know, with, with, with, with this economic argument as well. I'm absolutely loving this conversation. I'm curious, I often talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion as software, and how we should be operating. And then, when I heard Sarah say, you don't build inclusion into the business.


If, I feel like there's so much synergy there, I'm curious, how, how are you guys thinking about, or how are your organizations thinking about, um, operating on inclusion? I mean, obviously, you know, inclusion, propels innovation really puts it at the center of innovation practices, but I'm curious anyone else.


Erin, any thoughts on um, inclusion, innovation, inclusion and operations?


Yes? I just, I have to say, I love this conversation. I'm learning so much from Betty, Sarah. I myself.


I'm like taking notes as they're, like, tagging your writing down, like the, other than and, you know, what, I would say Like, so at Amazon, we actually, our team has a very purposeful like DEI effort.


When we talk about our teams, we actually read a bias article like a few paragraphs the head of talking about, you, know, like reviewing themes. Just to remind us that these biases exist and you know to to make sure that we're sort of Recalibrating and making sure we're we're being as as fair and equitable as possible.


What I loved about what Michelle said is that Sarah is that, you know, her team was diverse and inclusive, and then you got the data. So, you know, to Sarah's point, the moral argument doesn't work. But you need, you need companies in teams, like stepping forward and creating that inclusion and diversity, like Michelle's team, to then have the data to prove, like what Sarah was saying, that it does win, and that is what we need to focus on.


And an example here, and writing my, talking about this deal. I just didn't think it's because it's like top of mind for me.


But what blew my mind away was the majority of the deal whirlwind.


And, I have literally, in my entire career, never experience that I am the only woman on my side and the other side, like always. And, I felt like a distinct difference.


Having nearly an entirely female DLT, my peer was doing a parallel deal. And the way she and I work together was so different and we have a senior female leader who is very focused on bringing in diversity. And it showed up in doing this deal because she was involved, people on her team, were involved.


And, it is the most diverse deal team I've ever worked with, and I believe that it led to an outcome that was better for everyone.


And I think you need people to step forward and take those risks and build those diverse teams, to have the data to prove that it does create, like what Michelle said, which are much better outcomes, the ci's experiencing.


one, another quick thing I just wanted to talk about in terms of diversity, something that I think is still missing for diverse talent and that company really need to focus on.


We talk a lot about mentorship. Very important, people are, I think, generally, people have mentorship in their heads.


A lot of people will personally reach out to mentors, people, they work with it, inspire them.


But what I don't think we talk enough about, and this gets to your point Janelle about inclusion and taking in these different perspective, our sponsors, diverse talent. in large company, We need sponsors.


We need people that are working with us, tracking our career, helping us to navigate advocating for us when we're not in the room. Because very often, we're not.


And helping to grow, then, the path and careers and influence of the diverse talent.


And, I think, my experience, diverse talent, is very underserved in, in sponsors, and I think it shows up.


No, totally, totally, totally, totally something, that is very true.


one of the things I'm curious about, just given how the conversation has unfolded, I was reading this mckinzie Women in the Workplace report recently.


And one of the things it talks about is how few organizations actually measure their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.


And I found that so fascinating, because even as I talk to people on a very regular basis, on this subject, a lot of companies are making commitments. and having conversations.


But when it comes to measurement, oftentimes that doesn't. Because I'm just going to read a quote that I took from that McKinsey report, while 87% of companies say it's critical for managers to support employee well-being, only 25% of them formally recognize this work. Perhaps this is the result of DEI work so often being relegated to the quote unquote new office housework.


The kind of work that contributes to business, but isn't formally recognized in performance reviews nor leads to advancement or compensation.


That also came to mind because being a sponsor isn't necessarily someone's job either, right.


So give me a sense for like either how you get sponsorship or how you get people to, um, advance this work or make sure they include it in the business or make sure they use, you know, inclusion to propel innovation or even, how you get people to talk more about measurement in this space. Any, any thoughts on that, Betty?


Yeah, I mean, I'm a big proponent of like you can't change what you don't measure. So you end up like operating on the sidelines, or sort of in a vacuum. So it sort of has to be baked into your standard, like operating procedures.


So, you know, like I mentioned, it is, uh, diversity and inclusion is part of our recruiting process.


It's part of the vetting that we do when we discuss candidates, sort of talent management and part of talent management as a leader, and nurturing the diversity of our teams.


Um, is a part of my own performance review and part of every leader's performance. Are you at Dropbox?


So, yeah, If you can sort of build it into, what is already inherent in the business, it becomes an easier case. Like, just like what they're saying, it's like, you have to make it about the business. And, we have been able to show that, you know, like a more diverse team develops better products, better product leads to better revenue. And so, you kind of just need to connect those dots for people to get the, get the buy in.


So, it's not just, Yeah, you're doing this because it's the right thing to do, but you're doing this because it's a solid business decision. I'm realizing it's literally 159, so I want to ask everyone, one more piece of input, You know, As a woman in Tech, I'm sure you've had challenging situations. But I'm also sure, you have advice that you can give other women and other people who may not necessarily be, you know, at the center of, of things.


What's the one piece of advice that you would give a woman, or, or, or someone else? Sarah, from your experience?


Cultivate allies.


I think that men naturally do this, and they're not afraid of a quid pro quo.


It's taken me way way way too long to learn how to form Powerful partnerships with other people and I've started with women right because You know we need each other right? And so we'll be an ally.


Don't be afraid to ask for ally. ship from other folks. You know in an active form right like I need your feedback for my performance review here are some of the things I'm trying to demonstrate and not an disingenuous way, right? But like, you know starting that early to be like, hey, give me feedback on. This helped me know if I'm actually delivering on the thing that I want to prove out, and then, if I do, you, know, provide that feedback for me, as an example. So, yeah, That's my big one. Cultivate allies. Which a piece of advice? Aaron?


Wow. I think my biggest piece of advice is to just go for it. Be bold. And trying things, don't be afraid to change. Move around. Do different things.


Be loud and bold and confident.


Michelle, what's your one piece of advice?


Similar theme, be courageous. I think all of us have a really important voice and find a way to use it. Doesn't mean you have to talk the most of the meeting, but I'd say, like, Don't stand down. You know, like, you know what you want. Go after it. Take the risks, like, just have courage in all the spaces where you are and how you show up.


And Betty, what's your one piece of advice?


Know, I think that's a woman you. You sort of had this inclination to be liked. And sometimes that doesn't necessarily get you ahead just being the most popular person in the room. So know that when you manage your personal brand, you're managing it up. It's more important. What your leaders think of you than necessarily your teammates are your peers. And so that is something I learned late in life.


It's, oh, I need to really be knowing who my primary audience is. And my primary audience are my bosses more and more than anything.


It's if you make them happy, good things to come your way. You guys were awesome. We actually got a few questions in the chat that I tried to have an answer to that advice. Question was one of the questions in the chat. Something else that came up in the chat, someone actually asked for Sarah's white papers. So I'm going to try and wrangle that from this area. And so we'll follow up with that ladies. Thank you so much for your time. This conversation is probably the highlight of my day. Probably the highlight of my week, so I appreciate you're making the time for this important conversation, and just sharing all of your valuable perspective.


Alan, back to you. Thank you so much.


Wow. I just really want to thank Joe now, and Betty Aaron, Michelle, and Sarah, for today's really great discussion.


And thank you, everyone, for joining us. You will receive an e-mail with a direct link to today's recorded presentation.


And, of course, at any time we welcome the opportunity to speak with you. So please feel free to reach out.


That now concludes today's Ipsos webinar.


Have a wonderful day everyone.

The author(s)
  • Janelle James SVP, Qualitative

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