Q: What are some of the major changes that you’ve seen in engineering roles, and have these changes impacted your ability to recruit and retain talent?
A: “The field has changed over time. Before the dot-com era, engineering was focused on solving one big problem using the most highly-educated minds to make a quick buck. After that, the need to save money and optimize performance drove us to team outsourcing. And while team outsourcing might solve for cost, you don’t end up generating a cross-functional team that’s geared up to achieve great things. Now I think we’ve arrived at a place where we try to best integrate whole people, build a dynamic culture, and really achieve great things. We can – and should – work with anybody from anywhere. That’s something we have to acknowledge: virtual is the way of the future, and it changes how we structure our work, how we interact and align, and how we connect as humans.
These days, in Silicon Valley especially, there are more technical and engineering jobs available than there are people to fill them. This means companies not only need to provide the most challenging problem to solve, but recognize people’s journeys: their personal and professional lives, where they want to go, what makes them a whole person, and how we might support them in a way that’s going to enable them to do great work. With these shifts has come the recognition that psychological safety and diversity matter in generating high-functioning teams, and that building a diverse workforce will ultimately attract new, diverse talent.”
Q: Why does diversity and inclusion matter in STEM teams?
A: “Think about it mathematically: if you have an all-male team, by definition you’ve excluded half the brainpower on the planet. Instead, you want the best possible minds trying to solve your problems.
But even when diversity and inclusion are accounted for, an outsider status can occur. If you’re the only woman on a team of men, there’s a part of you that’s always wondering, ‘What are they really thinking about me? How do I need to be presenting myself? Do I need to work twice as hard just to be heard?’ And if you’ve got that fear and uncertainty playing in the back of your mind, you’re not able to give 100% to the problem at hand.”
Q: How do you think the gap between men and women in STEM has changed over the years?
A: “There’s a lot more awareness about it now. I think back to earlier in my career when I was one of the only women in my graduating class, and the first decade in my career when I was the only woman in the room, or one of just a handful – compared to the last two companies I’ve worked at, where women have been at 30% representation in engineering.
We need to recognize the importance of promoting women into those positions in order to start creating a culture of inclusion and psychological safety. Some may call it affirmative action, but you can’t change the culture until you seed it in some fashion. You have to bring women up, through school and into the career. Give them opportunities. Help them find their voices. Put them into those positions. Take the risks. Encourage them. Grow them.
I’ve had a leader that made all the difference in my career. He believed in me, sponsored me, fought for me, pulled me up and put me into rooms where I never would’ve made it into otherwise, helped build my confidence and my courage, and had my back when I couldn’t defend myself. We need those male allies to help pull this off.”