The Need for Role Model Ladders

Nicole Bryan

Recorded at GOTO 2018

okay well I'm super excited to be here
today to talk about the need for role
model ladders and I forgot my clicker
and it's just to tell everybody to ask
questions and read the session but I
actually really want to start by
be here talking about this topic because
usually I'm standing up on stage talking
about how to how do manage large-scale
complex integrations between large scale
organizations and highly technical
things and I'm super passionate about
that I truly am super passionate about
deep in my heart what I'm more
passionate about is helping women in
technology and it's really simple as to
why I'm so passionate about that the
reason why is very simply put 50% of the
population of the world is female that's
just a statement of fact slightly off
but close enough and everyone knows that
technology is really what's driving the
world economy so isn't it completely
obvious to everyone that if we don't
have 50 percent of the world's
population participating in the thing
that is driving the world economy are we
going to get the best outcomes are we
not so that's why I'm so passionate
about this topic I'm very excited to get
to talk about it just quick a little bit
about myself I've been in technology for
way too long I'm not gonna give you the
number it's a big number
but I started out as a programmer then
was an engineering manager moved over to
product and now I run product
development for a software company based
in Vancouver called tasks top
technologies I am located in Austin
Texas that's our American headquarters
and so yes y'all will have to suffer
through my y'alls throughout the talk if
anyone wants to learn how to say y'all
properly afterwards I can
try and accommodate there is there are
some specific things that you say and
don't say with regards to y'all that's a
little bit about me so with that let's
get going on role model ladders so if
you see a ladder like that what does it
make you think pretty clearly you can
tell how you're going to get to the top
you're going to climb up the rungs and
obvious but what if you see a ladder
like this sadly this one is also
somewhat obvious you're not going to get
very high what's most interesting is
actually a ladder that looks like that
and then that one you kind of can see
you're like oh I want to get up I
there's something up at the top and I
want to get there but how do i how do I
do that and so this is the concept of
role model ladders the importance of
having women at every rung in the
organization in order to make sure that
that fifty percent of the world's
population is actually participating in
technology so oh I was gonna start the
talk I'll tell a quick story and last
night my brother my brother texted me
and said hey how's it goin I said good
my talks tomorrow in in Copenhagen he
said awesome what's it about I said it's
about women in tech and he said well I
don't really care who builds my tech as
long as the tech works and I responded
and said your tech will work better if
there's more diversity and who's
building your tech so oh I feel super
validated cuz Linda last night at the
keynote said that it's really good to
tell stories this entire talk is all
storytelling so you're gonna hear lots
of stories throughout the course of this
the first one being so my husband has a
friend and he you know certainly thought
that he was imparting his infinite
wisdom on his teenaged son and I don't
know what the topic was but it was like
oh my goodness he felt that he was
absolutely imparting incredible wisdom
to which the teenage son looked back to
him after he had completed his wise
words and said
duh Captain Obvious and some of me
thinks that this concept of role model
ladders is a little bit like that like
how many of you in the audience when I
said role model ladders and explained it
kind of like well yeah you need to have
that um yeah so Doug Captain Obvious but
I implore you to go with me for a moment
because there's actually some deeper
aspects to this that people really need
to understand and know in order to be
able to create role model ladders and
really understand the importance of them
and so what I'm gonna do is I have a few
videos in here hopefully they'll work
one thing that made me realize that
maybe it wasn't as obvious as it seems
this is Karen she's global head of
client services for a recruiting company
and this is what she said when she read
I wrote a blog about role model ladders
a couple years ago this is what she said
when she thought someday a role model
ladder is such a revolutionary but
simple idea and I've actually sent it to
my team today and we'll review next week
when I'm back I'm in Dublin right now at
a Leadership Conference and I'm actually
going to send this to my CEO as well
because it's really really true that we
need to reach back and guide each other
along so that kind of made me feel
better that while it is obvious if a
global head of client services at a
recruiting company sees value and
talking about this topic there must be a
bit more a bit more to it someday so why
is having a rung at every level
so important so there's the old old
adage of seeing is believing
role models have to see me noble and as
I thought more about this when I
originally gave this talk it really I
just had this seeing is believing
you have to be able to look up and see
something within scope and age that is
close enough to you that you can feel
like it's attainable but what I really
realize is it's not seeing is believing
it's being with is believing you have to
be with people to create these
and you have to the importance of making
sure that you can actually truly
concretely and practically see yourself
in that next level is what's absolutely
it what's absolutely critical and so as
I've talked to more people about this
notion this word keeps coming up
attainability attainability which by
definition means the possibility to
achieve it has to feel possible for you
to achieve it so when I talk a little
bit more about the distinction between
heroes and direct role models so heroes
are great right Angela Merkel Theresa
May Michelle Obama Sheryl Sandberg they
absolutely inspire me but do I know any
of them do I know if I'm like them in
any way is there any chance that I'm
going to be the Chancellor of Germany or
the CEO of Facebook absolutely not
absolutely not and that's the difference
between a hero and a direct role model a
direct role model is personal concrete
and realistic and it's those connections
that actually will inspire more women
and it's not just women more diversity
to come into the world the world of
technology so another thing about heroes
heroes you tend to perceive what they
are and that's what inspires you about
them is what you perceive them to be
oftentimes if you actually meet your
heroes turns out I have a huge hero is
he's a baseball player and then I met
him and I was like never mind we'll move
on we'll move on from that versus a
direct role model where you're actually
seeing who they actually are as a person
so I'm gonna tell a story and I promise
that I'm not going to cry which I have
done before when telling the story but
this is why a perfect example of why
role model ladders are so important so
that's my daughter on the left she was
10 years old at the time and she came
home from school and she told me that
her school project they said you had to
write an essay about your biggest role
model she didn't ask me anything else
she went off and did whatever came back
and this is what she brought home it's
too hard to read but the essay is all
about Maura
here on the right side now who is Maura
Maura was an intern at a stop and where
I work when she was about 20 and maari's
to come over to my house for dinner and
would talk about work and she would
engage with daily and should braid her
hair and talk about what she was
learning at work and then Bayley would
hear me talk about how amazing Maura was
and how talented she was at work but
hold on a second I talked about talented
people that I work with all the time
right I work with tons of talented
why did Bailey choose Maura well it's
really simple because it felt attainable
she felt a personal connection she felt
like she could see herself in Maura so
let's keep going with that Maura has
worked with me now upwards of six years
she sees someone and tasked up as a
small company so she sees what it's like
to be a VP of Product she it feels
attainable to her and I in turn can our
chief science officer Gail I can look up
to her she and I have become very close
friends over the years and that right
there is a role model ladder so as as
terrific as that is all stories have to
have some bit of a hurdle to overcome
I'll tell you the most the the new
hurdle that that role model ladder was
created in the last four six years but
that was actually two years ago and now
I have a new worry task top has actually
grown quite a bit and what I what I've
been hearing is that we have new young
women that are coming in to task top and
they don't I don't even know them I
haven't even met some of them and if you
don't have that personal connection then
that you're missing rungs in your ladder
because without that personal connection
it I just look like this distant person
sitting you know in an office saying go
do this right so that's my kind of might
so hopefully have I convinced y'all of
the importance of role model ladders
hopefully everyone would say yes I've
convinced you but the next thing is how
do you do it so the rest of the talk is
really about how you can create role
letters so the first thing and it may
again seem like duh Captain Obvious but
the first thing is you have to talk
about it you cannot ignore you cannot
ignore what is happening and the way I
like to think of that is the following
how many of you all have kids okay how
many of y'all want to talk to your kids
about sex right okay it's okay will you
come talk to my kids about because I
don't want to but you have to it's
important and you have to and that's
that's what it is like in for women in
tech and I'll be super honest I'm
actually quite bummed that I'm not
seeing hardly any men in this audience
like there's lots of the women that came
we need more men and the men that came
it's fabulous thrilled to have you we
need more men talking about it that's a
really important piece to this in fact
one thing that that I will give
particularly to the men to take away
with them is that not only should you
talk about the elephant in the room but
role model ladders gives you something
concrete to go with rather than saying
oh we need more diversity in the
workplace go in and say okay where's the
role model ladder here
I see missing rungs when you're in a
room that has only only men in it
identify it bring it up it's hard to do
but it can be done and absolutely it
helps my husband has become the largest
voice and his company about the
importance of role model ladders and his
voice counts quite a bit now okay so
that's the first thing
talk about it seems seems kind of
obvious but it's super important the
second one is somewhat related conscious
focus so conscious focus again it's
related to talking about it but it's a
bit deeper than that it's making sure
that in the back of your minds and in
the front of your minds you're
recognizing and doing something about it
so I'll give you an example so we
obviously do a lot of recruiting and we
were going to recruiting like a career
fair at University of British Columbia
and sent out the email to say we need
three people to sign up to go be at the
career fair done three people signed up
we're off to the races
luckily one of my colleagues and HR
happened to look at the list of people
that had signed up it was all men she's
responded back said I think we should
probably have at least one woman that
would help make it it seemed like a more
engaging environment for women to
potentially become interested to work at
our company so conscious focus so the
next one I debate between if the next
one or the one after that is the most
important one but get local so this one
I find very important because it is
really hard to change the world and but
it's actually possible to take baby
steps and do concrete things locally so
where I live in in Texas we have
University of Texas it's huge kind of
very popular University I sent out I had
an opening sent out to the University of
Texas for people to apply I got all male
respondents I happened to be at a happy
hour and met a professor at a smaller
university nearby at Texas State and I
said to her I said listen I'm hiring for
a terrific role do you have it could you
do you know any students in your classes
that are women that might be a good fit
and it might want to apply could you
encourage them to apply and guess what
happened she did and the woman that
applied is Mara the woman that became my
daughter's biggest role model so it is
in fact about getting local and actually
another quick story about this Greg the
my colleague who actually asked me to
come and talk about this he and I were
chatting the other day about the fact
that they he's part of working with an
organization women rocked it helps
recruit and they're specializing just in
Bristol England not trying to change the
world but to try and help women in a
specific location and I think that is
really of paramount importance to make
sure that you get that you that you get
local I do want to take a quick step
back because it is absolutely important
we need to have large scale impact the
tasks top isn't big enough to have
large-scale impact
what's big enough is enough if every
single one of you go back to your
organization and you start working on
role model ladders that in fact is what
will have the impact and I'm going to
play a short it's not a video it's a
podcast from Malcolm Gladwell who is
super inspirational and he talks about
the podcast itself had nothing to do
with women in tech but he talked about
the importance of sheer numbers and
volume so I'm gonna play this hopefully
I had been given at the opportunity
through a company that I was consulting
to to interview the first women entering
their Salesforce that's Rosa Beth Kanter
she's a professor at the Harvard
Business School talking about a research
project she did back in the 1970s it was
for a big industrial firm headquartered
at the time in New York City they had a
sales force of three hundred people all
men and they just hired 20 women and so
here was a batch of people who all had
advanced degrees and were very
technically talented and yet they were
walking into technical sales in a place
that had never seen people like them
before the women were struggling that's
why the company brought in Cantor to
diagnose the problem she showed up with
her notebook and began talking with the
new hires and after many interviews
Cantor tells the company the reason the
women you hired aren't doing well is
that you haven't hired enough of them
this isn't about the women and their
so numbers do matter and we need to get
the numbers up and the way to do that is
to slowly but surely give every
organization in the world focused on how
to create individual role model letters
so when I showed you is a grand total of
four people but if everybody does that
you'll get a tremendous tremendous
so that's get local so the next one is
the most controversial one especially in
I'm not quite sure if it would have the
same controversy here but it's um I call
it dig a little deeper in the pile so it
is not quota based affirmative action it
the pile of resumes you get and take
longer to make sure that you're actually
seeking out a diverse workforce and by
the way this entire talk is about women
but I believe it to be the same for all
measures of diversity so I'm going to
tell a quick story about this so I was
at a dinner party a couple years ago and
a few couples and one of the other guys
there he had started his own startup so
we start talking about technology and
and all this and he's talking about
hiring and I said well you really should
focus on hiring women women and and your
company as well he goes yeah yeah
absolutely totally but here's the deal
I'm a startup I gotta move fast I'm
trying to hire now I get ten resumes
that come in and they're all men and
they're qualified those are the ones I'm
gonna hire I'm done so I can pretty much
assure you that he is never gonna invite
me ever to his home again because it
wasn't his home but I probably will
never see him again because I basically
lit into him and said but hold on a
second how is this ever gonna change if
you aren't willing to take the time
because it is harder to find a diverse
crowd it does take more time it
absolutely takes more time and I try to
implore upon him the fact that studies
have shown that businesses that have
more women in them are actually more
successful so take us that step back
from the speed think carefully and do
what you can to dig a little deeper in
the pile so I'm going to give you a
couple other ways you can kind of dig
deeper in the in the pile
one is defined non-standard and untapped
markets and the other is to take random
opportunities so non-standard and
untapped markets so I believe that
there's a massive untapped market of
females and that would be fabulous in
tech and they are all of the women a lot
of them my age maybe a little younger
but my age that have fabulous degrees
went to work had a career and dropped
out when they had kids
and I'll tell you a story about that I
was at happy hour with a friend of mine
a good friend of mine she's been out of
the workforce for ten years but she was
an Anderson consulting before that she's
raised three kids and she says to me you
know I would really like to do something
but I've been out of the workforce for
10 years so I I'm not qualified I said
what do you mean you're not qualified
how are you not qualified she's like
Nicole the last time I was in the
workforce they didn't have email I said
that is not the point you can get back
into the workforce and that is a massive
untapped market so what do you do she
didn't want a full-time job and and it
is true she was probably a little rusty
a few things needed catch her step so
tough stop hired her as a contractor a
small three months contract she killed
it was amazing and her life experience
of having been a mom raising three kids
actually helped dramatically and she's
still doing work for us today so that's
an examples of untapped markets another
one is take random opportunities the
woman the first video I showed I
actually met her while waiting in line
to get on an airplane and she and I
started chatting and I said why are you
going to Austin she said well my
daughter is a senior in college and
she's really struggling because her
apartment flooded and I really want her
to be able to focus on getting an
internship because she's gonna be
graduating I said Oh what is she
majoring in she said oh she's majoring
in computer science I said done she I
believe is gonna start an internship
with us she was interviewing formally
interviewing with us yesterday so take
random opportunities don't wait for the
big I don't even know what word I would
choose don't wait for the big thing just
go out there meet people and see what
so that's dig deeper in the pile
now comes the hardest part and that's
these middle rungs these middle rungs
are extremely extremely difficult and I
wish I was going to stand up here and
tell you that I had all the answers as
to how to fill all these middle rungs
but in fact I don't instead though I am
gonna at least go through what I think
are some thoughts and experiences that
can help us and maybe we can all solve
it a bit more together if you have
thoughts after this talk I would of
course love to hear them so what I'm
gonna do first is play a video from a
colleague of mine at a stop where she's
talking about the importance of these
middle of these middle rungs hi my name
is sue mackimmie and I've been working
in tossed up for about three years
and I've been in this software industry
for about eight years so far today I'll
talk about what the role model letter
means to me and how it impacted my life
so far so the role model letter is for
me it's really like a critical tool to
vision myself to plan next level of the
career I mean I could have a like role
model that is like amazing like let's
say Brock Obama the president well the
former president and she
he's I mean I think he's amazing and I
think I can learn a lot from him but
then if I actually want to be in his
role like at this point I don't know
what to plan or what to do to actually
get to that level but if I actually have
somebody that is actually somewhat close
to me and so I might have similar
condition as me I think I can totally
also hit myself to the person and
project myself and actually make some
plan and do some action towards you you
know get to that level of the room so in
the past I had a few female co-workers I
had a lot of good workers in dinner and
I had a like a few like female
co-workers and in my previous company
there was a one female manager I was
lucky enough to actually have a good
relationship with her and she was really
nice and she really had this emphasis on
female engineer so like she shared her
experience and like she shared like you
know some of decisions she made in the
past and you know reason why she made
the decision and how it turned out
and that really helped me to think about
by the point like what I actually wanted
you for the next year or like asking
some critical questions to
the company about yeah like to actually
sort of step on the next level of my
career so that's a positive story the
next video I'm gonna show broke my heart
when I listen to it hi this is Lauren
she's an intern at my husband's company
actually I was in the IT department as a
developer I was placed on a team with no
other women so I had nobody on my team
to look up to and then on other teams
there were a few women in leadership
positions one of them well really one of
the only ones that was at a like team
leader kind of position I got to talking
with her about her experience and how
she got started and she talked about
shine think she'd been there like 10
years she talked about how she tried to
really keep her personal life private so
she told me specifically that her
now-husband that she been with this
whole time she never referred to him by
his first name he was always just
boyfriend so when somebody asked oh
how's your husband doing she's like oh
boyfriend's good and that was the end of
the conversation she thought that if she
let people know anything about her
personal life or you know about her
husband that they would identify her as
so-and-so's wife and she thought that
that would make her seem less
professional less capable of leading so
at that company I wasn't able to find
somebody to look up to messy woman in
tech is beyond her and going back to the
ladder that you're talking about I
really do think that age and really
ability Matt
she was the only semi young woman that I
met that was any tech leadership role I
think that it it should be more common
that it is to me it's really surprising
with a huge IT department that I was
only able to meet a single female leader
that was near my age well 10 years older
than me but still so I I mean I'm not
going back to that company that tells
you something but I was in so that one
kind of broke my heart both from the
perspective of just listening to Warren
but imagine that woman at that company
that felt that she could not share who
she was and that she would be viewed
differently and this is as she said 2018
- the fact that Lauren thinks unlike
Ancients because I'm definitely more
than 10 years older than than she is it
really that really struck me it is 2018
and that's the story that we're hearing
middle rungs get more complicated is
because of motherhood it does go up
exponentially in terms of how you are
able to remain in the workforce when
you've got kids and family how many of
you all have heard of a woman elizabeth
warren so in the state she's pretty
famous she's very famous for having
stood up in the Senate and this quote
here she was warned she was given an
explanation nevertheless she persisted
they were trying to kick her off the
Senate floor and she gives this
unbelievable speech she's a senator she
might run for president
and in her speech I happen to hear it I
went to it and I got chills as she stood
up in front of thousands of people that
were there and talked about the fact
that after she got her law degree and
after she had begun being a professor
she almost dropped out of the workforce
entirely why because her husband worked
she had two small kids and she could not
deal with it
you could probably YouTube it and find
these middle rungs they absolutely get
more complex but if you keep it personal
and you help do the opposite of what
that poor woman at that company feels
my younger colleagues we were on a
business trip here in Europe traveling
running around trying to get to meetings
and we were just outside the underground
see a phone call and you're like oh I
don't know who that is but I feel like I
should answer it
and I answered it and it was my son who
was in seventh grade at the time and he
mock-trial if these things seem big when
you're in seventh grade and I looked at
my colleague and I said we're gonna have
to be late well we didn't end up being
late I said I can't get on the
Underground I have to help my son and
she stood there and watched me while I
tried to console him I guarantee you
she's never gonna forget that so another
another thing is what not to do so tell
you another story when I was in the
middle rungs I worked on Wall Street at
the time in New York and there was
actually a VP of engineering at the time
and I looked up to her because I thought
wow she's done this and she actually had
four kids and I ran into her one day in
the bathroom and I thought I would take
this opportunity you know to kind of get
to ask her question to kind of connect
and I said you know how did you do it
how did you make this all work and her
response to me was but you just suck it
up and deal with it I had my laptop with
me while I was giving birth
don't do that women in the middle rungs
have to help and and you have to expose
you have to expose the realities of the
kind of insanity that happens when
you've got kids and husbands and
girlfriends and whatever you've got and
it is a little bit crazy talk about it
let it be personal so another another
really important thing is to make
yourself accessible so I'm going to play
sue me again I wasn't exactly sure
whether I can actually come to her and
asking you know a bit more personal
question like this because I mean I know
like its first like she is working in
United States and I am here in Vancouver
and we are working in different offices
we talked a bit but I didn't actually
have enough time to sort of have a more
personal touch with her and also like I
did feel there is also it's kind of hard
to sort of I can't just assume that
every female will be very supportive
always because maybe someone's yes some
women's are not so I was a bit more
careful about it but then being able I
mean reading her blog I could totally
feel that she's open to this kind of
question so I asked her directly
can you spell like thirty minutes so
it's critical that women and their I see
lots of women in this room please don't
ever not make yourself accessible never
say no if somebody asks if they can have
30 minutes to talk to you about whatever
it's worth every moment it's absolutely
worth every moment and in addition I
wasn't men can absolutely help as well
so I'll tell you another story it's all
about stories I'm a colleague of mine
Nealon he's our CEO and president he was
meeting with one of our women she runs
part of our sales organization and
apparently she had been given a review
about the fact that she is sometimes too
emotional super common thing that women
get when we get told and he recognized
in himself I'm probably not the right
person to have the right level of
empathy for her situation and he said
you know what I hear you and I think you
should go talk to Nicole because she can
probably relate in a way that I cannot
so I deeply appreciated that he did that
and recognize that it's important that
you find people to talk to that you feel
like you have a connection with so
really the the last piece of this is is
all about making sure that you let it be
personal you tell stories including
difficult ones the story I usually tell
any young young woman that comes in and
and says to me something to be effective
what is it like to be a woman and a
woman in tech the story I usually tell
the first one and I do it intentionally
is let me tell you about the time that I
went into my CEOs office and cried why
do I tell that story because it opens up
the fact that this is real people doing
real things and yes crying is one of the
emotions you have especially if you're
angry for me which is why I was crying
in his office and be real be true to who
you are so that is the last one so
hopefully I've given you some concrete
things you can do to help create these
individual role model letters talk about
it conscious focus get local dig deeper
in the pile and get personal and I just
want to circle back to that one word
this is what I want you to take away
with you I want you to walk into your
offices on Monday and start asking
people where's your role model ladder
where is our role model ladder and how
do we make sure it's attainable that
word is is super super super important
so with that that's really all I had to
go through today hopefully you found
that useful and I was just just showed