On March 20, Yahoo!'s Women in Technology group held its 2012 kickoff. We're a global group that, with 1100 members, is Yahoo!'s largest Employee Resource Group. We welcome Yahoo! women and men from across all company functions. Building on the successes of 2011, such as our Girl Geek dinners and partnership with the Anita Borg Institute, we enter 2012 with a great new executive sponsor, Yahoo! VP Elissa Murphy, and a full slate of planned activities. Co-presidents Kim Capps-Tanaka and Niru Anisetti opened the kickoff and introduced the keynote speakers, Tim Parsey, SVP of Design and Jessica Jensen, VP of Shine and Yahoo! Health.
Both speakers have a fabulous sense of humor and an easy way with the audience - it was very enjoyable and informative. We started out with some background: Tim talked about some highlights of his amazing design career, which has even included designing bobsleds for the US Olympic team, in addition to his well-known stints at Apple, Microsoft and Motorola. Jessica, whose current role puts her at the heart of creating vision, strategy and innovative content for women's initiatives, also talked about her experiences as a BCG consultant and as an entrepreneur.
Q: Why is it great for women to be in Technology today?
Tim: Industries get commoditized, so I try to always see what's next. As technology brings the power of personalization, the idea of one fit for all is fading. Yahoo! brings the power of big data to the game. This new frontier of consumerism requires empathy - listening, learning, responsiveness, inclusiveness. These qualities, which many women have in abundance, allow us to not only innovate things that enable feelings but then to elevate to meaning-based innovation, that aligns people in groups.
Jessica: During my years at BCG, I had a view into many different industries. The US technology sector today truly is a meritocracy, where the sky's the limit. Women can have a rich and varied career in technology companies - engineering, product management, marketing, finance, you name it. Color your own rainbow!
Q: Why is Yahoo! a great company for women?
Tim: Talking specifically about Design at Yahoo!: we cannot achieve our goal of radical personalization by designing in the traditional way. We need to innovate both the design context AND the concept, which requires understanding mindsets and hopes. Women have natural strengths that enable them to operate well in this new reality...and there are plenty of opportunities for them to exercise those strengths in our Design team.
Jessica: When I joined Yahoo! 3 years ago, I went through an interview process with 24 people, including lots of senior women. At a another company I considered, there were zero women in the interview process. Yahoo! is full of strong, successful women. It's important to look around the company and see if there are senior women there, women you'd like to resemble...and whether there is support for parenting, for both moms and dads. I've found Yahoo! to be such a place.
Q: What qualities have made you successful at Yahoo!
Tim: In my career, I have had to go through failure and shock and just pick myself up...these things help you empathize with others. Another key is to always think forward. I focus on next-gen design strategy and on building a work culture that allows the team to get into a "flow state".
Jessica: So much is serendipity and timing! From back when I was in college and basically made up my own degree to combine my interest in Japanese, art and history, I've known that you have to go after what you love and what excites you, focus on your strengths , and be open to serendipity.
Q: What do you do to coach and inspire women in your team?
Tim: I try to coach and inspire ALL my team , and show sensitivity to their values. In the overall business landscape, though, I do think women have not been encouraged to lead, except in imitating men, and this has led to a kind of suppression. I work to avoid this in my own teams.
Jessica: I encourage them to get a good support system. As Sheryl Sandberg has been pointing out in her recent speeches, women need partners that will meet them at least halfway on the housework and childcare front. When you have this, you can then "lean in" to your career, to show you can take on more responsibility. "Life is short but work is long" - you have to have a lifestyle that makes your pace sustainable and keeps you from burning out. And while I require top performance from all my team members, I am very flexible with where the work happens, to accommodate family needs.
Q: What's your advice to new employees on how to get things done at Yahoo!?
Tim: Create hope, focus and urgency in that order. Many people do the opposite. To get started on this myself at Yahoo!, I traveled to visit teams and customers, listened, detected excitement...and used that to get to the first step of building hope. We're also really feeling the energy from our team's new cross-functional project studio, created to bring that sense of focus and urgency to everything we do.
Jessica: Particularly for women employees, you need to make sure you speak up, that you voice your opinions. You also need to be analytically rigorous -it's not enough just to have a good idea; you must bring solid data on what the benefits are for Yahoo!. And if you're trying to fit in with a primarily male team, you don't have to be a sports expert, but you do have to learn to use humor and find pockets of shared interest to create camaraderie. It also really helps to understand different parts of the business; for example, by "job mirroring" where you spend a day with an employee in another department.
Q: What sources do you draw inspiration from?
Tim: I learn most from people, not books. I watch what's happening in politics, for lessons on how to build hope on a bigger scale. I also am inspired by the jujitsu idea of little changes that let you leverage a greater force. As a designer, I'm poised in the middle between artist and engineer. What I've found as my experience has deepened over the years is that I'm able to intuitively sense what to do, rather than having to think through step by step. I listen carefully, pick up the essence of the issue, broaden it, and then see the gaps and the potential for hope. It's a lot like my flute playing - when you have practiced enough, you stop thinking through each step and start sensing.
Jessica: Women's networking groups provide a level of professional camaraderie, feedback and partnership that is priceless. When I was based in Southern California, we had a very active BCG women alumni group. When I moved up here, there wasn't a chapter, and I missed the support so much I had to start one! It's very important to seek out networking opportunities, and WIT is a great vehicle for that at Yahoo!.
Q: How do you think about Yahoo! on the global front - what lens do you use for your global view?
Tim: As part of Yahoo!'s focus on personalization, we need to reflect the essence of different cultures around the world. We need to understand what's magical about each place. When I go to visit my India team, one thing we always do is take a motorcycle ride together, out of the city and into new and wonderful places. I get so enriched by this immersion. This is the feeling we want to bring back to our customers.
Jessica: Having studied and worked abroad, I definitely agree on the importance of a global view. I would encourage you all to get some kind of international work experience. It helps your career, and at Yahoo! it definitely helps us understand our customers better.
Thanks to Tim and Jessica for a wonderful session!
Yahoos, for internal information on WIT membership, volunteer opportunities and activities, please see our Women in Tech site.