Women design leaders at Uber, Facebook, Adobe, Pinterest, and more share stories of workplace sexism–and offer strategies for moving forward.
The tech and design worlds need more balanced leadership. Seventy percent of graphic design students are women, yet only 11% of creative directors are women. In the tech industry, which is notorious for gender imbalance, design leaders are looking for ways to support the career growth of female designers and build inclusive teams.
At Women in Design 2017: Women Working Together, Designer Fund asked 10 design executives from companies like Facebook, Adobe, Uber, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Shopify, and Netflix how they create positive environments for female designers, and in particular, how colleagues can collaborate in this realm. The uniting message was that fellow women designers are one another’s most powerful assets. Read on for real stories about managing competition, examples of company-level programs that support women, and strategies to improve design team cultures.
MANAGING A COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE
With limited design leadership opportunities at tech companies, how do women approach competition when they pursue the same positions? The sentiment was unanimous: Advance the women around you, and you’ll all end up ahead.
Nancy Douyon, a UX researcher leading Global Scalable Research Platforms at Uber, shared a story about a past colleague in a higher-ranking position—and how Douyon wanted to leapfrog her. “I was trying to figure out how to do a double promotion,” she jokes.
One day, she and the senior woman were in a meeting full of men. All the men’s presentations received praise, but when the woman got up, a male colleague said, “I’m sorry, it’s too hard to see past the typos. Can we just move on?”
This caused a mind-set switch. “At that moment I realized how important it was not to compete but to celebrate each other,” says Douyon. “I now make it a point to affirm a woman who speaks up or to ask them follow-up questions in meetings.”
This idea appears in pop culture as the term “shine theory.” Coined by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, hosts of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast, it means that you don’t shine if the women around you don’t shine. For example, women on Obama’s White House staff made a practice of amplifying one another’s contributions to make sure they were heard and given appropriate credit.
These micro-level, individual adjustments add up to a bigger shift in women’s influence in the workplace. “It’s important to be deliberate about how we communicate with women,” says Laura Naylor, head of user experience research at YouTube. A recent study shows that men are three times as likely to interrupt women as they are men. This didn’t surprise Naylor, but here’s what did: 87% of the times that women interrupted, they were interrupting other women. “We need to be aware of unconscious biases and interact with one another in a way that strengthens us.”
But what happens when there is only one leadership position available and two women are competing for it? Bo Lu, product design lead at Pinterest, found herself in that situation when she and a female colleague applied for the same role.
“At the time, I wasn’t sure how to approach it,” Lu says. “Should I talk to her about it? She reached out to me first, saying, ‘I heard you’re applying for this, and I’m so glad another woman is stepping up.’ I respected her for the gesture, and we ended up going through the process in a transparent way, even expressing our insecurities. Initially it felt counterintuitive to open up to direct competition, but it made for a much more positive experience.” Lu noted that it’s a good idea to maintain open conversations after a promotion, when the relationship changes from “peer” to “hierarchy,” and discuss what the work relationship should look like.
When conflicts arise, women’s leadership coach Majo Molfino recommends nonviolent communication (NVC) to express needs and resolve tension. “NVC gives us practical tools and even step-by-step instructions to advocate for ourselves to coworkers and collaborators without alienating them,” says Molfino.
“A female designer I work with used NVC after she’d spent months re-designing a tech product and her manager launched an announcement post without crediting her,” Molfino says. “Rather than staying silent, the designer made a request to participate in future announcements, framing it in the context of her own need to feel included and acknowledged for her efforts. Acknowledging the incident in this way prevented resentment and gave her manager a clear roadmap for how to best support her in the future.”
Read the full article written by Nathalie Arbel here