This summer I was interviewed by builtinnyc for a piece they were doing on women in tech. Thanks to internet attention spans the interview went through a bit of editing, so I thought I’d post the full version here for posterity.
What is your name and title?
Andrea Mignolo, Head of Design & UX
Can you tell me about your background? I’d love to hear about your education and work experience.
Growing up with video games and the internet made me interested in the interactions between humans and technology. I went to Oberlin where I designed my own major, Technocultural studies, that combined arts, humanities, technology, and society. After graduating the web was booming so I got into web design and front-end development working with a range of clients from museums to universities to start-ups. I enjoyed working with start-ups so much that I moved into that world full-time and haven’t looked back.
As a designer I’m drawn to ambiguity and exploring divergent paths of possibilities, which is perfectly aligned with how start-ups function when finding product/market fit and begin to grow the business. And I think design is fundamental to everything humans endeavor to create and build, including organizations, because design is about the intention behind outcomes. Design is a function companies should have from the outset because it’s so good at articulating intentions, making sense of chaos, and framing problem spaces.
As my career has progressed I’ve become increasingly interested in organizational design and the role of reflective practices and authenticity in work environments. A few years ago I enrolled in an executive MBA program at Case Western Reserve University to learn the language of business in order to apply design to more abstract areas of organizations such as operations and strategy. And I just started a coaching certification program to more fully integrate mindfulness into my leadership approach.
What are some unique challenges you have faced as a woman in tech? What advice would you give to other women who may be facing these same challenges?
For most my career I’ve worked in smaller companies that tend to be male-dominated. For a long time I thought I had to be one of the boys which often meant going along with off-color commentary or jokes that really didn’t sit well with me. I’ve also had my fair share of suggestions on how I should dress, how much make-up I should wear, what things I look better in, and how I should behave. I’ve also been in environments that value aggression and conflict as a means of seeking out truth in a Darwinian approach to “the best ideas win”. For anyone who doesn’t operate this way it can be hard to feel included if you aren’t shouting along with everyone else.
I think the biggest challenge for me has been being someone who is outside the typical tech leadership archetype. I remember stepping into my first leadership role and getting passive-aggressive questions about whether I really wanted to do this, the implication being that I probably shouldn’t. This one is about being a woman, but it’s also about being anything that isn’t what we normally see celebrated in the tech world. When I tried to emulate what I saw around me the results were less than stellar. But when I started to approach leadership from a place that was authentically me, everything clicked.
Advice for these challenges? Get in touch with your personal values and use those as boundaries for what is okay and what isn’t okay. Don’t stick around in toxic cultures — get out as fast as you can. Champion your work and your team’s work and make sure everyone knows the value you bring. Don’t wait for anyone to make your career for you, push for what you want whether that’s training, a raise, new challenges, whatever. If you lead teams there is so much you can do to create a safe, trusted environment that fosters diversity, inclusion, and growth. Find a mentor.
How does your current company support women in the tech space?
Movable Ink supports women in the tech space in several ways. Representation is an important one, and 35% of our executive team are women. It’s important to see women in prominent leadership roles and I think Movable Ink is doing well there.
We have a Movable Pink, our women’s employee network and advocacy group that organizes a range of events to explore, discuss, and take action on issues we care about.
And we have an internal women’s mentoring network that pairs up people in senior roles with people who are a few years into their careers for coaching and advice.
What are your predictions for the future of women in tech in general?
I’m very optimistic about the future of women in tech. As a country I think we’re starting to slowly acknowledge how endemic institutionalized racism and sexism are. Not just that it exists, but what it looks like and why it’s not okay. It’s about women, it’s about African Americans, it’s about Latinx, it’s about LGBTQI. As these conversations are happening on a macro-level we’re also seeing the ramifications of movements like #metoo in industries like media and tech. And the tech world doesn’t feel the same as it did 10 years ago; there are more women founders, executives, and technical leaders than any time in the past.
What makes me even more optimistic is talking to girls and young women who are interested in science and technology. I think programs like #builtbygirls, Women Who Code, and the New York Academy are doing a wonderful job of connecting those interests with companies, experiences, and mentors who can facilitate additional learning and growth. And to see what these young women are creating and building and thinking about makes me excited to see what the tech world looks like in 5–10 years.