Brotopia is real…and if you work with engineering leaders, you may not realize you’re a part of it

Image Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Have you ever been in a meeting and felt completely invisible, even though you may lead a function at your company? Do you know what it is like to be the only person who looks like you year after year at your venture firms’ VP events? Have you ever been questioned about your ability to perform a role simply because you’re also a parent?

These are the current realities of phenomenal, technical, versatile, interesting leaders of engineers…who happen to be women. They love their work and what they do, but too often, people around them don’t realize how much harder it is for them to just do their jobs or the thoughts they have when they don’t feel comfortable.

We had the chance to bring together nine Directors to VPs of engineering from companies like Splunk, Google, Lyft, Periscope Data, Elevate Security to share their stories over dinner. The conversation is always more candid when it’s just women in the room, but they all agreed what was talked about should be shared.

Here it is — in its raw form — to enjoy and learn from.

What challenges do you face as engineering leaders?

  • Not having enough role models. “One of our venture firms gathers all it’s VP of Engineers together every year, and I was the only woman.”
  • Assuming I wasn’t the technical person in the room (everyone shared their version of this story). Looking past me like I was invisible. Asking me to get the coffee.
  • Women tend to be overdue for their promotions by the time they ask for them, “This engineer came up to me laying out her case for why she should be promoted. I told her I’d already put in for her promotion, but the time to ask would have been months ago. By the time she approached me, if I hadn’t already done it, it would have been too late that cycle.”
  • Promotions are tricky. Statistically, men ask for promotions 4x more than women, so they get them more.
  • One engineer requested a ‘Retreat to Competence’ after a promotion where she felt out of her comfort zone, but by the time the company was ready to fill the role, she had grown into it. She felt she would have benefitted from more explicit mentorship.
  • Commitment to the job was repeatedly questioned for multiple people because they either had kids or were approaching the “age of kids” — felt a strong double-standard as male engineers were not asked those questions nor was their commitment or ability around the job questioned.
  • Meg Whitman was an impressive leader one got to work with first-hand. “She has a big physical presence, is assertive, really sharp and has an incredible memory.”
  • Authenticity is important. Without it you lose your compass on what guides you; be intentional in how you are in the workplace.
  • Career pathing ranged a lot, but VP of Eng is a legitimate springboard to CPO or GM roles for the right person.
  • “I have more women working for me than other engineering leaders because I set the example that it’s okay to leave for family commitments. I’m very efficient; I have to be. I tell everyone it’s just about getting the job done, not whether or not you’re in the office.”
  • “I think one of the reasons why so many women engineers have these crazy-colored hairdos is to express ‘stop assuming things about me that you don’t know. You’re going to have to figure me out.’”

“Guys really need to hear this. I wish guys would be in the room for these conversations,” so I asked, would this conversation have been different if there were men in the room?

  • When it’s all women, it tends to be more relaxed, open and supportive. People express their feelings more freely.
  • “At my company’s women in tech program, two of the five leaders are guys. They’re doing it because they have daughters and want the workplace to be better when their girls are in it.”
  • “At our company, our CEO stated publicly that he wanted the next two board members to be women, which made a big impression.”

“If Ellen Pao had done her lawsuit now, would the outcome have been different?”

  • Ellen Pao’s litigious past affected perception of her; tone at that time was very different. Many felt the outcome would be different now.
  • Susan Fowler was the ‘perfect’ victim — she laid her case out there and let the public decide. She didn’t try to benefit from it.
  • Some told stories of how friends were heavily harassed at work, HR was protecting the people who complaints were lodged against, and as soon as Susan Fowler happened, perpetrators were fired overnight. It had a big impact.
  • What’s happening with US Gymnastics and Dr. Nassar was astounding to everyone in the room. How could this have been tolerated? There is hope that this sort of thing won’t happen anymore because of how much the climate has changed.

Where do people find the most recruiting success?

  • Internal transfers. “Being a woman engineering leader, attracts other women.”
  • Developing interns. “In our case, the women interns just seemed to have more of the innate leadership and organizational skills to emerge as the clear candidates.”
  • From the government. In the security space, this is one place where they are ahead of private industry and cross-pollination in/out of gov’t and industry is encouraged. They do security offense, not just defense.
  • HIRED where the company approaches the candidate — seemed better than Angel List. Lets salary levels be set.
  • “When I set my salary range, I asked myself, ‘if I were a dude, what would I do?” Multiple people either doubled-their ask or added at least $10K and in every instance, got what they asked for despite being uncomfortable and not realizing they were valued that much. It’s really hard to ask for a higher salary.
  • “Our company adopted a policy of not negotiating offers. We put together what we think is a fair market offer and stick to it.” Salaries will only differ if there is a special skill no one else has.
  • Check out OptionDriver for data on A, B, C series funded startups and what the averages are on salary and equity. It has great info.
  • The art is in putting the right person in the right band.
  • “Offering employee referral bonuses has made our team mine their networks more for referrals, which is our top way of recruiting talent.”
  • Ping people directly on LinkedIn, “I took my job because my future manager pinged me via LinkedIn. I was so intrigued that it was a woman engineering leader, I said yes to learning more.”

What technology most excites you right now?

  • Self-driving cars → the intersection of computer vision, probabilities, math.
  • Brain science, neurology, neural networks, psychology — all the latest business and management teaching is coming from the intersection of psychology.
  • Germs, viruses and studying them as they relate to how to create security innovation.
  • Everything about cyber security.
  • BlockChain, de-centralized data.
  • Data analysis, patterns, cognitive biases, uncovering fraud, linguistics.
  • The “Second Brain” in our guts.

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