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Diversity & Inclusion

Getting Comfortable with Discomfort: A Conversation with Procore's Kellie Persson

Kellie Persson was at the WWDC17, Apple's annual conference for developers, when she heard Michelle Obama give an answer about why there weren't more Black women in tech.

"'You're asking too late,'" Kellie remembers the former First Lady saying. "'If you're asking when you're trying to hire people, you need to go back to the beginning, find out why these young women aren't interested or what causes them to fall out of love with it. You start at the beginning.'"

Kellie, who is now a Sr. Software Engineer at cloud-based construction management software company Procore, is a success story of that early intervention.

She joined her elementary school's computer club, where she enjoyed playing games and designing a printable book starring Garfield. That interest continued into her senior year of high school, when she learned programming.

When she started at Spelman College, Kellie thought she wanted to be a patent lawyer, to combine her love for math and science with a reliable career path. But her deep-seeded passion for engineering won out after she took her first computer science classes.

We sat down with Kellie to talk about her experience studying amongst other Black women and then going to work in a field where she was often an "only," how she's learned to show up as her full self at work, and how she has experienced the Procore community.

"You just have to show up"

According to research done by the National Science Foundation, only 1.6% of engineers in 2015 were Black women.

That's not the experience Kellie had at Spelman, though. Being a student at the historically Black liberal arts college for women in Atlanta meant that Kellie was surrounded by other high-achieving Black women just like herself—and that the faculty had opted in to teach exactly that group.

"Spelman has a really competitive entry. When you start, it's like a reset, almost a level playing field. Everybody's smart. It sets up an environment where you don't know anything other than to be your best self," says Kellie. "You're not going in there talking with teachers who you feel don't value you or don't see your worth. You just have to show up, and that's a very big advantage."

Kellie learned that she had to show up and give her very best when she wrote a paper on The Tempest, a play she'd read in high school, and got a "D minus minus minus" on it. "It didn't knock my confidence," says Kellie, "but it helped me to see that I do have to show up as my best self."

Spelman gave her opportunities to test her confidence, and most importantly, to do so amongst a community of other women that proved that Kellie wasn't an anomaly. "I realized I wasn't an 'only' any more," she says. "Even if I didn't see a lot of me reflected in my workplace, I knew that we were out there."

Stepping away—and stepping back up

When Kellie began her career in engineering post-grad, she was plenty confident, but still felt decidedly outside of the "club" of mostly white men in her department.

"It felt like certain privileges or promotions or things were extended to members of the club," she says. And when Kellie decided to start a family, it "wasn't celebrated."

"I felt that I was held back because of choosing to have a family," says Kellie. She ended up stepping away from her field for about four years. She considered doing a master's program in dietetics, to line up with her lifelong interest in nutrition and wellness, but ended up deciding that going back to work in engineering was right for her and her family.

At her first job back, she had to learn how to develop in iOS, and that shook her—but just for a moment. "It hit me hard, like 'did I ever know what I was doing? Was I just faking it this entire time?'" says Kellie. "But I was able to tap back into what I had learned so many years prior at Spelman. That came back."

She especially remembered lessons from one of her mentors, Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne. "She was a firecracker, she had all this passion and she didn't try to dumb it down. I realized from her that you can be yourself. How exuberant or passionate you are shouldn't be offensive to people, and if it is, that's not your problem."

When Procore reached out about a job opportunity, Kellie was intrigued. Two former coworkers were working there and told her great things about the role, and her family had roots in the construction field. "I understood that space, I understood why it was such a need," she says.

As a Sr. Software Engineer, Kellie is committed to creating great, reliable products for Procore's customers. "Who wants to use an unstable product? If you can't rely on it, just imagine how our clients feel," she says.

Feeling a sense of belonging as a black woman in tech

The racial reckoning of the last year or so, stemming from George Floyd's death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, has led to conversations at many American workplaces that mostly-white leaders weren't practiced in having.

"Some people have never had to be an only, or be uncomfortable. And especially recently, there have been a lot of uncomfortable things that have come up and people don't know how to deal with it. That doesn't feel good to them, but people need to learn to sit with their discomfort and think about it," says Kellie of her experience talking about racism at work.

"It's not other people's job to make you feel comfortable—especially people like me. We've been in uncomfortable spaces and we didn't have someone try to make us comfortable; we had to deal," she adds.

She's found, though, that Procore's leadership has been willing to sit with those uncomfortable topics and to listen. "One of the best things that came out of that with Procore is not trying to run away from [problems], but acknowledging why don't we have a lot of people of color, why don't we have a lot of women, and saying 'let's do something about it,'" says Kellie.

Last summer was a hard time for many Black Americans, including Kellie, who says that the only meetings she showed up to with her camera on the week of George Floyd's death were those hosted by Procore's ERG for Black employees. "I needed that support group. I wasn't trying to explain to anybody. I just needed to talk to individuals who understood where I was at. I showed up every day and I did my job, but I didn't want to answer questions of how I was doing and 'what can I do to be better?'" remembers Kellie.

Later on, she also participated in listening sessions between that ERG and Procore's leadership. "They talked to each one of us," she says. "I felt valued and I felt seen."

Staying a rockstar

When Kellie thinks of where she'd like to be in five years, she has a pretty clear vision: "I just wanna try to be a rockstar."

"I want someone to, when they speak about me, not praise me, but talk about how I had a positive impact on them," she adds.

One key way she's able to make an impact? Leading by example: working hard, and showing up authentically, even when it makes others uncomfortable.

That's a lesson that she hopes everyone, but especially other Black women interested in tech, take to heart. "There are people that are rooting for you," she says. "You just have to go find them."

If you want to find your people at Procore, check out their open roles.


How These Companies Are Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

According to a recent study, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 150% since the pandemic started. But these acts of violence are not new — they are part of a much larger history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.

That makes celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (which was named a month-long celebration in May by Congress in 1992 "to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843 and contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed May 10, 1869") this year all the more important.


The Secrets to Balancing Work and Family Life

3 Pieces of Advice from Working Moms at Pluralsight

Being fully committed to work and family is a challenge that many working parents have to take on. It can be exhausting and thankless pursuing a fulfilling full-time career, while taking an active role as a parent. Achieving a healthy balance can help keep you motivated and productive at work, while allowing you to be fully present when you're home.

We recently chatted with working moms at technology skills platform, Pluralsight, about their best advice for striking that elusive work-life balance. Here were their key points:


How to Make the Most of Being on a Growing Team: 3 Tips from Plex’s Adriana Bosinceanu

When the startup Adriana Bosinceanu was working for got acquired, things changed fast.

She went from being one of eight engineers on a small team building a streaming service to joining a company that was five times larger and had a much bigger scope.

That company was Plex, where Adriana has been working remotely as a software engineer for the last four and a half years.

As her team grew from two people to ten, Adriana decided to lean into the opportunity to grow; along the way, she found herself deepening her technical skills, her self-confidence, and her relationships. We sat down with Adriana to learn exactly how she did that, and to hear the tips she has for other engineers experiencing growth opportunities on their team.

Career and Interview Tips

10 Tips to Stand Out at a Virtual Job Fair

Your guide to preparing for virtual career fairs and making a great impression with recruiters

According to a LinkedIn survey, up to 85% of jobs are filled via networking. For job seekers, virtual job fairs make networking with recruiters more convenient. You can interact with potential employers from all over the world, ask them questions, and apply for jobs. Every event is different, but they most often include video conferencing features, chat rooms, and Q&A sessions.

Dilyara Timerbulatova, Virtual Job Fair Coordinator at PowerToFly explains that, "virtual job fairs have many benefits, namely connecting top talent and recruiters that would otherwise never cross paths. These events are a tool to help companies build well-rounded, diverse teams that align with the company culture and business vision."


Pride At Work: Learn more about Our Partners, Sponsors & Speakers

Learn more about our amazing speakers and sponsors at our June 2021 virtual summit Diversity Reboot: Pride At Work, three days of conversations and panels plus an interactive virtual career fair.

Our Pride At Work summit certainly made us proud! PowerToFly was thrilled to present talks by members of the LGBTQIA+ community alongside some amazing allies. Our conversations ranged from leaders at the highest levels of government positions to visionaries in the worlds of business & tech to artists from the music and entertainment industry. If you tuned in, and celebrated our speakers, thank you! And if you missed the summit or would like to re-watch any of the talks, those conversations will all be available to watch for free on PowerToFly.

We want to extend a HUGE thanks to our amazing sponsors American Express, NGA, Smartsheet, S&P Global, Raytheon Technologies, PwC and Esri plus our media partner MMCA.

If you can, please consider donating to some of the amazing organizations we highlighted at the summit including GLITS, fighting for the health and rights of transgender sex workers; Garden State Equality, the largest LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization in New Jersey, with over 150,000 members; National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, including people living with HIV/AIDS; and NYC Anti-Violence Project, empowering lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected communities and allies to end all forms of violence through organizing and education, and supports survivors through counseling and advocacy.

Plus, don't forget to visit our Merch Store and grab yourself some PowerToFly apparel. 100% of the proceeds from our sales will be going to TransTech Social, supporting transgender and non-binary people in tech.

Finally, registration for our July 12th - 15th virtual summit Diversity Reboot: Tech For Social Impact is now open! Join us to learn about founders from mission-driven organizations and their social impact. Register for free here
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