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.
6 Tips for Companies & 5 Tips for Individuals from Indeed's Group VP of ESG, LaFawn Davis
Earlier this month, LaFawn Davis, Indeed's Group Vice President of Environmental, Social, & Governance, joined us as part of our Diversity Reboot Summit to talk about the 'shecession' experienced by many women, and especially women of color, as a result of COVID-19.
LaFawn shared some great tips for companies and individuals looking to be part of "the great rehiring." If you're looking to find a new role, or to ensure that you help bring back diverse talent displaced by COVID, check out her advice below, and catch her complete talk here or by clicking the video above!
Q: What would your advice be to companies that are looking to step up their diverse hiring in 2021?
My advice: Good intentions are no longer good enough. Nobody wants to hear what you meant to do, wish you could have do, intended to do. Nobody wants to hear that you can't find Black Women or any other dimension of diversity. We're obviously out here.
My squad and I have a saying "Impact over intentions." So, if 2020 was the year of good diversity and inclusion intentions, let's make 2021 the year of actions and impact.
So, now that we got that out of the way. If you're looking to step up your diverse hiring. Stop and get your house in order. Because you shouldn't just want to hire a diverse workforce, you should want to grow and keep them too. So there are 5 things, ready?
1. Focus on long-term systemic change.
There's a lot of momentum — and need — for change right now. It's not just about a message of support or donating to a cause one time. Take a look at your own systems. How do you hire and grow employees? Do your succession planning, talent reviews, recruiting and other processes have built-in biases? Is equality part of your core values? Are you actively working toward change? Recognize that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Above all, hold yourself accountable for the way things are, then work to improve.
2. Take a close look at your data.
Share it internally to be transparent with employees of where you are now. When possible, share it externally to be visible and accountable (I'm happy to announce that Indeed will be releasing its own diversity data this summer). Use it as a baseline for comparison against what you hope to achieve.
3. Change behavior.
Focus on behavioral changes throughout the company with an emphasis on coaching, training, and having crucial conversations with managers. Leaders and managers set an example for the entire workforce. If employees see the behavior of managers or leaders in a negative light, a true sense of belonging is difficult to achieve.
4. Representation matters.
If leadership roles are perceived as exclusive to many members of the workforce, then a broader sense of belonging will continue to elude many employees. People in leadership roles should reflect the diversity of a company's workforce. Observing someone "like me" in a leadership role helps attract and retain talent and motivates workers to pursue roles with greater responsibility.
5. Create Policies And Procedures Reflective Of The Entire Workforce.
As you work through new or existing policies and procedures, be aware of barriers experienced by different populations. Take, for example, the case of caregivers. More scheduling flexibility for calls can go a long way for employees who share their home workspace with others and must tend to family responsibilities while working remotely.
Q: Do you have advice for individuals that are looking for new career opportunities, especially women of color who might have lost their previous jobs during the pandemic?
Adaptability has always been an important part of an individual's career progression - even before COVID-19, it is especially important now.
It is important to show a potential new employer how your abilities adapt to a new role or a new industry. Focus on skills more than just experiences because skills can be applied in so many different ways. So… I'll give you 6 things for this one.
1. Perform a professional audit. Taking some time to understand your qualities, qualifications and values can help focus your career transition and narrow down your career path options if you haven't already. Doing so can also help you understand how you might position yourself during the job search.
2. Identify your hard and soft skills. Soft skills are often the most transferable, so identifying them early can help you understand the ways you might bring value to a new role or industry. Taking inventory of your hard skills will help you identify if there are certain industries that might be easier to transition into.
3. Highlight your biggest career wins. Communicating the impact you've made throughout your career can help employers quickly understand the value you'll bring to their organization, even if you come from another role or industry.
4. Utilize online job search to your advantage. Pay close attention to the requirements and duties of jobs so you can evaluate whether the career would align with your skills, interests and values.
5. You just need to meet "most" of the qualifications. Try to focus on positions for which you meet at least 60% of the qualifications with your transferable skills. Meeting 60% of the qualifications isn't a hard rule, but it's a good general guideline to help you determine whether it's worth applying for.
6. Get a sense of the company. Before interviews, do some research to learn how inclusive a company is. Peruse the organization's core values, its social media accounts, and any recent statements in support of marginalized groups. Pay attention to the interviewers themselves. Is the panel diverse or are you likely to be an early "diversity hire"? If the interviewers seem to be emphasizing "cultural fit," ask what that means. Basically, be an active participant in the hiring process. You are also interviewing the company, as much as they are interviewing you.
Stephanie Acker, director of inside sales at Commvault, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as her own career journey.
To kick things off, Stephanie mentioned the three things that make a great inside sales professional: an independent work ethic, the ability to learn and execute on their own, and an awareness of what keeps them motivated.
Over her 12-year career at Commvault, Stephanie's greatest motivation has been helping customers to find solutions and catapult them to success. In both her past role as a sales representative and her current director position, Stephanie remains committed to ensuring her team understands what motivates them to sell and setting them up for success.
The biggest surprise during her career at Commvault was becoming the director of inside sales. Stephanie shared that she loves working for a company that listens to new ideas, thinks outside of the box, and tries new things.
Don't miss her take on what moves a candidate forward in the interview process! For example, Stephanie loves when the interviewee gets into "the zone"—showing their selling technique. She also shares her favorite interview questions.
As Stephanie says, stop thinking and apply today!
To learn more about Commvault and their open roles, click here.
When you think about strong female leadership, what comes to mind? For Tatiana L., a global client partner in Miami, it's about more than having an executive seat, being a mother, or making dreams come true. "Good leadership is about being open, flexible, and able to understand different perspectives," she says. "It's about fostering collaboration, bringing people together, and empowering them to connect."
Tatiana L. is a global client partner based in Miami.
Tatiana is part of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group and helped plan Women's Leadership Day, an annual global community summit. While the highly-anticipated event takes place over just one day, its massive impact is felt over the course of the entire year.
Amy W. is an operations lead based in London.
"Women's Leadership Day is more than an event. It's energy, and it's a movement," Amy W., an operations lead in London, says. "Moments like this can completely change the perception of women in technology."
From choosing the content and programming for the event to making it accessible for women around the globe, we went behind the scenes with seven members of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group to learn more about how women are empowered—and are empowering one another— in their career journeys at the Facebook company.
Behind the scenes with Women@
Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager based in Singapore, speaking onstage at 2019 Women@ Leadership Day in APAC.
"I've always been passionate about empowering women, but I didn't know how I could do it at work. My first Women@ experience changed how I felt at Facebook," Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager in Singapore, remembers. "From then on, I wanted to help other women feel heard, valued, and confident."
Planning the global event, which brings together women from more than 20 countries, calls for close collaboration across multiple teams, regions, and timezones. Members of Women@ also partner with other Facebook Resource Groups, such as the Pride@ Resource Group, Latin@ Facebook Resource Group, Desis@ Facebook Resource Group and Black@ Resource Group, to ensure all women at Facebook are represented and feel included.
Vivian V. is a program manager based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Across regions and communities, we each bring unique differences and powerful stories. When one of us moves forward, we have the opportunity to bring all of us forward," Vivian V., a program manager in the San Francisco Bay Area explains. "While planning the summit, we meet weekly to talk about what women in different regions are experiencing. From the event theme and content to planning speaker sessions and fine-tuning details, we each have items to own. Two months before the summit, we meet daily to share updates and make sure nothing slips through the cracks."
"Just like me, women in APAC look forward to Women's Leadership Day all year long," Amanda says. Planning something that's deeply meaningful to so many people can feel like a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it's uplifting. I appreciate that we have the opportunity to talk about our individual and shared challenges, and we map out ways we can build community while empowering leadership for women across the globe."
Empowering confidence, equality, and leadership through storytelling
Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, and Amanda M. collaborate with women across the globe to plan Women@ programming and events.
Women's Leadership Day encourages women to talk about challenges like experiencing imposter syndrome, breaking through barriers, and how to manage work/life flexibility. "Storytelling is a huge part of the event," Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, explains.
Vivian says, "I've been at Facebook for nearly two years and help plan these events, and honestly, I never really understood imposter syndrome before I got here. Working with the Women@ community and hearing from our speakers—who are talented, brilliant superstars—I've seen firsthand how it affects them too."
Michelle C. is a client partner based in London.
Michelle C., a client partner in London, says that the summit's speaker sessions, which feature people from inside and outside of Facebook, are a highlight of every event. "We had a speaker from Tel Aviv who talked about the importance of balance in her personal life and how she co-parents with her husband. She shared specific things she's done, like adding her husband to the WhatsApp chat groups for mothers she's in and reminding her daughter's school that her husband is also available when their child feels sick. Her message was that we'll never be equal in the workplace until we're equal at home, and it really struck a chord."
Paris says that in APAC, Eva Chen's talk about facing challenges amidst the coronavirus pandemic and how she's raising her daughter was a top-rated session because it was so relatable. "From talking about her daughter's love for dinosaurs—a "boy" thing—and raising kids to fully be themselves to opening up about what it was like to grow up with immigrant parents from China and Vietnam, Eva inspired us with her authenticity and openness. Her struggle to feel supported while working in fashion and tech, rather than medicine, is something a lot of people in APAC understand."
"Every woman has a unique story," Michelle says. "Hearing from others is inspiring, validating, and truly eye-opening. It reminds us that we're not alone."
A memorable and lasting impact
It's no surprise that with the tremendous amount of planning and careful consideration that goes into the summit, its full impact is impossible to measure.
"It meant so much to me when people shared such positive feedback about Women's Leadership Day," Paris says. "We heard that some attendees felt inspired for days and weeks."
Kira G. is an agency partner based in Berlin.
Kira G., an agency partner in Berlin, has witnessed how the summit's programming can inspire action, even helping people push past a career plateau. "We might reach a point in our careers when we think, "I can't do this anymore, I'm not moving forward'," she says. "Women's Leadership Day gives us fresh perspectives, shows us new approaches, and starts important conversations. This can unlock new paths for growth and help us move forward."
Impact is felt in other Facebook groups, communities, and across teams too, inspiring interest and allyship. Amanda explains, "I felt so proud when a male VP from the Sales team came to us after hearing about what people talked about at Women's Leadership Day. He told us he wanted to learn more because it's everyone's responsibility to be an ally."
Empowering the community throughout the year
While Amanda describes Women's Leadership Day as a "bump in energy and inspiration" and "an injection of adrenaline", Vivian says that the real magic is what happens afterwards—and takes place all year long.
"When we think about Women's Leadership Day, our focus is on making sure that the powerful messages we hear and experience serve us throughout the entire year. We ask ourselves questions like, "How can we sprinkle these themes into our programming throughout the month or quarter? How do these ideas fit with our Women@ initiatives?" Going through something awesome together is just the beginning. Our work takes place year-round and we're constantly building on it to do more."
Paris agrees: "There's no shortage of amazing stories from our Women@ community throughout the year. Women's Leadership Day is just one channel for those stories, and I love how it stays top of mind with people and empowers them to do more good. When we come together, we can do anything we dream of."
"We're building a sisterhood and a community," Tatiana beams. "It feels so good to know there's always someone there to support you."
Learn more about Facebook's Employee Resource Groups, including Women@ here.
You've met some of them—maybe they're your family, friends, classmates, or coworkers, or perhaps you identify as neurodivergent yourself.
You may have recognized that some neurodivergent people are exceptionally skilled, excelling in things like pattern recognition and mathematics, and that those skills deserve to be celebrated, as the Harvard Business Review did in their report "Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage" in 2017.
But whether highlighting the significant contributions that neurodivergent employees have made or just honoring who they are as people, we wanted to take a moment this April to share some ways that industry leaders are marking World Autism Awareness Month.
We also want to acknowledge that Autism Speaks, the organization that began World Autism Awareness Month in the 1970s, has had a complicated relationship with the autism community. (Here's a good guide on that context.) We recognize that some prefer to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month, or to align with other organizations' World Autism Awareness activities, like the UN's.
However you decide to "Celebrate Difference"—the Autism Society of America's theme for April 2021—this month, PowerToFly and these 9 companies are celebrating right along with you!
Sharing inclusivity, not stereotypes, at Raytheon Technologies
"Raytheon Technologies and our Raytheon Alliance for Diverse Abilities (RADA) Employee Resource Group (ERG) is committed to trying to bring focus on invisible disabilities, as they are among the most misunderstood. Autism/neurodiversity isn't a mental illness and we recognize how important it is to bring awareness, be inclusive of everyone and avoid stereotypes. During Autism Awareness Month RADA is featuring a multi-regional presentation about Autism Awareness & Acceptance, as well as neurodiversity overall. The presentation is focused on educational information, including what Autistic people want in terms of inclusion and meaningful work, as well as dispelling common misconceptions."
Learn more about Raytheon Technologies.
Hiring a world-class workforce at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
"The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency recently launched the Neurodiverse Federal Workforce (NFW) pilot program, a collaborative effort between NGA, MITRE, and Melwood. The NFW pilot aims to help government agencies hire neurodiverse talent for U.S. Federal Government agencies. 'NGA mission success is contingent on a world-class workforce with a wide diversity of opinions and expertise,' said NGA Deputy Director Dr. Stacey Dixon. 'Neurodiverse talent can bring new perspectives to the NGA workforce and make important contributions to the mission.' The pilot is a great learning opportunity for NGA to continue to grow and improve our first-class workforce."
Learn more from the podcast "The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Takes Workforce Diversity In A New Direction"
Learn more about the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Supporting each individual's preferred environment at Elastic
"We distribute anonymous surveys that allow anyone, including neurodiverse folks, to address potential barriers that we should address.
Our accessibility working group acts as an employee resource as well as an equity-seeking team that works to create and develop a disability inclusive workplace at Elastic.
The majority of our Elasticians work from home. Our hope is that this empowers neurodiverse employees, including those who may be on the spectrum, to have more control over their environment so that they can manage noise and light sensitivity, control their personal space, and manage their own schedule to reduce anxiety."
Learn more about Elastic.
Pioneering neurodiversity at Freddie Mac
"Freddie Mac values the insights and different perspectives that result from employees bringing their authentic selves to work. Our Office of Inclusive Engagement works with several organizations to identify qualified candidates, consider them for suitable roles and pair them with mentors who can help them adapt to an evolving new normal. In 2020, we evolved our neurodiversity internship initiative into a more robust training, education and hiring process called 'Neurodiversity at Work' to directly place candidates with Autism Spectrum Disorders into full-time roles."
Learn more about Freddie Mac.
Decoding inclusion at MongoDB
"MongoDB supports the neurodivergent community through interview accommodations, providing new hires the opportunity to select equipment and denote special requests, and onboarding checklists broken down into useful sections. To raise awareness about neurodiversity in the workplace, we have a learning and development (L&D) platform which has content on collaborating with different working styles. Our L&D Program focuses on building skills in managing teams inclusively. We also host Decoding Inclusion, a series of events aimed at building community and sharing foundational knowledge about D&I topics, including neurodiversity, to further our understanding of differences."
Learn more about MongoDB.
Encouraging allyship at Folsom Labs
"At Folsom Labs, we are passionate about building a culture of acceptance and inclusion. Our goal is not just to spread autism awareness but to strive to be allies and elevate the voices of those with disabilities. Now more than ever, this is important as many are facing the added weight of mental health and wellness challenges due to the pandemic. Encouraging allyship throughout the community and building a culture where everyone can thrive are at the forefront of our current initiatives. We are proud to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month — to set a stage where we can celebrate our differences and continue to create a space of inclusion and support."
Learn more about Folsom Labs.
Recruiting for diverse problem solvers at Dell Technologies
"Dell's Neurodiversity Hiring Program provides professional development training, internships, and full-time career opportunities for neurodivergent job seekers. The program rethinks the traditional interview process by removing barriers that may limit an individual from fully showcasing their skills and capabilities. Additionally, program participants benefit from job coaching and mentorship provided by our community partners and True Ability ERG members.
A variety of critical positions across the company have been filled through the program. In doing so, we are bringing in diverse perspectives for problem solving that have helped us differentiate ourselves within the marketplace all while cultivating a culture of inclusion."
Learn more about Dell.
Supporting professionals with autism throughout their talent journey at Deloitte
"At Deloitte, everyone contributes to our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Our inclusive culture, empowers all of us, including those with diverse abilities, to connect, belong, and grow. Deloitte's Autism@Work program supports our professionals with autism throughout their talent journey. A customized, autism-friendly assessment process helps draw out our candidates' strengths. Our employees have an internal Coach, an Onboarding Advisor, and access to external job coaching. Our Onboarding Mentor/Buddy Program pairs professionals with autism with other Deloitte colleagues/allies. Through Neurodiversity Training, our professionals can help support and manage our differently-abled professionals. We also have our Abilities First Business Resource Group for people with disabilities plus allies."
Learn more about Deloitte.
Sharing stories to support awareness at Lockheed Martin
"Lockheed Martin shares employee stories internally to help others understand Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and hosts internal events to support ASD awareness and education. The Able & Allies business resource group, whose mission is to build an environment that empowers employees with disabilities, has recently partnered with ASD advocacy organizations to offer resources to assist with managing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with persons who have ASD and their families. Missiles and Fire Control (MFC) is a member of the Florida Ability Inclusion Network and strives to educate employees and leaders on disabilities and recommend best practices to promote a disability-friendly workplace."
Learn more about Lockheed Martin.