At Contentful, we like to say that everyone is welcome here. Our workforce includes people from over 70 nationalities, and we bring our holidays to work. This August, we gathered to observe Women’s Equality Day. It’s an American holiday that celebrates the 1920 adoption of Amendment XIX to the United States Constitution, which allowed some women the right to vote in federal and state elections.
Women across Contentful’s leadership spoke about gender discrepancy in technology, their own career experiences and the actions they are taking to champion greater equity. Here’s a bit about the speakers and panel highlights.
Moderator: Dina Apostolou, VP Product Marketing, Berlin
Panelists: Simona Stanescu, Senior Director of Customer Support, Berlin; Tony Le, Senior Director, Talent Acquisition, San Francisco; Claire Gaudreau, Territory Account Executive, San Francisco; Fede Brugnera, Senior Director, FP&A, San Francisco; and Nikita Rathi, Engineering Manager, Berlin.
How backgrounds influence activism
While our background and upbringing aren’t the only parameters that define us, they can impact our thoughts, feelings and actions — this includes our perception of and participation in women’s equality. With a team as diverse as Contentful, each panelist found their voice as activists by different means and at different times in their lives. Claire, a territory account executive and a member of Contentful’s Women in Sales and LGBTQ+ groups, grew up surrounded by strong women and wanted to follow in their footsteps. Tony, senior director of talent acquisition, became an ally for women’s rights for similar reasons. He often finds inspiration by reflecting on the strength and resilience of his mother, who traveled from Vietnam to the United States in the 1970s as a refugee.
Nikita Rathi, Simona Stanescu, and Fede Brugnera became more concerned with gender roles upon entering the workforce. Simona is particularly interested in balancing gender representation in the technology industry. “When I started at Contentful, there were mostly men at the table,” she points out. Nikita shares this goal of creating a more female-friendly environment at Contentful. In attending an all-female boarding school and being raised by a female entrepreneur, Nikita was always independent — something that activism and her goals require.
The importance of emotional intelligence
After framing what inspired them to help catalyze change, Dina Apostolou asked panelists to discuss the connection between gender and emotional intelligence in the workplace — a trending but previously taboo topic. Emotional intelligence — the ability to identify, analyze and control our emotions — is not something to avoid but a learned skill put into practice. The panelists agree that acknowledging every team member is a holistic being with feelings can actually lead to a better, more productive workplace.
The caveat to this general sentiment is that certain emotions are not tied to one or the other gender. Fede feels eliminating the association of specific genders and emotions is important, as this prevents team members and businesses from expecting or reacting in alignment with findings from emotional-intelligence studies. Women shouldn’t be expected to be good listeners, empathetic and relationship-oriented, and men shouldn’t be expected to be assertive and confident. Instead, team members should conduct their emotions in a way that compliments their individuality and professional role independent of gender.
“I actually want to forget about my gender at work. I’m a professional. I want that to be who I am at work.”
In certain professional landscapes, like sales, emotional intelligence is more visible. Claire points out that sales cycles can be emotionally taxing and that there is always a feeling of wanting to be understood and understand the person on the other end. To deal with this, she took a course on psychological safety — psychological safety means team members feel comfortable enough to share ideas and opinions without fear of rejection or retaliation. “Psychological safety and how you feel safe at your job is the biggest factor for high-performing teams,” says Claire. “You have to create space for people to do their jobs and do them well.” Psychological safety can help women and other minority groups feel more comfortable speaking up.
Managing with minorities in mind
Creating a safe space and equality in the workspace often starts from the top down, which is why panelists feel it’s important that management give opportunities to the right people and empower women to feel more confident in their words and actions. According to a study by Harvard business review, women often won’t apply for jobs if they don’t meet all the qualifications. This trend does not extend to men.
Simona gives this advice to hiring managers: “Invest more time on profiles that you normally wouldn’t give a chance. Fight your blind spots.” It’s easy to idealize who and what you want in your next hire. What’s important is taking stock of and challenging it. In taking these actions, you have a greater chance of diversifying your team and the pool of experience members have to offer. “It’s OK to have biases because we all come from different backgrounds. There needs to be space to recognize them. That’s the first step,” says Fede.
The panelist also spoke about the importance of providing thoughtful feedback. While many have become masters at accepting constructive criticism, it’s difficult to apply if it isn’t actionable or even true. “I’ve often been told to be more assertive — to be less meek, “ Nakita says of her encounters in boardrooms or when working with larger groups. “I guarantee you that anyone who knows me personally would not describe me as meek.”
Nikita wants managers to consider environmental impacts on performance before offering advice. If advice is warranted, managers should make it actionable, empowering and always write it down.
The panelists also discussed how, sometimes, an assigned manager isn’t the right fit for certain employees. If this is the case, you should be on the lookout for other mentors who share a common background, understanding or have already experienced the career growth you hope to attain, shares Simona.
Opening the door to allies
Out of the five panelists we spoke to, just one, Tony, was an ally on the topic of women’s rights. As a member of a marginalized group and working in Silicon Valley — the California tech haven notorious for missing employment diversity goals — Tony saw how teams with singular ethnic profiles translated into singular thoughts. When he ventured outside this area and these teams, he saw the myriad of ideas and possibilities that people with different backgrounds and viewpoints offered. Tony advocated for female representation in technology in more than the workspace — he supports a Girls Who Code group, which encourages young women to participate in STEM activities early on. Taking an active role in developmental programs like this is just one way allies contribute to gender equality.
“Allies are important because they are often more effective at preventing and stopping disparities or discriminatory behavior than members of the group being affected.”
Allies serve as whistle-blowers, because the power structures that marginalize women offer most allies greater power and respect.
Tony points out that allies need to do internal audits. He shares that, during meetings, he often asks himself: Am I listening well? Am I aware of biases? In doing so, he creates a safer, more productive, more inclusive space for colleagues.
Claire wants allies to participate in creating a solution. Because the ideal solution might change with the group you act as an ally for, it’s important to have a dialogue about it with those most affected. This requires building relationships. When relationships are built between people in the minority and allies, growth becomes a two-way street. Nikita points out that with these relationships, minority groups gain a confidant and allies gain feedback on their own internal audits.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Contentful supports women in and outside of the company, get in touch.