Women in OR/MS: Cocktails and Questions with Diane Bryant, COO Google Cloud
I just returned from the cocktail and questions hour put on by the Women in OR/MS (WORMS) group, where Diane Bryant held a really excellent discussion on her career path and the ways that women and other underrepresented minorities can really thrive and succeed in a technical career. Bryant is currently the COO of Google Cloud; previously she was at Intel for 35 years, and in 2015 was named one of Fortune’s 50 most powerful women. Her story and experiences really are worth hearing, and I just wanted to take this opportunity to summarize a few of the points that she made, in case you were unable to attend the session.
Bryant outlined three main points which are critical in order to help women and other minorities be successful in the workplace: Sponsorship, Confidence, and Inclusion. The first of these, Sponsorship, is really about having an advocate for you in your career; she stressed the importance that your advocate be someone who can actually influence and make decisions about your career trajectory. In contrast, Bryant said, is Mentorship. If you have a mentor, you have a confidant and someone who can offer you advice, but they really don’t have any power over your career trajectory. Both are important–but career movement really only comes with advocates (an interesting factoid that Bryant mentioned is that a woman will have, over the course of her career, an average of 23 mentors, but many fewer advocates or sponsors).
And, critically, often advocates in the tech industry are men (at least at first). The simple reason for this is that, particularly at some companies, there just aren’t enough women in high-enough positions to serve as advocates. It wasn’t until Bryant achieved a VP status at Intel (where just 6% of the VPs were women) that she really started being able to advocate for other women at the company, and over her tenure there she and the other VPs was able to bring the representation of women VPs up to 21%.
The second point that Bryant discussed was that of perceived Confidence. The main difference, she said, between women and men is not talent; neither is it actual confidence in your abilities; instead, it’s that men are better at faking it! She compared the well-known “Peter Principle”, in which people will rise through the ranks of the organization to their level of incompetence, to the “Amber Principle”, named after a friend of hers who said the following: “Women will rise not to their level of incompetence, but to their level of self-doubt.”
To really display confidence at all times is a leader’s primary job; even if things are falling apart all around, the leader needs to be able to say, confidently, “It’s all right; we can fix this.” Nobody will follow someone who spends their time worrying about all the different ways in which a person, project, or company might fail. Projecting confidence is a skill, and it takes practice.
The final point Bryant made was about Inclusion. One of her slides said, “Diversity is a fact; Inclusion is a choice.” What this means is that diversity is really all about the numbers. You can look at a room of people and compute how diverse it is, based on gender, race, sexual orientation, or whatever other metrics you want to measure. But, the fact that the tech industry is not very diverse means that, as an industry, we have not chosen to be inclusive. And the reason for that, she said, is that as an industry, we don’t see the value in diversity.
To this point she really highlighted the importance of allies. It doesn’t make any logical sense to expect the people who are lacking in power to be able to change their situation– they literally don’t have the power to do anything about it! Instead, we need to have the people who do have the power to change situations to use that power to change things. It doesn’t even have to be all that many people: Bryant used the example of the tipping point, in which 20% of the population who care the most can drag along the other 80% of the population into a better place.
All in all I thought it was a fantastic discussion and wanted to share the highlights here! Thanks for coming to talk, Diane!
David R. Morrison, Software Engineer @Yelp