Clockwise: Robin Beers, Jennifer Spratley, Diana Macias, and Sarah Bellrichard
Editor’s note: The status of women in technology continues to spark discussion in the popular press and social media, even as the numbers reflect a continuing industry underrepresentation. Wells Fargo asked four women leaders in Wholesale Banking — who primarily are focused on Wells Fargo’s proprietary Commercial Electronic Office® (CEO®) portal and CEO Mobile® experience — about the situation. An edited version of their conversation follows.
The leaders are: Robin Beers, Customer Experience Insights; Sarah Bellrichard, Wholesale User Experience; Diana Macias, Front-end and Mobile Development; and Jennifer Spratley, Fraud Prevention & Authentication.
Q: In a corporate environment, what are the benefits of a diverse operation?
Sarah: Any organization benefits from its employees’ multiple perspectives that come from diverse experiences. Women bring a thoughtful and considered perspective to an environment; however, it’s really about diversity of voice. In a perfect situation, that leads to a balanced approach or solution.
Jennifer: Having women in leadership roles in technology helps dispel the notion that technology-oriented roles are made for men. It helps other women see it is not only a male-dominated field.
Diana: I want to add to what Jennifer and Sarah are saying: it’s not just female diversity, but all types of diversity. I always look to be in environments with a diverse population. Everybody brings a different perspective, and the magic happens when people have different voices and see things from a different angle. That leads to some pretty dynamic work environments.
Robin: Diverse perspectives and a focus on human relationships are necessary in complex environments where change is the only constant.
Wells Fargo is a company that nurtures and grows leadership capabilities in women. Our environment and projects are complex and require a great deal of coordination and alignment to execute. Women leaders tend to see complexity in terms of whole systems, networks of relationships, and people. This orientation helps shape Wells Fargo’s culture of caring — the quality of the work and the relationships that are fostered to deliver excellent products, services, and experiences. Conceptually speaking, women leaders in technology help everyone to balance the what, the people who make it happen, and the how.
Q: How do you inspire or help women pursue technology careers?
Jennifer: This question really resonates with me because I’m fresh off a trip to Boston. I took my daughter to visit MIT. I support her passion for science, math, and technology one hundred percent, and I am her biggest advocate in helping her pursue what she loves.
Outside of my home, I try to mentor other women and young professionals of any gender. I help them understand their strengths and aspirations and how they can fulfill their personal and professional goals. Regardless of how busy I am, I enjoy the time I spend working with people who are young in their careers. I get so much out of the shared experience.
Sarah: I’m a member of the XX+UX (user experience) group, which is a women’s community of UX professionals. The goal of the group is to create an online environment that reaches this broad social community, and holds events such as meet-ups, hackathons, protothons, and mentoring events. There were three or four mentoring events these past few years where senior professionals met with individuals just entering their careers. In this setting, established UX practitioners reviewed resumes and portfolios, provided feedback, and gave advice on what employers were looking for. I think it’s important to meet with professionals at all levels. I try to be as available as I can to the larger UX community.
Robin: I work with some amazingly talented women who are at the beginning of their careers. I encourage them to take advantage of the wide array of opportunities afforded to them and to try new things. Each role in a company is a piece in the puzzle that makes up the whole company’s success. For example, a product manager in the channel group might transition to my user experience research team. I know her ability to get projects through technology development and out to customers will bring value, as well as how she filters and hears customer feedback in the design phase. Cross-pollination develops capabilities of both the individual and company.
Q: Research suggests that young girls often excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects, but their attitudes changes as they get older. How can this be addressed?
Diana: I have two daughters in college now, and when they were both in high school, they had a high aptitude for math and science, but the institutional support wasn’t necessarily there. I’ve always been a strong advocate and told my kids they can do whatever they want. One of my girls went on to get a computer and electric engineering degree, and she was the only woman who graduated in her program that year.
Attitude changes are not always impacted by one’s gender. I’ve encountered barriers being Hispanic. Throughout a woman’s life, it’s important she not make anything an obstacle to pursue a career in technology.
Jennifer: My answer is partially speculation: Do women think this is a man’s space, and I should pursue something else? Perhaps traditional gender-based biases have an influence; however, I primarily think the love of STEM subjects is partially hard wired and can be learned. My daughter in high school, for example, has a hard-wired passion for STEM subjects and is considering studying them in college.
Robin: I was one of the girls who thought I was bad at math and science, so I don’t know if I’ve figured out the answer!
Q: Work-life balance is often a topic of conversation among working women. How do you approach this balance?
Robin: I tend to think in terms of work and personal identities being blended together. One of the reasons I love Wells Fargo is because team members are able to bring their whole selves to work, and part of that means acknowledging that we have lives outside of our jobs. This became even more critical to me when I decided to become a single mother and had a son on my own five years ago. In fact, I’m trying to get him to put his shoes on for school as we talk! And, that’s what I mean by blend instead of balance. Nothing these days can or needs to stay neatly compartmentalized. By enabling fluidity, everything that needs to be accomplished gets done.
Jennifer: Work/life balance is a challenge. For me, I’ve come to learn that sometimes work gets more of my time than home and vice versa; things sort of even out over time. My success in creating balance depends on staying super organized and always looking ahead two or three weeks on both the home and work fronts. This helps prevent surprises that impact either one. And, of course, sometimes you just have to take a little time for yourself away from work, family, and other obligations to clear your head and recharge, so you can continue to effectively contribute.
Q: What advice would you give to other women interested in careers in technology?
Robin: My advice is that nearly every career will have a technology component, so don’t be afraid of this aspect. Realize that technology is an enabler that allows people to do something in the world. No one on a complex, multifunctional team has the entire answer. Focus on the part that excites you and what you can bring to the holistic solution. For me, that means ensuring that technology works for people. For another woman, she could be excited about database coding or owning a product from inception to launch. Go to where your interests lie because that’s where your contributions will flourish.
Jennifer: I’m frankly not an innately technical person. I don’t have a STEM educational background, and the bulk of my career has not been in technology roles. I’m a good example of someone who didn’t feel afraid to step into a technical field. I say go for it. You can do it. You don’t have to be wildly technical to be a leader and successful in this field. I run a very technical business, and many of my direct reports have told me repeatedly that it is an advantage that I’m not as technical as perhaps they are, because I bring a different lens. You definitely have to have some technical aptitude, but you can be successful without being a math superstar or a technical wizard by simply applying basic fundamental skills to your role. It can be advantageous for your business to have a balance of technical and non-technical team members with a range of skill sets.
Sarah: It’s about not giving up. Diana’s example about her daughter being the only woman to graduate from her engineering program is telling. It really is about following your passion and not being intimidated. There is a self-confidence that girls and young women need to hang on to. Regardless of what may feel like a barrier, it’s only there if you let it stop you. That means reaching out if you are finding dead ends and then finding communities that offer support and guidance. Seek out mentors. They will help knock those barriers down and build your confidence up.
Jennifer: After listening to Sarah I feel grateful for not being held back from taking on a technical role, because I didn’t have the right background. It’s evident one can learn and do it. You can bring your other skills to the table and be successful. Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do it if you have an interest.
Diana: I agree with Sarah’s point about having self-confidence. It’s also important to have folks who can support you throughout your journey.