Leadership Focus on Women in Engineering Inclusion
In 2019, there were nearly 10.8 million workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, according to Census Bureau estimates. Yet, women made up only 27% of those workers.
Yes, the inclusion of women in STEM roles has made strides over the last 50 years. In 1970, women made up just 8% of the STEM workforce, also according to the Census. But what more can be done to move the needle towards equal representation in the industry?
It’s a question NextRoll leaders asked early, and continue to ask often. Patrick Mee, the Executive Vice President of Engineering at NextRoll, said his participation in an unconscious bias training first prompted his interest and involvement in women’s inclusion.
“It just fascinated me from a purely mathematical point of view,” he said. “Bias is just a kink in the system. It can start as a small kink but when you run it through the system many times, it creates larger variances and you’re not even aware of it.”
Today, Patrick is the Executive Sponsor of NextRoll’s RollWomen Employee Resource Group (ERG), which aims to cultivate an inclusive and intersectional environment at NextRoll to support and encourage women to advance their skills and leadership potential. He’s also helping lead a large women-focused recruiting effort to bring more gender diversity to NextRoll’s Engineering team.
Here is what he said drives his passion for women’s inclusion in the industry, and how he’s helped cultivate an environment for belonging and advancement for women at NextRoll.
What did your early years at NextRoll teach you about gender bias in engineering?
We sat down with all of the women engineers at NextRoll and what we learned made us frustrated! Frustrated that women had to work so much more than another group to reach their potential. For example, we learned that women check an email 10 times before they send it. They’re held to a different standard than men and thus more conscientious about what they’re saying and how they’re wording it to their peers. This requires a lot more work and time whereas men can get away with being more cavalier in their emails and have less worry about how they might be perceived.
A more recent example, and one that I’ve witnessed firsthand, is women tend to take on more “housekeeping” work in the office than men. This includes tasks such as taking notes, setting up meetings, writing documentation, and doing maintenance work – like fixing bugs bots. Women engineers seem more comfortable filling the vacuum, or what I call the “crap gap,” when it’s needed.
I talk to managers about this a lot and tell them to spread that load around. We need to ensure women engineers at NextRoll feel supported and confident to push themselves into areas where they are less comfortable and to explore other passions and avenues.
What drives your passion for women's inclusion and empowerment at NextRoll?
At NextRoll we have Culture Creatures, and the one I appreciate the most is the Owl. The Owl states “Hire great people and help them grow.”
Having bias in the hiring system, whether it’s unconscious or conscious, reduces your ability to hire the best people. But it goes even further than that. Helping them reach their potential is where inclusiveness matters. This is because when they come to NextRoll and if they’re not able to reach their potential you’re not achieving that goal either.
At the company, we place a high value on paying attention to our own conscious bias and it’s allowed us to reach robust diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. If you’re being discriminatory or non-inclusive, you’re not achieving these goals. This might be a little mercenary, but it’s also reality. Don’t get in your own way of hiring the best people.
How does NextRoll build a culture that supports women and how do leaders, including yourself, contribute to that culture?
We’ve worked to standardize the interviewing process and remove the subjectivity from it. We essentially identify the skills that an engineer needs to be good at and then we ask questions specific to just that. We don’t ask about their thought process, we just want to know if they can answer the question, yes or no, to make it more objective.
We use an application called Textio that we run every job description through it to make sure the language is gender-neutral. I’ve been pushing for many years that the requirements for job descriptions should be no more than four criteria and be things we can interview for, not subjective traits anyone can claim without evidence. When we take these things out, we can help take the bias out of the candidate pipeline in advance.
I’m also a certified Ally Trainer, which is a program NextRoll runs to help employees to be less passive and observant about bias. It includes interactive sessions where we provide tips to help people change how they operate. I've been teaching these courses for a few years now. It’s allowed me to really throw myself into learning about this, as well as share my knowledge.
What are some of the initiatives you’re most proud of from the ERG?
Every year the Engineering team sponsors the Grace Hopper Celebration conference, which brings the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront and highlights the contributions of women to the tech world. It’s the largest tech conference for women in the world, and each year we sponsor ten women on the Engineering team to attend. We choose this conference because it focuses on career development and leadership development for women engineers and product professionals, as well as offers technical tracks for learning. The energy is fantastic and this conference allows us to help women engineers reach their full potential and shows we’re willing to invest in them.
Because our investment in the Grace Hopper Celebration Conference has been really well received, RollWomen ERG is sponsoring more women-specific conferences. Group leaders identify the best ones and then facilitate getting NextRoll women to them, regardless of their department. We feel this is an important investment in helping women further themselves and their careers in an environment where they often feel underrepresented.
How has NextRoll’s Hybrid Work Model impacted your engineering team?
NextRoll as a company embraces the flexibility a Hybrid Work Model provides Rollers. In Engineering, we don’t require anyone to be at a desk. It’s okay if we don’t see you all of the time because we base success on output and productivity. Our Engineering team is also spread out across the world so there are different time zones to consider. We let Rollers have control over how to best manage their schedule and, if needed, sometimes that’s outside of a non-traditional workday.
This flexibility has been hugely impactful. For some team members, it means they’re not wasting time commuting but rather using that time to spend with their friends and family. For others who are starting families, the flexibility to work around daycare, school activities, or their partner’s schedule eliminates a lot of stress of trying to juggle work and life.
In the instance of maternity leave, it’s our policy to give a performance review before a woman takes leave. During this session, we also work together to create a reintroduction plan for re-entry back into the workplace so there is not a gap in her record and she doesn’t fall behind. Upon return for maternity leave, we encourage women to check in with their managers on a regular basis and make sure things are working for her and help her adjust her schedule if needed.
Flexibility is also really important in helping employees cope with the pandemic. It really took a toll on people and we made it a priority to check in with our teams, see how they were and if they weren’t okay, encouraging them to take time off and to come back to work when they were ready.
What are you most proud of about NextRoll’s Engineering team?
I’m most proud of the team’s lack of ego, as well as their willingness to cooperate and their non-willingness to put up with those who don’t work as a team. It’s very important to me that my team doesn’t make assumptions, but rather they are active listeners. We try as much as possible to go into conversations with humility and empathy.
What would you say to a women engineering candidate who was thinking about taking a job at NextRoll?
I would say three things:
The first is we focus on impact. If you have good ideas, we encourage you to collaborate with your team to make them happen - regardless of your title or seniority.
The second is we embrace flexibility and we’ll work with you to maintain a work/life balance or when life changes come along, such as becoming a parent. Whatever the need, will always be there as a partner to help you through it.
And the third is NextRoll is a company committed to DE&I. For me specifically, I want to make Engineering a better place for women. If in some small way I can make it better for you, you’ll encourage other women to join the field of engineering and ultimately make this industry better.
Learn more about NextRoll’s Women in Engineering and hear from our team how they’ve grown their skills and careers on the team on our Technical, Not Traditional site.