Breaking the Bias for Women in Tech

Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
March 22, 2022

March 8th was International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is was #BreaktheBias. Ten Thousand Coffees (10KC) spoke to Nicole Leber, Senior Director of Technical Product Management at GE, about her career in the technology sector as a female leader, how to tackle and teach about bias in the workplace, the critical role allyship plays in developing trust with colleagues, and how she supports women in the tech space.

10KC: Tell us about your role at GE and how you got there. Why did you want to pursue a career in tech and product management?

Leber: When I was younger, I didn’t really have an affiliation with tech — I kind of stumbled into it. I went to an engineering college. I had an internship one summer at another company and they said, “We need you to work in IT.” At first, I wasn’t sure what types of projects I’d be working on. I ended up taking vendor-provided software and using it to upgrade the shop floor. What really energized me about this project was getting the opportunity to understand how the business works to sell a product, and how technology enables that process to work more smoothly.

I started with GE 12 years ago. I received an offer to join their digital technology leadership program. I did four 6-month rotations over the course of two years. This gave me the opportunity to experience different aspects of technology: cybersecurity, data analytics. Part of the reason that I’ve stayed this long is that I've been able to continuously learn and grow throughout my 12 years here. Right now, I manage our learning technologies and communities that support the GE enterprise, such as our mentorship programs. In addition, I own a variety of learning and talent development programs, and I'm responsible for delivering training content to our early career and high-potential employees.

10KC: You spoke about mentorship and talent initiatives. Can you expand on that?

Leber: There's a huge focus now on employee experience and valuing the employees you have. We've all heard and seen the news about “The Great Resignation” — it’s an employee’s market. In collaboration with our technology function and with my HR partners, our Corporate Digital Technology team has created a people strategy that's all about how we grow and value our employees through a variety of different initiatives. Our employees have been virtual the last two years. There are very few of us within IT at GE that truly need to be in an office , and we've lost some connection across our organization. We saw a need to create the concept of boundaryless connection. In partnership with 10KC, we launched a mentorship pilot program for our corporate technology function and invited a global sampling of women and US minority workers. We want to make sure those underrepresented groups feel supported. We are a global company that operates in over 150 countries. That connection is something that makes people feel part of a community.

10KC: Tell us about product management. It's a newer field that people aren't necessarily
aware of.


Leber: When I started in the space 12 years ago, we didn't really have the sense of product management. I was an IT project manager. Leadership came to me and said, ‘We want you to create an online store for selling this product.’ The shift that we've seen is the same as you would think about a physical product that sits on a shelf. Let's start thinking about our technology and our applications in that same way.

If you think of Facebook as a product, who are the users of Facebook? What are the features of that product that really resonate with them? You do interviews with customers and look at any data you can find and take that to the development team, who decide what you should be working on.

Henry Ford had this great quote. He said, ‘If I asked a customer many years ago what they wanted, they wouldn't have said a car — they would have said I want a faster horse.’ It's a similar concept with technology. If I were to say to you, ‘What would you want in a futuristic social media platform?’ You'd probably say, ‘Well, I like this about Instagram , and that about Facebook.’ That isn't a revolutionary idea. How can I give you incremental pieces you can start using now before I design a completely different strategy for my product or application?

10KC: The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BreakTheBias, which is a call to identify gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping each time you see it. How are you breaking the bias for women in leadership roles and for the employees that you lead?

Leber: I grew up with a very strong female role model in my mother. She and my father founded a company. At the start, she stayed home with us. As the company grew, she took over as president and owner and ran that for the entirety of my childhood. My older sister always knew she wanted a career in technology. She's a computer scientist, has numerous patents, and a Masters in computer science and natural language processing. I tell everyone she's one of the smartest people I know. My partner has three girls that I’m a stepmother to. Every day I come home seeing a younger generations’ perspective on what a career in technology looks like. It’s a lot of education to break the stereotypes. They love the fact that one day I'm on the phone with someone from Australia or China or India. That’s kind of a cool entryway into what a technology career could be.

I've always felt supported at GE — it’s one of the things that's kept me here for so long. I talk a lot about the importance of finding advocates and sponsors, colleagues who are comfortable giving you feedback — both positive and constructive feedback. It can help you along your journey. I think back to some of the challenges within my career. It wasn't necessarily because I was a female — upon reflection it’s that I wasn't being clear with people in my network about what I really wanted. That's one thing I'm very passionate about. I always ask my colleagues: let's be specific about what you really want and what energizes you, and then put good people around you. They can help you get to those goals.

10KC: Throughout your career, are there any barriers you feel like you’ve uniquely faced because you’re a woman? Was there ever a time you felt disadvantaged because of this?

Leber: In my overall career path and career progression, I didn't feel like I was hitting a glass ceiling or got passed over because I was a woman, but I have dealt with some of the repercussions of stereotyping and bias within the workplace. I was traveling for work once and we were visiting one of our vendor partners, an external partner to GE. I was the only woman at this event. We were working all day in the office and we went for dinner afterwards and I'm sitting next to the co-founder of the vendor partner. I personally made the decision not to have biological children — my partner comes with three children from a previous marriage. The
vendor asked me some very personal questions, pushing me to say that someone as smart and successful as me should have kids, that I need to rethink that. In the moment, I was not all that taken aback, which is unfortunately something most women have dealt with.

The next day my people leader called me and said, ‘I was made aware of a situation that you were put in by one of our external partners. Someone on your team, one of the men, raised a concern, and we wanted to reach out and make sure you're okay and that you felt supported.’ To this day, I still don't know who my ally was in the room. When you work for an organization where you have people aware enough to say there's something wrong, it speaks to the quality of people in your organization.

10KC: In 2020, a study found that only 28.8% of those working in tech are women. This percentage has increased but there is a clear mis-proportion of women vs. men. What needs to be done to support and encourage women to pursue a career in tech?

Leber: If you look at the statistics, we know companies that are more diverse are more competitive and more profitable, especially with a company like GE, where we have customers all around the world. If we don't have a workforce that reflects that, we're not going to be successful.

People view technology with the stereotypical lens of a person sitting alone in a dark room coding — that's just not the case. I wouldn't be where I am today without a strong network of sponsors and advocates. Figure out who that is for you, whether it's a man or a woman or someone who identifies with another gender identification. Think about the person who will give you candid feedback, who truly has your best interests at heart. I've been inspired this month looking at my LinkedIn feed and seeing all the strong women I know, and some of the strong allies as well, promoting International Women’s Day. Knock on doors, reach out to people you admire. That's a great place to start to build that network for yourself.

10KC: What is GE doing to support women in the workplace and/or who work in tech?

Leber: The power that employees have right now within the organization, especially those entering the workforce — they're demanding things of organizations that previous generations didn’t. In 2020, we released our diversity metrics. You can see our gender diversity, US minority diversity, and how we compare with pay-for-performance. Our goal is obviously for women to be making 100% of what a man makes for the same job. Right now, we're at 99%, which I think is something we should be proud of, and we'll continue to work towards that 100%.

We have Chief Diversity Officers within every organization at GE that are accountable for creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. More specifically, we start every team meeting with an inclusion moment, which is an opportunity for employees to share a personal or professional inclusion experience that they’ve had - good or bad. It could be an educational moment like presenting a new research insight or a framework for overcoming bias. Or, it can also be an uncomfortable situation they were in which they want to make their colleagues aware of. The purpose is to bring these moments to the forefront to create an inclusive and safe environment for our team members. A recent example for me, was that I recently trained all the people leaders within my corporate technology function around unconscious bias. It’s a priority for us across the board.

Webinar

Breaking the Bias for Women in Tech

March 8th was International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is was #BreaktheBias. Ten Thousand Coffees (10KC) spoke to Nicole Leber, Senior Director of Technical Product Management at GE, about her career in the technology sector as a female leader, how to tackle and teach about bias in the workplace, the critical role allyship plays in developing trust with colleagues, and how she supports women in the tech space.

10KC: Tell us about your role at GE and how you got there. Why did you want to pursue a career in tech and product management?

Leber: When I was younger, I didn’t really have an affiliation with tech — I kind of stumbled into it. I went to an engineering college. I had an internship one summer at another company and they said, “We need you to work in IT.” At first, I wasn’t sure what types of projects I’d be working on. I ended up taking vendor-provided software and using it to upgrade the shop floor. What really energized me about this project was getting the opportunity to understand how the business works to sell a product, and how technology enables that process to work more smoothly.

I started with GE 12 years ago. I received an offer to join their digital technology leadership program. I did four 6-month rotations over the course of two years. This gave me the opportunity to experience different aspects of technology: cybersecurity, data analytics. Part of the reason that I’ve stayed this long is that I've been able to continuously learn and grow throughout my 12 years here. Right now, I manage our learning technologies and communities that support the GE enterprise, such as our mentorship programs. In addition, I own a variety of learning and talent development programs, and I'm responsible for delivering training content to our early career and high-potential employees.

10KC: You spoke about mentorship and talent initiatives. Can you expand on that?

Leber: There's a huge focus now on employee experience and valuing the employees you have. We've all heard and seen the news about “The Great Resignation” — it’s an employee’s market. In collaboration with our technology function and with my HR partners, our Corporate Digital Technology team has created a people strategy that's all about how we grow and value our employees through a variety of different initiatives. Our employees have been virtual the last two years. There are very few of us within IT at GE that truly need to be in an office , and we've lost some connection across our organization. We saw a need to create the concept of boundaryless connection. In partnership with 10KC, we launched a mentorship pilot program for our corporate technology function and invited a global sampling of women and US minority workers. We want to make sure those underrepresented groups feel supported. We are a global company that operates in over 150 countries. That connection is something that makes people feel part of a community.

10KC: Tell us about product management. It's a newer field that people aren't necessarily
aware of.


Leber: When I started in the space 12 years ago, we didn't really have the sense of product management. I was an IT project manager. Leadership came to me and said, ‘We want you to create an online store for selling this product.’ The shift that we've seen is the same as you would think about a physical product that sits on a shelf. Let's start thinking about our technology and our applications in that same way.

If you think of Facebook as a product, who are the users of Facebook? What are the features of that product that really resonate with them? You do interviews with customers and look at any data you can find and take that to the development team, who decide what you should be working on.

Henry Ford had this great quote. He said, ‘If I asked a customer many years ago what they wanted, they wouldn't have said a car — they would have said I want a faster horse.’ It's a similar concept with technology. If I were to say to you, ‘What would you want in a futuristic social media platform?’ You'd probably say, ‘Well, I like this about Instagram , and that about Facebook.’ That isn't a revolutionary idea. How can I give you incremental pieces you can start using now before I design a completely different strategy for my product or application?

10KC: The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BreakTheBias, which is a call to identify gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping each time you see it. How are you breaking the bias for women in leadership roles and for the employees that you lead?

Leber: I grew up with a very strong female role model in my mother. She and my father founded a company. At the start, she stayed home with us. As the company grew, she took over as president and owner and ran that for the entirety of my childhood. My older sister always knew she wanted a career in technology. She's a computer scientist, has numerous patents, and a Masters in computer science and natural language processing. I tell everyone she's one of the smartest people I know. My partner has three girls that I’m a stepmother to. Every day I come home seeing a younger generations’ perspective on what a career in technology looks like. It’s a lot of education to break the stereotypes. They love the fact that one day I'm on the phone with someone from Australia or China or India. That’s kind of a cool entryway into what a technology career could be.

I've always felt supported at GE — it’s one of the things that's kept me here for so long. I talk a lot about the importance of finding advocates and sponsors, colleagues who are comfortable giving you feedback — both positive and constructive feedback. It can help you along your journey. I think back to some of the challenges within my career. It wasn't necessarily because I was a female — upon reflection it’s that I wasn't being clear with people in my network about what I really wanted. That's one thing I'm very passionate about. I always ask my colleagues: let's be specific about what you really want and what energizes you, and then put good people around you. They can help you get to those goals.

10KC: Throughout your career, are there any barriers you feel like you’ve uniquely faced because you’re a woman? Was there ever a time you felt disadvantaged because of this?

Leber: In my overall career path and career progression, I didn't feel like I was hitting a glass ceiling or got passed over because I was a woman, but I have dealt with some of the repercussions of stereotyping and bias within the workplace. I was traveling for work once and we were visiting one of our vendor partners, an external partner to GE. I was the only woman at this event. We were working all day in the office and we went for dinner afterwards and I'm sitting next to the co-founder of the vendor partner. I personally made the decision not to have biological children — my partner comes with three children from a previous marriage. The
vendor asked me some very personal questions, pushing me to say that someone as smart and successful as me should have kids, that I need to rethink that. In the moment, I was not all that taken aback, which is unfortunately something most women have dealt with.

The next day my people leader called me and said, ‘I was made aware of a situation that you were put in by one of our external partners. Someone on your team, one of the men, raised a concern, and we wanted to reach out and make sure you're okay and that you felt supported.’ To this day, I still don't know who my ally was in the room. When you work for an organization where you have people aware enough to say there's something wrong, it speaks to the quality of people in your organization.

10KC: In 2020, a study found that only 28.8% of those working in tech are women. This percentage has increased but there is a clear mis-proportion of women vs. men. What needs to be done to support and encourage women to pursue a career in tech?

Leber: If you look at the statistics, we know companies that are more diverse are more competitive and more profitable, especially with a company like GE, where we have customers all around the world. If we don't have a workforce that reflects that, we're not going to be successful.

People view technology with the stereotypical lens of a person sitting alone in a dark room coding — that's just not the case. I wouldn't be where I am today without a strong network of sponsors and advocates. Figure out who that is for you, whether it's a man or a woman or someone who identifies with another gender identification. Think about the person who will give you candid feedback, who truly has your best interests at heart. I've been inspired this month looking at my LinkedIn feed and seeing all the strong women I know, and some of the strong allies as well, promoting International Women’s Day. Knock on doors, reach out to people you admire. That's a great place to start to build that network for yourself.

10KC: What is GE doing to support women in the workplace and/or who work in tech?

Leber: The power that employees have right now within the organization, especially those entering the workforce — they're demanding things of organizations that previous generations didn’t. In 2020, we released our diversity metrics. You can see our gender diversity, US minority diversity, and how we compare with pay-for-performance. Our goal is obviously for women to be making 100% of what a man makes for the same job. Right now, we're at 99%, which I think is something we should be proud of, and we'll continue to work towards that 100%.

We have Chief Diversity Officers within every organization at GE that are accountable for creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. More specifically, we start every team meeting with an inclusion moment, which is an opportunity for employees to share a personal or professional inclusion experience that they’ve had - good or bad. It could be an educational moment like presenting a new research insight or a framework for overcoming bias. Or, it can also be an uncomfortable situation they were in which they want to make their colleagues aware of. The purpose is to bring these moments to the forefront to create an inclusive and safe environment for our team members. A recent example for me, was that I recently trained all the people leaders within my corporate technology function around unconscious bias. It’s a priority for us across the board.

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