Diversity in Tech: Lessons to Learn and Share Among Companies, At Home and Abroad
Sara Weber, Senior Managing Editor at LinkedIn, on how collaboration is key to New Work and why visibility plays a major role in enhancing diversity.
There are any number of good reasons as to why the Internet industry needs female reinforcement. Numerous fields in the branch are up against a shortage of skilled workers. What’s more, homogeneous teams and uniform ways of thinking represent a clear obstacle to innovation. The digital industry is booming, new digital business models are being created each and every day, and lucrative jobs are being created – but all too often, women are still missing out. The eco Association wants to change that. As part of its “Women in Tech” topic field, eco invites inspiring female specialists and executives from the Internet industry to take the floor in a series of interviews. Here we deal with the really important topics: from development perspectives, through career tips and hopes for the future, to the challenges in a male-dominated working environment – and ultimately, to highlighting why working in the Internet industry is fun. In this issue of dotmagazine, you’ll find an interview with Sara Weber, Senior Managing Editor at LinkedIn, which was first published in German as part of the interview series on eco.de on 17 May 2021.
You are a multi-award-winning journalist and have worked for leading German media such as Der Spiegel, Die ZEIT, Brand Eins, and the digital department of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. You’ve been on board at LinkedIn since 2016 and have been leading the editorial teams in DACH and Benelux since 2019. What does your daily work look like and what is the most exciting thing about your job?
The best thing about the job is really the team. Now that may sound a bit clichéd, but it really is the case. Worldwide, our team comprises of over 75 journalists who cooperate and collaborate globally. I find it really exciting to learn about what’s going on with colleagues in the USA, Singapore, or France. Which success stories and formats can also be adopted in our DACH region (Germany, Austria and Switzerland)? For me, learning from my colleagues is a real highlight.
As Senior Managing Editor, I spend a lot of time in one-to-one meetings and look after strategy and format development. I also work very closely with our engineering and product teams. And it goes without saying that my team also undertakes classic editorial work. Our flagship product is the news overview, the Linkedin Daily Rundown, where we curate content and opinions for users. But we also create our own content, such as the Nett Work podcast. We are also in close contact with members and take care of the LinkedIn Influencer Programme – so every working day looks a little different.
That sounds really exciting and multifaceted. As a qualified journalist and Senior Managing Editor you obviously have a very good feel for topics. What are those topics that you think will continue to accompany and motivate us in the near future?
A central topic will undoubtedly be the digitalization of the world of work. Due to the pandemic, many people are working from home, and have been doing so for some time now. But I don’t think people will return to conventional offices in the same way as they did before. What is now needed are sustainable digital working models that go beyond merely relaying that everyone gets a laptop with video conferencing software. What we need much more are answers to the questions: How does decentralized communication work? What will offices look like in the future? And how will processes work in the future decentralized digital world of work ?
A very important insight. How do you approach this in your team? Do you have any tips for managers?
As I see it, internationally operating companies like ours have a head start due to having a greater degree of experience with decentralised collaboration. We share cloud-based documents, communicate via Slack, make video calls, etc. On the one hand, communication is currently intensifying; on the other hand, what is becoming incredibly important is communication regarding prioritization: what’s happening right now and why it’s happening. The “why” is crucial in order to make sure that everyone accompanies you in what you are doing, even if you’re not all in the same location.
What’s also vital is that personal communication doesn’t fall by the wayside. Good moments in working life can simply be the random encounters at the coffee machine – when we talk about what we did at the weekend, or how the dog is doing! It’s so easy to let that go because you want to be efficient. But, as I see it, letting that go wouldn’t be prudent. Instead, leaders should really actively take time to look at questions such as: How is my team doing right now? What are the problems and how can we solve them together? For this, the personal conversation must clearly be much more than just a polite word or two.
The issue of inclusive language is also important when it comes to communication and diversity. Where does your team stand on the issue of gender-neutral language?
As an editorial team, we want to make sure that people don’t feel excluded because of the language we use and, as such, we use gender-neutral language. In German, job titles are gendered – with different words for male and female teachers, for example. Thinking about what stereotypes you have in your head is totally important – also for future generations. I don’t think it’s good for children or young people to think that only one half of the professional world is open to them because somehow all men are heart surgeons and all women are nurses. Of course, there are people who feel put on the spot by gender-equality language. That’s why it’s important for me to say: We have decided this for ourselves, but we’re not forcing anyone to do it that way. We don’t stand next to people with a pitchfork and say, “Hey, come on, you have to use gender-neutral language!”
Stereotypes are also shaped by the media. Currently, there’s an ongoing discussion about how reports on women politicians often focus on the topic of work-life balance. The corporate and brand communication firm Hering Schuppener examined the portrayal of top female managers in the leading media and came to the conclusion: when it comes to female top managers, it’s all about children, clothes, appearance, work-life balance. Do journalists have to do better? And if so, how?
To a certain degree, I can understand why these questions are asked of female top managers – also by female journalists. I assume it’s because they also want the question answered for themselves. Because you simply ask yourself: Wow, how does she manage to do that? I’d like to do the same.
In our interview series with top executives, we’re very active in approaching both genders to address the topics of women’s promotion and diversity. I also ask the male CEO if he homeschools his children. I think you just have to normalize this more, and get away from the idea that it’s naturally the woman who takes care of the child and the household, while the man attends to the job. I don’t think it’s a bad thing when the issue of work-life balance is brought up. I think it’s only bad when the topic only comes up for women.
From a journalistic perspective, it helps to ask: What is the context of the interview? If I want to address the very important topic of work-life balance, then these questions are part of it. However, perhaps I shouldn’t only interview three women, but also one man. As far as the business media is concerned, it’s important that a more diverse range of voices have their say. Sure, it can be quicker to find the male CEO, but there are also female experts, female executives, female founders out there, or the father whose executive position is held on a part-time basis. You just have to make the effort to research and find these people.
Here you’ve touch on another important topic: visibility. As a platform, LinkedIn can also be tapped into very well for this purpose. What tips do you have for becoming visible on LinkedIn?
If you know that you want to use the platform and become more visible there, 90 percent of the work is already done. We always advise people to create a good profile. People shouldn’t only find you, but also know that they have found the right person. On top of that, simply comment on the topics that interest you and with which you’re familiar. There are no rigid rules. Anyone can choose the formats they like – whether it’s someone who likes to make videos or present stories, or someone who likes to write long articles or share news texts with a short analysis.
What I personally find important is being able answer the question: Why is this coming from this person and why is it coming from them now? Because if posts are along the lines of three things that a successful manager might do in the morning before 6 a.m., is anyone really interested in them? I would much rather know: Why is person X telling me this thing Y right now? And what is so special about it? You should never post something that conveys the feeling: I’m not really interested or I don’t care, but I just have to do something along these lines.
Regarding visibility in general: Over the last few years, something that we have definitely observed is that more and more female executives – but also female founders and people who you mightn’t necessarily expect to have found on LinkedIn – are having their say. This is a very important development that’s also reflected in the business world: not everything looks the same as it did 10, 20, or 30 years ago – and that’s a good thing.
Nevertheless, at the executive level the gender gap is wider than at other levels. People of color are also underrepresented. How do we get more diversity in all dimensions into the upper ranks?
When we talk about diversity, particularly in Germany, I find it difficult to accept that we often only talk about women. With Belén Garijo, we now have the first sole female CEO of a DAX company in Germany.
However, in the working world, we don’t just need women to be more strongly represented; we also need more people of color, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community – as well as people who don’t come from academic backgrounds.
In companies, it often stems from the fact that recruitment processes are not designed to be diverse and inclusive. To have a company just say that they are happy to have diverse candidates isn’t enough; companies really have to show what they can offer these candidates.
For example, are there employee resource groups aimed at specific target groups? Is the office barrier-free? Is part-time work an option? Applicant lists must be diverse, not with nine men and one woman. There must be clear rules for starting with a diverse group of candidates, because then the chance of selecting candidates who meet these criteria is naturally higher.
Employer branding also plays a central role. The company’s external profile should visibly show the diversity of the employees. I can still clearly remember this one moment in my LinkedIn application process. An employee was a woman of color, just as I am. I thought: Cool, I’ve rarely seen that in the media world where I was before. I wouldn’t be the only one here. That sealed the idea in my mind that I could feel comfortable here and fit in.
Imagine a scenario where you were allowed to host a panel with your dream cast: Who would you invite and what would you talk about?
Who I’d definitely like to invite would be Michelle Obama, as well as Shonda Rhimes, one of the best storytellers of our time; and Janina Kugel, one of Germany’s most prominent managers. My panel would be completed by Raul Krauthausen, an activist for inclusion and accessibility, and Stuart Bruce Cameron, the latter who is a strong advocate for the LGTBQ+ community. I’d then like to talk about diversity and the digitalization of the economy.
That would be a very cool line-up; I’d definitely love to be there as a listener. In your podcast Nett Work you talk to young people from business, NGOs, or sports about their career paths and offer tips for young professionals. What career advice would you like to give to women?
My first tip would be: Rely on your intuition, listen to your gut feeling, and trust that things will work out. I believe that intuition is a strength that women in particular have, and that is totally underestimated in the business world. The second tip is to negotiate well. Never sell yourself short and never settle for the first offer. We know there is a gender pay gap and not every person can solve it for themselves. It’s a bigger structural problem. But women are simply less likely to negotiate. Admittedly, negotiating is also really hard, but it can be learned. For example, by practising with friends. It also doesn’t hurt to pick up the phone and ask a few industry experts: What can I ask for?
As part of eco’s #LiT Ladies in Tech interview series, we recently interviewed Evgeniya Ettinger from Oracle. Now we’d like to put a question to you that Ms Ettinger offered for our next interview partner: How can a country make its labor market and its culture more attractive to workers from abroad in order to attract more diversity and boost innovation?
Using Germany as an example – but the same process can be applied to different regions and markets – first, there needs to be a change in the mindset and a greater recognition that diverse people with different views and experiences, languages, and origins offer a positive aspect from which everyone benefits. Second, language alone can be a barrier. In traditional corporations in Germany, the corporate language may be German, which is perfectly fine. But under these circumstances, it should already be explicitly stated in the job posting: We also welcome people who may not yet speak German. We offer crash courses during working hours: paid by the company for the first two years.
What would be of equal value is to offer support services that help them to gain a foothold in Germany and to settle in – even outside of the corporate community. For example, helping them find a place to live, or setting up an English-speaking regular social gathering with other companies, or initiating contacts with the local soccer or tennis club. I’m sure there are many, many successful examples of this, especially in the start-up scene. Companies that do this well can be certain that word will get around in the community and that it will be easier to recruit more skilled workers from abroad in the future.
Those tips are very valuable from a company perspective. When it comes to politics, do you have any new ideas for policy-makers? Do we maybe need to change the framework conditions in some way to ease things up for the German industry?
A hurdle for many people coming to Germany is that they cannot pursue their profession of origin. That’s why, in the labor market, we see the recognition of qualifications and educational degrees which have been acquired abroad as a crucial lever for bringing skilled workers to Germany. Setting up businesses should also be made easier. These people bring so much innovative strength with them, and this is sometimes rather stifled by paperwork.
What question might you yourself put to an interview partner?
How can we manage to make sure that digital technologies are fair and equally good for everyone across corporations?
Another question that I’d like: Aside from your cell phone or laptop, is there one thing in your everyday working life that you wouldn’t want to do without, because it makes your daily routine so much easier?
Sara Weber is a journalist and author. As Senior Managing Editor at LinkedIn, she leads the editorial teams for the DACH (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) and Benelux regions. She hosts the LinkedIn podcast Nett Work and speaks at conferences and in interviews about her heartfelt topics of diversity, digitalization, and the new world of work. Previously, Weber worked as a freelance journalist for leading media, including Süddeutsche.de, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, Brand Eins, Horizont and Deutsche Welle (DWTV).
Further information on the topic of diversity can be found on eco's Diversity focus page and in the eco Association 2020 study on Women in Tech Across the Globe: A Good Practice Guide for Companies.
Please note: The opinions expressed in Industry Insights published by dotmagazine are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the publisher, eco – Association of the Internet Industry.