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Advancing Your Career as a Woman in Tech

tech pioneers, women in tech

Wendy Johansson, GVP, Experience Transformation Lead, Publicis Sapient

Advancing your career as a woman in tech isn’t as simple as the merits of your work. Aside from your work, you’ll need 3 components to empower yourself to succeed: Confidence, Community, Continuity.

Confidence is a long and drawn subject, but one way to “fake it until you make it” with career confidence is being able to quantify and qualify the value of your work. You may have doubts about the impact you have or feel impostor syndrome on a daily basis, but the nice part of tech roles is that the data is often there for you to tell a story. What major projects did your work influence? What value do those projects have to the company? How would you demonstrate the improvement in quality or quantity of your work over time? Tell your story and you’ll find the natural confidence that comes with the data.

Community is an important advantage to stave off the isolation and self-doubt that minority demographics face in an often monotype tech environment. Joining a community of mentors, peers, and potential mentees allows you to learn from the women who have paved the path before you, the women who are walking alongside you, and the women looking up to you. A community isn’t available at your company? Grab coffee or go for a walking 1:1 with female colleagues and get to know them and their stories. Don’t gatekeep your community to other women in tech roles, but open your network up to all women around you in your tech career – from marketing to sales to operational roles. Create your own tribe.

Continuity is building the muscle memory – you wouldn’t go to the gym once and expect long-term benefits. Even after a particular instance of advancing your career, such as a promotion or a new job, you need to keep practicing Confidence and Community. Quantifying and qualifying the value of your work becomes natural if you set regular checkpoints with yourself. Monthly goals? Weekly task lists checked off? This muscle will help you ease into a stronger sense of confidence in your tech career. Continuity of community is just as important. If you leave a company, or even move to a new city, keep in touch with the tribe you’ve built. They’ve seen you grow and surpass challenges, so their advice and perspectives will always be most holistic and inclusive of your journey.

About the author

Wendy built her 25-year career on leading UX teams as an early employee at successful early-stage startups. She was the first designer at Loopt, Sam Altman’s YC-funded startup that later sold for $43 million. As the UX manager at Ooyala, she helped build the marketing, videography, and UX teams before the company were sold to Telstra for $400M. Wendy also led the global UX team at AppNexus, sold to AT&T for $1.6B, before joining Wizeline.

Inspirational Woman: Wendy Johansson | Global Vice President, Experience Transformation Lead, Publicis Sapient

Wendy Johansson headshotWendy built her 25-year career on leading UX teams as an early employee at successful early-stage startups.

She was the first designer at Loopt, Sam Altman’s YC-funded startup that later sold for $43 million. As the UX manager at Ooyala, she helped build the marketing, videography, and UX teams before the company were sold to Telstra for $400M. Wendy also led the global UX team at AppNexus, sold to AT&T for $1.6B, before joining Wizeline.

Wendy studied Cognitive Science with a specialization in Human-Computer Interaction at UC San Diego. She has also received executive education in product management at U.C. Berkeley. During her time at UCSD, she led the Society of Women Engineers chapter and Society of Automotive Engineers. She is the winner of the regional .NET challenge in 2004.

In 2019, Wendy was invited to become an investment committee member of CompuSoluciones' Corporate Venture Capital fund. She hopes to use her new position to mentor women entrepreneurs and identify overlooked startups in Mexico that have the potential to disrupt industries.

Wendy is passionate about felines and females in technology –in no particular order. She volunteers at the San Francisco SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in her spare time. As part of the Society of Women Engineers, she mentors young women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and speaks at SWE’s regional even

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I studied Cognitive Science with a specialization in Human Computer Interaction at UC San Diego. During these years, I was painfully shy and quiet, but found a purpose in my university chapter of Society of Women Engineers. Serving our community of women engineering majors while being mentored by professional women engineers in industry, I found my voice leading and facilitating a group of amazing young women. I continued to find opportunities to foster and grow my voice early in my career as a UX designer, then UX manager, and later as a co-founder of a global product startup, Wizeline. During my time at Wizeline, I led our UX team and created Wizeline Academy, our community initiative to teach tech skills to emerging markets for free. After 6 years growing a product design and development team of nearly 500 people worldwide in San Francisco, Mexico, Vietnam and Thailand, I left to seek my biggest challenge to date – as Group VP of Experience at Publicis Sapient, which is nearly 40 times bigger than my startup!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

It’s difficult to plan your career when there’s no “industry standard” or role models to refer to! I graduated university and became a web designer before tech design was a popular field. So I’m at the forefront of my discipline, which has gone through so many iterations of job titles – web design, User interface design, User experience design, product design, CX design… It’ll continue to change, but now as a GVP of Experience, I try to make myself visible and available to younger folks in my industry so they see a path and a role for themselves in the future.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Early in my career in the 2000s, I was always the token woman on every product engineering team. At my second job, one of the male engineers made a point to tell me he was required to shower daily and wear a shirt now that a woman was on the team. I don’t think I realized how uncomfortable I was on my teams at the time, as it wasn’t a time and place in society where gender equality or diversity were topical or even discussed amongst friends.

As my career progressed and inclusion has become more of an open topic in recent years, I’ve used my power and my voice to be a role model for my team members - showing that I am a leader, but also a person. I let my personality shine through my leadership style, so people know they can grow into these roles and retain *themselves* and their values in a corporate environment.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

By my measure, my biggest career achievement has been impacting the lives of the many people who have been on my teams and coaching them to grow into new skills, new roles, and new opportunities. I’ve never been prouder than when my team members are too big for the challenge my team can offer them, and can go flex their new skills in a new role!

By the measure of industry, co-founding my own company and working 24/7 for 6 years to grow an amazing culture and team. I’m proud of this learning experience for myself, but the tangible value is still measured by the success of the people who have grown with me on that journey.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Success never comes without massive failure. I have a great support system around me in terms of family and friends who are always there for me without judgement and don’t treat career as a competition. Without this support system, I couldn’t get through my personal and professional hardships.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

It is not your skill alone that will help you excel. You need to learn to contribute to the natural communities that form in the workplace and socially. Only when you have meaningful skill-based and community contribution can you master your own career.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Aboslutely! There are biases against women that exist in all levels of tech, every single day. The barriers can only be overcome when we have normalized what is typically characterized as female. Today, male traits are normalized and we’re challenged to be more like men, but we need to turn the tables and challenge our male colleagues to be more like women. Only then can we come to the table equally.

What do you think companies can do to progress the careers of women working in technology?

If companies want more gender equality, they need to foster an environment where they can hire for those ratios no matter what career level. It’s easy to highlight a near equal ratio of young women in junior tech roles, but what about manager and director level women? Are there policies in place to support women with families to stand as role models in mid-manager positions? Are there women in the C-suite who can have a voice in ensuring these policies are designed, by and for women? Without a range and ratio of female voices across all career levels, we can never close the gap for women in tech.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Magic swap to make it 17% men in tech. Let’s see how that works out.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

If you like to spend your downtime on social media like I do on Instagram and Twitter, go follow some empowering women accounts rather than the usual influencers. Get empowered even in, especially in, your downtime. @17.21women, @ladiesgetpaid, @elainewelteroth, @rupikaur_, @girlsatlibrary