Couchbase is proud to support International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022. 

This year’s IWD theme is #BreakTheBias. Imagine a gender-equal world, a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world in which differences are valued and celebrated. Together we can make this happen, and Couchbase is proud to be part of the movement. Collectively, we can move to #BreakTheBias. 

We decided to speak with women from across our organization, around the globe, from different backgrounds, and find out what this year’s theme means to them and our future generations.

Meet Michelle Smellie, Director of People – EMEA, London

Fun Fact about me: I was born and raised in Bermuda but I love to ski!

Question: What’s an example of a bias that you’ve had to overcome in the workplace? How has that affected the way that you approach similar situations now?

Answer: As a black woman there are biases and prejudices that I encounter in various facets of my life and the workplace is no different. I’ve dealt with varying degrees of being misunderstood which can translate into micro-aggressions. When encountering micro-aggressions, I’ve learned to consider the scenario, acknowledge my feelings, clarify the meaning behind a statement or action and then to educate if necessary.

Q: What advice would you give to women navigating their careers in male-dominated industries?

A: Advice to women navigating their careers is that our power lies in being a woman. It isn’t necessary to try to fit in or compete with men. Understand what you want to accomplish. Carve out your own path, do it your way. That’s our superpower.

Now we’ll chat with Mary Roth, VP Engineering Ops, based in Santa Clara, California 

Q: What would you say has helped you get so far in your career? 

A: I think one of the hardest and most valuable lessons I have learned in my career is to listen more than I speak. This may perhaps be a side-effect of choosing a career in a largely male-dominated field where aggressive communication styles and competition to dominate discussions are very common. I learned early on that people don’t respond well if I also adopt an aggressive communication style. So, I learned to listen more than I speak.  By focusing on listening, I often pick up subtle context that is helpful to gain a broader perspective of the issues on the table and how those in the discussion perceive those issues.  

That insight is very helpful over the long run to understand how others think, build relationships, and anticipate how they will react to new issues.  I have found that listening first gives me a better platform to speak; when you ‘know your stuff’, have your facts ready, anticipate the counter-arguments, and focus on presenting your case in whatever voice you have, it doesn’t come across as aggressive; it comes across as informed.    

Q: How can women better enable each other instead of competing with each other?

A: That is a good question.  I think it is important for us to acknowledge that competition is always present between people who are at the same point in their life journey/career path.  It’s natural; we compete for limited resources starting as children–we compete for grades, limited spots at prestigious schools, promotions, awards and rewards. Many evolutionary, psychological and empirical studies show that women, in particular, tend to compete by ‘leveling the playing field’ and not allowing individuals to stand out and be recognized for individual achievement.  I believe active and frequent participation in team competition in which individual success only comes as a result of team success is a way to counteract this phenomenon from an early age, and at any age.

Now let’s hear from Rangoli Mathur, Manager of Software Engineering, based in Dallas, Texas.

Fun fact about me: I recently drove a Harley Davidson trike (3 wheel motorcycle) over the Montana and Wyoming mountains through some amazing switchbacks and a thrilling ride!

Q: What’s an example of this year’s International Women’s Day Theme that you’ve overcome in the workplace?

A: About two decades ago, when I graduated with a Bachelor’s in a technical field, there were only two girls in my class, including myself. A few years later, during my Master’s, that number had increased to 4-5 girls in the class. Today, there are many more women in technology; the trend is promising; but not nearly enough. Most of us have been in situations where in a meeting even though a woman may be leading an effort, some folks, by default, address a male team member instead of the woman. I’ve been in situations where in spite of necessary skills, I was passed over for the next career step in favor of a male applicant. Many such examples of bias abound. But there’s a silver lining too.

In the last two decades there are more women in technology and other industries than there have been before. More women are in technical leadership positions too than ever before. These trends help reduce some of the cultural, unspoken biases. But how do you break the bias? 

In my case, I’ve focused on outcomes. Instead of focusing on bias, I focus instead on what I am trying to achieve, the outcomes I want to drive. I’ve focused on upholding professionalism and work ethic and insisted everyone around me does too–treating people with respect, being honest, being tactful and putting in the hard work. Getting people to focus on a way forward towards achieving the common workplace goals, and creating an environment of mutual respect creates a synergy where most people realize and resolve their own internal biases. Of course, in case of a more systemic bias, or harassment, always reach out to Human Resources to address issues. 

Q: Tell us about a mentor that you’ve had and how they’ve helped you make better career decisions.

A: I don’t have one single mentor. There are several folks I look up to and learn from. I’ve had the good fortune of friends in Director and Enterprise Architect positions at Southwest Airlines who’ve encouraged me when I wanted to pivot my career to a different role. Their opinions and advice have meant a whole lot to me and given me much-needed support. I hope to give back, and help other friends around me, encouraging them in their lives and careers. Please don’t hesitate in reaching out to me for friendship and support.

And now we head over to Singapore to speak with Molly Ng, Field Marketing Director APAC

Q: What’s a challenge that you’ve had to overcome as a working professional in our new reality of work from home/hybrid work?

A: The biggest challenge I have is setting up a workspace at home. The average apartment (aka shoe boxes!) in Singapore is very small. I do not have a separate room that can be used as a workspace, and I’ve been working on my dining table for more than a year before I reorganized my furnishing to optimize my home office workspace.

Q: What’s a piece of professional advice that you’d offer your younger self?

A: Future proof your home for unforeseen circumstances! LoL! I think re-skilling and up-skilling at all times are important. Covid19 has disrupted jobs and with the new ways of working now, professionals without adequate skills may remain unemployed.

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We really enjoyed sitting down with these women from various departments and locations at Couchbase, and we hope you enjoyed learning from them too. One commonality across the board that we can see is that these women have overcome different biases in the workplace and that helped them advance their careers.

We’ve come a long way in terms of breaking the bias and gender equality, but recognize that we still have a long way to go. We’re so proud to have these amazing women and many others at Couchbase and are looking forward to hiring more women in technology.

If you’re interested in a career at Couchbase click here to view our current openings. 

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Posted by Isheeta Lad

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