Championing Diversity & Inclusion: A Special Thanks to Pantheon

Written by Jacob Yoss

Left: Christy Marble | Center: Caity Bishop | Right: Fatima Sarah Khalid

Women Who Code has an exciting agenda planned for 2021. From our 70+ global networks and six online technical communities to major annual conferences like CONNECT, we want our members of all genders to have the support, resources, connections, and skill training they need to advance their careers in the technology industry.

All of our programs are free, which means we cannot accomplish our ambitious goals without the generosity of companies like Pantheon. Besides supporting their customers with a performant, collaborative WebOps platform — making it easy for teams to drive measurable results with their WordPress and Drupal sites — Pantheon is uniquely committed to supporting women in the tech industry internally and externally.

Our Content Creator, Jacob Yoss, met with three representatives from Pantheon to discuss their organization’s commitment to inclusion and why they believe Women Who Code’s work deserves their financial support: Chief Marketing Officer Christy Marble, Senior Content Strategist Caity Bishop, and Developer Programs Engineer Fatima Sarah Khalid.

First of all, thank you for your generous donation to Women Who Code. I’d love to hear about what our community means to you, how it’s impacted your respective careers, and how it’s affected the careers of those around you.

Christy: I’ll admit, I wasn’t as passionate about championing women in the workforce early in my career. I was naive and didn’t fully understand how the world works. When I became a C-level executive, it caught me by surprise when women on my team would reach out to me and thank me for speaking up or standing on a stage. They’d say, “Thank you for doing that, we need you there. We need you representing us.” Hearing that made me examine sexism in the workforce more critically and I realized that it’s not just about me, but that I had a responsibility to stand up and have a presence, even where I might be uncomfortable, and to represent countless other people.

Moments like that awoke me to how critical it is for C-level women to be active sponsors and advocates for other women. Since that first encounter, I’ve been much more deliberate about getting involved, opening up my networks, and updating my list of qualified connections to share every time a recruiter calls looking for someone.

Though I’m not an engineer, I’ve been in the tech space for a while now. Something I’ve observed is that it’s been much easier for me to hire women for leadership roles in marketing than in other departments. A senior-level management position would have at least 50% women applicants, so I didn’t have to be conscious about interviewing candidates of different genders equally. However, as I eventually started hiring for more technical positions at the director, senior manager, and vice president levels, at least 75% of the applicants were men. It was difficult to find women with the necessary skill sets because they were either kept out of roles that would have prepared them to advance or they didn’t feel confident applying. I had to be very deliberate about working with recruiters and HR to find balanced candidate pools.

I learned that it takes a lot of work. Now, I’ve become even more interested in involving myself with organizations like Women Who Code that provide women with networks and support to reach as high as they can. Knowing a community has your back is encouraging and results in much more balanced talent pools, which are crucial if we want to hire women at every level. It cannot be a zero-sum game; change won’t happen until we actively sponsor each other, and Women Who Code facilitates that kind of sponsorship.

Fatima: As for me, I went through a traditional computer science curriculum at university. I struggled a bit because I was new to the field while my peers were mostly men who had been studying computer science since high school, and my teacher often used archaic terminology. They were unsupportive and brushed me off with, “Why can’t you just understand it?”

I tried not to let that bother me. I may not have grasped the concepts immediately, but I thought it was exciting and worked really hard to understand the material. At the beginning of my academic career, however, I was misguided and thought that participating in organizations like Women Who Code or engineering groups for women on campus would “other” myself. I wanted the boys to treat me as an equal, but I feared they wouldn’t if I admitted I needed extra help.

I steered away from those groups, but fortunately, I had a mentor my first year of school who was in her third year of computer engineering. I confided in her that I was having doubts about my chosen career path because of how much I was struggling. I loved it, but was passion enough?

She invited me to attend a Hack Night event to observe what the community was like. The room was full of women of all ages and backgrounds who empathized with my early-career feelings. They gave me resources, advice, and other tools to build my confidence. I learned that women do have it harder in the tech world, so it’s not only acceptable but necessary for us to lean on each other for support.

Eventually, I worked to be in a position where it was my turn to be a mentor. I was quick to volunteer when Pantheon asked if anyone would like to help put on a hackathon with That World Vision in December 2020 because those events and platforms were instrumental to my professional development, and I want to help others grow. I don’t know where I would be without my community of women engineers, and that’s why I’m grateful that organizations like Women Who Code exist, especially on a global scale. I now have dozens of newsletters, resources, and communities to refer people to when they ask me questions about transitioning into or advancing in the tech industry.

Caity: I play a content strategy role at Pantheon, so I’m not an engineer, but I was similar to Christy when I first started my career in that I wasn’t focused on advocacy. I struggled when I started in the media space because I thought passion would be enough. Surely, it would get me somewhere, and breaking through barriers wouldn’t be as hard as everyone said. However, it quickly became apparent that wasn’t the case; the reason I’ve been as successful as I have in my career is thanks to sponsorship and support from wonderful, incredible women who raised me up and intentionally sent opportunities my way.

The impact a dedicated group of women made on my career is a significant reason why I love how Women Who Code works. Between its global networks, the job board, and opportunities to connect with people, the organization exemplifies what it means to be intentional about supporting women in this industry. Without intentionality, women and other marginalized groups will fall to the wayside.

Women Who Code is especially essential in our current time because, as of eleven months ago, women were suddenly dropping out of the workforce at alarming rates to be home with their children. I read a recent report that one in four women are being forced to consider doing things they wouldn’t have a year ago. The pandemic is decelerating womens’ careers, so Women Who Code’s emphasis on mid-level engineers — getting them that VP interview Christy mentioned, or propelling them through the senior leadership door — is crucial to ensuring women have more reasons to stay in the workforce and not be further behind than we were before.

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We appreciate your kind words! What challenges have any of you faced in your career at the mid or director level versus when you were a beginner?

Christy: One of my biggest mistakes early in my career was expecting people to see how hard I worked and to notice the quality of that work. I assumed higher-ups would recognize and reward it, so I found it annoying when my peers were really good at self-promotion. Those peers had to educate me that promoting my personal brand is part of the job, too — I shouldn’t wait for recognition, and I can be authentic and humble and also proud to communicate and own my successes, and those of my teams.

Another challenge I struggled with was impostor syndrome. I’m a small-town girl at heart, so navigating big cities and major companies was intimidating. I was the kind of person who would look at a job description and see the 20 qualifications I didn’t have instead of the 40 things I did, even after being in the workforce for a while. It took mentors, professional speakers, and a supportive network of women to lift me beyond that. My advice to women of any level is to make time to forge connections with people because the assumption your work will speak for itself won’t get you anywhere.

That’s an excellent point. I’d also like to hear more about what internal efforts Pantheon makes to support the women in your company.

Christy: Our entire executive team is passionate about developing leaders and magnifying our DEI efforts. Not to brag, but Pantheon has a phenomenal inclusion training program. I’m specifically calling it “inclusion training” because it’s one thing for a company to talk about diversity and have all the right words and pictures on its website, but another for an organization to actively ensure its employees who belong to marginalized communities feel welcomed, valued, and have equal opportunities to participate and grow. That’s what Pantheon is about: creating a work environment where everyone can be their authentic selves and honor each other’s differences.

We don’t want to be that company that talks a big game but is entirely different once people are inside. We haven’t always been perfect, though, so we take it seriously when people call us out on our mistakes. What is it we can do to improve?

Our inclusion training isn’t just for new hires, so I participated in a course a few months ago. We did some activities that other companies might shy away from: we got into groups of people who self-identify as people of Color and those who don’t. A facilitator we hired asked us some really thought-provoking questions about race and the microaggressions White people inflict on people of Color that we’re not aware of. We really dug into it and got the White people out of their comfort zones, but that’s exactly what we need. That course was one of the best trainings I’ve participated in, and I’ve worked at everything from small startups to huge, global companies.

Caity: I agree that our inclusion training can definitely make people feel uncomfortable, but our facilitators created an environment where everyone felt safe enough to be vulnerable and openly discuss subjects that are difficult to face.

On a related note, Pantheon recently implemented what we call an ERG program — Employee Resource Groups. They’re grassroots and community-driven organizations within our company that gather employees together and find ways to legitimately and practically affect change. We currently have ERGs for women, LGBTQ folks, Black and Latino people, and individuals with disabilities. These four core groups’ objectives align with Women Who Code’s value of listening to changemakers who deal with different kinds of oppression the most.

It’s easy to start a new ERG if someone has an idea because our employees took initiative to create them instead of waiting for executive direction. Our People Team works with them closely, but leadership is actually kept at arm’s length so that they have the space to grow organically and manage themselves.

Fatima: Something I appreciate about Pantheon is that it encourages our personal efforts to support diversity and inclusion. Other companies will tout their women developers and RFPs to attract more business, but they don’t invest time in volunteering or efforts that make a lasting difference. At Pantheon, all I need to do is tell my manager that I’m going to mentor several young women at a virtual hackathon or through an organization like Women Who Code, and I’m allowed to do it during work hours. My previous employers would capitalize on the volunteerism that I did outside of work, but enabling and promoting genuine support is one of Pantheon’s priorities.

What about Women Who Code’s work in supporting women in technology encouraged you to donate to us?

Fatima: Something I admire about Women Who Code is your #ApplaudHer program. I find it motivating, and I’ve enjoyed reading those womens’ profiles to feel inspired. I know that there are women out there making a difference in tech, but putting faces to them makes our movement seem more concrete.

Christy: I am particularly impressed with Women Who Code’s engagement. One of Pantheon’s employees found her way to us through Women Who Code. You have so many networks around the world and a significant presence on social media, so you’re out there inspiring people every day. I think women have a tendency to hunker down and overwork ourselves, so your emphasis on community provides your members with a significant advantage in this industry.