by Lauren DeLisa Coleman
Business analysts are showing that even with the recent economic upheaval, tech-related companies are standing strong and with billions of dollars in actual cash-on-hand. Not only is this sector representative of a financial behemoth, it is also one that is directly responsible for creating innovative and exciting new platforms of communication, entertainment and lifestyle enhancement – the extent of which we’ve only just begun to see. Yet there is still room for, shall we say, improvement. For example, even though many brilliant and creative people drive this modern tech industry, the gender disparities that plagued many industries in the past are still very much alive, though changing.
In fact, Facebook COO Sheryl Sanderberg recently began a movement to create and support more female leaders in Silicon Valley. But it’s extremely important, given that oftentimes female consumers of color out-index all other groups in mobile usage and social media frequency (source: Pew Research), that particular visibility, recognition and focus be given to building and supporting female leaders of color very much under-represented in the tech space.
We need to ensure that the vision of women in tech is as expansive and inclusive as possible, particularly since we are witnessing the browning of our country each and every day. So welcome to the series that spotlights some of the best and the brightest who are using their intelligence, experience and unique perspective to disrupt the old school in the very best way, while acting as catalysts who will encourage the next generation of hip Black women in tech-related occupations.
My first profile is an Q&A with Bonita Stewart, VP U.S. Sales at Google.
Here we go….
How did you get your position at Google?
I was directing interactive communications at Chrysler in 2006 when Google reached out to speak with me about leading their US Automotive sales team. It was an exciting opportunity for me because it gave me the chance to not only step into a new business space, but to bring my learnings about consumers and products — and the transformation taking place and being driven by consumers and their behavior in the marketing world — to a broader audience.
Did you have to answer many of those notorious brainteaser style questions we hear about?
I definitely had to answer some interesting questions, and had a number of interesting conversations, prior to joining the company. The questions were less about brainteasing, though, and more about discerning whether I had the ability to work in a flat organization and respond to a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment. Googlers are passionate about their work and tend to attack problems with flair and creativity — rolling their sleeves up to get things done — and apply their interests and talents in order to innovate for advertisers and users, and make the world a better place. We like to make sure that our employees communicate openly and ethically, and are committed to exchanging ideas to create a successful, collaborative, inspiring work environment.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your current position?
The most challenging aspect is continuing to stay at the forefront of a constantly changing digital world. It is important that I am confident in leading my team and clients into this new world; the technology and capabilities are there, but staying on top of such an always-evolving world, though incredibly interesting and fulfilling, is often challenging.
What is the best encouragement/direction you might give to young women of color who would like to work for digital leaders such as Google?
I would suggest that anyone who would like to work for a digital leader such as Google, that they focus on adding value to the solutions they’re offering to their particular audience, that they are tenacious in their pursuit of excellence and results, that they have a plan, and that they never stop learning. It’s key to set a high bar and continue to pursue excellence, and to seek — and really embrace — feedback along the way.
How was your experience at Howard?
My experience at Howard was excellent. I majored in journalism and minored in business, and ended up becoming so enamored by business that I chose not to graduate early in order to take more business courses. The education I sought out and received at Howard gave me a great foundation on which to begin my career.
Have you found it challenging to be heard/break through as a woman? of color?
Diversity is a major part of Google’s culture. We believe that diversity in the workforce brings diversity of opinions — which in turn brings a diversity of solutions to help our diverse users and advertisers. More and more companies, and people, recognize the importance of diversity at all levels — and how it drives innovation — which is a major positive for both companies and the world.
I believe you were at Chrysler during the introduction of the 300? If so, what was that like from an Interactive perspective given that urban culture was responsible for so much of the sales of that particular model?
The Chrysler 300 was an outstanding product designed by Ralph Gilles, an African American automotive designer. His unique design style drove the many accolades the vehicle received when it was introduced.
What do you think about the current movement for greater inclusion of women in both tech and advertising (and some saying that they don’t want to be considered just on gender)?
I am very optimistic about the movement toward women in leadership roles in technology, advertising, and the world in general. I see many talented women every day, at all levels of leadership, and find that their diverse perspectives — like those of any diverse group — bring nothing but good to the company and its offerings. Smart, interesting, talented employees with a unique perspective on the world are invaluable, no matter their race or gender, and I am incredibly happy that more and more companies are embracing this way of thinking.
How do you see greater balance of diversity coming about in our industry?
I see greater balance of diversity coming about as leaders recognize the value of a diverse workforce and make that a priority, and as the world continues to evolve and recognize — and reward — talented people with varying backgrounds and perspectives on life.
Any challenges regarding moving up the tech ladder and balancing marriage/home?
Work-life balance is never easy, particularly if you love what you do, but it is incredibly important to take the time to recharge and pursue passions outside the office. I’m lucky that I work in technology and am therefore not tethered to a desk; I can check email and do most of my work remotely, which allows me to step away from my laptop and enjoy my friends and family when I’m not at the office. I try to set a good example for my team by staying off the grid when I’m on vacation, and by not sending emails unless there is an emergency on the weekends.