>> Amy Draves: Hello. Thank so much for... welcome Tarah Van Vlack … Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack to...

>> Amy Draves: Hello. Thank so much for coming. My name is Amy Draves and I’m so pleased to
welcome Tarah Van Vlack … Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack to the Microsoft Research Visiting Speaker Series.
She’s here to discuss her new book, “Women in Tech,” which discusses the framework that many
women find themselves in joining the field as well as success stories from professionals who have made
it. Tarah is the cofounder and CEO of Fizzmint and she’s also founded a web development company
called Red Queen Technologies, and has started an initiative to add diversity to the InfoSec Conference
speakers. She also founded the Hack the People foundation which is a nonprofit mentorship program
focused on underprivileged people in technology. This is her debut book. Please join me in giving her a
very warm welcome. [applause]
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Thank you so very much. It’s a real pleasure to be here today. I don’t
know about you people but I am stupid tired of talking about diversity in technology. Raise your hands.
Right. [laughter] I’m a little tired of it; I imagine probably you are too, and yet we keep having to talk
about it. I think that most of the reason why we find the topic fascinating and yet kind of dangerous is
the amount of fear that’s around it, the fear that we’ll say something wrong, do something wrong. So
one of the things that I want to promise to you right now, and I hope that everybody in this room will
join me in it, is that you can ask me any question that you want to. If you’re trying hard not to be an
asshole you’re probably gonna succeed. It’s okay to be clueless and I will never, ever, ever punish
anybody for a clueless question. You’ll know the difference when you hear it, right? So if you want to
ask me a question and it’s a little clueless, go right on ahead. There will be no penalty for it ever. What
I’m gonna do is talk for a couple of minutes here and then I would always, always love it if you would
raise your hands and ask questions, if you’ll ask me anything that you want to know. We’ll talk mostly
about the subject material that I brought for you here today for the first, like, fifteen, twenty, and then
open this on up to conversation a little bit more. Please stop me if you don’t understand anything or
you want to know something.
I actually used to work here, by the way, I used to work at Microsoft. I was on the Halo team for a while.
In fact, my former boss is sitting in the audience right now. [laughter] It’s a lot of fun to get to work on
things that we love, to play games, to have this joy in creation, in technology, in gaming. I’m a nerd,
right? In every single direction, kind of pathetically so, I step on more D4s than Legos probably, I think.
So how many of you in here have been part of role playing games? ‘Kay. Video games? Keep ‘em up,
‘kay? Alright. How about any other kind of nerd activity? Chess club in high school? Raise ‘em up.
That’s right, that’s what I’m talking about. So we’re part of this conversation, not just because we
wanted to create greater voices in technology, but also because we all seem to love the same stuff,
right? That’s why we’re here. So why do we keep having to have this conversation? I think a lot of it
has to do with compassion, with real compassion and being willing to hear the things that other people
have to say without necessarily immediately jumping in to tell them why you’re not a bad person and
why they’re wrong. So the main thing I want to encourage all of us to do here is just listen to what other
people have to say. I have been in startups in technology for an awful long time, and I’ve seen, really,
that it’s a matter of unconscious bias and unconscious assumptions that often keeps women and people
of color out of technology. I don’t want to leave, in this conversation, questions of people of color or
gender queer people out of this conversation. This is not just a binary issue. It’s not men and women.
It’s what we expect to see in technology and the people that are actually trying to get into the field,
right? I don’t think it’s uncommon for us to see people who talk right now, and there’s been a Tumblr
thread running around over just the last couple of days, who conflate issues of technology in kind of
what I call Nerdlandia, right? Because we’re all part of this big conversation where we’ve felt from the
beginning as if we are outsiders in a lot of ways, right? Technology nerds, mathing, gaming, whatever it
was we were doing. Thirty or forty years ago it might have been the AV club and drama, right? Now it’s
computers and chess and RPGs. This coming, in a couple of weeks, I’ll be actually running what I am
beginning to think of as a super awesome one-shot D&D campaign at the Tribeca Film Festival for DEF
CON. And I get to play an amazing game with amazing people and create a wonderful challenge, and I
think of that as being very much part of technology. I think there’s a big connection between the two.
So this is why I bring this passion to it. And I can tell you now why this book came about, if you’d like to
know. I’m also kind of a crowdfunding nerd. I’ve done several different crowdfunding campaigns. I did
a campaign in 2012 called LadyCoders to do videos to help women get into tech jobs, and what I found
was that crowdfunding is a really great way to give yourself about a thousand bosses for a year and a
half. [laughter] And that’s seemingly what ended up happening again this time with this book. It’s a
really great way to find out if there is a … if there’s interest in a topic and it turned out—ooh, boy—there
really, really is. I’ve done a lot of crowdfunding and the experience that I had with this one was pretty
unique. How many of you have considered writing your own … no, first, how many of you have written
your own books before in some fashion and gotten them published, okay? How many of you are
considering or are currently writing some kind of book right now? ‘Kay. How many of you plan on
writing a book sometime in the next five years on some kind of topic that you …? Okay, good. So a
substantial chunk, even half of you, are planning on entering publishing. I want to very much talk about
what it’s like to write a book like this on a sensitive topic and get a lot of people interested in it. I could
keep the … I’m gonna keep the stories of what it’s like to project manage eight famous women to a bare
minimum, mostly because I’m afraid of most of them. [laughter] And yet what I do want every one of
you to know is that crowdfunding is a really great option to create something like this. It gives you the
chance to find out in advance if people are gonna be interested in the topic. So one of the things I’d like
to do right now is ask the people in this room … I never know when I’m walking into a room like this
whether or not the people that I’m talking to are gonna be more interested in the process of creating
the book, in what it’s like to make something like this happen, or if you’re more interested in the topic
that we’re here to discuss, in terms of diversity and technology. Which one of these two things are you
more interested in because I’ve heard both sides come at me and ask questions? Are you more
interested in learning how to make a book on a sensitive topic like this or about the topic itself and
some of the topics in the book? Throw ‘em out … actually tell me what you think. Just shout it out.
>>: The topics.
>>: The topics.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: The topics? You do want to know the topics? Okay, for those of you that
are interested in the process, the crowdfunding, what it’s like to actually create like this and go find a
publisher, please let me know, just follow me on Twitter and then talk to me there. That’ll be the fastest
way to do it.
Okay, the topics in the book. The biggest one that people seem to talk with me about in this book, and I
was very careful in how I worded this in the book given where I live, in Seattle, but the biggest one
seems to be salary negotiation for women. I’m aware of some of the recent controversy around that
topic in this area, like, right in this area. [laughter] Like right about, I don’t know, maybe a mile and a
half that way to a mile and a half that way and take a big circle. [laughter] Right about here. And what
I’ve found is that when you mean well, you’ve got a place to start, and everybody involved in this
conversation means well, right? There’s no one here that’s saying out loud, “I think it’s a great idea to
pay women eighty-one cents on the dollar,” right? “That’s killer. They’re clearly worthless.” So we’re
starting from a place of wanting to fix the problem. Everyone is. And one of the biggest things that I’ve
seen—and this is gonna kind of blow your minds—the biggest fix that I’ve seen people, in terms of salary
negotiation—if we’re gonna talk about that topic first—make, the biggest change is this: advertised
salary is negotiable in every job that you post. How many of you in here are hiring managers of some
kind or another, or have some responsibility for hiring or writing up posts? In those posts write: salary
negotiable. The reason why is women will adjust their behavior, but men will not adjust theirs. And this
is … there’s a lot of studies to show this. Women will begin to say, “Okay, if salary’s negotiable, then I
can negotiate.” Men were going to negotiate anyway. Okay? That’s the biggest change that you as a
manager can make. Now, you as someone who is negotiating need to know two things first and
foremost: do not—do not name a number first. Don’t name a number first. What is rule number one?
>>: Don’t name a number first.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: First. Rule number two is: never say yes to the first offer—ever say yes to
the first offer. The first offer is ten to fifteen percent below where they think you’re going to end up.
What does that number sound a little bit like? The gender gap in pay? There’s a reason for that,
because that’s where most of the gender gap in pay comes from is that moment right there. I call that
minute zero in the gender pay gap. If you have a salary that you are negotiating over, assume that they
came at you with ten to fifteen percent lower than the amount that they think that you’re going to end
up at. Make sense? For how many of you is this an absolutely terrifying thought—to say no? Look, I
know what real estate prices are like in this area; I’ve been here since 2009. His ass hired me. [laughter]
Right? I know what it’s like to be here and to be afraid for your bills. I know what it’s like to do this and
as somebody who teaches people about technical interviews, I constantly interview for things. You will
find that almost everybody at a certain level in technology on is always interviewing, even if that
interview just looks like a cup of coffee. Even if it just looks like a dinner with a friend in San Francisco,
you’re always interviewing for something. I know what it’s like to do this constantly and I know why it’s
so frightening. It’s because you’re giving someone else the opportunity to reject you after they’ve said
they accept you, right? Yeah. Why would you give somebody that opportunity? What are some of the
feelings that you have in that moment? I would love to know. If you want to raise a hand or two and
tell me, those of you who have been in the situation, who’ve had an offer, especially those who’ve had
someone come back and say, “Why didn’t you negotiate?” later. What was your feeling in that
moment? Yeah?
>>: Do I deserve more?
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Do you de … oh, that’s a great question. That’s not even about the money
itself, about who you are as a person. Why did you make it about who you are as a person?
>>: It’s hard not to.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Why is it hard not to?
>>: Can you repeat the question for the people online?
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Oh, absolutely. The question is because you’re worried about whether or
not you deserve more; do you really deserve that much money? Okay. It’s a great question. Do you?
>>: I hope so. [laugh]
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: That’s not the answer to that question.
>>: Yeah.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Do you?
>>: Well, yes.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: What do you deserve?
>>: That I don’t [inaudible].
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Equal pay.
>>: Yes.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Yeah.
>>: Correct. Yeah.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: That’s it. That’s just the answer to the question. Yeah. And it’s okay to
say that. One of the things that I’ve found that works very, very well is to know in advance what the
expected salary for that job is. And how do you find that out? Go talk to somebody who has that job
and find out.
>>: Glassdoor.com.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Glassdoor.com; Salary.com. Mmhmm. These are some really great places
to go find this information out. And yet, they don’t necessarily tell you the whole story, right? They
don’t necessarily tell you if they’ve got a range from between a hundred and forty to a hundred and
eighty thousand dollars on, say, a senior technical program manager position, whether or not you
should be being paid one forty or one eighty. How do you know? And at that range you should be
negotiating for that position, right? It is in bigger companies, especially at Microsoft … I understand the
rate system at Microsoft. It’s … you have almost a place that you are locked into and then a thin band
where you’re negotiating in there, right? Most of you have had this process happen before? Okay. I’ve
seen that happen before and what usually ends up happening at that moment is the way you negotiate
is on what I would call nonlinear benefits. Things like whether or not you can telecommute part of the
time; how much funding you would get for something like parking, transportation. There’s ways around
a lot of salary caps at that point. So you ask questions like, “Are you gonna pay for my gym membership
instead of childcare, which I don’t need?” Hang on one second and go ahead. You were first.
>>: Yeah, so it might make you feel better but doesn’t it perpetuate the salary gap, the gender gap?
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: The salary … what makes you feel better?
>>: If we negotiate instead of the actual salary. We negotiate for the, let’s say, from home or
[indiscernible] childcare.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Yes. I’m assuming that there is a band and a cap for something
like that. In most companies, that’s not the case. But I’m focusing what I know on what I know
of the culture here and the pay rates here, which is that there’s a band and a cap, right? So you
can’t negotiate above and below that cap. There’s no way to do that, right? They’re gonna
assign that based on your years of experience, the things that you’ve done, the degrees that
you have, right?
>>: Yeah, but [indiscernible] contribution.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Absolutely. And then your question?
>>: My question is similar. In some positions that I have seen instead of letting you negotiate
the salary they instead negotiate the signing bonus.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Mmhmm.
>>: Does that help or does it hurts?
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Yes it does. Signing bonus is something that often has no cap and
no band on it. Signing bonus is an excellent place to make up for some of that difference.
Please do negotiate hard over that. The take away point on salary negotiations is this: by the
time … it may appear to you as if there are thousands of people vying for this job and at any
one moment one of those swooping, hovering vultures is going to swoop in and grab the job
right out from under you, right? There are thousands of people … we know about the work …
the shortage of great jobs for people in technology, right? So it seems like at any moment
they’re just gonna be like, “Meh, we’re gonna go with person number two, you know. You’re a
hundred percent, but, you know, they’re ninety-nine point nine, and they’re less trouble than
you.” Right? Is that what we’re afraid of? Exactly. It’s not true. The truth is, and I know this in
almost every major technical company in the area as well as especially small companies in the
area, the truth is is that that job interview, that opportunity never went out to the public for
most really great positions. Instead what happened was an internal e-mail was circulated and
you found out about the job probably. You probably, most of you, didn’t actually just straight
apply through the Microsoft site and get hired, right? Someone called you or a vendor agency
brought you in or you had an interview with a friend or someone recommended you for a
position or someone stuck your resume on top of a pile. How many of the people in this room
had zero contact with any person at Microsoft before they applied through the Microsoft site
with just their resume and then got the job? Raise your hand if that happened to you. That’s
what I thought. Right? That means that by the time you got into that job there were really
maybe only five to ten candidates for it. And by the time they’ve gotten you through the
process that means that they don’t have anybody else waiting. You’re the best one out of all of
that and they’re gonna have to go through another month of back-breaking recruiting and a lot
of trouble trying to find somebody else to put in this position instead of you. You have so much
more power in that moment than you think you do that it is ridiculous. Yes?
>>: Sorry, I don’t want to change your momentum, however, at the same time, a lot of this is
focused on if you’re trying to get a job here.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Mmhmm.
>>: What about the people who already have a job here? What next? ‘Cause it seems to be …
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: It’s the same thing.
>>: … that the raises you get, you know, as you move from role to role or year to year you don’t
really have a chance to really ask for more, right? Once your review is done and your rate is
locked in, you can’t go back and say, “Well, I want more money.” This is the money you got. So
how does what you’re saying play a part in when you’ve been here a while?
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: People are already here? Okay. I’m thinking of interviewing for
internal candidates the same way that I’m thinking of interviewing for external candidates, so
thank you for letting me know that there is a difference between the two. But even for internal
candidates transitioning to another position there’s still the perception that there is
competition for that position, right? Is there ever a perception that you … that there’s no
competition for a job and you have been selected for it and you will now move into it?
Probably not. At least there’s a couple of candidates for any open role, even if they’re all
internal, right? Right. The same logic, the same negotiating strategy still applies. They still
want you in that position. So when you say it feels like there’s no bandwidth to negotiate in
that moment, like you already have the salary set and the cap set, why not add a starting bonus
in? It’s a different role. That’s the moment, the only moment that you will have to change your
salary. You don’t have it when you’re in your role, right? In technology it’s very rare, although I
know Microsoft does do promotions and does do increases in salary year by year, it’s very rare
to substantially change your salary without changing jobs in technology. That is the only
moment you’re going to have to make changes in what you’re doing. And while it has been a
while since I was working at Microsoft, I know enough to know that that moment is one of the
few that you will have to substantially change your compensation, right? Yeah, that’s the only
place where you can change benefits, salary, the way that you are being seen.
I’ve only seen one other tactic work to drastically, substantially change your salary, your
position, the way you’re viewed by a company, and that is some kind of major educational
milestone, like a degree. Right? Or a major post-graduate certificate. That’s the only thing that
I’ve ever seen anyone be able to go to a lead or a manager and say, “I have substantially
changed my value to the company. Look, I have more letters behind my name.” That’s the only
silver bullet I’ve ever seen other than changing a role that could substantially change your
compensation at a company in the grade that you’re in. Yes?
>>: What about industry recognition?
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: That is less likely. And the reason why is industry recognition … if
you were to receive some kind of an award of some kind and you’re gonna go and negotiate for
a salary increase based on, you know, you just won independent game developers awards or
something along those lines, or you’ve just received a citation for excellence for triple A game
or a product, right? It’s almost more likely that you’ll be seen as negotiating for salary there as
a preliminary to leaving the company, actually. I’ve seen that kind of thing happen before. So,
and that is anecdotal, everything else that I’ve said has data and studies behind it, but that right
there is just anecdotal because there’s just not that many people who’ve received substantial
industry awards such that I could give you some kind of statistical survey of it. ‘Kay? Does that
make sense? It’s not comfortable but that’s the only location you’re gonna have to make that
substantial change. We’re there any other questions? Okay.
So when it comes to salary negotiations, again, rule number one is: do not name a number first.
Number two is: never say yes to the first offer. And the third thing is: you have so much more
power than you thought you did in that moment that it is crazy. So let me ask you now, there’s
some sensitive topics we can talk about and I’m not sure what you would like me to broach, but
… yes?
>>: So do not name a number, so if they ask, “What is your expectation?” What’s the right
answer to that question?
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: What you’ll do is that you’ll come back in that moment … when
they say, “What is your expectation?” you come back to them and you say, “The information
that you give me when you tell me what you expect of me by giving me a number first tells me
how you’ll value me at this company.” That’s the phrase you use; those are the words you use.
When they say … and remember sometimes that you are speaking to somebody who has no
real power in the situation, probably a recruiter sometimes, who’s getting a range on your
salary just to make sure that no one’s time is being wasted. And what will happen then is
they’ll say, “I’m sorry, I have to have you name a number first.” And you say, “Okay, let me
know when you have a number and then I’ll be happy to continue the conversation.” Yeah.
That’s what happens when you’ve got somebody who maybe is just trying to get a number from
you, any number whatsoever, but the second that you have named a number first you have
lost. You are either going to name a number that is … there’s no way ever for you to magically
hit on the correct number. Because you will either name a number that people there think is
too high or too low. If too low, you’re making eighty-one cents on the dollar. If too high, you’re
not gonna get the job or you’re being perceived as asking for too much. And what are we all
afraid of being called when we go into interviews like that entitled? A bitch, right? Now, I have
clearly, based on my wardrobe choices, chosen to have gone the bitch route. [laughter] And
that’s okay for me. I’m comfortable and happy with having some people not like me. That’s
alright. There are gonna be some people that are just never gonna like me and I had to be okay
with that. I mean, I might be a little too okay with that, but … [laughter]. Yeah. You had a
>>: Can you ask them for the range? Just say, “For this job position, what’s the range? Tell me
the range and then I’ll give you my number.” And then do you go for the high end of the range?
Or may not the very high end but, you know.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Always go for the high end of the range, but don’t phrase it as,
“Tell me your range.” Say, “The information that you give me when you tell me the range for
this …” Remember, it’s not “tell me,” it’s not a command to them; it’s a request to them to
help you. The thing that the women in this room are gonna experience again and again is if you
are too direct in this moment you’re going to flip a switch and you are gonna get seen as that
bitch, right? So what you do is you always, always phrase this in terms of being a team player.
The information that you give me when you give me the range that you’re willing to pay for this
job tells me what I need to know about how your company values me and what I will bring to
the team. ‘Kay? Always phrase it as a team player situation; always phrase it that way. Do you
understand why? When women are seen as team players they are more highly rated, they are
more highly appreciated, and they are more highly valued and promoted. You don’t get the
option to be the lone wolf player, right? You don’t get the option to be … you know, you … we
all know what titanium silos of excellence are, right? The days as—Mike likes to say this
actually—the days when you could slide a six pack and a pizza under a door and there was a
developer in there and six weeks later shipped code would come out are gone, right? Yeah,
we’re all in source control at this point. [laughter] Oh, sorry about that thing that one time, by
the way. [laughter] Yeah, go ahead.
>>: [indiscernible] suggestion. Usually the best way is to work through a third party recruiter,
where it’s his job is—or her job—is to get people together—right—so they get paid from
someone getting hired. So they’re kind of communicating information more freely and they
would kind of, you know, phrase it more politely both ways so they will work with an
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Actually that’s not necessarily always true. I’ve found that third
party recruiters are often not only friendly but totally clueless, and it does really help to push to
speak to the person that you’re going to actually be speaking to at that point. Yeah. It does
work really well and I’ve had probably about ten experiences with vendor and recruiting
agencies in the area that would tell me that when you have no information and that person
doesn’t have it, they need to push or they need to put you in touch with the correct person.
And I had another question over here. Go ahead.
>>: Yeah, what do you do if they ask you what your current [inaudible]?
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Tell them, “I’m sorry; I’m not able to disclose that information.”
Mmhmm, because that’s true. You know why it’s true? Because you’re not able to currently
disclose that information. Yeah. Because you decided that you’re not currently able to disclose
that information. [laughter] It’s always true, right? You’re never gonna lie. You’re never
gonna lie, ever. Never, ever, ever lie. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t let them assume
something that isn’t necessarily true in this case, which is that you have signed some kind of
document. Did you say you signed a document? You didn’t sign a document, but, “I’m not able
to reveal that information currently,” is absolutely accurate every single time you say it. You
know why? ‘Cause you don’t feel like it. [laughter] It’s totally accurate. Another question, I
think, over here some place? Alright.
Do you feel like we’ve had the opportunity to really talk about salaries? Do you have any more
questions about this concept of salary negotiation? Do you want to know anything else? Some
of the craziest things I’ve ever seen … okay, so one thing that’s really interesting to me is it … is
I’ve never—and I want to make sure that you all know this in here and it’s the lase anecdote
we’ll go with in terms of the salary negotiation situation. It seems like this is the most sensitive
one that you all have wanted to talk about the most, so I’m happy to have more of a
conversation with you on all this. But the thing that I want everyone in here to know is I have
never even once been or heard of someone being turned down as a woman for a job when they
negotiated. Ever. Every single time they get more money. They don’t always get that extra ten
to fifteen percent, but they always get more money and they’ve never lost the job and, as far as
I know, no consequences have ever come out of it. I know of one person who, after she
negotiated for a position, didn’t get the job and it was because the recruiter’s sister had applied
for it. Okay, you can’t fight that, you know, you can’t fight that. [laughter] So when nepotism
is at play that’s about all you can really do in that situation. I have never even once not gotten
a job. I’ve gotten respect; I’ve gotten pushback, and you know what? When I got pushback
from that recruiter, “I don’t know if we can go back and ask for more money for something like
this.” And I said, “Well, I do. How ‘bout you go back and ask for more money.” And I’ve had
pushback from that person before and then I never saw them again and I was making fifteen Gs
more a year. I feel super bad about that you guys. [laughter] Right? Ask yourself what’s more
important in that moment: that someone that you’re never gonna talk to again likes you or that
you make enough money to make an extra payment on your house, right? Sometimes it’s okay
to not be liked. It’s never okay to be dishonest. It’s never okay to not be courteous, but
sometimes it’s okay to not have everybody like you. And for somebody that you’re never going
to see again and have no part of and yet they’re the one you’re negotiating your salary with,
bring it on.
Alright. I want to open it up to a few more questions. I know that … yeah, go ahead.
>>: So I did a comment from someone. We’ve got a hundred and … nearly two hundred people
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Wonderful.
>>: And one person said that they got a rescinded offer when they … when she tried to
negotiate because they assumed they couldn’t compete with Microsoft’s offer. So it’s sort of …
there was a … I guess, it’s a small company that was assuming they couldn’t possibly meet her
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: You’re always going to see edge cases with something along
those lines. But the reason that that’s important is what was the reason they didn’t give for not
wanting to hire her in that moment? Not that she was a bad person, not that she was a bitch or
she asked for too much, but that they assumed that they couldn’t compete with another better
offer that she was already getting, right? That’s good … that’s awesome. I love that. It’s not
great since she might have wanted to move to this other company, but in a case like that that’s
not really about salary negotiation, that’s about making sure that the people that you’re talking
to understand, not just that they should value you, but that you value them. That’s certainly a
moment where you want to go to the people … if you want to move away from a position
where you’re making more money to less money and—bing—know that, you want them to
know that there are reasons why you’re moving there. Not that anyone would clearly ever
want to leave this hallowed and beautiful campus, but still, every once in a while you may, for
some god forsaken reason, want to take a job someplace else. If that’s the case and they don’t
think they can compete with the benefits that you’ve been experiencing here, make sure that
they understand that it’s about the culture that you want to move to, maybe an opportunity
that you weren’t gonna have unless you went to them. But that’s not about salary negotiation,
it’s not about being a bad person, it’s about convincing that other party that they have
something special that you want to be part of. And for that reason it’s okay to take a little less
money, and you would be willing to do that and that it’s important to you. Alright? Any other
questions? On salary negotiation it actually doesn’t surprise … yes, go ahead.
>>: [indiscernible] started talking about how to play well in a team.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Mmhmm.
>>: Could you kind of talk a little bit more about that part, not just about salary and, you know,
how do I get a job and how do come on board, but also how do I show up better as a team
player, quote, unquote, as you called it. What are some tips or, you know, observations you
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Sure.
>>: Repeat the question.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Yeah, the question is: how do I show up better as a team
member? How do I … I’m gonna interpret a little bit here. Is the question: how do I get credit
for being a leader on the team, how do I get credit for my accomplishments without sounding
like someone who’s bragging? Is it … are we getting kind of close to the question? This is the
flip side of what we’re talking about here and it’s a really interesting question. The flip side to
the salary negotiation question is when you get onto the team and you’ve said, “Well, I deserve
this much to be here,” is how do I continue proving on a day to day basis that I deserve to be
here? Am I going to get credit for the projects that I’m part of? And we know that one of the
major problems with women being promoted and given achievement and awards in technology
is often that they’re just not given the opportunities, right? They’re not seen as people who are
stepping up. Interestingly enough, they’re often doing a lot of crazy hard work behind the
scenes. I’ve heard a term before, which is an ugly one, but it’s called “office wife.” How many
of you have heard that term before? Yeah, exactly. The person who always makes sure that
the doughnuts are there, the person who always makes sure that the climate is controlled,
because you’re trying to make sure that the people on the team are comfortable and happy.
You are serving your team, right? That is the job of somebody who’s part of a team, is to be
part of it, to serve that team. And yet sometimes it seems like the people that are the loudest
and the least team playery are the ones that get the credit, right? It’s kind of frustrating when
that happens.
You’re caught between a rock and a hard place sometimes as a woman in this situation and one
of the most effective tactics that I have ever seen for showing people that you are
authoritative, that you are there, that you’re showing up and that you’re showing up well, is to
use a tactic I have thought of as forcefully giving the credit away to someone. I saw this happen
when I saw a former cofounder of mine. She was sitting at a table with several different people
who, one of whom was a little bit loud and taking a lot of the credit, and one person who’d
clearly done eighty percent of the work. This is a Pareto optimal team, right? So twenty
percent of the team does eighty percent of the work, right? Well, she was the twenty percent
of the team that had actually gotten it done. And my cofounder leaned forward onto the table
and said, “I just want everybody here to know that I think that Lisa did a spectacular job getting
all of the areas of this project covered in time and I think we need to give her a great deal of
credit for that.” She stood up to do it, stuck her fists down on the table just like this, leaned
forward and said, “I want everyone here to acknowledge what an amazing job she just did.”
What did that do for my cofounder who at that point was on that team? Not a rhetorical
question; what did it do? Yes? Oh, back here. Okay.
>>: So for one thing that’s a power position.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Mmhmm.
>>: Second: that’s establishing leadership and by doing the recognition you’re actually showing
that you have the authority to make that recognition.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Absolutely. That’s exactly what that is. What she did in that
moment was she expressed that she had a huge amount of power personally and that she was
giving the credit away. And as a result, she got all the credit for being a strong leader in that
moment by strongly giving credit to someone else, and as a result she didn’t compromise her
position as a team player. Does that make sense? That is one of the most powerful moves I’ve
seen someone make. I do, upon occasion, a little bit of coaching behind the scenes for women
who are worried that they’re not showing up really strongly and I always offer that as an option
to them. When you see that your voice is not being heard, give it strongly to someone else,
because that person’s not gonna take anything from you. All you’ve just gotten, in that case, is
more power for you and not less for anyone else, right? The more strong and giving
personalities there are in a team the better as long as you’re willing to work together. Is there
any way to fix that whole problem of someone who is usually the noisiest and the loudest on a
team’s talking? They’re not … not usually really is there, honestly. You can pare those
personalities away over time. Sometimes they end up in manager roles; sometimes they end
up out of the company and there’s not really a lot that people have been able to do about it
that I’ve been able to see, other than when I’m in charge, I fire assholes. Yeah?
>>: I like that last part. [laughter] I think that … but setting as a team norm this giving credit to
others and appreciating each other out loud can turn some of those noisy voices into
cheerleaders among and within the team and talk a little bit less about themselves and a little
bit more about the work and each other. So I’ve seen that transformation once. It was lovely.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: It’s beautiful to see. There’s always the suggestion too—and this
isn’t just for the men in the room and for the … but for the women in the room also—when
someone has the floor, when someone on a team is talking, when someone is presenting
something and they are looking for strong feedback, it’s very common for a couple of members
of the team to start participating in the discussion in such a way that they are not asking
questions, but instead are sort of taking over the situation, if that makes sense, where they’re
the ones who start presenting on behalf of the other person. They want to clarify on behalf of
the person doing the presentation. They want to be the one who gets the credit and so they’ll
raise a hand and say, “Wait, no, here’s my opinion of what needs to be happening instead.”
And it always masquerades that way. Think instead before—everyone of us—opens our mouth
when someone else, basically, is getting the situation handled, when they’re doing the
presentation, when they’re doing the talking, and make sure that you’re not trying to steal the
spotlight from anyone. Everybody gets their turn in the spotlight, everybody always will, but let
questions be questions and let suggestions remain on paper, so that you’re not taking away
from the person who’s clearly worked hard on what it is that they’ve been doing. I’ve seen it
happen a lot when women are in front of audiences, especially that are mixed or often don’t
have a great deal of women in them, where they’ll ask for questions and instead what ends up
happening sometimes is they’ll get pieces of their time taken over by people who want to
clarify or provide their own content. Work hard on making sure that you are the one listening
in cases like that. Yeah?
>>: And if you see that happening to somebody else, return the focus to that person. Ask them
a question, ask them what they think about what the person, you know, what the person just
said or, you know, return the spotlight back to them.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Exactly. And if it happens too many times sometimes you need to
take somebody aside and say, “I don’t know if you realize this, but you raised your hand four
times and there was no question,” right? You know. [laughter] “Seven minutes out of that
sixty was you, not them.” So that often helps, is just when you see someone doing that most of
the time they don’t know that that’s happening, right? They just haven’t realized that that’s
been the case. So you just take someone aside and say, “I don’t know if you’ve realized that
this is happening or not, but this is a different person’s time right now,” and so letting someone
else have the credit is a strong way of asserting your own power in all of those cases and still
staying a team player. Does this make sense to everybody? Wonderful. Alright, so what other
questions do we have right now? Yeah?
>>: So we’ve talked a lot about, you know, individuals advancing their career, their salaries, et
cetera, but what can we do to make tech a place that is more inviting to women?
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: That is a wonderful question. The thing that I always like to say is
the way that we pay women more money is pay women more money. I strongly advocate the
tactics that Mark Benioff at Salesforce is taking right now where he is openly doing salary
analyses of all of the people on his staff and raising salaries for every woman, every person,
really, to a commensurate level with everyone else in their pay rate, because he’s finding out
that women have not negotiated and men have in those pay … in their salary ranges. And what
he’s doing is he’s making it clear inside the company as well … I mean, think about what that
does culturally speaking. It means that if you are one of the managers who has a team full of
women who are being paid less than the men on your team, all of a sudden you’re sitting there
thinking to yourself, “I need to pay more attention to this because my boss is noticing the fact
that I am discriminating against women on my team.” That is a culture of accountability right
there and an impressive one, right? So you open it up and you say to yourself, “What is my
company doing wrong that I can fix?” We should be asking ourselves that question whether
we’re at the top of a company or we’re the people that are turning the lights off at the end of
the day. Always be asking yourself what you could be doing to make your team a better place.
These are the people you spend more time around than the people you married. Don’t you
want to like them, you know, at least as much as you hopefully like your partner? [laughter]
Right? You’re gonna spend fourteen hours a day around these people, you should probably like
them and respect them and treat them well, right? Because you want to be treated and liked
and respected well yourself. Alright.
When it comes to that question of equalizing out salaries, that’s a really solid one. One of the
other ones that I’ve seen is the thing that I just brought up about making sure that when
everyone else is asking questions, you are also asking a question instead of making statements
or taking over the discussion. That’s probably the single biggest thing that I’ve seen women get
irritated with because there’s no defense against it. There’s no defense against it except for
fixing it afterwards or finding some way to carefully work it into the conversation. Make sense?
Yeah. The other thing that helps is making sure that when the conversation turns to this
question of diversity in technology that it is not one where only women are in the audience.
This is actually a pleasantly gender-balanced discussion of the problem right at the moment,
believe it or not. And there is no way that the proportion of women in this room—sorry, but
this has gotta be true—is reflective of the entire staff of Microsoft, right? I worked here too,
right? So … and yet there are more men in this audience than is usual for a discussion of
diversity in technology. So I really do salute you all for being part of the conversation. I really
like men, alright. Super big fan, you know, I work around them all day long. [laughter] I was
gonna go into technology, like, if you don’t like men, why would you go into tech? I mean,
they’re gonna be ninety percent of the humans you talk to. So … and I recognize that and so I
play RPGs and I hang out and most of my friends are men and I like them just fine. Super big
fan, you know. I get along with them really well and I don’t hate or have a problem with men. I
think that, really, that the flaw in all of this conversation is some kind of assumption that men
have like a deep conspiracy. I mean, I’ve had pizza with lots of dudes; there’s no conspiracy
happening there. [laughter] Right? So there’s no conspiracy happening, it’s just … [laughs] I
love that look right there. Nope, seriously; no, there’s no way there’s a problem. So the
question is just one of how do we take great intentions and transform them into wonderful
actions that are positive and actually have an effect? The positive and actually have an effect
portion of this is: make sure that you are paying women equally; make sure that if you are on a
team with women that you see them getting at least as much credit as the other people around
them. And if you are part of the culture of technology … and when I say culture I’m talking
about the whole culture of tech. Whether or not this means that you have a Game of Thrones
viewing party, or [laughs] you have any other participation in kind of the bigger culture of tech,
games and the industry and space robots and any part of it, you make sure that the voices of all
of the people in that room are being heard. And I do not just mean women in this case. I also
mean people who do not identify as male or female, anyone who may exist outside that
traditional gender binary. I don’t know about you but I basically don’t care that much what
gender somebody is. I care whether or not they make good cookies, I care whether or not they
care about Arrow because that whole Felicity thing is just awesome, right? I’m a nerd and I like
talking to nerds. I don’t worry as much about the gender until someone makes me have to care
about it. And then I get resentful of that. I don’t want to care … I don’t want to have to care
about the fact of what I’m wearing before I walk into the game store when I know that thirty of
the forty people in there are gonna be people that work at the same tech company I do, right?
Let’s not pretend that the larger kind of nerd and geek culture in technology, in software and
gaming isn’t all interconnected with one another, that these conversations that we have in
cosplay and in video gaming and in chess and in robots and in logistics and where we buy and
sell our books don’t all have something to do with one another. Be a good participant in this
larger community because, I mean, you’re stuck here. You’re not gonna cease liking comic
books; I promise you, I’ve tried. There’s no way to give ‘em up. I have tried and there’s, you
know, sooner or later they’re just gonna migrate to your, you know, your mobile device.
Instead I was gonna say iPad, but I feel like that’s a little tasteless right at the moment.
[laughter] Sooner or later they’re gonna show up on your mobile device, but you can’t give ‘em
up, right? I can’t give up cosplay, I can’t do it. And this is a larger community we’re part of.
What are some of the communities that you’re part of—nerd communities? Throw ‘em up.
>>: Magic.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Magic. You’re way nerdier. Yeah. [laughter] Especially like the …
that’s the easy club—get out, right? Alright, come on, give me some more.
>>: Maker.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: What’s that?
>>: Maker.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Maker. Oh, do I love … okay, so Glowforge … you’ve seen the
laser desktop cutter? Oh yeah, that’s super cool. Alright. What else you guys [indiscernible]?
>>: Lego groups.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: What’s that?
>>: Lego groups.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Legos. Lego Mindstorms. Oh, so cool. What else are we a part
>>: Citizen Science initiatives.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: She’s cooler than everybody. Anyone else? What else are you a
part of?
>>: Steampunk.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Steampunk, sure. Absolutely. All of these cultures are things that
we enjoy, that we take part in, and that we bring to who we are in our work. There’s a bigger
problem here, I really think, than quote, ladies in tech. The bigger problem is one of
inclusiveness in community and not feeling like because we ourselves were excluded once—I
certainly was—that we now have the right to exclude others. Instead that needs to transform
into a responsibility to include others. Yes? Good.
The last topic I can talk about on the book is this: the process of making this whole thing
happen has been one hellacious one behind the scenes, and at the same time a very rewarding
one up front because it’s really started to be part of the mainstream discussion. There’s a lot of
frustration and anger, I think, in the community of people working to solve this problem and
sometimes it spills over into anger at well-meaning people who are just learning about the
problem. When you get people who ask questions about how to help in issues of diversity in
technology and they get told to, “educate your damn self,” right? I also get frustrated every
once in a while when someone says to me on Twitter, “Tell me about why you care about the
women in technology issue; I would love to know more about diversity in tech.” And it’s
Twitter, so clearly, I don’t think before I post [laughter], and I might, you know, if I’m in a
particularly bad mood, snap off something along the lines of, “Gee, if only there was a way for
you to find that information out yourself rather than expecting to take up a substantial portion
of my day teaching it to you.” There’s a difference between the internet like that, and
sometimes that can be a little hostile climate, and thoughtfully, reasonably asking questions of
the people that are around you, maybe who have different identities than you do. So here’s
the last portion of what I want to talk with you about today, which is how do we educate
ourselves about this problem in such a way that we are not putting a burden on the people who
are already experiencing the problem? There’s a lot of great example from what I’ve done, so
I’m gonna give you … I like to think of the definition of awesomeness is being willing to learn
when you have made a terrible mistake to not make it again. So I’m gonna be awesome right
now. [laugh] I recently had a situation where I had someone very angry at me because I said
something that I didn’t know was inappropriate. And what hap … and I … you know what, I’m
gonna back a little bit off of that one and instead give a different example of one … ‘cause that
one’s a little too sensitive and still kind of ongoing. So instead I’ll give you an example of this
one. I also sometimes teach college classes. I teach introduction to programming, stuff like
that, information technology to disadvantaged adults, and I had a student recently who was a
woman of color, sometime over the last year or so. And she was … she was a nerd, she was
awkward, she was exactly like me at the time, and she was very frustrated and very angry about
what she saw as—very rightly so—as a lot of the injustices facing, especially women of color, in
technology. And I didn’t know how to help her. I didn’t know if it was my job to help her. And
what I did was I went and asked two spectacular women developers I know, both women of
color, and said to them, “I’m in a situation where I can help and mentor a young woman who is
frustrated and angry and I would love to help her succeed and have her know that there’s a way
to solve these problems without having the people around you run away from you because
they’re afraid of how angry you are.” And I said, “Clearly, there is no way that I’m going to sit
there and tell a woman of color to be less angry, because that’s dumb and it buys into a
stereotype. But I want to help her succeed and help her know some of the things I needed to
know about other people to get to where I’m at.” And I told them both, “Here’s my plan to do
what I need to do. Will you tell me, if you have the opportunity to, if I’m correct on these
points and let me know if there’s anything that I can do better or maybe offer me some
resources that might have helped you.” The difference between going to people and saying,
“Educate me about the problems that you face because I feel like learning about it right now,”
and what I did was this: I tried to come up with a solution on my own and I asked for critique,
showing that I would put the time in to try to fix the problem. When you show that you’re
willing to put the time in to fix the problem, somebody else who cares about that problem is
way more likely to help you, alright? Does it make sense why I would approach that problem
that way? The reason I did that this time is because previously I screwed it up. I have screwed
that problem up before. I’ve gone to someone and said, “I don’t know how to help this person.
What’s all the stuff you do; educate me about your world.” And they’re like, “I don’t have time
for that.” So instead this time I went and googled and I found resources in the area and
something that I could offer this young woman to help her and I asked for critique on my own
efforts instead of someone else’s day. That’s the best solution that I can offer you for if you
yourself want to learn about a problem. A very serious problem right now is the issue of the
transgender community in technology, how they’re being treated, how people who are
transgender in tech do not have the same opportunities and face profound discrimination at
every level in technology, in gaming, in the larger culture, okay? And I’m not always perfect as
an ally there, but I’m trying and I’m learning and I screw up all the time. Be willing to accept
that people who have been discriminated against their entire life sometimes can’t always be
perfect either. Just because you’re right doesn’t necessarily make you perfect, alright? I do my
best to be a good ally to people who have different identities than I do and I’m grateful for the
men that I know who have been wonderful allies to me.
So the last piece of this is: when you have the opportunity to help someone to make the
community a better place, please do so. The greatest mentorship that I’ve ever received, to be
frank, almost all the mentorship I’ve ever received is from older, rich, straight, white, cis males.
I’m presuming hard on the straight and the cis—I don’t know for sure—glad I don’t. [laughter]
But these are the men who’ve helped me because they’re the ones who have gotten to the
places that I want to go to. There aren’t enough women there yet to help me and teach me
what I need to learn. Sometimes they’re not perfect either and they come to me and say, “How
can I be better?” And I put my time in helping them, right? I want to live in a technological
world where I can take joy in what I create rather than experience pain of being excluded from
something that I love. I’ve had that a lot in my life. I think we’ve all experienced the exclusion
from something that we love. I don’t like that much. I’d rather live in a world where I get to
participate in anything that I want to and people joyfully welcome me into a collective instead
of one where they keep me out based on what I look like. That is a stupid ass reason to keep
somebody out of a group of really awesome gamers, right? Or one killer open source project. I
want to get into a world where I never again have to tell my students, my female students, that
they need to use a gender neutral name and avatar to get their answers on Stack Overflow.
And I still have to do that. Let’s get to that place first, alright? Any last questions that any of
you have? Go ahead.
>>: Me?
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Mmhmm.
>>: So I want to ask it’s … ask a question, partial, I guess, suggestion. You seem to equate a lot
the [indiscernible] community of those gamers, you know, how it works and so on
[indiscernible]. But for example, if you take me, well, I read books, right—well, I’m here—but
also Iike, for example, cooking and, you know, cars and guns and that. I feel a part in this nerdy
community, yet I’m fairly recent in all of the [indiscernible] part. And I feel like a lot of
frustration when you tell me that being part of the nerd culture doesn’t necessarily translate to
being [indiscernible]. Right, so the people, they are doing all those things, being nerdy and so
on, but maybe there not really good at actually the doing work.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: I might not understand the question. What’s the question?
>>: The question is that in this equation of the nerd community and being … actually being able
to do the work …
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Mmhmm.
>>: … at some point, become a jerk. That will pose a lot of frustration because people feel that
they are part of community and everything, and yet maybe they’re not good at actual technical
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: I’m not too worried about the people that …
>>: [indiscernible] stupid because they’re …
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: Yeah.
>>: … they’re part of the [indiscernible].
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: I’m not really worried about the … I’m talking about the interlap
between the culture of technology and actual technologists. So if you’re a nerd, and yet you
don’t code, this … I’m not talking to you right now. I’m talking to technologists who are part of
the overarching culture.
>>: Well, I want to say that—I mean—there is no …
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: There might not …
>>: … there isn’t such overlap.
>> Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack: There might not be always. And there were so more questions I
think? Anybody else? I think they want me to sign a couple of books back here. I’m so glad to
have had the opportunity to be here in front of you today. Thank you so much for your
attention. Any of you that want to talk with me further, please just let me know. Come on up
and have a chat. I am really looking forward to it. Thank you so much for your kind attention
today. [applause]