Jin Zhang, Director of Engineering at Facebook, is the keynote speaker for the upcoming Extraordinary Women in Tech conference, which aims to encourage women to attain higher levels within organizations.
Zhang has come a long way in her life and her career — making it easy to see why she was chosen for the keynote speaker role. She’s of Chinese ethnicity, from inner Mongolia, a mother of two young children and with ambitious goals for her career.
I recently spoke with Zhang about her role at the upcoming conference in San Francisco: Here are my notes:
I asked Zhang what she will be talking about during her keynote speech. She says she doesn’t yet know, it hasn’t been written yet. But one important point she wants to convey will be that women shouldn’t give up too quickly in pursuing their career goals.
It can be easy to be discouraged as an ambitious woman executive in making progress within many organizations but her advice is don’t give up too quickly, staying the course a little longer can be very rewarding.
The Women in Tech conference features a long list of senior female executives — sharing their stories and acting as examples and mentors to other women.
Zhang does a lot of mentoring and has actively sought opportunities to mentor others through workplace programs, and she has also been involved with STEM programs at schools — she’s working on the pipeline — that will eventually result in more women in tech and in higher stages of management.
Many tech companies are cited for their lack of diversity in their hiring but is it fair to be critical given the fact it is illegal to hire on the basis of ethnicity or gender? And with few qualified women candidates for advertised jobs, these companies have no legal way to improve their diversity scores.
I asked Zhang if the pipeline excuse is still valid. She says that if you look at recruitment from the perspective of specific job titles then there are fewer women — but there are plenty of women candidates with job titles that would be qualified to be promoted to higher levels within organizations.
The pipeline for diversity is improving and Zhang says that everyone can help improve it further through volunteer programs.
Moving forward from a white male work culture is a requirement for delivering real business value.
Zhang’s career has been aided by mentors and she in turn helps many others. Mentors need not be gender defined, she has had male mentors. But sometimes she needs feedback from a female mentor on certain matters.
She says diversity is very important for an organization and she has seen it in action. She notes that when she worked at IBM in the database software group, the diversity in her team was very valuable in coming up with solutions for clients.
I pointed out that there needs to be additional diversity factors included. Most tech workers are from the same well-off sector of the middle class — a middle class that shares the same culture no matter the country of origin or gender.
Zhang says that organizations are trying to account for this lack of representation within their own teams by including a diversity impact discussion as part of the product development process, which is the case at Facebook.
Oakland mayor Libby Shaaf has often spoken about how she wants to see kids from her city –an economically depressed area within the San Francisco Bay Area — having the opportunity to compete for Silicon Valley tech jobs. That means going up against MIT and Stanford university graduates.
We still have a long road ahead on improving diversity in the tech industry. Conferences such as December’s Extraordinary Women in Tech will help speed this journey by providing attendees with the inspiration, motivation and practical career advice from more than 36 successful female executives working at important tech companies such as Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Uber, and PayPal.
It will bring us closer to an inevitable goal and a much different workforce for the tech industry.