Ep. 174 – Amazon’s Nancy Wang, Founder of Advancing Women in Product

Ep. 174 – Amazon’s Nancy Wang, Founder of Advancing Women in Product

In this episode, Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation Founder, talks with Nancy Wang, Head of Product at AWS Data Protection and Founder of Advancing Women in Product (AWIP). Brian and Nancy talk about women in tech, a Midwest AWIP chapter, mentors, diversity, and product development.

Nancy Wang, Advancing Women in Product

Transcript of the Conversation

Brian Ardinger: Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and Innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger, founder of InsideOutside.IO a provider of research, events, and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products launched new ideas and compete in a world of change and disruption each week will give you a front-row seat to the latest thinking, tools, tactics, and trends and collaborative Innovation. Let’s get started.

Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger. And as always we have another amazing guest. This week we are live from the Fall Experiment conference here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And today with me on the show is Nancy Wang, head of product AWS data protection.  She was formerly with Google and she’s the founder and CEO of a nonprofit called advancing women in product. Welcome to the show.

Nancy Wang: Thank you Brian. Thank you for having me here. As some of you may know Wisconsin is where I grew up. So I grew up in a small town in Upper Northwestern Wisconsin called Menominee and it’s there that I grew in love with the midwestern lifestyle.  And also with the Midwestern culture. So part of me working out in the west coast and coming here is that love to bring more of the West Coast mentality in Silicon Valley entrepreneurship to the Midwest area

Brian Ardinger: You’ve been doing it for a number of years. So you’ve got broad experience of building products for some of the biggest and best companies in the world, Google and now you’re working at Amazon.  But one of the key aspects of why I wanted to have you on the show is to talk about your nonprofit and the idea of how do you create a more diverse tech environment? Let’s talk a little bit about your nonprofit. How did it come about and what is all about?

Advancing Women in Product

Nancy Wang: I founded Advancing Women in Product or AWIP for short in 2017.  And the reason behind that was, you know, I found myself as one of the only woman in the room. Even though I had a great community of male mentors and sponsors and also managers who moved me forward in my career.

I wanted that touch in connection with a female who I could look up to and so that was really the idea and the mission behind founding Nancy Wang, Advancing Women in Product (AWIP) was that I wanted other women in the next generation not to have the same diversity challenges as I faced moving forward in my career whether it was starting out at the US government working for the Department of Health and Human Services. or moving to Google, then a venture backed startup and now Amazon.

So part of our mission is to create skills-based workshops, as well as create circles of executive mentorship, where our 12,500 strong community can come together and really advance their careers, because seeing is believing. And I firmly believe in that when you see folks you identify with, whether that’s gender and other characteristics, you then believe that you can get there as well so change for Advancing Women in Product (AWIP) starts at the very top. So we work with our community of ambassadors, who are. Executives in various fields to come together and either create policies or pipelines to make sure that women are well represented in the highest levels of tech leadership.

Women in Tech

Brian Ardinger: Recent statistics I’ve seen is less than 25 percent of people in Tech are female or underrepresented populations. Why do you think that’s been the case or I don’t think it used to be the case like in the 50s. It seemed to be that there are a lot more women and folks involved in technology and some of the leaders in technology themselves were women. And how’s this changed? Why do we think that we’re in a situation like this where we have to restack the deck so to speak?

Nancy Wang: It comes down to where the pipeline is coming from. So let’s not forget that the first computer scientist Ada Lovelace was a woman. The disparity really comes from the fact that if you look at colleges and you look at people graduating from engineering programs, whether it’s electrical engineering or computer science or other engineering disciplines, that ratio itself is very skewed.

So when you have folks who companies either when they’re hiring for their positions need for a specific role, right that already starts to limit your candidate profile. And that only grows worse because as folks move through their life stages and we hear companies are only just starting to become more flexible and let’s say maternity leave or family leave programs, that again also contributes to some of the attrition that we see as women become more senior in their careers and move up the ranks to the point where studies show that less than 10% of women are in the C Suite or in the most senior levels that company.

So that’s not a status quo I like to propel forward which is why I’ve decided to do something about it. So myself and a team of now 98 volunteers, we’re all full-time volunteers for this community around the world. So, for example, we have our chief operating officer Sedov Hassan who works for us out of Dubai and that United Arab Emirates.

We have Kira Alvarez working for us out of Berlin Germany. And of course our teams based in Boston, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, as well as chapters overseas in Berlin, Paris and London. With that said you did not hear me mention a Midwestern City and it’s for that reason that I’m here today is that I would love to with the momentum of 12,500 people as well as the now over 200 executive ambassadors we have within Advancing Women in Product (AWIP) Community. I would like to change that as well.

Growing an Idea and Organization

Brian Ardinger: It’s an amazing story just the fast growth that you’ve seen. Take us back to the early days, a couple years ago, when you thought of the concept and said Okay, I want to pull a group of folks together to make this happen. What was that like and what gave you the capabilities, to kind of pull that together? And what was the early gestation of that?

Nancy Wang: You should have seen me Brian in the early days. I was hacking away at Squarespace creating our first website literally and we weren’t even alive on any of the social channels. It was honestly by a great friend of mine, referred us to our first executive Ambassador Ron Harris who was a chief product officer DocuSign. Ron goes to me, Nancy I know you’re legit because you came from, by referral, you know from a friend of mine. But you know, you guys have a website. Are you guys real right?

And so in our first year it was very challenging because then the founding team was a team of four. All of us had full-time jobs, whether it was at Google, Amazon, or Facebook and etcetera and trying to build a community, trying to prove our differentiation because the world of diversity inclusion is large and so many organizations at least to corporations can tend to have overlapping missions or objectives.

It did go through several iterations that our current mission which is solving the pathway problem, really became clear because that’s what AWIP is all about, is we believe change starts from the top and in order to inspire more mid-career women to get to the top levels,they need to have mentors sponsors or people that can identify with at the very top.

Finding Mentors

Brian Ardinger: So let’s talk a little bit about that. How does a person in a community where they don’t see a lot of diversity and that, find those mentors.

Nancy Wang: Absolutely. So little plug here one way would be through organizations like Advancing Women in Product (AWIP) where you have mentors who are dedicated to the mission who despite their full-time jobs as CEOs or CPOs or full-time venture capitalist, will take time out to Mentor underrepresented minorities. And so I think that’s great. Another way is recently I met with one of my newest mentors that Sarah Friar who is the CEO of Nextdoor in San Francisco this week, and part of that is mentors like to see high potential but also very proactive folks who seek them out, right?

So there’s a good balance between being eager and being too eager for also being not eager at all.  And your career is something where ultimately you’re in the driver’s seat. Not your Mentor not your parents, not your siblings, not your best friend or your spouse. It’s you. And so how fast you want to drive that car, where you want to drive that car, that’s really dependent on you mentors essentially are simply guides. They help you avoid maybe pitfalls. They help you avoid that pothole in the middle of the road that you might not have seen. But ultimately it’s your responsibility to seek out a mentor and it’s also your responsibility to build that relationship with a mentor.

Helping Women Grow and Get Connected

Brian Ardinger: So let’s talk a little bit about some of the stories that you’ve learned about how a AWIP has helped people grow and get connected into the communities

Nancy Wang: Sure. So for example, like I mentioned despite the fact that most of our team right now is concentrated in the coast. So either now west coast or east coast with Boston and New York. We do have a few we call remote HQ team members. So for example, one of our team members are name is Puja Joshi. She lives in Chicago and works and leads our social media marketing team. So with her involvement, she was able to attend the AWS nonprofit conference in Seattle a few months back and through overall she’s made over 500 connections to either team members or companies and now she’s successfully gone through a few Silicon Valley Tech interviews, as a result of being involved with Advancing Women in Product (AWIP).

Another example is last June we held a workshop on creating a product roadmap with a HR company might know called workday. And at that Workshop over five members from just the audience of 60 were hired as senior product managers for Workday. So that’s the numbers that we continue to see.

One of the most funny stories actually was this past July when we worked with Dropbox up in Seattle.  And so we worked with a wonderful recruiter their name Meg Burt. And we worked Meg out of a job. So let me pause there and explain what we meant. Meg’s objective was to hire and build a robust pipeline of product Professionals for the Dropbox Seattle team. As a result of our one Workshop in July in which we talked about expanding the product portfolio, it had the head of the Seattle drop box office, Vishal Kapoor who is a director product, there as well as a senior product manager and also scientist from Tableau and the CPO of Yapta which is a travel-focused startup.

We were able to sufficiently provide enough candidates and quality candidates who made it all the way to final rounds that Dropbox went back to Meg and said hey, I don’t think you’re needed here anymore and product recruiting we need your help in marketing and finance. Right? And so through that example. Now we have established direct contact with the product leader himself who’s Vishal and Vishal and now will work directly with AWIP to continue that pipeline. So those are stories that I love to hear because sometimes it is just about that connection, right. There’s already so many high potential women and minorities. They simply need that open door or the opportunity to prove themselves.

Product Development

Brian Ardinger: So while I have you here, I want to talk a little bit about product development. What are some of the key trends or tactics and tools that you find are driving the new wave of product development. And what are you seeing that makes you excited?

Nancy Wang: I was recently on a panel for the Kong User Summit in San Francisco earlier this week and sitting on a panel with the vice president of engineering from HashiCorp, as well as a few development leaders from the National Bank of Australia as well as Rakuten from Japan. So the things that we talked about for example are very heavy out of devops automation. The reason I say that is when you think about developers, right, a developer is very valuable and expensive resource for a company. So the time that the developers runs on either building features or supporting those features, which is now called devops or operations, is a balance that indicates how fast you will move as a company.

And so there’s been a lot of innovation in this space such as service meshes or API gateways, which allow you to see across the connections among the many systems in your environment. And so things recently, for example from HashiCorp, like Terraform. For example, where a lot of companies will use to bring up their clusters on the cloud or for example things like Khan which a service service meshes to allow you to see emergent issues that happen in your environment.

Those are very key to helping solve issues before they even happen. We’re already seeing this for example with the advent of automatic load balancing algorithms, for example, I’m cascading threat models and I think the future is very bright there. Definitely keep out for Innovations in that space, and speaking of Innovations and startups investing in startups is also a passion of mine.

So I recently joined a group and we’re still under stealth so I can’t share details right now, but recently join a group of women Executives in operations in San Francisco, led by amazing female leader. And what we do is given that the collective all come from non-traditional investing backgrounds brother from operational backgrounds. For example, we have like a VP of engineering from Google. For example, a few Chief Revenue officers and COOs, that if a deal comes in that fits within our specific domain of expertise, one of us in the collective will go and review that deal. I think it’s a fantastic idea and really attribute it to the woman who thought of this idea, but through that I’m super excited, to give more female Founders opportunity to go through that process and make their dreams a reality.

Connect with Nancy and AWIP

Brian Ardinger: Thank you Nancy for being on Inside Outside Innovation. This is amazing stuff that you’re pulling together. If people want to find out more about yourself or the companies you work for and the nonprofit. What’s the best way to do that?

Nancy Wang: Sure so our website for Advancing Women in Product is www.advancingwomeninproduct org all one word, all lowercase. And if you’d like to find me my email is just Nancy@advancingwomeninproduct.org. Shoot me a note. I can always guarantee you if 48 hour SLA if you are to reach me.

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Thanks Nancy for taking the time to be with us today.

Nancy Wang: Thanks so much Brian.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our Services, check out InsideOutside.IO or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @ardinger. Until next time go out and innovate.

For similar podcasts, check out: 

Ep. 151 – Jeff Dyer, Author of Innovation Capital: How to Compete–and Win–Like the World’s Most Innovative Leaders

Ep. 138 – Mural’s Ajay Rajani on Building a Portfolio Career

Ep. 90 – Teresa Torres w/ Product Talk

Find this episode of Inside Outside Innovation at insideoutside.io. You can also listen on AcastiTunesSticher, Spotify, and Google Play.

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