#PledgeforParity: Celebrating Doist’s Women Leaders

Advice from Doist's women team leads on work and life

Women Leadership in Tech - Doist

Last Tuesday was International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the “social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women” and raise awareness for the work we still have to do to achieve gender equality. Each International Women’s Day campaign revolves around a specific theme. This year’s theme is #PledgeforParity.

We wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our own women leaders at Doist, recognize the challenge we face in promoting gender equality on our own team, and explain why we as a company support the #PledgeforParity every day of the year.

In recent years, women have achieved so many important rights and milestones, yet the gulf between men and women in salaries and leadership remains an undeniable fact. The World Economic Forum predicts that the gender wage gap won’t close entirely until 2133 – that’s thirty-eight years later than they had predicted just one year earlier.  

Nowhere is this gap more apparent than in our own industry: technology.

Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon set the standards in business and entrepreneurship around the world. On average, just 28% of jobs at these tech giants are held by women. When it comes to leadership, the numbers are even more unbalanced: on average, women hold only 16% of leadership positions. (The highest numbers can be found at Facebook (23%) and Twitter (22%).)

These companies’ leaders are aware of the need to promote diversity in their companies, not only for equality’s sake but also to create stronger teams. People from different backgrounds, genders, and cultures are a valuable asset when it comes to building products and services that will be used by similarly diverse groups of people.

As Doist’s founder and CEO Amir Salihefendic explains, “We see diversity as a huge advantage and something that can help us build a product that targets a diverse group of users. Todoist is used in over 150 countries and it’s a huge advantage that we have men and women in 24 of them working on making Todoist better.”

That said, the team at Doist acknowledges that we ourselves have a long way to go to reach gender parity in our own company.

“Our numbers aren’t much different than other tech companies”, says Amir. Today, women make up 30% of the Doist team, and fill only 4% of our technical engineering roles. However, our numbers in leadership roles are slightly better: 38% of our leadership position are held by women, with 43% of men reporting to them.

“Our women leaders have been invaluable in growing Doist to the scale we’re at now. I give them a huge amount of credit for helping to build an incredible product, help people complete millions of tasks, and lead our remote team as we continue to expand,” says Amir.

The challenge we face

Despite our attempts to build a more diverse team and hire more women in new roles, when we open a new job position very few women apply.

An eye-opening report conducted by HP highlights one possible explanation: men said they would apply for a job if they met only 60% of the qualifications, but women would only do so if they meet 100% of the qualifications.

Even more concerning are the unconscious gender biases that research shows almost all of us, men and women alike, have. Studies show that we expect men and women to act differently in the workplace – especially when it comes to leadership and negotiation styles – even if we aren’t consciously aware of it.

There aren’t any easy answers to these challenges, but, as a company whose main product is a productivity tool, we believe in celebrating each step to big accomplishments. Even though we have a long way to go, we’re proud of having gathered an incredibly talented group of female professionals on our team, actively shaping the way we work and build things.

Womens from Doist - plus Olga
Here are some of our awesome female collaborators at Doist. From left to right: Becky (Marketing – USA), Clarissa (Country Manager – Brazil), Julia (Android Developer – Russia), Galina (Customer Support – Russia), Catalina (Marketing – Chile) and Olga (Android Developer – Russia).

We want to introduce you to the amazing women on our leadership team who were kind enough to talk about their work experiences and share their advice for other talented female professionals around the world: Brenna (Head of Marketing), Ana (Head of Design) and Aygul (Head of Community Management and Support).

Brenna Loury, Head of Marketing

Brenna LouryOriginally from the US state of Colorado, Brenna lived for seven years in Santiago, Chile, where she worked for Start-Up Chile, a government-run program designed to encourage international entrepreneurs to
start a business in the country. That was the start of her career in the tech industry. Later she began her own PR company, specializing in high-tech startups with Doist as one of her first clients.

Now back in the US, Brenna leads Doist’s global marketing team, overseeing product launches, press outreach, localization, brand strategy, and marketing campaigns in several countries around the world.

Brenna is no stranger to the fight for greater representation of women in the tech industry. Brenna was a Board Member of the Chilean branch of Girls in Tech, an NGO that tries to identify, connect, and promote women leaders in the Chilean tech/STEM sector, making them sources of inspiration for younger generations. For her tech-PR prowess and her incredible work promoting greater diversity in tech, Brenna was nominated by The Next Web as “One of the ‘Gringas’ to watch out for in LatAm”.

“There is a funny story behind this article”, says Brenna. “Prior to this, an article titled Latin American Startups: Nine ‘Gringos’ You Should Know came out. When this was published, I wrote to Anna (the author) and said, “So, Anna, you’re obviously planning on writing a “gringa” version of this, aren’t you?!” Not because I was even considered of being included, but because I knew of a lot of awesome women who should be recognized just like the men. She kindly decided to take my suggestion :) I’m very, very proud of being included in this article, mostly because I know that the work I did in Start-Up Chile truly made an impact on many macro and micro levels in Chile and in general in Latin America. This is really one of my greatest accomplishments and is something that not only changed my life, but the lives of many other people”.

Ana Ferreira, Head of Design

Ana FerreiraFrom Porto, Portugal, Ana manages the work of five designers (all of whom are men), spread across five countries (Portugal, Spain, Peru, Germany and Taiwan). She oversees all product design for the 10+ platforms where Todoist is available in addition to the design for all marketing materials including the Todoist website and blog.

Routine is an important ally in facing the sheer volume of work and the inherent difficulties of communication across time zones, cultures, and languages.

“Because we are all around the globe I don’t have a specific time to have lunch, as that also depends on meetings and teamwork.  But I usually set aside 30 to 60 minutes for lunch at some point, when I can take a break and go alone with a book, meet friends, or have lunch with my colleagues”, says Ana. This lunch-time break helps her recharge for the rest of the day.

Before working at Doist, Ana was a designer at a Portuguese startup that made software for kids. That project taught her a lot about web-app design, usability, interaction, and code, but the design language wasn’t something she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She acknowledge how this experience made her realize the importance of having side projects she was excited about to help her shape and hone the abilities she would later need in the career that she chose. “During that period I did freelance works, started to design an iOS app with some friends as a side project, and taught web design for 2 years. All these took away from my free time, but they were essential to learn new things and develop my skills.”

Aygul Zagidullina, Head of Community Management & Support

Aygul“I wake up everyday with one thought: Is what I’m doing making a positive impact on the world?” says Aygul.

She takes this question very seriously in the pursuit of her passions; she loves technology, science, and communication. Before entering the tech industry, Aygul worked for 9 years as a research scientist in the field of computational and quantum chemistry.

From there, she discovered her inner community manager when she co-organized two Google Developer Groups as well as TEDxStuttgart.  She later became a Google+ community manager at Google Germany.

Currently in London, she leads community management and customer support for Doist. Outside of work, Aygul is actively involved in promoting gender parity in tech. She is currently a Google Women Techmakers (WTM) Lead in London, a program that provides visibility, community, and resources for women in technology. Being part of it, she organizes serious events and initiatives to support and empower women in the IT industry.

WTM and Doist, can be sure they are in very good hands: Aygul was named as one of The NEXT 100 Top Influencers of the European Digital Industry.”

What is your biggest challenge in your work – and the one you are most excited about?

Brenna: The biggest challenge I’m facing is a new maturity in our company. I’ve had experience growing a project/product from the ground up– with Start-Up Chile, Todoist and Girls in Tech– but at Doist we are reaching a new growth stage that requires different types of focus, planning and action. This is also what makes me most excited :) This unique challenge is also a huge opportunity and it’s something that we’re facing head-on by sharpening our processes, consolidating our product, and by adding some truly amazing people to our team. It’s once in a lifetime that you get to work in a company that is facing this stage and I’m confident that the work we’re doing now will position the company for future success.

Ana: The biggest challenge is to make sure everything we do, from the apps to a simple image to share on social networks, fits our global design style, and feels like Doist.

I think one of our biggest challenges is that we don’t speak all the languages we support, so sometimes we forget to replace parts of the texts, resulting on a mix of 2 or more languages.

We really need to thank our translators for reviewing our work and catching all these mistakes.

What most excites me about my work at Doist, is the idea of simplifying our users’ lives with our apps. They trust us to improve their work, their communication, their lives, so it’s our job to make simple, easy-to-use, and powerful apps.

Aygul: The greatest challenge I face in my work has to be the key role our community management & support teams play in helping our users to be productive and get things done with our Todoist apps. It’s undoubtedly the most consumer-facing role at our company which comes with great responsibilities. No matter if it’s 4am in the morning or Christmas holidays, community management and support don’t rest. We know our users can need us at any moment, we value their trust and we make sure we’re here for them 24/7/365. It’s a great challenge, but also the one I’m most excited about.

What would be the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader?

Brenna: The best lesson that I can pass on from my leadership role is to be the kind of leader that enables and empowers your team members. As a leader it’s your role to make sure that your team members are constantly growing personally and professionally, that you’re giving them projects with important levels of responsibility and allowing them to rise to the challenge (and praising them when they do). I love (and have tried to be very conscious of practicing) the concept that “the key to success is hiring people who are better than you.”  Every day I’m amazed by the talent on my team. They motivate me to be a better leader and a better professional!

Ana: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that we are always learning, we don’t do everything right, so we need to work on constantly improving ourselves.  :)

One of the things I’m currently trying to improve is communication, because I feel I could be better at it. I’m a bit of an introvert, so sometimes I may look distant or unavailable, which is definitely not true. So I’m trying to develop my communication skills to make sure everyone feels comfortable coming to me for feedback, opinions or help.

Aygul: The most important lesson I learned as a manager is, everything we do should bring us one step closer to making our world a better place. I wake up every day with one thought: Is what I’m doing making a positive impact on the world? I keep that in mind and try to incorporate it in everything I do. My true passions are solving problems and helping others. I believe that community management and customer support can make people’s lives better. I believe in the power of ideas and that anything can be solved through communication.

Working remotely provides you with flexibility you can only wish for, but it also brings its own challenges. One of them is working with teammates all over the world in several different time zones on a daily basis. The key to successful work is constant communication. We’re using two main tools to stay connected — Google Hangouts (text chat for daily discussions, video calls for monthly meetings) and Slack (for communication with colleagues from other teams).

What advice would you give women who want to pursue a similar career path? How should they get started?

Brenna: I’ve had extraordinary experiences in my career and there are three pieces of advice that I can attribute that to: (1) take chances, (2) find a niche and (3) don’t compromise.

If I had never taken the chance to move to Chile, I would have never been able to take the chance to work in the Start-Up Chile program. I was between two job offers– one at Deloitte (huge, international corporation) and one at Start-Up Chile, a program that, at the time, was basically just an idea. I took a chance on Start-Up Chile and it was the best career decision I could have ever made. It’s now a globally celebrated program that has been replicated in many countries and has positioned Chile and LatAm internationally for innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology. Also, if I had never joined Start-Up Chile, I would have never met Amir, the founder of Todoist. That’s an important part of this story :) 

Second, when I left Start-Up Chile to work independently, I essentially became one of the only tech-PR experts in Chile. This allowed me to expand my PR business in a niche that was growing very quickly and that was very “trendy” at the time. I worked hard to grow my company in that niche and, if I didn’t have the focus, I would not have been as successful.

Finally, I believe that you should never compromise on your work. There is one main example I can share from my experience. After a difficult trial and error period, I made the decision to only work with clients (most of which were tech startups and local VCs) of a certain caliber. There were many founders of “startups” who just wanted to appear in the press to appease their egos. More than once, potential clients asked me to “put [them] in TechCrunch” when they didn’t even have one single user! Once I made that decision, I never once compromised on taking on new clients who didn’t already have a product with a certain level of traction. This was not only for my professional reputation but for my personal peace-of-mind, and it made doing business much easier.

Ana: Invest time on doing the things you want to do in the future. If you have classes, or a job where you can’t do it, just find a side project that you are excited about. That will help you acquire new skills and also give you something to show when the time comes to actually do what you want to do.

Aygul: There is only one advice I’d like to give: get shit done. Remember, good things come to those who work like crazy and never give up. Be flexible and fearless, be excited to help build something awesome, share it with the world and bust your ass doing it. People will tell you you can’t reach everything you’re dreaming about. They’ll tell you this to make you feel like less. Don’t buy it. Impossible is nothing!

Are you a woman interested in working for a high-growth, remote tech start-up? We’d love to hear from you! Check out our open positions at doist.com/jobs.