2015 NCWIT Summit – Q&A with Peggy Johnson

BOBBY SCHNABEL: And now we’ll continue on the theme of change leadership and in this case the next session is about corporate change leadership which is a topic that we’ve probably done less of in the plenary sessions at NCWIT but obviously a really essential topic in achieving NCWIT’s goal of women’s meaningful participation in computing and computing innovation. And to lead us in a discussion of some aspects of that topic are Lucy Sanders, who you know, and Peggy Johnson. So let me say a word about Peggy. Peggy is executive vice president of business development at Microsoft, before that she spent 24 years at Qualcomm in a series of leadership positions in engineering, sales, marketing and business development. And I should also that I think many of you realize that Microsoft has been a consistent and very dear partner of NCWIT throughout our journey and so we’re very grateful for that and delighted to welcome Lucy and Peggy. [upbeat music]

PEGGY JOHNSON: Do you want to sit on a certain–

LUCY SANDERS: Oh, I’ll sit wherever you want me to. Alright, well thank you. I’m really quite excited to do a little piece on corporate change leadership because we often don’t do that from the plenary stage, so thank you for joining us, Peggy.

PEGGY JOHNSON: You’re very welcome.

LUCY SANDERS: I really would like for you to tell the audience your path through technology because I think you know as a role model and as an example of a woman in computing, tell us a little bit about how you got there and, yeah.

PEGGY JOHNSON: Well I have to admit I stumbled into it. I was always, I liked math and science and I went to a high school in Los Angeles that had great math and science I could take, I remember I went through two and a half years of calculus in my high school, and not a single person said to me: how about engineering as a profession? And in fact I didn’t even really know what engineering was. No one had ever had that conversation with me, I had 4000 kids at my high school, you know, I remember going to see my advisor and she said, “what do you wanna be?” and I said, “well I guess business.” ‘Cause I had brothers and sisters who had gone into business so I chose business as my degree and off I went to San Diego State. And I had a job on campus and I was delivering mail and I delivered mail one day to the engineering department and they heard me coming down the long hallway, those linoleum hallways, you know, in the old buildings. And I got down to the end there and there was two administrative assistants in the engineering department and they said, “are you here to sign up?” And I said “no, I’m just here to deliver the mail.” And they said “well, could we talk to you about engineering? Have you ever thought about engineering?” And I said, “you know, I don’t even really know what engineers do.” And these two ladies worked on me for the next ten, 15 minutes and they said, “you know what? Think about it. Do you like math and science?” I said, “I love math and science, that’s why I’m in business” you know, and… [audience laughter] right? And so they just kept working on me and by the end of the ten, 15 minutes, they’d given me the paperwork and the next day I changed my degree to engineering. [laughter]

LUCY SANDERS: Yay. Again the best practice of encouragement, right?


LUCY SANDERS: You never know, every single day. Yeah I used to work in the church nursery for 25 years and I’d hand these little babies back and I’d go, “she’d be a great computer scientist.” [laughter]

PEGGY JOHNSON: Yes, exactly.

LUCY SANDERS: Right, and it was just like okay. So tell us a little bit about technologies you would love to see developed in your lifetime.

PEGGY JOHNSON: Well, so I’ve been in the technology space, you know, for now 25 years and I got to be in an amazing time of telecommunications. I got to see at Qualcomm go from, when I first started, cellphones didn’t even exist, it was a long time ago, but yes there was a time for you younger ones that cellphones didn’t exist. And I got to see it happen in front of me and it was just amazing and I remember, we made them for awhile when I was at Qualcomm, and I remember our CEO and founder saying, “you know, I think some day there could be a million cellphones in the world, a million. They’ll take the place of phone booths,” that’s what he thought. And we would go to these, you know, places and this cellphone would be in there and you would make a call and leave it in there for the next person, wireless. But I think, you know, so first I would say I’ve gotten to witness just an amazing time in the technology and the evolution of the telecom world, but what I would love to see going forward is more connectivity, just really access for everyone. So you wouldn’t have to think about what’s the wifi in here, what’s the password? Your device would always just work, just as you flow through your day, in and out of your home, your work, at play, you always have access because it’s such a fundamental need that we have to be able to have information. So that I’d love to see. It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility, we’re putting more and more radios in our environment and that’s become more something to see. I would like to see more universal design. Karen talked a little bit about this idea of having diverse workforces so that we’re designing for everybody and I think again just going back to my cellphone roots, I would love to see a phone designed for women. You know, I remember when we were making phones years ago at Qualcomm and we brought in this really big phone and the guys said, “look it, what do you think of this?” And I said, “well, it seems kind of big,” and they said well, it will fit in your pocket and I said–

LUCY SANDERS: What pocket?

PEGGY JOHNSON: What pocket, right. A lot of women don’t have pockets and so I think that is something that I would love to see and really for everybody, you know. People who have a disability, what we found is if you actually design for a disability, you tend to design for a huge number of people. So if you can imagine like cellphones when the screens weren’t very good, they’re much better now, but in the beginning the resolution wasn’t very good and a group of design engineers got together to make the resolution better for visually impaired people but now we all get the fruits of that labor because our cellphones are much better out in the sunlight now because of that. So it’s this idea of when you go to design something, think of everybody, think of everybody. And you’re gonna hit the broadest base for your products.

LUCY SANDERS: I’d settle for better speaking technology. [laughter]


LUCY SANDERS: an Microsoft fix that?

PEGGY JOHNSON: We’ll work on that.

LUCY SANDERS: Well thank you, that would be great. Really seriously great. [laughter] Alright, so let’s turn to Microsoft. We all know Microsoft, innovation is key to Microsoft and in fact a number of the academic faculty here work with Microsoft research. And so what kinds of things are you doing sort of out there, external to Microsoft to fuel women’s participation in computing innovation and how can others actually help?

PEGGY JOHNSON: Well one thing, well there’s several things, but the one that I’m most excited about, we made a commitment several years back to a program called Youth Spark and it’s basically engaging youth, young men and women, students, in the technical field and it made a commitment to be able to teach as many as 300 million kids and we’re about the 225 million who’ve used some form of Microsoft tools to come up to speed in the technical fields. So it’s just like that early introduction, the spark, to get young people interested in it. And then we have something called Digispark that is focused on young women in high school and introducing them into STEM careers and that one I’m super excited about ’cause I would have loved to have that when I was in high school. I mean just somebody to steer me in that direction and that’s what that program does. We’re also very involved with code.org, we were one of the founding members of code.org and that’s now, I think that’s taught over 40 million students now, of which about 40 percent are women. So you have to catch them early, the late great Sally Ride the astronaut used to say you have to catch ’em by fourth grade and I remember thinking, fourth grade well that’s about when you might as a young women start to veer away from it, ’cause you’re looking where are those role models? So it’s really got to be kind of an elementary school thing and so all of these programs are designed to spark that interest as early as possible and then keep them on that path.

LUCY SANDERS: It’s very important.

PEGGY JOHNSON: It is, yeah.

LUCY SANDERS: One of the things that we struggle with knowing in terms of corporate innovation, would be specific examples of women’s participation in corporate innovation because we often will quote an example like, “wow, the first voice recognition machines were designed without women’s participation,” and we have just a very few examples of real innovation that invented by women, can you share any non-trade secret, internal Microsoft innovation stories with us?

PEGGY JOHNSON: Well first of all we have a large group of basic researchers at Microsoft. We have a group inside of Microsoft, called Microsoft Research, of which many are women. And they have produced a number of amazing innovations. So this is very early research. This is something that’s been near and dear to Microsoft’s heart for a long time. We basically have an academic group on our campus and we have some amazing things that have come out of this group and as an example, several of them last year were part of something we call the one week hackathon. And it’s not a hackathon like the kind of thing of where a bunch of people get together and code and eat Doritos and Coke and go all night long. It’s one where we try engage the entire company, including everybody, finance people, even BD people, bus dev people, people all across the company to solve problems. And there was a group, it was a very diverse of people, who came up with something and I just got to see it at our tech fest, it’s basically for people suffering from ALS and it’s the ability to be in your wheelchair and just with a very slight movement of your eye, move the wheelchair. And so we had a tech fest the other day at work and I had the chance to actually try it out and it’s amazing, just the slightest movement, because many times that is one of the last muscles that sufferers from ALS have the ability to move and so they’re able to in very precise moments or movements move their wheelchair and that came out of a diverse team. And that’s what, I mean again a lot of what Karen was saying it’s so important to have that diversity of thought, so you’re not all thinking the same and marching to the same beat. But all of a sudden some idea just comes out of nowhere and we say yeah we can do that. That’s what’s so exciting and that’s why it’s so important to have diverse teams.

LUCY SANDERS: Absolutely. So let’s turn now to last fall, you had been at Microsoft, what? About a month or six weeks or so when–


LUCY SANDERS: Six weeks, you know internal, yeah. So when the Microsoft CEO attended the Grace Hopper celebration for women in computing and a bit of an uproar ensued after that and after some of his remarks and I don’t really wanna dredge up the how or the why or the context, ’cause I don’t think that’s what’s important to us as a change leader audience, because we all make mistakes and when we’re out in public we’re making mistakes and doing things but what is interesting is to maybe understand what happened next? What really happened from that experience? And how can you maybe tell us, as change leaders, lessons learned?

PEGGY JOHNSON: So I think, you know, one thing that’s important to know is that our CEO had been such a proponent of diversity and inclusion for many years before that and you know he’s one of the reasons that I’m at Microsoft. Just I think he’s an amazing leader but what struck me is he used it as such a true learning moment and I remember afterwards we gathered together and he said what do we need to do internal here at the company to make change? And I think it’s important for all of us to think about change as a continuum as well. So it’s not about saying okay let’s check a box, we did this, we did that, our numbers did this and then move onto the next business product. It’s about embracing it everyday, saying you must understand the importance of diversity and then having an inclusive environment at work. And we made a number of changes. This whole idea of an inclusive culture, we made that a priority and we really dug in about you know what do our teams look like? In a meeting room, is everybody getting their opinion heard, so sometimes you have a quiet person, could be a man or a woman, but a quiet person at the table. Ask them their opinion, you know. They may not raise their hand or butt in or whatever is the standard in that particular meeting, ask them their opinion, reach out to them. So we used it as a real learning moment across the company. Everybody is engaged and it’s starting with the leaders on down in unconscious bias training. So absolutely focused on that and I feel strongly about sort of the visibility of that, you know it’s the more awareness you have, the more you can fix something. If you’re just simply not aware, which became evident, as we were having conversations around the company that were many conversations going on, a lot of people said wow I didn’t realize that, you know. Like the idea about asking people their opinion, I never thought about that, I’m gonna start doing that. So it’s just the awareness. We also have a huge focus on recruiting and retaining talent really, really putting an extra focus on that. We have a global recruiting team, we look for talent across the world and then once they’re at Microsoft, keeping them there. Having an inclusive environment, one that you know you want to work in and so we have a large focus on that and then lastly we very much are focused on equal pay for equal work and that seems obvious, well of course you are but you have to really dig into that because many times you know some groups will advocate more for themselves than others and you know in a busy day if you start to hear it, sort of the squeaky wheel, okay fine, we’ll get a promo out for that person or a merit increase for that person and you somehow get out of sync with the people who aren’t raising their hand and asking for the promos and you have to constantly look at it, again it’s a journey, it’s a continuum, it’s not okay we looked at it, we checked a box, we moved on. It has to be something you look at day in and day out. And since that moment in time we have now also launched a diversity website, actually I would encourage all of you to visit it microsoft.com/diversity, I believe. Great information on the site and we update it continuously, every quarter there’s an update to that website. So again it’s not a okay we have a website, check the box, it’s up, we did it. It’s how can we improve? What can we do next? So we’re always looking at, we’re never resting on that topic.

LUCY SANDERS: And so even controversial moments lead to progress.

PEGGY JOHNSON: Absolutely.

LUCY SANDERS: And change and I think that that’s a really important observation for us as change leaders as well. So another recent trend, we’ve been seeing companies making public release of their corporate diversity data. Certainly over the summer, I don’t remember exactly how many now, maybe 25 companies have released their data.

PEGGY JOHNSON: About that, right.

LUCY SANDERS: And so, Microsoft released their data.


LUCY SANDERS: Why did you do that?

PEGGY JOHNSON: Well, we’ve actually been very public about those numbers since, for over 20 years. I think back in 1998 was the first time we publicly released numbers just in pamphlets and paper-wise. And I think it was 2006 when we started to put those things on our website and then we took it a step deeper last fall when the other companies were doing the same things and we said okay let’s release more, let’s look at this in different categories and again going back to what I said, I think the more you can shine a light on something, the more you can affect change. And really releasing those numbers and saying, here’s where we’re at right now, we’re about 28% women at Microsoft. And we look at several different categories, ethnic groups and things and just constantly looking at it and saying are our numbers increasing? What are we doing to increase those numbers? So that visibility is very very important.

LUCY SANDERS: Certainly transparency is great because when a company is that transparent and release data then hopefully they’re gonna be measuring

PEGGY JOHNSON: Absolutely.

LUCY SANDERS: And improving and so it definitely lends towards more accountability, one of the things that we’re very encouraged about too is more and more conversation to back to Karen’s talk about what are the women doing? What roles are they in? And have they been segregated into the different types of technology jobs? And so as we go through this transparency movement, we’re gonna wanna really start thinking along those lines as well. You know that the total number is interesting so too would be what the women and minorities are doing in those roles. So we really applaud that and all the companies here who have released their data, we applaud your efforts as well. And we have a new resource on what you should do next, after you release your data so you can go to ncwit.org and find that resource, just a little commercial for our resources.


LUCY SANDERS: You’re welcome. v PEGGY JOHNSON: We’ll do that.

LUCY SANDERS: Just a little commercial. So our final question is around you personally, you’re a change leader, I’ve known you for some years and I know your passionate about the space. And why don’t you tell us what motivates you personally, in terms of being involved for women and girls and computing.

PEGGY JOHNSON: Well you know a little bit going back to, you know, what I said where I just wasn’t exposed to the rewards that a technical career had, I didn’t think it was for me. You know, again listening to Karen’s presentation was so eye-opening, I just thought engineering that’s something that’s not for me, no one’s reaching out from that area and I just wanna change that for young girls. We have such a need for technical talent in this country, I think by 2020 the stat is we will have another 1.4 million new jobs in the IT space, we’re not graduating enough kids out of college to fulfill all those jobs. There’s different estimates, some people think we’ll be about 50% short or even more in fulfilling those jobs and so when I look at the numbers of women in this field and the fact that women are so under-represented it just seems, you know, as someone who loves math, it’s a simple equation, let’s just get more women into these jobs, we have such a need. And we have a need not just from fulfilling the role but from bringing new thought and perspective into those roles. As I said I’d love a cellphone that didn’t have to go into a pocket, I would love one that maybe could be body-worn. I have all sorts of ideas, my daughter and I are always cooking these up, like maybe you wear the radio– I won’t go into it right now. Lots of ideas on how that can be solved. But you know wouldn’t that be great? Where we don’t have it stashed in our purse and we don’t know that the phone has rung. So I feel strongly about not only the fact that we need more technical talent but we need that diversity of opinion and thought in the role and I think women can fulfill that. Both of those.

LUCY SANDERS: That’s awesome. You know and I would also like, just in case somebody’s starting a business, a necklace that is my public speaking thing that I can wear. [laughter]

PEGGY JOHNSON: Let’s work on that.

LUCY SANDERS: Who’s gonna do that business?

PEGGY JOHNSON: Let’s do a hackathon.

LUCY SANDERS: Come let’s do this business. Okay I guarantee you’re gonna be really wealthy and then you can contribute to NCWIT. [laughter] So thank you so much, we really appreciate it. [applause]


LUCY SANDERS: Just stay here, I’m just gonna do a few slides. Just stay.

PEGGY JOHNSON: I stay right here?

LUCY SANDERS: So we’re just gonna stay right here and do two house cleaning slides and then it’s reception time, yay, out on the pool. So can you switch to the slides please? Okay, reception follows on Oceanfront Deck. So who wouldn’t like a reception near that lovely ocean. And I have been in this room awhile as all of you have, I presume the weather’s still good? [laugher] Okay let’s hope so. Breakfast bright and early tomorrow morning on that same outside venue. Also load up on sunscreen before you start today ’cause we’re gonna be eating outside. Next slide thank you. In the morning we– [cheer] What? Did somebody, what?

PEGGY JOHNSON: They’re excited.

LUCY SANDERS: They’re excited oh okay, excited. I thought we had a heckler or something which would be a first for an NCWIT meeting that would be pretty exciting. So in the morning we start with out Flash Tank so don’t be late we’re gonna have a lot of fun with those ideas as five members are pitching ideas that NCWIT should be doing. And then we have our sharks slash judges helping us deliberate and you as an audience will have some input as well. In the afternoon we have Empower Hours, I promised I’d spend just one more minute on what those are, so we listened to feedback from last year’s meeting and of course throughout the year we get lots of feedback also about the need to move more aggressively towards setting organizational goals and also sharing with other members. So Empower Hours will work like this. There’s a two hour sort of vertical, if you will, kind of meeting that you can pick based on what ever your organizational goal is around recruiting, retaining, advancing girls and women in computing as well as outreach and advocacy. So you pick one of those two hour sessions that aligns with your goal and on the back of your name tag I believe you did RSVP for one, so it should be on the schedule on the back of your name tag. and there you’ll hear in a very interactive format, the research related to the goal, the kinds of resources that are available to help you meet your goal and there’ll be lots of members sharing with you what they’ve been doing and table work, et cetera. Following that there’s a shorter one hour session where you can take something you learned in that, you know, two hours and apply it and go learn about a specific NCWIT program that can help you meet your goal. So Aspirations in Computing, Pace Setters or Extension Services or our new Latina tech makers or Sit With Me. So any number of things that you can go and learn about that you’re participation could actually help you further your goal. So the Empower Hours follow our workshops. So there’s lots and lots of stuff going on tomorrow, lots of moving parts. We convene in the morning for the Flash Tank and also plenary by Ben Jealous from Kapor Capital and prior to that the NAACP. And then we break out and we have workshops and Empower Hours and we come back together for a plenary session by Joan Williams on hacking bias. So and then we have another reception. [laughter] So, yay. So, let’s go and talk to each other and enjoy some nice food and some wine. [applause]

PEGGY JOHNSON: Thank you that was wonderful.

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