Even with a woman CEO at the helm, Mozilla recognizes the ongoing need to refine our approach to hiring women and nonbinary talent. It’s an industry-wide issue: According to a 2022 report by Deloitte, women made up just 25% of technical roles within large tech companies. Among Fortune 500 companies, only 8.8% have a woman CEO.
That’s why this year, Mozilla is excited to be one of the sponsors of the Grace Hopper Celebration, an annual event that honors the contributions of women and nonbinary talent to the field of technology. During this week’s GCH conference, we’ll start sharing some of the stories of women Mozillians. Here’s our conversation with Suba Vasudevan, Mozilla’s SVP of strategy and operations, about her journey, the challenges she’s faced in her career, and the importance of hiring women and nonbinary talent.
Tell us about your career journey.
I grew up in Mumbai, and I believe that’s a city that completely shaped me. It taught me basic values around working hard, about resilience, determination, and grit. I remember being very young and spending the start of summer vacations at the bank my father worked for. I would walk into a server room and watch the huge machines (the original computers) and that was my early introduction to tech. Whether he intended it or not, it had a subtle impact on my psyche and that exposure was very important.
By the time I became a teenager I loved writing, but at the same time I knew that I wanted to pursue computer engineering as a degree. So I spent my teenage years doing two things at once; getting a computer engineering degree while also working as a journalist. During that time I was exposed to diverse points of views, people and culture. I also started gravitating more towards business and tech writing. That intersection came alive when I decided to pursue a Master’s in Information Systems which led me to move to the U.S.
I spent 10 years after that at KPMG in risk consulting. That experience honed me and gave me a bunch of skills which led me to Facebook (now Meta), where, over a period of 11 years, I held various responsibilities in trust and safety, customer support, strategy, analytics, operations, support engineering, etc. Then, this summer I landed at Mozilla to lead strategy and operations.
Throughout that journey, my experiences have shaped who I am and I have continued to bring my values to any job. There was a running theme of me finding joy and passion in the work that I did, which continuously gave me motivation to keep moving forward in this path.
Why do you think it’s so important to hire women talent in tech?
Diversity is very nuanced. There are so many aspects to it and several are invisible. It’s not just about how you look but also a person’s lived experiences. According to a 2022 McKinsey study, women are still deeply underrepresented in technical roles.
Women work hard, and are ambitious. Women want to advance as much as men want it, but I also think about additional burdens women carry. Women and nonbinary individuals do experience many challenges. Many face judgements that other groups may not.
It’s important, because without diverse perspectives, any company is going to fail. You can get into the bubble mentality. You will have echo chambers. You risk not bringing in fresh new ways of thinking. There’s little to no progress. That does create generational cycles of underrepresentation in turn. I think it’s worth reminding people of that over and over again.
Can you talk about the challenges you’ve faced in your career and how you overcame them?
I’ve been judged for looking too young earlier in my consulting career, that is, when I went to consult with C-suite, even when I was the most qualified for the job. Later, some people also assumed I was leaving KPMG to go to Meta because I had two young kids and needed an easier pace. In fact I was leaving because I was bored out of my mind and going to Facebook/Meta, which at the time was a rocket ship for the intense pace and mental challenge.
Not to mention a long list of weird feedback that women often get. For example, I’ve received feedback like, “You’re very warm,” which coming from a manager for my performance in no way recognized me for my leadership or gave me constructive feedback. When I was much younger in my career, I took the diplomatic route saying, “I’m not going to engage,” and moved on. But I realized that neither was I happy nor was I setting the right example for others around me.
Very quickly (at both KPMG and Meta) I became active with women’s resource groups in leadership roles. Having allies and a village of people who understood each other was beyond critical for me at both of my previous companies, and it also allowed me to give back to others coming up the ladder in their own careers.
My number one piece of feedback: “Do not underestimate the power of the village that surrounds you.” Another piece of advice is about naming it. It took me years to call it in and say, “That is not OK.” In addressing it, you get the confidence to tackle these issues head on, you end up educating the other person, etc. For example, being able to say, “Hey, that feedback you gave me was not valuable and here’s why. In the future, I would love feedback on these other areas/dimensions…” is fairly powerful.
What can companies do to increase their candidate pools with women and nonbinary talent?
A lot! I’ve done everything from reviewing job descriptions to revisiting interviewers on loops, questions being asked and the debrief itself. I’ve also openly called out potential bias during debriefs. For example, a job description with phrases like “people who enjoy aggressively attacking the problem of adversarial behavior,” can turn off many people and can create a top of the funnel problem for you during sourcing. Then, during interviews, people may subconsciously be looking for people who are similar to them in thinking, and we all need to check those biases.
Thirdly, having true leadership intention around better hiring, retention and advancement practices is important for companies to not just talk about, but also demonstrate.
Finally, resource groups are important because they not only provide safe spaces for underrepresented groups but also change the thinking and culture of a company, which helps to amplify diverse voices. I have seen resource groups become safe spaces for everyone from moms returning to work to single women who want to remain single but get judged at work, and for so many others.
Walking the walk in small but sure ways is critical to a company’s ability to retain and uplift good talent.
Interested in joining our team? Check out our open roles.