Tag Archives: The She Word

Leveling the playing field in sports — and at Google

As a middle schooler, Mackenzie Thomas would wake up at 5 a.m. to watch SportsCenter. “I hoped to see my childhood heroes Mia Hamm, Briana Scurry and Lisa Leslie,” she says, “but instead I memorized tons of MLB and NBA scores.” Even then, she saw how differently the media celebrated women athletes compared to men. Now she’s dedicated to driving equity on and off the court. 

Today Mackenzie leads marketing inclusion, and her days are spent asking hard questions and ensuring that Google is focusing on historically underrepresented voices in tech and in media, where only 4% of television sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sports, for example. And she’s a core member of the team responsible for driving Google’s partnership with the WNBA and National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).  

Fresh off of Google’s sponsorship of the WNBA All-Star Game and presentation of ESPN Film’s latest 30 for 30 documentary featuring Maya Moore — and as we prepare to watch the world’s top athletes compete in Tokyo — we talked to Mackenzie about Google’s efforts to bring equity to sports and what it means to her personally.

Mackenzie as a young girl wearing a red T-shirt and holding a soccer ball.

Mackenzie’s love of sports started at a young age.

How would you describe your job at a dinner party?

My team works with the people who design and build some of Google’s most used and loved products like Search, Maps, Photos and News to make them more equitable, more inclusive and simply work better for everyone. We also work to ensure people see positive portrayals of themselves in the stories Google tells. So for example, we partnered with community-based organizations to drive equity in our COVID-19 vaccine response and worked with the trans community to make reminiscing with Google Photos more inclusive.

Tell me more about Google’s efforts to bring gender equity to sports.

During the 2015 Women’s World Cup, I was frustrated about the explicit lack of media coverage, pay disparity and product features for the biggest stage of women’s soccer. Fast-forward to late 2019, we asked ourselves, "What if we applied the notion of Title IX to our own investment in sport?" So we started what we colloquially called "Project IX," an effort that spread throughout media, marketing and engineering teams across Google and YouTube. The goal being to better support and highlight women’s sports, all year, not just in big moments.

What are some of the specific ways you tried to do that?

While many of us are former athletes, the real experts are outside Google. We had countless conversations with the WNBA and NWSL, player's associations, nonprofits and media partners like Just Women’s Sports, Women's Sports Foundation and AthleteAlly. This helped us zero in on what role Google can and should play in championing gender equity. 

As a tech company, we can focus on our products by taking accountability and making sure we’re not just focusing on monetary investment but examining how every decision we make can be more equitable. For instance, over the past few years, we’ve made it easier to follow more than 250 women’s leagues on Search. 

The WNBA sponsorship was a big deal for Google. How does that fit into Project IX and what’s next?

Working with the league and ESPN to deliver 25 nationally televised games this season and a dedicated segment for women’s sports in ESPN’s SportsCenter were important first-steps and what Project IX is all about. The WNBA is on the forefront of social and racial justice, so as we deepened our commitment to racial justice, this partnership made sense. 

As part of Project IX, we wanted to increase our media spend in sports, not just during huge moments like the WNBA Playoffs, but throughout the season. We quickly saw the lack of content on broadcast. So over the next three years, we’re adding 300 hours of women's sports content to broadcast and digital to help increase representation, create more opportunities for advertisers and importantly, allow more people to see just how stellar these athletes are.

How have your personal experiences molded this work?

Even though I drifted away from considering myself an “athlete” when I graduated from high school, I’ve remained tied to the relentless pursuit of justice through sport: Colin Kapernick kneeling for racial justice, Megan Rapinoe and her teammates fighting for equitable pay, Cece Telfer and Schuyler Bailar advocating for trans rights. I believe it’s on all of us with privilege to build a more just world. 

How do you personally challenge the status quo? 

As a queer, able-bodied, cis, white woman, there are spaces in which I’m “othered” and more often, spaces where I undeniably contribute to “othering.” To quote the great Shirley Chisholm, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” I’d like to take that one step further and pledge to bring a stack of chairs -- for queer, Black, Latino, Indigenous, disabled and trans voices.

Leveling the playing field in sports — and at Google

As a middle schooler, Mackenzie Thomas would wake up at 5 a.m. to watch SportsCenter. “I hoped to see my childhood heroes Mia Hamm, Briana Scurry and Lisa Leslie,” she says, “but instead I memorized tons of MLB and NBA scores.” Even then, she saw how differently the media celebrated women athletes compared to men. Now she’s dedicated to driving equity on and off the court. 

Today Mackenzie leads marketing inclusion, and her days are spent asking hard questions and ensuring that Google is focusing on historically underrepresented voices in tech and in media, where only 4% of television sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sports, for example. And she’s a core member of the team responsible for driving Google’s partnership with the WNBA and National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).  

Fresh off of Google’s sponsorship of the WNBA All-Star Game and presentation of ESPN Film’s latest 30 for 30 documentary featuring Maya Moore — and as we prepare to watch the world’s top athletes compete in Tokyo — we talked to Mackenzie about Google’s efforts to bring equity to sports and what it means to her personally.

Mackenzie as a young girl wearing a red T-shirt and holding a soccer ball.

Mackenzie’s love of sports started at a young age.

How would you describe your job at a dinner party?

My team works with the people who design and build some of Google’s most used and loved products like Search, Maps, Photos and News to make them more equitable, more inclusive and simply work better for everyone. We also work to ensure people see positive portrayals of themselves in the stories Google tells. So for example, we partnered with community-based organizations to drive equity in our COVID-19 vaccine response and worked with the trans community to make reminiscing with Google Photos more inclusive.

Tell me more about Google’s efforts to bring gender equity to sports.

During the 2015 Women’s World Cup, I was frustrated about the explicit lack of media coverage, pay disparity and product features for the biggest stage of women’s soccer. Fast-forward to late 2019, we asked ourselves, "What if we applied the notion of Title IX to our own investment in sport?" So we started what we colloquially called "Project IX," an effort that spread throughout media, marketing and engineering teams across Google and YouTube. The goal being to better support and highlight women’s sports, all year, not just in big moments.

What are some of the specific ways you tried to do that?

While many of us are former athletes, the real experts are outside Google. We had countless conversations with the WNBA and NWSL, player's associations, nonprofits and media partners like Just Women’s Sports, Women's Sports Foundation and AthleteAlly. This helped us zero in on what role Google can and should play in championing gender equity. 

As a tech company, we can focus on our products by taking accountability and making sure we’re not just focusing on monetary investment but examining how every decision we make can be more equitable. For instance, over the past few years, we’ve made it easier to follow more than 250 women’s leagues on Search. 

The WNBA sponsorship was a big deal for Google. How does that fit into Project IX and what’s next?

Working with the league and ESPN to deliver 25 nationally televised games this season and a dedicated segment for women’s sports in ESPN’s SportsCenter were important first-steps and what Project IX is all about. The WNBA is on the forefront of social and racial justice, so as we deepened our commitment to racial justice, this partnership made sense. 

As part of Project IX, we wanted to increase our media spend in sports, not just during huge moments like the WNBA Playoffs, but throughout the season. We quickly saw the lack of content on broadcast. So over the next three years, we’re adding 300 hours of women's sports content to broadcast and digital to help increase representation, create more opportunities for advertisers and importantly, allow more people to see just how stellar these athletes are.

How have your personal experiences molded this work?

Even though I drifted away from considering myself an “athlete” when I graduated from high school, I’ve remained tied to the relentless pursuit of justice through sport: Colin Kapernick kneeling for racial justice, Megan Rapinoe and her teammates fighting for equitable pay, Cece Telfer and Schuyler Bailar advocating for trans rights. I believe it’s on all of us with privilege to build a more just world. 

How do you personally challenge the status quo? 

As a queer, able-bodied, cis, white woman, there are spaces in which I’m “othered” and more often, spaces where I undeniably contribute to “othering.” To quote the great Shirley Chisholm, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” I’d like to take that one step further and pledge to bring a stack of chairs -- for queer, Black, Latino, Indigenous, disabled and trans voices.

Leveling the playing field in sports — and at Google

As a middle schooler, Mackenzie Thomas would wake up at 5 a.m. to watch SportsCenter. “I hoped to see my childhood heroes Mia Hamm, Briana Scurry and Lisa Leslie,” she says, “but instead I memorized tons of MLB and NBA scores.” Even then, she saw how differently the media celebrated women athletes compared to men. Now she’s dedicated to driving equity on and off the court. 

Today Mackenzie leads marketing inclusion, and her days are spent asking hard questions and ensuring that Google is focusing on historically underrepresented voices in tech and in media, where only 4% of television sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sports, for example. And she’s a core member of the team responsible for driving Google’s partnership with the WNBA and National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).  

Fresh off of Google’s sponsorship of the WNBA All-Star Game and presentation of ESPN Film’s latest 30 for 30 documentary featuring Maya Moore — and as we prepare to watch the world’s top athletes compete in Tokyo — we talked to Mackenzie about Google’s efforts to bring equity to sports and what it means to her personally.

Mackenzie as a young girl wearing a red T-shirt and holding a soccer ball.

Mackenzie’s love of sports started at a young age.

How would you describe your job at a dinner party?

My team works with the people who design and build some of Google’s most used and loved products like Search, Maps, Photos and News to make them more equitable, more inclusive and simply work better for everyone. We also work to ensure people see positive portrayals of themselves in the stories Google tells. So for example, we partnered with community-based organizations to drive equity in our COVID-19 vaccine response and worked with the trans community to make reminiscing with Google Photos more inclusive.

Tell me more about Google’s efforts to bring gender equity to sports.

During the 2015 Women’s World Cup, I was frustrated about the explicit lack of media coverage, pay disparity and product features for the biggest stage of women’s soccer. Fast-forward to late 2019, we asked ourselves, "What if we applied the notion of Title IX to our own investment in sport?" So we started what we colloquially called "Project IX," an effort that spread throughout media, marketing and engineering teams across Google and YouTube. The goal being to better support and highlight women’s sports, all year, not just in big moments.

What are some of the specific ways you tried to do that?

While many of us are former athletes, the real experts are outside Google. We had countless conversations with the WNBA and NWSL, player's associations, nonprofits and media partners like Just Women’s Sports, Women's Sports Foundation and AthleteAlly. This helped us zero in on what role Google can and should play in championing gender equity. 

As a tech company, we can focus on our products by taking accountability and making sure we’re not just focusing on monetary investment but examining how every decision we make can be more equitable. For instance, over the past few years, we’ve made it easier to follow more than 250 women’s leagues on Search. 

The WNBA sponsorship was a big deal for Google. How does that fit into Project IX and what’s next?

Working with the league and ESPN to deliver 25 nationally televised games this season and a dedicated segment for women’s sports in ESPN’s SportsCenter were important first-steps and what Project IX is all about. The WNBA is on the forefront of social and racial justice, so as we deepened our commitment to racial justice, this partnership made sense. 

As part of Project IX, we wanted to increase our media spend in sports, not just during huge moments like the WNBA Playoffs, but throughout the season. We quickly saw the lack of content on broadcast. So over the next three years, we’re adding 300 hours of women's sports content to broadcast and digital to help increase representation, create more opportunities for advertisers and importantly, allow more people to see just how stellar these athletes are.

How have your personal experiences molded this work?

Even though I drifted away from considering myself an “athlete” when I graduated from high school, I’ve remained tied to the relentless pursuit of justice through sport: Colin Kapernick kneeling for racial justice, Megan Rapinoe and her teammates fighting for equitable pay, Cece Telfer and Schuyler Bailar advocating for trans rights. I believe it’s on all of us with privilege to build a more just world. 

How do you personally challenge the status quo? 

As a queer, able-bodied, cis, white woman, there are spaces in which I’m “othered” and more often, spaces where I undeniably contribute to “othering.” To quote the great Shirley Chisholm, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” I’d like to take that one step further and pledge to bring a stack of chairs -- for queer, Black, Latino, Indigenous, disabled and trans voices.

How leading Google One is like solving a puzzle

When office life became video call life in 2020, people around the world experienced the drain of remote meetings. Larissa Fontaine might be the one exception. “Video calls can be hard because you’re just moving from one thing to the next...but I also get a lot of energy from them,” she says with a smile. “I realized I actually like jumping from topic to topic.” Holding up her notebook, she admits one caveat: “But I have to write things down! Otherwise I won’t retain it all.” 

By “it all,” Larissa means the many product teams she meets with every day. Larissa is the vice president of Google One, a subscription service that includes cloud storage and extra benefits to give users peace of mind, such as automatic phone backup, enhanced security features, family sharing…the list goes on. This role requires her to act as something of a puzzle master, making sure everything works together just right, so that different departments, partners and ultimately — most importantly — customers get what they need. Luckily, she’s up to the task. “I enjoy problem-solving,” she says. “I find it really invigorating.”


How would you describe your job to someone who doesn’t work in tech?

I say I work on Google One, which is a subscription that gives you more storage and premium features across different Google products — basically, a membership to help you get more out of Google. I work with Googlers across different areas like engineering, marketing and design to figure out how to make Google One even more valuable for our members. 


What are the most challenging and most rewarding parts of your job?

They’re the same thing: partnering with so many different teams and products across the entire company. It can be complicated trying to solve for the needs of that many product areas. At the same time, when teams come together and find a great solution, it’s exciting. I am always impressed with the creativity and collaboration required to make amazing experiences for users that also work really well for different products and our partners.


Did you always want to work in tech?

I took a mechanical engineering class in college, and it was sort of like “MacGyver,” where you have things like foam core and string and tape and you have to figure out how to precisely move an object across the room without picking it up. I loved figuring out ways to solve these crazy problems, I loved being part of a team, and I loved being super hands-on building things. I ended up majoring in mechanical engineering and then also getting my master’s degree in mechanical engineering. 

I want to hear how you’re doing, what’s going on in the rest of your life — and then we can get into the potentially harder, thornier stuff we need to talk about.

How have you seen the subscription model take over tech?

The open, free internet is still incredibly important, and ad-supported models provide significant value to users. There are also cases where ad-supported solutions may not be the right fit. Subscriptions are growing across industries, not just tech. Car companies are building subscriptions, kids’ clothing companies — there are many examples. And it’s because people rightfully expect ongoing value for the things they buy. Buying something that’s one-and-done, that doesn’t consistently get better, isn’t as appealing. Tech lends itself particularly well to this idea, because we can provide more innovation and continuous improvements over time. 


What’s a habit or routine that helps you in your job?  

I have a habit of spending the first few minutes of every meeting just connecting with my coworkers, especially in video calls. Having an awareness of other people's overall wellbeing is personally important to me, and I also think it helps us work better together. I want to hear how you’re doing, what’s going on in the rest of your life — and then we can get into the potentially harder, thornier stuff we need to talk about. It makes my work a lot more enjoyable and I think it makes the people I work with feel the same — at least I hope so! 

We created these values for our team a couple of years ago, and one of them is “woohoo often.” It sounds silly, but we do a group “woohoo!” out loud when we have a win or hit a milestone, personal or work-related. We kept it going throughout working from home, and it felt a little strange at first to cheer “woohoo!” over a video call, but it’s actually been great. 


What’s something about you that would surprise people? 

I did gymnastics growing up and was on the national team for about nine years and I competed on two world championship teams. I have a move named after me, the Fontaine. It was considered difficult at the time, but you’ll see far more impressive skills from Simone Biles in Tokyo!

Give it up for the woman who helps Googlers give back

Over the past month, Googlers around the world have virtually volunteered in their communities — from mentoring students to reviewing resumes for job seekers. It’s all a part of GoogleServe, our month-long campaign that encourages Googlers to lend their time and expertise to others. GoogleServe is just one of many opportunities employees have to give back, and one of the projects that Megan Colla Wheeler is responsible for running. 

As the lead for Google.org’s global employee giving and volunteering campaigns, Megan’s role is to create and run programs like GoogleServe and connect the nearly 150,000 Googlers around the world to them. Ultimately, her job is to help Googlers dedicate their time, money or expertise to their communities. How’s that for paying it forward?

With more than ten years of experience at Google, we wanted to hear more about how she ended up in this job, her advice to others and all the ways volunteering at Google has changed — particularly this past year. 


How do you explain your job to friends?

My goal is to create meaningful ways for Googlers to contribute to their communities — by offering their time, expertise or money — and help connect them to those opportunities. 


When did you realize you were interested in philanthropy and volunteering?

I was a Kinesiology major in college. Toward the end of my sophomore year, I took a course on social justice and it struck a chord in me. Though I loved sports, I realized I wanted my career to be about something bigger, something meaningful. I wanted to lend my skills for good. So even though I graduated with a kinesiology major, I focused my job search on the nonprofit sector and got a job working for a nonprofit legal organization.


How did you go from there to leading volunteer programs for Google.org?

I never knew that the job I have now was even possible. I left my nonprofit job to become a recruiting coordinator at Google. My plan was to do it for a year, diversify my skills, then go back to the nonprofit world. 

I remember going to my first GoogleServe event. We helped paint and organize a senior citizen community center — all during the workday! It blew me away that Google placed such an importance on volunteering. Coming from the nonprofit world, it felt meaningful seeing a company that cares deeply about these things and encourages employees to get involved. So I stayed at Google and kept finding ways to work on these programs. 


Fast forward 10 years and you’re one of the masterminds behind these events. How has employee volunteering and giving at Google changed over the years?

So many of the things that Google has created, like Gmail, came out of grassroots ideas that then grew as the company did. The same is true of our work to help Googlers get involved in their communities. 


Take GoogleServe for example. In 2008, a Googler came up with the idea to create a company day of service. Over a decade later that campaign has gone from a day-long event to a month of service that encourages over 25,000 employees to volunteer in over 90 offices around the world. And it all started with one Googler saying, "This would be a cool idea." Along the way, more Googlers have come up with ideas to get involved in the communities where we live and work through giving and volunteering. Although the programs have grown and evolved over the years, we’ve maintained the sentiment that inspired those campaigns in the first place.


We’ve also been focused on connecting Googlers to opportunities that use their distinct skills, like coding or data analysis. For example, a team of Googlers - including software engineers, program managers, and UX designers - are currently working with the City of Detroit to help build a mobile-friendly search tool to help people find affordable housing. 


How has it changed in the past year?

At the core, these programs are about giving back, but they’re also culturally iconic moments at Google. They’re a chance for teams to connect and do something together that’s more than just your average team-building activity. You’re building a shared experience and meeting people from completely different roles and departments. They’re also a chance for teams to learn and grow from people outside of Google and to bring that perspective back to their job. 


Over the past year, people have felt generally disconnected. So even though our volunteering has become virtual, it’s still a chance to interact and contribute. Virtual or not, it really does create a positive work culture. 


What advice would you give to people who have a day job in one area and a passion in another?

Be willing to work hard and get your core job done and carve out time to keep doing what you’re passionate about. When you are working on projects that you love, it keeps you engaged in a really special way. And you never know when those passion projects will intersect with your core work, or when they’ll turn into something bigger. 


Maysam Moussalem teaches Googlers human-centered AI

Originally, Maysam Moussalem dreamed of being an architect. “When I was 10, I looked up to see the Art Nouveau dome over the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and I knew I wanted to make things like that,” she says. “Growing up between Austin, Paris, Beirut and Istanbul just fed my love of architecture.” But she found herself often talking to her father, a computer science (CS) professor, about what she wanted in a career. "I always loved art and science and I wanted to explore the intersections between fields. CS felt broader to me, and so I ended up there."

While in grad school for CS, her advisor encouraged her to apply for a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. “Given my lack of publications at the time, I wasn’t sure I should apply,” Maysam remembers. “But my advisor gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received: ‘If you try, you may not get it. But if you don’t try, you definitely won’t get it.’” Maysam received the scholarship, which supported her throughout grad school. “I’ll always be grateful for that advice.” 

Today, Maysam works in AI, in Google’s Machine Learning Education division and also as the co-author and editor-in-chief of the People + AI Research (PAIR) Guidebook. She’s hosting a session at Google I/O on “Building trusted AI products” as well, which you can view when it’s live at 9 am PT Thursday, May 20, as a part of Google Design’s I/O Agenda. We recently took some time to talk to Maysam about what landed her at Google, and her path toward responsible innovation.

How would you explain your job to someone who isn't in tech?

I create different types of training, like workshops and labs for Googlers who work in machine learning and data science. I also help create guidebooks and courses that people who don’t work at Google use.

What’s something you didn’t realize would help you in your career one day?

I didn’t think that knowing seven languages would come in handy for my work here, but it did! When I was working on the externalization of the Machine Learning Crash Course, I was so happy to be able to review modules and glossary entries for the French translation!

How do you apply Google’s AI Principles in your work? 

I’m applying the AI Principles whenever I’m helping teams learn best practices for building user-centered products with AI. It’s so gratifying when someone who’s taken one of my classes tells me they had a great experience going through the training, they enjoyed learning something new and they feel ready to apply it in their work. Just like when I was an engineer, anytime someone told me the tool I’d worked on helped them do their job better and addressed their needs, it drove home the fourth AI principle: Being accountable to people. It’s so important to put people first in our work. 

This idea was really important when I was working on Google’s People + AI Research (PAIR) Guidebook. I love PAIR’s approach of putting humans at the center of product development. It’s really helpful when people in different roles come together and pool their skills to make better products. 

How did you go from being an engineer to doing what you’re doing now? 

At Google, it feels like I don't have to choose between learning and working. There are tech talks every week, plus workshops and codelabs constantly. I’ve loved continuing to learn while working here.

Being raised by two professors also gave me a love of teaching. I wanted to share what I'd learned with others. My current role enables me to do this and use a wider range of my skills.

My background as an engineer gives me a strong understanding of how we build software at Google's scale. This inspires me to think more about how to bring education into the engineering workflow, rather than forcing people to learn from a disconnected experience.

How can aspiring AI thinkers and future technologists prepare for a career in responsible innovation? 

Pick up and exercise a variety of skills! I’m a technical educator, but I’m always happy to pick up new skills that aren’t traditionally specific to my job. For example, I was thinking of a new platform to deliver internal data science training, and I learned how to create a prototype using UX tools so that I could illustrate my ideas really clearly in my proposal. I write, code, teach, design and I’m always interested in learning new techniques from my colleagues in other roles.

And spend time with your audience, the people who will be using your product or the coursework you’re creating or whatever it is you’re working on. When I was an engineer, I’d always look for opportunities to sit with, observe, and talk with the people who were using my team’s products. And I learned so much from this process.

Mountaineering to Maps: Rebecca Moore’s fight for the planet

Rebecca Moore lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a series of peaks in Northern California where the ocean and redwoods collide. Living there, amongst the trees, she turned to mapping as a way to protect the planet.

When a logging project was proposed in her community, she used Google Earth to show everyone how the plans would affect their daily lives and, more importantly, endanger the precious ecosystem surrounding them.  The logging plan was denied and that redwood forest is now being considered for permanent protection as public open space.

“In a way, technology and digital mapping can give nature a voice — it puts it on the map and helps it defend itself,” Rebecca says. “Seeing facts on a map quickly squashes debate and dispels misconceptions.”

For the past 15 years, Rebecca has led the Google Earth, Earth Engine and Outreach team. Their goal is to create a digital replica of the planet and put it into hands everywhere. They’ve mapped everything from endangered animal populations and fisheries to CO2 emissions and wildfires. We talked with Rebecca about why she thinks maps are so powerful and how she finds it in herself to tackle hard problems, like climate change. 


What does your team at Google do? 

Our goal is to organize all of the planet’s information and make it accessible, understandable and actionable. For example, Google Earth Engine helps us take the flood of environmental information from things like satellite imagery and weather data, and turn it into something that anyone can understand and take action on. And our Google Earth Outreach program helps nonprofits, communities and indigenous peoples around the world use our mapping tools to solve whatever problems they’re tackling. 


What makes maps so powerful when it comes to protecting the planet? 

The world is changing, but it’s hard to visualize it. If we can create a dynamic, digital replica of the real world and extract meaningful insights from it, then we can put it into the hands of people who can help protect and conserve the planet for generations to come. 

For example, we’ve seen how putting this information into the hands of indigenous communities can help protect land that’s under threat. We worked with the Suruí, a tribe in the Amazon, to use Google Earth‘s mapping tools to stop illegal logging in their region. 

Now, with Timelapse in Google Earth, anybody can fly over any region in the world and see decades of planetary change. When you see these changes with your own eyes, there’s what I call the digital overview effect — you become more emotional and more engaged. 


How do you identify areas where Google can have the biggest impact?

I look for the hard problems that Google can make a dent in. Climate change is at the top of that list. It’s an existential threat, and we’re all experiencing the effects of rising temperatures: from droughts to wildfires to islands disappearing. There’s a sense of urgency that we have to act now. 

Then I look for patterns. I've read voraciously over the past few years to understand what the world's best thinkers have identified as potential pathways to solving climate change. I look at how Google can uniquely contribute to those solutions. 


When taking on big challenges, how do you stay motivated? 

I was a rock climber and mountaineer for years — I even climbed in the Himalayas. When you climb a mountain, you don't actually see the summit from where you start. But you know if you head in a positive direction, eventually you’ll see it, and get there. And along the way, the little breakthroughs will motivate you. Same goes for making meaningful change to protect the planet. 

Sometimes the best thing is to make a choice, commit and go forward. Stay attentive and mindful to what's happening along the way, and be prepared to make mid-course corrections. And stay patient, taking on big challenges — whether it’s climbing or climate change — is hard work and it takes time. Even when the summit (or your goal) feels far away, don’t forget to turn around and look back to appreciate how far you have come. That can be super-motivating, and applies to my work today.

You didn’t always work at the intersection of environment and technology. What put you on this path? 

I studied computer science, and after school I just wanted a job that was intellectually challenging. It didn’t matter so much what it was for and what I worked on. That changed after my father, who was an attorney and argued a landmark civil rights case, and my brother, who was an artist and an activist, died within five months of each other. It hit me that we don’t live forever. It seems cliche, but I didn’t want to look back and think I frittered away with stuff that didn’t matter.  

I needed that sense of urgency to stop what I was doing, leave my job and reinvent myself. I didn’t know what my next move was, and it took me three years to figure it out, but I was determined to find a way to bring my own talents to bear and work on things I cared about. I started small, helping protect the nature that surrounds my community in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and went from there.

Bonita Stewart’s new research for the next era of leaders

“I took a zigzag approach to life and my career, climbing corporate ladders, swerving through the obstacle course of entrepreneurship and landing in Silicon Valley,” Bonita Stewart says of the path her work took her in. Along the way, she was often the only or the first woman or woman of color, or both. 

Bonita was also the first Black woman to be a vice president at Google, where she’s VP of Global Partnerships. In 2018, she teamed up with another Black woman who experienced “being the first:” her fellow Harvard Business School alumna and former CBS news White House correspondent Jacqueline (Jackie) Adams, who was the first Black woman CBS assigned full-time to cover the White House. Together, they co-authored the book “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive." 

As part of their writing process, they surveyed 2,300 Black, Latinx, Asian and white women across generations. "Research on the impact of women of color in business remains limited, which is why Jackie and I wanted to expand on our first study and look into more topics," Bonita says. The 2020 Women of Color in Business: Cross-Generational Survey© (launched in partnership with the Executive Leadership Council) surveyed participants during the ongoing health and economic pandemics and racial justice protests. And unlike the 2019 report, the 2020 Survey also sought answers from 150 white male managers.

To learn a little more about Bonita and her research, I took some time to ask about her career path and to dive a little deeper into the survey’s findings. 

You focus on “generational diversity” in this year’s study. What does this mean and why is it important?

“Generational diversity” is a term that Jackie and I coined to highlight the nuances being overlooked in today’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conversations, specifically, representation across generations.

The most important investment a company makes are the people it employs. Right now we’re in what we describe as “a new era of leadership,” where younger generations are demanding more authentic, empathetic leadership. 

Our survey found that Gen Z and Millennial workers, especially those who are Black and Latinx, are supremely confident they will control their careers. They’re mission-driven, wildly creative and tech-savvy. They expect their leaders to create a workplace of belonging for everyone. It’s equally important that leaders have a better appreciation for diverse — and very valuable — generational perspectives.

Don’t forget: The Census predicts these young people of color, currently between 18-29, will be the majority of Americans in the workforce by 2027.   

To all women of color, I say while we need to 'lean in,' we will do best if we team up.

What findings surprised you?

One of the most eye-opening stats was around what we call “side-preneurship” or the “side hustle:” 29% of Black women have a business they run or are developing in their free time, compared to 15% of Latinx women, 11% of Asian women and 10% of white women. That means Black women are nearly three times as likely to have a side hustle. 

And while it wasn’t exactly surprising, it was validating to see some findings regarding women managers. Specifically, of the women managers surveyed, only 44% of Black managers, 36% of Latinx managers, 37% of Asian women managers and 35% of white women managers received stretch assignments — an opportunity to develop skills outside of their day-to-day role — over the last 12 months versus 62% for white male managers. We also found honest feedback is helpful to thriving on the job. Only 51% of Latinx women managers, 48% Black women managers, 39% of white women managers and 37% of Asian women managers reported receiving helpful feedback — 75% of white male managers said they did, though.

There were also some surprising results when we asked about mentoring: Women were more willing to help anyone, regardless of race or gender, versus the men. We saw that anywhere from 56% to 65% of women reported this, compared to just 34% of men.

What can senior leadership and hiring managers learn from this report?

We believe great managers matter. If they want exceptional talent, leaders and managers must boost their capability, hire underrepresented minorities in multiples, provide honest feedback, offer stretch assignments and create an inclusive environment for all employees across all generations.

What advice do you have for women of color in business?

Specifically, I strongly encourage you to take on a stretch assignment as a way to grow your capabilities and progress in your career. It’s a great opportunity to differentiate yourself and achieve what others might think is impossible, unexpected or unlikely. Our data found that a large majority of women across all races said they hadn’t received a stretch assignment over the past year — though it was encouraging to see that 37% of Black and Latinx Millennials reported they had. Please take it upon yourself to pursue one!

And to all women of color, I say while we need to "lean in," we will do best if we team up. Surround yourself with those who believe in the diversity of thought, race, gender and generations. There are so many new, disruptive technologies opening unexpected fields — challenge yourself to explore and find both your passion and your purpose.

What drives Nithya Sambasivan’s fight for fairness

When Nithya Sambasivan was finishing her undergraduate degree in engineering, she felt slightly unsatisfied. “I wanted to know, ‘how will the technology I build impact people?’” she says. Luckily, she would soon discover the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and pursue her graduate degrees. 

She completed her master’s and PhD in HCI focusing on technology design for low-income communities in India. “I worked with sex workers, slum communities, microentrepreneurs, fruit and vegetables sellers on the streetside...” she says. “I wanted to understand what their values, aspirations and struggles are, and how we can build with them in mind.” 

Today, Nithya is the founder of the HCI group at the Google Research India lab and an HCI researcher at PAIR, a multidisciplinary team at Google that explores the human side of AI by doing fundamental research, building tools, creating design frameworks, and working with diverse communities. She recently sat down to answer some of our questions about her journey to researching responsible AI, fairness and championing historically underrepresented technology users.

How would you explain your job to someone who isn't in tech?

I’m a human-computer interaction (HCI) researcher, which means I study people to better understand how to build technology that works for them. There’s been a lot of focus in the research community on building AI systems and the possibility of positively impacting the lives of billions of people. I focus on human-centered, responsible AI; specifically looking for ways it can empower communities in the Global South, where over 80% of the world’s population lives. Today, my research outlines a road map for fairness research in India, calling for re-contextualizing datasets and models while empowering communities and enabling an entire fairness ecosystem.

What originally inspired your interest in technology? 

I grew up in a middle class family, the younger of two daughters from the South of India. My parents have very progressive views about gender roles and independence, especially in a conservative society — this definitely influenced what and how I research; things like gender, caste and  poverty. In school, I started off studying engineering, which is a conventional path in India. Then, I went on to focus on HCI and designing with my own and other under-represented communities around the world.

Nithya smiling at a small child while working in the field.

How do Google’s  AI Principles inform your research? And how do you approach your research in general?

Context matters. A general theory of algorithmic fairness cannot be based on “Western” populations alone. My general approach is to research an important long-term, foundational problem. For example, our research on algorithmic fairness reframes the conversation on ethical AI away from focusing mainly on Western, meaning largely European or North American, perspectives. Another project revealed that AI developers have historically focused more on the model — or algorithm — instead of the data. Both deeply affect the eventual AI performance, so being so focused on only one aspect creates downstream problems. For example, data sets may fully miss sub-populations, so when they are deployed, they may  have much higher error rates or be unusable. Or they could make outcomes worse for certain groups, by misidentifying them as suspects for crimes or erroneously denying them bank loans they should receive.  

These insights not only enable AI systems to be better designed for under-represented communities; they also generate new considerations in the field of computing for humane and inclusive data collection, gender and social status representation, and privacy and safety needs of the most vulnerable. They are then  incorporated into Google products that millions of people use, such as Safe Folder on Files Go, Google Go’s incognito mode, Neighbourly‘s privacy, Safe Safer by Google Maps and Women in STEM videos. 

What are some of the questions you’re seeking to answer with your work?

How do we challenge inherent “West”-centric assumptions for algorithmic fairness, tech norms and make AI work better for people around the world?

For example, there’s an assumption that algorithmic biases can be fixed by adding more data from different groups. But in India, we've found that data can't always represent individuals or events for many different reasons like economics and access to devices. The data could come mostly from middle class Indian men, since they’re more likely to have internet access. This means algorithms will work well for them. Yet, over half the population — primarily women, rural and tribal communities — lack access to the internet and they’re left out. Caste, religion and other factors can also contribute to new biases for AI models. 

How should aspiring AI thinkers and future technologists prepare for a career in this field? 

It’s really important that Brown and Black people enter this field. We not only bring technical skills but also lived experiences and values that are so critical to the field of computing. Our communities are the most vulnerable to AI interventions, so it’s important we shape and build these systems. To members of this community: Never play small or let someone make you feel small. Involve yourself in the political, social and ecological aspects of the invisible, not on tech innovation alone. We can’t afford not to.

Chrome OS’s Jenn Chen on a decade of design

Ten years ago, Chrome OS principal designer Jenn Chen was hardly what you’d called a techie. “I was the last person I knew who got a smartphone,” she says, laughing. “I was a total Luddite! I didn’t want to do it!” But today, things are different — and not just for Jenn. The devices we use and how we use them have both changed dramatically over the years. “Technology plays a bigger part in our day to day,” she says. “So it’s increasingly important that we have a human, respectful approach in how we design and build products.” 

Chrome OS embraced that change, and Jenn’s seen the evolution from the inside. Originally, she was the only person on the team dedicated to Chrome OS user experience (UX) — now, she leads an entire team. We recently had the chance to talk to Jenn about a decade of Chrome OS, and what her path to design work was like. 

What kickstarted your interest in working in UX and design?

Growing up, I had a lot of different interests but never felt like they quite added up to a clear career path. I dabbled in biology because I loved marine life, read up on cognition because I was fascinated by how minds worked and even explored being a full-time pianist. One day in college, I tagged along with a friend who organized a visit to a design agency and I found it absolutely riveting. Here were different people with different professions — anthropologists, surgeons, engineers — all working together to solve a problem through a multifaceted, human-centered approach which I learned was called “design thinking.” This really sparked my interest in learning more about product design and building creative solutions to serve real user needs, which led to studying HCI (human-computer interaction) and user experience.

What’s the “movie version” of your job? How is it portrayed in pop culture, and how does that compare to reality? 

The perception is that UXers are in the lab all day, and that every user insight we learn immediately leads to a light bulb moment and design solution! There’s so much testing out ideas, learning that they won’t work and moving on — or years later, bringing that thing back and seeing there is something there, but the timing wasn't right or the tech wasn’t ready before. There’s a lot of constant failure. We designers call it “iteration,” but I think people forget that also means being wrong a lot — and being OK with being wrong, because it helps us learn. The movie version of my job glosses over all that.

Chrome OS was such a new idea. What were some of the early challenges of launching something so different?

Computers have been around much longer than Chromebooks, so people have established expectations and habits. The challenge is meaningfully rethinking what a computer can be while also meeting people where they are. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with and learn from experts in this space as a part of the Chrome OS team and a part of the broader Google UX community.

One good example of this was that Chrome OS started out with a minimal approach when it came to task management: Users could only have full-screen windows with multiple tabs. We quickly learned that how people manage their tasks is personal, so flexibility is absolutely necessary. We introduced more window controls and tools over time. Today, we've expanded task management abilities for Desks to help people organize their apps, windows and tabs across virtual work spaces, but still benefit from a simplified, more constrained model when they only have a touchscreen handy. 

Early Chrome OS task management

Early Chrome OS task management

Chrome OS desks in 2021

Chrome OS desks in 2021

Jenn Chenn 10 years ago survey

What new launches are you excited about?

So many things! The team has been hard at work on a whole suite of features for Chrome OS’s 10th birthday. I’m really excited about the everyday efficiencies we’ve built, whether it’s helping you find that article you had open on your phone with Phone Hub or making screenshots and recordings more precise with Screen Capture — definitely things that I use daily as a designer. 

Ten years later, what keeps you interested in this work?

I came from the startup world, and to be totally honest I didn’t think I’d be at a larger company for this long. But one of the things I love about working on Chrome OS is that it’s kind of like a startup in a big company: We’ve come a long way after starting out as a little fish in this pond, there’s much more we aspire to do, and I get the huge privilege of being a part of the journey with an amazing team of people. 

What’s especially motivating for me is witnessing how computing impacts people’s economic and social mobility — whether it’s being part of the distance learning solution in a pandemic or supporting refugees in settling in to their new communities. I’m excited to see how some of the bets we’ve made play out, and to be a part of shaping the future of computing.