Whether you’re a founder of an early-stage startup or an executive at a large tech company, you’ve likely wrestled with this question at some point in your career: Does what I do matter?
The “why” that inspires so many women to go to great lengths in a demanding industry is the purpose, the guiding force behind the decisions they make, the work they do, and the teams they assemble.
But leading a purpose-driven business as a woman in tech isn’t a final destination. It’s a constant journey – having doubts about whether you’re fulfilling your purpose and questioning whether it aligns with your values are part of the process.
We spoke with Beth Bond, Sr. Product Strategy at Bosch North America Chassis Systems Control group, and founder of EdTech company Good Idea Plant, and Kaitlin Reimann, Americas Transformation Lead at Google Cloud and Co-Founder of a philanthropic fintech company uBack.
Here, they share what they’ve learned about centering on your purpose to create a lasting impact in the tech world.
If Your Company Is a Cake, Purpose Should Be Baked into Every Slice
At a tech company of any size, it’s easy to focus exclusively on the technology itself and lose sight of your core purpose. But innovation without inspiration quickly leads to burnout and diminished creativity.
Both Beth and Kaitlin assert that the “why” of any technology initiative needs to be clearly tied to the “how,” or the product and business strategy, for everyone on your team.
Beth: At a large-scale organization like Bosch, it’s important that purpose touches everything from the bottom up. At every level, employees need to see the meaning in what they’re doing, both for their own professional development and how they’re contributing to the bottom line. And that messaging must come consistently from leadership.
Bosch’s slogan is “Invented for life,” and the company is 92 percent owned by a charitable foundation. Work outcomes are pinned to improving lives – and that excites me about the nitty-gritty work I do every day in mobility.
Kaitlin: The connection between work and purpose is what fuels my energy and creativity. This is why I have enjoyed working at Google Cloud where our purpose shapes our daily interactions with our customers and within our teams. Through our Business Transformation work, it has been rewarding to help our customers identify their own purpose and define future-proof data-driven strategies to help them achieve their “why.”
Always Return to Your “Why” Before Acting on Your “How”
Many entrepreneurs see an opportunity in the market and say, “I’ll develop an app for that.” They get to work defining the solution before they reflect on the purpose of solving that problem in the first place.
Whenever you’re ready to commit to a long-term strategy or launch something new, always define how this project will serve your purpose at the outset. There’s a lot of work ahead, and you’ll need your purpose as a north star to get through any roadblocks you face along the way.
Kaitlin: Whenever I work with clients that are really focused on execution, I tell them to answer several questions first:
- Who do you hope to serve through this initiative? to serve?
- What are their objectives?
- How can our work make their lives better, stronger, faster?
- How does this initiative help you achieve your vision?
Having a user- or customer-first lens can be really helpful in defining goals to motivate a team around execution. The task of making something more joyful, accessible, and affordable to a group of people, for instance, can energize a team a lot more than the task of troubleshooting a UX problem.
To Create Accountability, Communicate Clearly and Make Measurable Objectives Around Purpose
Tech companies of any size rely on two things to get stuff done: communication and measuring progress.
Beth: The project timelines I’m used to in early-stage startups are a lot faster and more constrained by time than the work I do today in business strategy and product innovation, but the process is the same: strategy needs to be communicated and crafted alongside the team.
Everyone needs to find purpose in their work, but we also need to build feedback loops and mechanisms for tracking and celebrating success on deliverables. When we chart a course toward a north star, we can’t always account for the trenches, but we can map consistent targets to ensure we’re headed in the right direction.
Kaitlin: Always create ambitious transformation objectives and success criteria to define how you will measure progress as you deliver on your “why.” These should include measurable metrics like lifetime value, customer retention, and customer satisfaction, which will persist any time you have a new “how.”
This helps future-proof solutions as you deliver on your “why” over the long term. You don’t just want to create value now, you want to create value in the years to come. As an entrepreneur especially, you make investments and often don’t see the return for years, so you must be clear on why you’re choosing the bets you’re making.
Build a Team Around a Shared Sense of Purpose and Passion
When it comes to hiring and managing a team, purpose has two key complements: values and passions.
You want to surround yourself with people who are both committed to your company’s mission and have the agency to pursue their own skill sets.
Beth: Often there can be a disconnect between the day-to-day work and your larger purpose. Even if you’re invested in that purpose, it can be frustrating when you don’t feel like you’re contributing meaningfully.
Make sure your people feel like they have a subject domain and are empowered to help with the topics they have interest in. We should be asking team members, “What additional topics do you want to focus on so you don’t get bored? What else do you think will help you grow?”
A Purpose-Driven Business Needs Community
Finally, Beth and Kaitlin emphasize that women have a unique strength of community building which creates new possibilities and a brighter future.
Kaitlin: I think the purpose is already a core part of the work so many women in tech do day in, day out.
This is particularly powerful, as we live in an unprecedented time – the era of new how’s – like artificial intelligence and machine learning which bring immense potential but also require responsible, ethical, and inclusive leadership.
It is inspiring to know that we have women in leadership across the tech sector thinking about how we can use these capabilities in a more sustainable and accessible manner.
Beth: Women are biologically wired to create. Woven into that work exists a rich network of resources and relationships that we cultivate to support the growth of our ideas, projects, teams, companies, and families.
With the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on women in the workforce, it is imperative that we find ways to support and leverage this population and understand the dynamic needs that the users and customers of our products have.
Terri Brax is the Creator and Co-Force behind Women Tech Founders and TeacherCare. Her passion is advancing those around her.