Elaine appreciates her difference make her stronger at Cloudera

Elaine appreciates her difference make her stronger at Cloudera

 October 06, 2021

Elaine has always worked with geographically dispersed and diverse teams who interact with customers/prospects remotely. Her role challenges Elaine to think inventively about how she can cultivate different ways to build and maintain a high performance culture with individuals from around the world.

"Covid-19 has impacted everyone across the globe. It has created multiple challenges but also, if you look carefully, there are some outcomes that have positively changed the future of work for the longer term,” suggests Elaine. Whilst many people across the globe have struggled to evolve to the norm of working from home, Elaine shares with us some of the mechanisms she has employed to engage her teams and draws on some of her own personal experiences which has helped her to bring more creativity to her management style and the team overall.

Importance of an inclusive workculture

Elaine - Cloudera

Growing up as a mixed race, muli-lingual, dyslexic woman in Doncaster UK, Elaine’s differences were something that she was always aware of. “Often I felt my differences were presented as a negative,” shares Elaine. “Over indexing on differences can often permeate unconscious bias”.These experiences have made Elaine recognise the importance of creating a work environment where her team feels safe contributing innovative solutions by relying on their varied perspectives. “Organizations need to expand their DE&I to consider that it's no longer just about bringing different people together, it is about creating an environment where difference is not simply a problem to be solved but an asset to be leveraged”.

While DE&I's natural focus is on inclusivity, “difference” is also something to be celebrated and can be harnessed for a whole host of benefits. Everyone is unique, to harness this in the workplace, employees need to be equipped with the right training and skills to channel the benefits that ‘difference’ brings .

Today, many organizations are taking positive steps to ensure their employees become more aware of how unconscious or implicit bias are major contributors to the lack of workplace diversity, impacting an organization’s long-term growth. “Simple steps like widening your work circle with a more diverse range of people can help improve your cultural competence and lead to a better understanding of others,” states Elaine.

A strong sense of belonging

Cloudera has built a progressive work culture through a common set of values shared across borders, cultural differences, and language.

"At Cloudera I have a sense of belonging with a universal approach to how we work. The Cloudera Code provides a unified set of values for us. Each colleague I have worked with in Cloudera operates with this code at the core of what they do. Regardless of our differences, background, language, or experience - we all share common values. My favorite value is 'We strive for equality.' This ensures we always collaborate to ensure diverse perspectives are represented in each conversation and that we strive to understand how representation matters at all levels," says Elaine.

Harnessing different perspectives

Cloudera network

Elaine uses her multi-cultural background and her dyslexia as a mechanism to be more thoughtful about how information is presented and consumed within her team to create a more inclusive culture. While cultural diversity is more frequently considered, less apparent differences like communication styles may not be
addressed. 

"Everyone learns and engages with information differently, regardless if you are dyslexic or not, that is a fact - but one that’s not often recognized” remarks Elaine. “Entrepreneurs such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Charles Schwab have all harnessed their experiences with dyslexia to have a positive, significant impact on the world.”

Companies can often overlook the importance of how information is presented and communicated when seeking to build a high performing team.”We often run to focus on results, clear roles, responsibilities, building trust and leadership, without considering how that information is delivered, received and understood,” explains Elaine. “But this is incredibly important. Especially when you are seeking to communicate with and create an inclusive culture across a mulit-cultural and multilingual team.”

During the pandemic, many people have found themselves participating in ever more video calls. Yet, psychologists concluded that video calls require more mental processing than face-to-face interactions. We have to work harder to process non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice and body language.

“Our team's quarterly business reviews are essential for our continued growth and success, but they are also very information heavy. Video calls just aren’t conducive to properly process data and anecdotes shared, so I flipped them on their head,” explains Elaine.

Inspired by Jacinda Ardern’s 2 year in 2 minutes video, Elaine implements the use of recorded video to disrupt QBRs and often team meetings. “I challenge my team to provide 4-7min video update sharing that highlights and lowlights of the quarter, 1 week before the review. Leveraging tools such as Slido (Q&A and polling platform) to submit their questions before the live QBR, allows team members time to absorb the content and prepare their responses. This provides more time to respond to questions through active discussion, allowing for others to feel heard instead of running to a schedule where other presenters/discussions may over run. This results in the team being actively engaged on the day of the review.”

Cloudera technoloogy

Elaine's dyslexia has driven her to continue to think on the different ways individuals learn and excel, as a result she strives to create an inclusive culture, leveraging tools and creative mechanisms to help her team thrive.

The way Elaine and her team conducts Business Reviews is one example of how Elaine uses technology to her advantage. Technology itself has a core role to play in helping people deal with dyslexia and those without, to be more productive and work smart. "If someone asks me to read a script, that’s a no go for me. But give me a whiteboard to mind map and I am all over it," remarks Elaine. Elaine uses tools like mind maps, trello boards, voice to text apps, video, audio messages and real time messaging platforms daily to connect with her disparate team. “I am continuously thinking of ways we continue to engage with my teams through the use of technology in our virtual working environment. There are so many great tools and methods out there which can help you build deeper virtual connections and stay on task.”

Supporting others into tech career pathways

When encouraging women to consider a job in the technology sector, Elaine stresses the relevance and prevalence of this highly innovative industry in today's world. "Just think about how many times you touch your phone a day. Research found that an individual will touch their phone on average 2,617 times a day and for extreme phone users that is up to 5,400 times a day. You are only touching one piece of tangible technology but that is a simple gateway to all the other technologies out there."

"Think of the information we consume through apps, websites, videos, etc. All of this is at our fingertips. Could you live in a world without technology?"asks Elaine. “The phone example is just one viewpoint, but if you put into context how much technology impacts our lives every day you uncover the importance. There are many incredible initiatives out there to encourage women to work in STEM-related roles. Often, I speak to people who have an interest and are concerned they are not technical enough. If you do not want to code, there are still plenty of ways to work in the tech industry. Choosing a career path in tech as a future proof industry, can help build a long and satisfying career."

Elaine believes that part of the gender gap in the tech sector is due to many people equating a career in tech with highly technical skills. "Women from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who don’t live in tech hubs might not know about the non-technical roles available to them. Tech roles will only increase in the future, so we need to make tech career pathways more accessible."

Elaine's team has developed an internship programme to help people who have not been exposed to the world of technology or people who are studying in technology fields to gain real-world experience. During this process, Elaine's team focused strongly on key competencies and the ability to learn (i.e. how people were open to different experiences).

"I'm really passionate about looking at 'non-traditional' routes into any industry," remarks Elaine who knows only too well the sheer value of capitalising on different strengths and opportunities.

Embracing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) through tech

CLOUDERA data report

Elaine was grateful to be recognised as Cloudera’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) champion for the Asia Pacific region earlier this year – and holds insightful views about forging progressive work cultures from a technology perspective.

Elaine's mission statement for her team is: 'Diversity is our strength.' Elaine's diverse team of colleagues values authenticity, respect and embraces uniqueness - and their diverse perspectives ignite the innovation and growth of further teams. As such, Elaine's team creates and works in a truly inclusive environment where all members are comfortable to bring their authentic selves to work every day. Such an important facet for any workplace!

When asked about what key Cloudera products and services are helping organizations build inclusive workplaces, Elaine shares that "Cloudera's platform helps to break down data silos and empowers people to transform complex data into clear and actionable insights. The reason this is so key is that multiple research studies - from the Edelman Trust Barometer through to this Russell Reynolds Associates report - clearly show today’s consumers expectations are that brands will be active participants in, and a force for good, on social issues. These studies demonstrate that brands that do not positively engage in discussions around DE&I or that aren't transparent about their own efforts in this area, will lose customers.”

“Data plays a key role in helping companies to understand their diverse workforce, make positive changes, and to monitor the impact of that change on their own organization, stakeholders and communities as well as their customers. Many companies already implement customer 360 programs, and this is the next evolution of these initiatives," explains Elaine.

Read more about how data can help drive more meaningful diversity and inclusion efforts.

Salient career advice

And what career advice does Elaine give to women seeking to forge their own careers?

"Failure only comes when you make a mistake and don't learn from it." This was a piece of advice given to Elaine at an early age and she has used it throughout her life as an anchor.

"In practice, everyone makes mistakes. But learning from those mistakes helps you develop valuable knowledge and gain useful experience."

Enjoying her downtime

Cloudera women

When Elaine is not working, she prefers to spend her downtime interacting socially with her friends and family. She also likes to escape reality and get consumed in a PlayStation game - especially when the pandemic has made travel more difficult - so this is how she escapes to somewhere exotic like the Peruvian jungle.

To balance the time she spends on her sofa, Elaine ventures out for walks. "I love the ease of being able to put my shoes on and walk wherever my feet take me. A few years ago, I did an unorganized Solo 100 kilometre walk around Singapore within 24hrs to support a friend. I spent a lot of time training and preparing my body. I am in no way an athlete, but I can certainly say the discipline and determination to prepare and complete this kind of challenge taught me so much. After I completed the 100 kilometre walk in 24 hours and 36 minutes (including breaks), I felt I could accomplish anything. When I am preparing for a big meeting or feeling run down, I always look to harness the feeling of crossing the finish line." Elaine is currently planning a further challenge – the 150 kilometre Singapore Round Island Route Trek.


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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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