Vice President, Data Engineering, Capital One
“Women are finding their voice in a more public way, and it’s encouraging to see so many women running for office. Fear of speaking out and expressing oneself is going away. This is important because when there are hidden secrets that continue without being seen and discussed, bad behavior also continues. It’s important that we all have a voice and use that voice…solutions are almost always available when you’re able to share the problem in a way that others can hear it. When you get down to the core, and people start to build empathy, solutions follow.”
In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?
At her core, a “Power Woman” is a woman who knows who she is and is comfortable in her own skin. She has practiced and perfected her craft–and is well respected for it.
With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?
The most important thing to recognize is that all people are people, and everyone should be heard and have a voice. I believe there should be a place for anyone who has taken the time to develop her (or his) craft and skills and has a growth mindset. As leaders, it’s important to create a safe space where every voice is heard, and everyone can be seen.
If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?
My own job! I love my job. I get asked this question a lot, “What career do you wish you had?” The honest answer is that I’m really happy with what I’m doing. My job challenges me, gives me opportunities, and is deeply rooted in technology and data, which I love. The work I’m doing right now is at the forefront of where the world–and our business–is going. Couple that with getting to work with amazing people, and there’s nothing I want that I don’t have.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi, and I’ll share a bit more about why. Mother Theresa had such a big heart, and she followed her heart to do what was right. She truly understood the people she worked with and used her skills to help them. Mahatma Gandhi, on the other hand, had a very large leadership role, but his people weren’t being seen and heard. He broke down barriers to make change happen.
In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?
I believe the best way to work for women is by working with women, mentoring them, and helping them grow their skills. For me, it’s about helping others become their best selves. For many years, I was deeply involved in helping grow the Grace Hopper Celebration with the Anita Borg Institute. First, as a conference leader for several years, and then as conference co-chair, setting the strategy and direction. My last role was as co-chair of the ABI Advisory Board. I’m very much an entrepreneur by nature. I love thinking big and driving change, so my greatest contributions come from operating in the gray space to get something up and running, and then leaving the ongoing operations to another leader who is skilled at helping it flourish.
Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?
Several years ago, I was asked to lead the Women’s Community Group at a previous employer and found that my office quickly became the place women went to share their stores, many of which were very painful. These women felt trapped and didn’t know how to find solutions. For example, a female employee attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, only to be told by her leader upon returning to the office that she needed to pay the company back and take vacation days for being out of the office as the conference didn’t directly align to her role. Her manager was operating out of fear. In another instance, lack of available child care was prohibiting women from being effective and taking on desirable, challenging jobs. In both cases, when we presented the challenges to our executives and suggested solutions, they were more than willing to help. Solutions are almost always available when you’re able to share the problem in a way that others can hear it. When you get down to the core, and people start to build empathy, solutions follow.
Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?
Women are finding their voice in a more public way, and it’s encouraging to see so many women running for office. Fear of speaking out and expressing oneself is going away. This is important because when there are hidden secrets that continue without being seen and discussed, bad behavior also continues. It’s important that we all have a voice–and use that voice.
Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?
A defining moment in my life and career was the moment I realized I had five children at home and I needed to support them. Me, not anyone else. It truly changed the trajectory of my career and it’s what got me into technology. If I hadn’t had that moment of self-realization, I would have never gotten here. I’m so grateful because my life has been so much richer because of my children, and I’ve had a fulfilling career.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
One of my early managers said to me, “Linda, you are only a leader if people really want to follow you.” As leaders, it’s important that we create an environment, strategy, and culture that makes people want to follow you. There is no magic wand that makes you a leader.
Who do you most admire? Why?
I don’t have one just one person I admire, rather I admire a lot of different people for their different strengths. For me, it’s not about finding that perfect person, but rather identifying attributes that you appreciate, and in some cases, want to emulate in your own work and life.
What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss. There’s a couple of really great pages in the book that show a “hawtch-hawtcher” watching a bee. His sole job is to make sure the bee is working hard. Then, because the hawtch-hawtcher bee watcher isn’t doing a good enough job, they bring in a hawtcher-bee watcher watcher, and the story goes on and on until you see dozens of people standing in line watching the back of each other’s heads. Through a children’s book, we get this great commentary on the danger of systems that don’t solve core problems. I also like the basic premise behind the book, which is looking at the positive side of experiences. We build better teams, products, solutions, and communities when we focus on what’s going right and amplify it.
What do you most value in your friends?
Trust, authenticity, and comradery. I learned long ago that you don’t have to be perfect to have great friends. Friendships, however, can be much richer if they aren’t filled with unnecessary drama.
Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?
This one is tough. I get most frustrated with myself when I realize I have treated someone disrespectfully. I like to think of myself as someone who treats all people well, regardless of their status or job, so I hurt when I see someone mistreated.
I think it comes from having a disabled step-sister growing up and experiencing the pain she felt when people treated her as if she were different or less than. I hold that experience close to who I am today and aspire to treat everyone with respect.
What do you consider to be the most over rated virtue?
Ambition. Raw ambition, not tempered by empathy, and caring deeply for others can lead to all kinds of problems in all facets of life. There are undoubtedly ways to reach your personal and professional goals while growing others and helping them shine.