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Women in STEM

From Art to Tech

Margot Dear’s advice to creative people interested in tech: Be curious and ask great design questions, but also always figure out how to explain your value.

When Margot Dear decided she wanted to learn French, she got on a bus in Vancouver and moved to Montreal. It took three days to get there, but that was part of the adventure.

C’est une aventure depuis.

It’s been an adventure ever since.

From Art to Tech

She loved Montreal and decided to go to university there, where she studied art history and studio art. After college, she also learned graphic design and opened up her own design firm for print, graphics and independent film design.

Around that time, Margot realized that art was going digital, so she focused her efforts on computer digital design. She also began working on web design. While she was learning, one of her favorite tricks was to hide her mouse so she would be forced to find another way to get the same result. She has been bridging the gap between the logic and structure of computers and the art and experiences of people ever since.

Understanding Design, Tech, and Relationships

When a friend invited her to come to London — “Because things are happening here!” her friend exclaimed — Margot left her web design position and moved to the U.K. She was able to get a work permit there because her grandfather was a British citizen, and she immediately started working as a freelance graphic and web designer.

She first worked to create online tools for a finance company, then she helped the British Post Office develop their online portal. The Royal Mail needed someone who understood both technology and design to create a central portal while managing relationships across distinct postal brands: Royal Mail, Post Office and Parcel Post. This was a pivotal position for Margot, as her role became less hands-on and more managerial, which meant that understanding people would be a key skill.

After the project was complete, LexisNexis recruited Margot to develop an online presence for their products and services outside the United States. This involved working with teams around the world from many disciplines, including academics, library science, taxonomy, tech, art and design. Margot says, with a laugh, “It was hard to recruit the creative team, because tax and legal compliance is not exactly sexy. But fortunately, complex problems attract great people.”

Coming to ADP

After about 10 years in London, Margot and her husband moved to the United States, where she joined Citrix to work on the Go to Meeting/Go to My PC interface. A friend there began working for ADP and told her about an opening at the ADP Innovation Center in Pasadena, California.

When she went for the interview, the Innovation Center was just starting, and the meeting was in empty office building. Despite the “Sopranos moment,” Margot found that they were so passionate about their work in design and UX that she decided to move to L.A. and take the job.

Now, Margot is the Senior Director of User Experience for Compliance Solutions at the Innovation Center, where she continues to focus on the connections between people, tech and work. In a recent talk at Enterprise UX, she explained: “Delivering products is not enough. We must also communicate the needs of our audiences, the value of our practices and the unique skills we bring to the enterprise table.”

She loves the Innovation Center and the opportunities to connect with others through the meetups and hackathons they hold there. Margot also appreciates the opportunities and challenges of constantly answering new questions and solving new issues. She especially enjoys going into the field and researching with customers to better understand how to design software interfaces in support of their work.

“Our work is getting into the hands of customers and we get to see what happens,” Margot says. “It’s exciting to see a large company invest in UX as an important part of their technology.”

Creating Value

Along the way, Margot has learned a lot about working with people and managing teams. “Give people enough time, space and trust to do great work,” she says. She has found that this is especially important when working with creative people.

“Roadmaps are linear. Creativity is nonlinear,” Margot says.

As a leader, Margot also had to figure out how to explain the value of the creative work she and her team were doing so they would have the resources they needed. This also helped senior leadership understand what they were getting for their investment in UX. Margot and her team are currently exploring how to measure and quantify the value that UX brings to both ADP and its customers by regularly measuring and reporting these metrics to stakeholders across the organization.

Margot has the following advice for creative people interested in tech: be curious. Ask great design questions, but also always figure out how to explain your value.

Parce que vous le valez bien.

Because you’re worth it.

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Women in STEM

Forging an unconventional career path

The career path for a mechanical engineer doesn’t typically lead to becoming a vice-president of HR. Here’s how Caron Cone boldly created her own path.

As a Human Resources leader, Caron Cone strongly believes that your career journey doesn’t necessarily have to look like anyone else’s. This advice – says Caron – isn’t taken from an HR manual. It’s the real-life story of her own unconventional career path.

Caron, who leads HR for ADP’s National Account Services division, started out as a mechanical engineer. She’s the perfect example of coupling courage and unconventional career choices, ironically an engineering term, to discover the power inside each of us.

“Solving complex business problems and being a champion of new ideas feels right at home,” Caron says. “By tapping my engineering, operations and project management skills every day, the STEM field forever stays with me. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

While Caron jokingly says engineers sometimes get a bad rap for not having the best communication skills, so she’s very intentional about going beyond data points and digging deeper to tell stories that simulate conversation, engagement and action amongst ADP leaders and associates alike.

My life’s purpose is to help surface greatness in other people; I love connecting people with their aspirations and goals.

– Caron Cone, DVP of HR, ADP National Account Services

The Power of Mentorship

The youngest of four, Caron grew up in Tennessee where her mom stressed strength, toughness and resilience, and her dad, an electrical engineer, instilled hard work. The combination of her parents’ focus on education is what ultimately led Caron to study mechanical engineering at the University of Tennessee.

Right out of college, Caron landed an engineering job a petroleum pipeline company in Atlanta. At the time, she was one of a few women and the only African American woman working on pipeline maintenance and construction projects. It was at this very point that she realized the importance of advocacy and mentorship.

The COO for the company had four daughters and was committed to ensuring that women could be successful in the workplace. “He taught me about being impactful, knowing the business, and having presence,” Caron recalls. Little did Caron know, mentorship would also make way for her next career path.

The pipeline company started a formal mentoring program allowing employees to select mentors. Caron watched as a senior HR executive worked with and influenced the executive team and her decision was made. “I chose her as my mentor. Her presence was amazing. People gravitated toward her,” Caron says.

Eventually, Caron decided to return to school, juggling computer models by day as an engineer and classes at night as she pursued a master’s in HR. She also earned an MBA to have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. It wasn’t long before Caron received a call offering her a role on an HR team – working for the same mentor who inspired her journey to HR.

Caron also had the opportunity to participate in the Pathbuilders program, an external, formal mentoring program where she was paired with another HR executive. That mentor and program have had a tremendous influence on her, both professionally and personally.

“I would not be where I am today without the influence of my mentors,” Caron says. “Two of them are now Chief HR Officers. I remain in touch and trust their input and advice.”

Caron Cone

Caron Cone, Division Vice President of HR, ADP National Account Services

HR Matters

The opportunity to positively impact people and the overall business is what still gets Caron excited about HR today. It’s a unique perspective that allows insight into people, their capabilities and needs.

“My life’s purpose is to help surface greatness in other people,” Caron says. “I love connecting people with their aspirations and goals.”

Her engineering and business background allow for a greater appreciation of how things work and the value of analytics. “Data can help us figure out a number of key things about talent, the business and how to predict success for both,” Caron says. “Reports give you data; insights come from people.”

Caron firmly believes that the human aspect of HR will always be important: the big picture, culture and developing strong leaders.

Coming to ADP

Caron’s HR expertise spans multiple leading industries, including media, but now she calls ADP home. “I love learning how different businesses work,” she says. “People tend to have similar HR and talent needs no matter the industry or the organization.”

The opportunity to work for National Accounts at ADP was a perfect combination of Caron’s love for how things and people work and for helping people find their own path to greatness. This is further demonstrated through Caron’s close partnership with the President of ADP National Account Services, Debbie Dyson.

“I get to partner with an amazing executive who is leading this journey,” Caron says. “Debbie is extraordinary at figuring out how to move things forward and give people what they need to be successful. Every decision has our associates at the core.”

“My experience at ADP is that in every conversation and decision, people talk about the impact on associates,” Caron says. “And it’s not just the decision, but also how to help people understand and make sense of change. When people at ADP say, ‘Every person counts,’ they mean it.”

While Caron’s HR role is mostly internally focused, ADP’s position as a marketplace leader in the HR industry frequently affords her opportunities to share internal best practices with ADP clients who are experiencing change and transformation.

Find Your Voice and Help Others

Transparency and honesty are two HR must-haves that Caron can’t live without.

“Be clear about what’s ahead and why,” Caron says. “Share the journey. Every person plays a role in driving success no matter the title. Help people understand that they are needed and why they matter.”

Best advice she’s received? “Find your voice. Figure out what you can contribute to a situation and share it. Ask questions, learn and contribute with confidence. You belong.”

And – never forgetting where you started. Her unorthodox career path may have seemed like a long shot to some. But with strong parental guidance and caring mentors, Caron is now doing her part to pass it on.

“My husband and I have a wonderful partnership … and just as my parents did, we’re preparing our daughter to be a positive force in this world,” Caron says. “The most important thing we can do is help her believe in herself and her capabilities.”

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Push pins connected by string

Driving Innovation with Ethnography

 

Humans are typically curious by nature, but there’s a deep resource around human behavior that can be tremendously valuable as we design our strategies in business and life in general.

Cultural anthropologists combine curiosity and empirical science to deliver sustained value. They are trained to interpret and translate why people do the things they do and how unconscious and overlapping motivations influence their actions, their attitudes, their approach to the myriad people, products, politics and places of everyday life. We do this by spending time in the places where people make meaning, a method of inquiry known as ethnography. It’s what gets us excited, and it’s where we impact academia and industry.

Part of our work focuses on challenging the things we take for granted and, in so doing, encouraging new ways of looking at ideas, interactions and people we may have overlooked in the forgetfulness of the routine. Curiosity is our “rocket fuel.”

My colleague, Jay Hasbrouck, captures the spirit of the anthropological mindset when he writes, “When used as more than a research tool to expose consumer needs, ethnographic thinking helps companies and organizations build on the cultural meanings and contexts of their offerings, develop the flexibility to embrace cultural change, focus their strategies at critical cultural phenomena, and test and develop business model changes.”1

Where Ethnography Comes In

For those of us in the tech sector, in particular, the focus is quite aggressively on questions around data biases, including how algorithms are constructed and, ultimately, who they advantage and who they don’t. It’s a much bigger issue than simply “feeding the machine” and imagining that the outputs are somehow free of judgment. They’re not.

But, who should be responsible for exploring the roots of these biases? Biases that pre-exist “the machine learning” and biases that are already deeply embedded in culture. We hear a lot of blaming in the popular press about this or that platform creating unfair advantages. Nevertheless, should we leave it to data analysts and computer scientists to untangle these social inequalities? It seems a more appropriate area of investigation for those of us who study culture and the power flows that animate it.

So we begin to ask questions. What’s fair in a data-mediated world? What role does empathy play in communicating evidence and big data? What constitutes evidence in a global context, among others?

Placing blame on “flawed” algorithms and the companies on which data-driven services depend is really missing the critical point. We need to look outside the tech and start to get serious about the very non-technical realities that contribute to an unequal present and, consequently, an inevitably unequal future.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the admittedly broad subject of AI viewed from an anthropological perspective. My main goal in doing so is to further challenge the cultural category “AI” (big and small), while also exploring how ethnographic methodology (direct observation/active-listening) might help advance our understanding of the human and machine relationships forming here and now and tomorrow.

Specifically, I’m thinking about two main question areas. First, a definitional focus: How might we begin to articulate an ethnography of AI, what role might AI technologies play in the service of ethnographic practice, and how might (and does) ethnographic inquiry inform AI technologies? Second, a philosophical focus: Who is responsible for bias in data, in algorithms and in outcomes to include discussion around how work related to AI is currently organized within tech companies today?

As companies become increasingly reliant on data-driven insights to build their offerings, market their products and guide scope for future projects, we need to get serious about the reality that data isn’t “raw” or “clean” — but rather deeply reflective of the social and political circumstances from which they are pulled and to which they contribute. It’s an exciting time to be an anthropologist working in technology where the human is deeply enmeshed with the machine.

Martha Bird is a Business Anthropologist working in ADP’s Roseland Innovation Lab. She was selected to co-moderate a session at the premiere international ethnography event 2018 EPIC Conference October 9-12, 2018 in Honolulu.