How I Hire: Katie Womersley, VP of Engineering at Buffer

THE BASICS

Name: Katie Womersley  

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Position: VP of Engineering at Buffer

What attracted you to your current role/company?

How eager Buffer is to change and adapt. We truly have an experimental, learning culture where we continue to evolve pretty much everything about how we work as we learn more and strive to be a great place to work. It means that as a leader, I can have a lot of impact, too, because folks are eager to take initiative and explore better ways of working, iterating as we go.

How have Buffer’s D&I values affected your career there?

When I joined Buffer, there was just one other woman on the engineering team, and more than 20 men. Since then, changing that ratio to be almost 40 percent women in engineering has been a huge part of my journey, and I believe a key reason that was possible is that it is explicitly in our culture, and our values, to build a diverse and inclusive team.

Even when our team was more homogenous, we found a lot of allies and people willing to do the work, and act beyond themselves. Personally, experiencing an inclusive team that has a lot of psychological safety means I can just focus on doing my job. Day to day, I’ve had the energy and mindspace to be an engineering leader, because I’ve not had to lose a ton of time and energy to battle microaggressions and toxic environments. I don’t think I’d be doing the job I’m doing, if my energy was all going towards just trying to survive at work.

[Related: How Sky Ensures That Women Thrive in Leadership Positions]

What advice do you have for companies who aspire to implement such clear D&I values in their workplace?

You’ll need to get buy-in and support from senior leadership, and the company needs to be willing to live out clear values. Who gets hired, promoted or let go, how day-to-day decisions are made — all these decisions need to be in line with these values.

If you’re writing values and putting them up on the wall, even if they’re clear and compelling, if you’re not living those values out in how you act day to day, in who you reward, recognise or promote, and if you’re tolerating values violations by high performers, then the values aren’t going to have much effect on the culture.

We advocate for diverse backgrounds and perspectives to make our team and products stronger

YOUR WORK

What’s your OS/mobile device/tech preference?

I use a 13inch Macbook Pro, and a roost laptop stand with external Bluetooth keyboard for ergonomics. I love that the roost is portable, so I can easily use it in coffee shops too. My mobile device is an iPhone 6. I have a dumb watch. It’s great, I can keep meetings on time without needing to get out my phone or look ostentatiously at my computer clock! I get a lot of use out of my Apple Airpods, too.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Bear Notes, Firefox, Todoist, Zoom, Dropbox Paper, Slack (although I turn the green presence indicator off!).  

What are your go-to websites for staying current in recruiting and hiring?

I love The Harvard Business Review. It’s well-researched, and for something as important as hiring I need data, not just an opinion piece. I like the opinions, too, but if I’m going to iterate on something core to hiring, I’ll want to see a study, or something evidence-based. First Round has a Newsletter I enjoy which often has good insights into recruitment and scaling teams.

We seek balance by taking into account multiple perspectives and listening deeply.

RECRUITING AND HIRING

What one word that best describes how you recruit and hire?
Holistically.

What do you consider to be the biggest D&I challenge you face when recruiting engineers for Buffer?

Getting the word out there, and getting applicants from under-indexed groups to apply. It’s still the case that if I get an applicant pool with 10 percent women, 99 percent of them are qualified or even over-qualified for the role at hand. I know that there are hundreds of folks who selected themselves out. Folks who were qualified, and who would make great teammates, but because they’ve faced systemic oppression and internalised harmful narratives, they’re making the call for me that they can’t do the job, and we’re not getting a chance to even talk with these folks. Breaking through that wall and making it feel safer for folks to apply is my biggest challenge.

How do you tackle that challenge?

I’ve started tweeting my own personal story — that when I applied to join Buffer, I did not feel qualified and I almost didn’t apply — and I’ve seen quite a few candidates now who reference knowing this about me as the reason they took that leap and hit submit. I still have so much work to do.

What’s your best time-saving recruiting and hiring tip?

Don’t feel the need to justify each “no” decision when you’re getting through hundreds of resumes. You can, and should, be able to make a “no / revisit later” decision in less than 45 seconds. I learnt this by creating a folder of “maybe/revisit” resumes, and building up my concept of what exactly I’m looking for. Before, I could spend 10 minutes on just one resume, and when I have 400 – 800 applicants for a role, it was just infeasible.

[Related: How to Automate the Hiring Process Without Losing Top Talent]

We work to create an inclusive environment to build a better company and set a positive exampel for the world.

What’s the best recruiting and hiring advice you’ve ever received?

It’s the hiring manager’s job to get a decent, diverse, qualified applicant pool, and to build a strong, diverse team. If you’re a hiring manager, you need to reach out, actively recruit, promote your roles and address the broken parts of your hiring process that are filtering folks out who would be awesome on your team. Don’t blame a pipeline problem, or throw up your hands when you get just ten applicants and your team isn’t diverse. Get in there, and do the work.

If you could impart one universal understanding about D&I to every recruiter or manager in the world, what would it be?

You have to solve it every day, all day. You have to keep educating yourself. You’re never “woke” — it’s an ongoing process and we all have major blindspots and biases. It’s important to remember that you are biased, all humans are, and we need to be better than we were yesterday, every day.

Learn More:

How to Attract World-Class Tech Talent