August Event: Facebook Women Stories

Last month’s event focused on hearing the stories behind some of Facebook’s London Design team. LTUX London paired up with the internal Facebook Women’s Stories organisation to bring us a five-person panel of women who are product designers, content strategists, and user researchers within Facebook.

The panel was led by Marissa Phillips, a content strategy manager at Facebook. However, this particular event was a bit special. After the initial usual LTUX intros, we heard from two of the members leaving London, one of whom is Georgie Bottomley, the founder of LTUX and the writer herself. Georgie recited a leaving limerick thanking everyone for making her time special in London.

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We also saw the debut of new LTUX Swag – stickers and tote bags that are available for nominal donations. This was also the largest turnout for LTUX London, ever. There were about 140 people in attendance that night and it was a wonderfully packed house.

Winding Career Paths and Backgrounds

Marissa Phillips started off the session by giving a quick overview as to how Facebook’s design team tends to work. Including Marissa, the other panelists were Karman Lei (product designer); Kristina Lustig (user researcher); Christine Røde (product designer); and Anna Bloom (content strategist). Out of all five panelists, only one of them had an official background in HCI (Human Computer Interaction); this can easily be seen as a sort of inspiration for audience members just getting into the field of user experience who may feel as if they are duly unqualified for the roles they’re seeking.

Each woman’s experiences that finally landed her where she is involved some kind risk taking as well as being given an opportunity to learn on the job. In the case of Karman Lei, coming from a visual background in previous jobs, she was always focused on the visual design aspect of the process. However, she was then put in the role of a product designer without knowing what it really was. She doubted herself but learned on the job and kept pushing through.

Working as a Woman at Facebook

Even though Facebook is really gender balanced, sometimes I am still the only woman in a room. – Kristina Lustig

All the panelists agreed that Facebook has an environment where it’s welcomed to speak about gender-based issues even though the company vibe still leans a bit male. There are lots of committees, clubs, and women-only activity circles that foster unity and comfort in discussion among female employees. A battle that most of the women have in common is having their voices heard when people speak more loudly, more quickly, and interject in conversation. However, they are still able to find their voice within an arena of lots of conversation flying past people.

Each woman spoke of the ways she was able to carve space for herself and for discussions around gender within the culture of Facebook. Kristin Lustig mentioned how being the only woman in a game role playing group in Facebook gave her the opportunity to ask and answer questions of her male colleagues who normally would not be comfortable asking. The setting of an extracurricular affinity group fostered by Facebook helped break down the barriers of what was “normal” to ask in a work situation.

Christine Røde highlighted a point about having Impostor Syndrome. It’s that sinking feeling all people have when it seems as if they’ve “lucked” into a particular position when in reality they’ve done the hard work or are fully knowledgeable. Anna Bloom made the excellent point that we’re going to be in this situation of feeling uncomfortable for a long time:

The world is changing so fast that both men and women have to learn over time. This means at some point we all have to get comfortable with being out of our depth.

This can function as a both a call to arms and a soothing balm for most women to hear: It’s okay to make mistakes and to be unsure of ourselves, even though the business world tells us it’s not. Being uncomfortable is one of the only real ways of learning, pushing forward and taking risks that teach us lessons to live with later as guidance.

Real Talk Though?

While a lot of what the panelists said sounded good on paper, some audience members questioned the effects and gains made by having open spaces within Facebook’s culture. Someone asked, “You talk a lot about the different opportunities for communities, etc for women, but has that org chart actually moved at all?” This stumped all panelists and produced a bit of giggles from them. Christine Røde decided to take the plunge in answering this question. She stated that when she started, there were about 12 product designers in the London team. With each person’s hiring, they’ve tried to balance out the gender ratio; Now Facebook’s Design teams in EMEA (London & Tel Aviv) consisting of  55% women with the added bonus of three of the four EMEA mangers being women.

Georgie Bottomley, the founder of Ladies That UX, countered and asked, “…The onus is usually pushed on women to do something. Where is the men’s role in making the changes within the company?” Seemingly enough, that question still seems to be left a bit unanswered. Anna Bloom suggested one way to get the ball rolling was simply becoming aware of inherent biases against race, gender, etc by taking particular tests that help you discover your biases.

Finally, Kristina Lustig shared her strategy for manoeuvring within the workplace: “Being as non confrontational about your confrontation goes a long way in getting things across and your story heard.

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Speakers

Marissa Phillips is a content strategist and manager. She and her team work on voice, tone, branding and UX across core Facebook experiences like News Feed and the separate Messenger app. Before joining Facebook, Marissa worked at eBay and StubHub in the US.

Karman Lei, originally from Macau, found her niche in product design while in university in the U.S. After graduation and working as a UX designer at SAP, Karman joined Facebook as a Product Designer on Profile in the Menlo Park Headquarters, and made the move to the London office earlier this year. She is now working on Facebook Business products, tackling a new set of problems and creating a better experience for the millions of businesses on Facebook.

Kristina Lustig got her Master’s degree in HCI from Carnegie Mellon University. She’s been at Facebook for the past two years or so as a researcher with a qualitative focus, working on everything from the Facebook app for Android to a standalone app called Slingshot.

Growing up in Norway, Christine Røde discovered her passion for web design and development at a young age. In 2009 she moved to San Francisco to pursue a degree in design, joining Facebook as a Product Designer shortly after graduation. She spent a year working to improve the mobile Search experience, before relocating to London in 2014 to design Facebook at Work, a new communication tool for companies.

Anna Bloom is a content strategist. Along with Marissa, she is part of a team within the design org that develops the voice of Facebook across experiences. Currently, she works closely with engineers and designers to build digital experiences that help business owners around the world be successful advertisers on Facebook. She has also worked on social good projects like “Safety Check” a way for people to connect with loved ones quickly on Facebook during natural disasters. Anna became a content strategist after seven years in journalism and a year as a Code for America fellow, helping Seattle and Philadelphia build apps to make their cities better for citizens.

Thanks to…

Many thanks to Facebook for hosting our August event, providing a great space, food and drinks. Also a big thanks to Meg Rye who’s part of the Facebook Design Team and helped make this possible.

Next event

We will be at AKQA where their Head of Analytics, Kim O’Brien, and Group User Experience Director, Sue Jackson, will discuss how to model digital experiences quickly and early in the product lifecycle. They will also talk about how this paves the way for a fully integrated test and learn strategy and we’ll be finding out about how UX involvement has changed in designing digital products and the role of data in this transformation.

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