Nandini is a co-founder and CTO of Speakfully, the organic, ever-evolving human-centric platform to address workplace mistreatment known for humanizing tech solutions. Nandini is ensuring the success of the Speakfully mission by integrating social and emotional intelligence into the overall technical roadmap of the brand; a passionate proponent of women in stem, Nandini supports access to diverse talents while enabling women to grow to learn to their fullest potential.
Can you talk about ways you’re supporting and how to be an ally to enable women in tech to progress with their goals and agendas?
It’s a very important topic to me. I think we all, as women, especially in the field of tech, know that we are underrepresented, so it’s very important to be able to support each other, and we can do it in various ways. So, I think one of the easiest ways is to create a little safe space for women to get together or anyone that associates as women to be together to celebrate the highs and lows, losses, and wins together. I think it’s important to show some level of compassion, lean in into the other women, and sort of also be a sponsor for them to be able to grow in their careers.
We all like to face a lot of different things as we’re going through, growing, and learning. I think it’s important to make sure that especially if you take on a leadership role. It’s important to be able to go out there and mentor someone else, take the opportunity, ladies if you’re out there as, especially women in leadership positions.
Many people could do with a sponsor, a mentor, and someone who can be a good ally to share your experiences. I think it’s very important to lean into them, and I believe in it very passionately. I mentor a lot of folks in my network, and I love doing it. I think it works both ways as far as I’m concerned. I learn from it, and hopefully, someone else learns from it too.
And it’s a very important thing to mentor and pay it forward and help elevate those around us. I think we owe it back to society in some ways.
Why is it important to humanize tech products? What does humanizing tech products even mean and how do you do it?
I get asked that a lot. Like when I’d say I love to like trying to humanize tech products. So, suppose someone asks me what it is. In that case, it’s essentially thinking of it as you’re building something that would present use for technology in a sense that allows you to connect with other people and other humans and also put you a little more mentally and emotionally in charge of what you’re trying to accomplish. And the irony is when you think about tech products, and I’m talking purely from a software aspect because that’s my skill set. If you look at technology products, the irony is a lot of it is meant to try and connect people, but in the process, I think the communication process has become completely discombobulated in many ways, especially now, in the world that we’re living in. In a pandemic or a post-pandemic world, people create that human connection and we’re all sitting in front of our computers, and we are all having to deal with various products that we are using in our day-to-day lives. But how many of those products are putting you in the front seat emotionally? And how many of those products are allowing you to engage with them where you are in charge of making that final decision? You don’t want to build software solutions that are just meant to be there to make just for the sake of automation. For example, I don’t want the software product to tell me what clothes I need to wear. I want them to maybe give me a range and to give me different factors, for example, and say, here’s the weather, here’s the situation, or here’s the place you’re going to go to. And then I would still want to be in charge of what I’m going to wear as opposed to a software solution or a bot telling me what I should wear. So, that’s a subtle difference, but that can essentially put you in charge of things, what we are doing, and the work that I’m doing now.
Also is about how you are essentially wanting to come forward with what you’re experiencing, whether you’re in the workplace or whether it’s personally depending on what you’re going through. I don’t want to be sitting and talking to a bot that is just being very insensitive to what my situation is. I want compassion, and I want human connection. And that’s the humanizing portion of the whole technology if that makes sense. I know I said a lot of different things there, but that’s kind of what humanizing tech means to me, at least.
Are you talking about AI to some extent?
AI to some extent, yes. I think AI is such a buzzword at the moment. Everyone wants to do AI. Largely, it’s meant to make life easier. Largely, it’s meant to make decision-making more informed, but at the same time, we need to know where we have to cross the line. Do you want to provide enough information to your end-user so they can be in charge and make the decisions on their own or know what kind of conversations they need to have with people? Absolutely.
Would you rather have AI kind of have those conversations for you or make those decisions for you? Probably not. And that’s the sight that I don’t necessarily fall in. I believe that if we are building software, we as technologists, I think we have this big moral responsibility on our shoulders that if we are building a software product and putting something out there, let’s leverage AI to the point where it’s the bare minimum and needed, but you still need to make sure that the human connection is not being replaced by a bot.
It’s really hard to get it right. If you’re trying to automate the whole process of emotion. I mean, emotion is so centric to humans. It’s our thing, right? It’s what differentiates us from anything nonhuman. So, it’s very hard to train a bot to like to have that right balance. So, if you’re seeing like every sentence in a chatbot being followed with a little smiley emoji, then yes. It’s the algorithms skewed too much to one side.
How do you instill diversity and inclusivity specifically near the space of project engineering when it’s not fully represented by various demographics?
When you think about it and say diversity and inclusion it probably again, it’s another buzzword these days, but if you step back and look at it, I think it’s got to mean something different. It has to have different meanings to different people. So, the way I think of inclusivity and diversity is really in perspective, in thought, in ideas. And I think it’s important to make sure that those ideas are in an environment like especially engineering teams, tech teams, you’ve got to make sure that there’s enough. You set the framework and set the team dynamic in such a way that diversity and thought are to be included without condition. That’s like the top level of it. But as again, if you really do want to instill a sense of diversity and inclusion or instill that passion in the team, then I think the first and foremost thing is like the awareness of the gap, right. I mean, recognize where the gap exists. Is it a pay gap for example, or is it really a gap in representation or is it a talent gap, and each of these needs to be handled in different ways? So, I think the first step I would advise is to recognize where that gap exists and make sure that you are aware of that. When you do, then if you, for example, if it’s a pay gap, then you have a very clear idea of what you need to do to close that gap. You’ve got to go after and make sure there’s equity in pay. For example, if it’s a representation gap, then clearly there is a problem in your talent pool and the hiring process. So, maybe go after that and fix it. So, I think it comes down to first being aware and then really trying to like to have a path forward to like to try and close where that gap exists. And more than anything, I think it is also culturally. We all need to be very purposeful in our approach to this. I think we all need to be super proud of the fact that, we are making an attempt to create that diverse environment and we need to own it unless you’re going about it in a very intentional way. You’re not going to find true results in actually moving the needle and creating more representation. And like I said earlier too, it’s like as a woman leader, I think it’s very important for me and as it’s the responsibility lies on my shoulder. I do need to give it back to make sure that we are creating environments where everyone can come together and have a very collaborative, positive interaction regardless of what we’re doing.
And I think geography matters too, right? Depending on, and this is a practical world that we live in; recognize how the coasts approach it, even in our country. The coasts approach it very differently than other parts of the country. So, factor those things in as well. Sometimes, depending on the geographic area you’re in diversity or representation of different demographics is super easy. It’s almost like a second thought, not a second thought, but in other areas, for example, you have to be more intentional about it, but it’s okay for us to like go after it as an agenda item especially as leaders because it’s important. That’s the only way you’re going to have a truly inclusive environment. And along with that comes a huge level of training as well like. Maybe people aren’t seeing eye to eye that this is something that needs to be solved for in the organization. Maybe we like to leverage some good training programs. So, people know how the business can be impacted when you have a more diverse team. So, I think all of it put together is kind of there’s no one agenda item you can go after, there’s no one thing you can do and solve all of your DNI action items magically, but you have to really go after it in a very purposeful way.
Can you share with our listeners one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you’ve had?
I recently joined a diversity channel. It was basically like a Slack channel, and one of their biggest agenda items was providing us a safe space for women and women of color to come together and talk about issues they’re facing. I think one of my favorite interactions there was talking about how? Someone asked us the question on the channel about how your past experiences or negative experience could have essentially shaped you to be who you are today? And I was just essentially blown away by the types of responses you saw to that question. It was eye-opening for me in so many ways but also a little disappointing because you think you know the different negative experiences that people might face, but it was tremendous for me to see the power in that conversation, and I think that’s been my favorite networking moment so that I can think of at the moment.
Vulnerability is the word for it. And I think, often, leaders tend not to want to be vulnerable because they confuse that with the sign of weakness. I think it’s quite the opposite. I think you being vulnerable in a sense, essentially creates a sense of compassion, and you function with a high level of IQ, and I think that’s what I think good leaders should try to do.
How do you stay in front of and nurture the community that you’ve created?
I think it’s like I said, you’ve got to be able to share your wins and your losses together. You’ve got a good network. We’ve all taken our time building our network around us. It’s very important to be around each other, and you don’t use your network just as an excuse to just go meet people. I think you have to be more authentic about it, and that’s how you do it in a way that you are open about the way that you’re communicating with each other and making sure you are there for your network as well. It’s not just about you tapping into your network. It’s not one-sided, but I think it has to be a two-way street. So, if there are people that need you, show up for them, and I think that’s how you end up being in the front and center of it. Support each other, and it may even mean like people post different things on social media. You might need to just be there, participate in the conversation, engage with them. And those are ways that you can actually like to promote each other. I think that’s important to do as part of any network.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old-self, what would you tell yourself to do more of, less of, or differently with regards to your professional career?
I think it’s important for me to have been more confident in myself. So, I think I would’ve told myself to do more confident things. I don’t know what else to say, but essentially doing things that can create a sense of self-confidence. I think I definitely would’ve liked to do more of that. I think maybe less of going out and watching games. Perhaps a little bit less of that. Oh yes, and here’s another one I think I would tell myself to write shorter emails. I tend to be very, very wordy with my emails, but I think I’ve learned to be more concise and brief. So, I would definitely tell myself that. I think that’s something most people in their 20s don’t understand. It might seem very significantly big, but in the long scheme of things, such as career and life, it is a marathon. It’s not a sprint.
Do you have any final word or advice to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
Absolutely. Just be there for the network. Show compassion and lean into your network; and compassion is the next level beyond being supportive. I think we all need to stretch a little bit to meet our network, and I think that’s a very important thing to do. We all owe it to our network.
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