WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner on Diversity & Inclusion


– So I’ve had 18 years of my career where I felt like I didn’t
want to express myself as a woman at work, because I didn’t want to be judged or viewed as different
or viewed as not capable. – Heather Brunner and Kelsie
Perkes both work for WP Engine, a leading WordPress experience platform. Kelsie’s a year into her role as a technical support engineer. Heather’s the CEO. – Hows’ it going y’all? – Turns out, they have a lot in common. (mellow music) I’m Y-Vonne Hutchinson. As a D&I expert, I help organizations build more inclusive and diverse corporate cultures. In this series, we’re sitting employees across from their CEOs. These are business leaders who are part of a CEO Action
for Diversity and Inclusion, the largest business coalition
committed to advancing D&I. Today, as part of this commitment, they’ll have an open
dialogue with an employee about the challenges
of the modern workplace and the ways to overcome them. So Kelsie, have you ever
had that kind of experience where you felt like you had to suppress a little bit about who you are at work? – For sure. I think moreso when I was teaching. At WP Engine, I don’t
feel that as much as I did when I was teaching or at
other jobs before that. After I passed my Linux test and then started getting
some tech knowledge, I still felt like I didn’t know enough. And once I got hired, I was like, what am I doing here? Like I don’t feel like I
know what I’m doing (laughs). – This is a new career for Kelsie. She spent years teaching middle school before attending a Linux
bootcamp last year. – Alright, I do see
that here, your domain– – And she’s not alone. WP Engine is not your
average tech company. 30 percent of WP employees
don’t have college degrees, and for those that do, like Kelsie, many didn’t get them in technical fields. – I kinda had self-doubt when it came to working in technology. I think if I had a
positive role model telling me, “No, you can do that, here, let me show you how,” I think I would have gotten
started a lot earlier. – So you’ve said you aced your Linux exam, you have some of the highest
customer satisfaction in San Antonio, and yet, you still feel insecure. – I think it’s just something that women have to deal with in general. We just, for some reason,
don’t feel like we can do it or believe that we can do it. – [Y-Vonne] What Kelsie is talking about is often called Imposter Syndrome, the feeling that you aren’t talented or skilled enough for your role. It’s a phenomenon that affects
up to 70 percent of us, but it’s particularly
prevalent among women and those working in
technical STEM fields. On top of that, Kelsie
has an added challenge. – I have a congenital limb difference. I was born without any
fingers on my left hand. So instead of losing it, I’ve
had it with me since birth, so I’ve gotten to adapt really well. – How has your disability
affected the way that you work? – I was worried at first
that I couldn’t type as fast as everybody else, but I’m doing pretty well with that. – In fact, Kelsie’s a top
performer in her role, just like her CEO, Heather. Heather is a 30-year technology veteran who has led WP Engine during its exponential
growth and expansion. – I find myself in
different situations today, even as a CEO of a company,
walking into a situation where it’s assumed that I’m not the CEO, that I’m the assistant, or I’m the, “Can you please go get me some coffee?” So I mean, that still
happens today, in my world. – What got you there, what
gave you your confidence? – I have to do everything a man does, but backwards and in heels. (laughing) And kind of like that
view of high performance get the results, build the team, create that level of results. And so, doing that consistently over time has given me that, I would think now, that confidence to say I can do this. – What are some of the biggest challenges that you face in the job right now that affect your confidence? – It’s self-doubt when
it comes to a customer asking me a question, and I think I know the answer, but I’m worried about telling
the customer the wrong thing. – Did you ever feel concerned
about asking for help? I know I felt that way along my — Oh, if I ask for help then
they’re going to think I don’t know something.
– Exactly. – And then they’re going to question, should I be in this role? – Once I finally got the courage up to start asking questions, people were very supportive. (mellow music) – You know, we’re here talking about diversity and inclusion, but I’m curious to know, why is it important to you? – We represent 140 countries, an ecosystem of open-source
that is wildly diverse and empowering to people who don’t have a traditional tech background. For me, is it’s very important
for us, as an organization, to reflect the customers and communities that we serve. And then I just think it’s
the right thing to do. – How would you like to see getting more young girls and women
involved in technology and getting them interested in technology? – Yeah, so, I think that
technology should just be part of the curriculum. And then I think that specifically, around WP Engine, basing
working with groups that are focused on women in STEM. We haven’t had something that sustained. So I think that’s probably an opportunity for us as a company. It’s like, what can we
do more programmatically to lead in that area? – Coming from a teaching background, I’m always enjoying giving back and getting people inspired, so I think that would be a lot of fun. – Absolutely. – Together, I think Kelsie and Heather have the potential to
make an incredible impact on the next generation. And Heather’s commitment to hiring non-traditional candidates, means she will continue to
benefit from the experiences and wisdom of employees like Kelsie. – There’s talent,
intelligence, creativity, across a huge spectrum of people who are not given the
opportunity to be at the table. So open your doors wider and break out of that mentality that you have to be in this fight-for-the-top one percent. Give more people a shot. (mellow music)