This global pandemic has really brought into focus how much we rely on essential services and the people who keep our healthcare, transportation, sanitation and food services up and running. I hope we see new, creative programs that acknowledge and reward the hard work and long hours of people on the front lines, such as student loan forgiveness, zero interest mortgage programs, no-cost higher education, and better childcare options.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Don Durbin.
As the SVP of Marketing for Evernote, Michele Don Durbin is tasked with empowering Evernote’s more than 220 million customers to stay in control of their lives, at work and at home. She and her team are responsible for a wide range of customer-centric strategies and programs including product marketing, go-to-market motion, demand generation, partner marketing, customer lifecycle management, marketing operations and growing the thriving Evernote global community.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Mycareer started in the middle of solving for Y2K. As a business analyst for a container shipping firm, I didn’t have a background for STEM. However, once the dust settled (and the world didn’t end), it became remarkably easy to gain “high tech” experience. After a few years of cutting my teeth in program management at startups, I joined eBay to lead the Developers Program, which is what really set me on my current career path.
eBay had been through their IPO and Meg Whitman was a charismatic and powerful female role model. The bar was set high and we were expected to deliver top performance, link our activities directly to company priorities, and think big. Yet, this approach was balanced with a supportive culture and mission, placing explicit value on diversity of culture, experience, and unique strengths. At the center of our mission was a belief that although success was the ultimate goal, the “how” mattered just as much. It was a remarkable place to grow up professionally.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Remarkably, one of the most interesting things to happen since I started at Evernote has been Ian’s approach to becoming our CEO. His level of passion and loyalty is extraordinary for any leader and he interacts with everyone from a place of honesty, respect, and humility. Ian truly believes that when you have a company like ours that was built on a customer movement, it’s essential that we have both an organization and a culture that celebrates listening to and interacting with customers — at every level and at every scale.
Ian began by listening — to the employees and to the customers. He learned. He questioned. He challenged. Once he had a sense of the place, the people, and the community, he’d discovered we hadn’t been doing our best in serving our own customers. By sharing a hard, honest look at our product and business, starring in our Behind the Scenes video series, and engaging in conversations with customers on our forums and in social media, Ian’s reinforced the early days of transparency, which was remarkably refreshing and quite wonderful to experience.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
When Ian joined Evernote, he laid out an ambitious plan to fix the basics. He said that to move Evernote forward, we have to start by improving its foundations. For the past 15 months, we’ve been focused on the three goals we set as our priorities:
- To create a more coherent, more consistent Evernote experience; an experience that fixes the essential features on which all of us depend.
- To change the way we develop and deliver software, so we can ship improvements and new features faster and with better quality.
- To improve the core infrastructure that powers Evernote, so we can deliver a service with the speed, reliability, and scalability that all of us expect.
In addition to launching a new web version of our app, with a new editor and search, we rebuilt our Beta Program, attracting almost 100K members and creating new channels and capabilities for prompting, gathering, and understanding customer feedback from around the world.
We also created a new communications channel using our Behind the Scenes videos to balance transparency about what we’re working on with the pragmatic reality of where we are in the process. And of course, the team is actively crafting our go-to-market strategies that will successfully introduce our new apps once they’re ready.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It’s so important for women to find supporters within an organization and their field. As tech is still male-dominated, many of these supporters end up being male, however it’s just as important to find female leaders who can provide different perspectives.
After a few years in my first VP of Marketing role at a very small, early-stage startup (I was the only female on the exec team), I was approached by an old colleague about taking a General Manager role in an industry I knew nothing about. It was the biggest role I’d ever been offered and I felt pretty unqualified, so I sought counsel from one of my favorite male mentors and he encouraged me to take the role. One KPMG study showed that 76% of women lack confidence to pursue a role beyond their experience. Let’s just say I too remained unconvinced.
So I had lunch with a successful female friend who had done very well in her career and finally cut to the punchline — “No one ever feels fully qualified for their first GM role. It doesn’t matter. You have to do this. You’re a smart, capable woman and we simply don’t have enough women in leadership roles. End of discussion.” That was truly a turning point for me.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
The biggest challenge at home is less about being a woman in STEM, and more about being a working mom. In truth, I’m extremely lucky. Being in STEM has actually allowed me to easily transition to working from home. My husband is a supportive partner, and my kids are at schools with committed and capable teachers. We’ve maintained our health. Our extended families are abiding by shelter-in-place guidance. We’re weathering the storm.
However, with kids and a spouse home 24/7, it’s really easy to be interrupted regularly — or actually, irregularly. I, like many women balancing family and work, seem to be taking the brunt of the load. Although my husband is our primary cook, I still carry the bulk of homework, the kids’ social issues, getting everyone to clean or tidy up, and even caring for the pets.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’ve found two things to be very helpful in addressing these challenges. First, I’ve blocked time on my calendar (at least through the remainder of the school year) in the morning and early afternoons. It gives me a chance to do my own work, and also creates space to address any family needs that pop up during the day. Sometimes, I use the morning slot to take a walk with my son and “pretend” we have a commute to the office or school.
Second, I’m listening to requests in their entirety, instead of assuming that what I’m doing takes priority. My responses have evolved into a formula: my current status + an offer of a solution. For example, if my son asks for help with homework while I’m in-between meetings (which usually happens as I’m quietly working instead of talking on a video call), I can say “I have a meeting starting in 5 minutes. I think that homework may take longer to finish. Can I help you at 3:00 instead?” Finding ways to listen and then accommodate these interruptions keeps everyone feeling connected and our stress levels lower.
Of course, some interruptions are urgent, but I’ll try my best to balance who gets my attention at that moment and who needs to wait. So far, despite a very crowded calendar, I’ve been pleased, even though some days are better than others.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
I believe the current pandemic will have a disproportionately negative impact on women. We’re already dealing with the pay inequities that continue to exist — women in the U.S. who work full-time earn on average 82 cents for every dollar that a man earns, says the American Association of University Women. Additionally, women may already be more likely to contract coronavirus simply because of the roles they hold as nurses or caregivers, both at work and within the family. So, as the economy contracts and women lose their jobs, their childcare options and possibly their health, I suspect we’ll see unexpected consequences.
One of the immediate impacts women will face is the slowdown of hiring, especially in tech. As the tech industry is unlikely to hit gender equality until closer to 2025, the few open roles that are still active may be more likely to go to men over women. I’ve worked hard to make my leadership team and broader marketing team gender equal (both are currently at 50/50 split or better for women), but for the short term, I suspect even a slowdown of hiring is bound to hurt women.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The most I can do at the moment is to continue being a mentor to women. And, to ensure that I’m on the hiring panel for any key hires, especially within product, engineering or IT.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I recently read an excellent piece by First Round Review where Liz Fosslien had a particularly resonant suggestion. She said “try to tame the urgency.” It’s easy to feel that because we’re anxious and a bit untethered during Covid-19, that those pieces of our lives we can control take on a new level of urgency and attention. But, it’s so important to take a breath and consider the big picture.
This is also a good time to remember to be kind to ourselves, our teams, and our colleagues. Some people are home all alone. Others have a crowded household including young children who need a lot of supervision. Some are worried about parents or grandparents at risk. We’ll never share the same energy level or outlook or motivation at the same time and we may not hold our cool during a disagreement the way we used to. It’s ok. Give yourself a break and let others help you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and don’t forget to be part of the solution.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
Rather than having specific strategies, I take more of an observe-and-adjust approach. That said, a few things seem to be working for my family of four (plus doggo).
First, I’ve relaxed the regularity of eating dinner together. We found it hilarious to be home together all day and then awkwardly staring at each other over dinner, so we’re now using dinnertime to be by ourselves and unwind, which has had some nice unintended consequences. My husband and I park ourselves on our front porch together and catch up without interruption. And both kids (one solidly a teen in high school, which makes it even sweeter) go out of their way to find me alone and catch up, which has been both fun and meaningful.
We’ve also asked everyone to pitch in and help keep our place clean, but are not as worried about keeping it “tidy.” With kids who are used to doing chores around the house, the transition during Covid-19 has been pretty smooth and stress-free. Nevertheless, the cleaning that used to be done by professionals is now being taught to the kids as a natural outcome of shelter-in-place. #adulting
One change I made in direct response to what seemed to be becoming a habit was that everyone must spend at least 20 minutes a day outside. I noticed my teenager’s innate ability to spend all day in bed — and since she’s normally an athlete, that didn’t feel right. Although 20 minutes may not sound like a lot of time, it’s short enough that the rule hasn’t turned into a chore, and yet long enough that everyone seems to find it centering and relaxing.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective, can you share your “3 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
IRL: With a 16 year old daughter, I relate to a lot of parents who struggle to get our teens ‘off the screen’ and doing more IRL (in real life). I’m noticing that kids who spent a lot of time together at school, sports, doing homework, but also spent a fair amount of time on their screen working together, chatting, video calling, are finding the screens are simply not enough. I’m really hopeful that this screen-forced time has the backlash that many kids would prefer to gather in groups (when it’s safe) at parks, at each others’ homes, after school, and anywhere else IRL.
Rewards for essential industries: This global pandemic has really brought into focus how much we rely on essential services and the people who keep our healthcare, transportation, sanitation and food services up and running. I hope we see new, creative programs that acknowledge and reward the hard work and long hours of people on the front lines, such as student loan forgiveness, zero interest mortgage programs, no-cost higher education, and better childcare options.
College admissions: The college admission process has a privilege bias which creates real challenges for diversity. Standardized tests are just one more way to reinforce racism and classism, enabling admissions disparities and biases to get carried forward into the workforce. I’m excited to watch college admissions evolve — to recognize economic barriers, racial disparity and learning differences — and proactively work to create stronger, more inclusive and supportive campus communities.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We all know it doesn’t work when you tell someone to “just cheer up”. So, it’s no surprise that few appreciate the “just stay calm” approach to worry and uncertainty. I have found at least three things that help me better support my loved ones.
First, get the facts. Do the research and understand what’s real, what’s a guess, and what’s a hope as it relates to COVID-19. Staying informed means you can accurately and effectively share correct information that may just help keep fear from escalating.
Next, we have to listen more. I’ve found many times that my family just needs a safe person to vent to. Many of us tend to jump in and offer a ‘fix’… why not go for a walk? Try working out with cans of soup. Keep a journal. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need to feel sad and share that feeling with someone I love and trust.
Finally, if you’re having a good day, make an effort to check in with someone you haven’t heard from in a while. I find myself scrolling through my text history over my morning coffee, looking for someone I haven’t connected with in a while. So far, it’s been a great way to start my day because it feels good to reconnect, and everyone has been happy to hear from me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A long-time friend of mine, Kai Elmer Sotto (who recently wrote an excellent book called Get Together: How to Build a Community with Your People) was listening as I stressed over a new job opportunity. As I weighed the pros and cons, creating stories about what could happen if I were offered the role, he said simply “You don’t have a decision to make until you’ve got a decision to make.”
As humans, we’re wired to spend a lot of time contemplating the ‘what if’s’. It helps us feel in control of life, over which we have very little control most of the time. Whenever I’m faced with the unknowable — something new and likely frightening for its unpredictability — I remember his advice and push on, gathering information and waiting until I truly have a decision to make.
How can our readers follow you online?
My social channels tend to be reserved as a friends and family outlet. It’s one of the ways I have kept work and home balanced. But, you can follow Evernote and even join our Community on Facebook, or Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.Authority Magazine