“Great leaders have infectious passion and excitement” With Penny Bauder & Ri Mortimore

1. The corporate world is not for everyone.2. Don’t be afraid to encourage entrepreneurialism in your staff.3. Great leaders have infectious passion and excitement.4. If you are finding women aren’t applying for open roles, spend more time personally on hiring outreach.5. Offer positions of leadership in both management and individual contribution. I had the pleasure […]

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1. The corporate world is not for everyone.

2. Don’t be afraid to encourage entrepreneurialism in your staff.

3. Great leaders have infectious passion and excitement.

4. If you are finding women aren’t applying for open roles, spend more time personally on hiring outreach.

5. Offer positions of leadership in both management and individual contribution.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ri Mortimore. Hailing from Australia, Ri has led impactful design and mammoth product direction pivots for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Rent the Runway, Vogue, GQ, Google, Virgin America, Topshop and more. Now she wants to change the way we shop with the most exciting video commerce startup on the block, NTWRK.

Six long years it took to get an American Visa. Determined to move to America, Ri hounded ecommerce companies to give her a junior design role despite no relevant experience or education, and worked overtime for six years. Seeing a gap in the market for tech companies that needed a fresh perspective to transform their businesses, she started her own consultancy.

In 2017, Ri moved to New York to work at fashion unicorn Rent the Runway, where she led the design of the subscription business model it is today. While at Rent the Runway, she opened her own business on the side, a private custom jewelry business, which now has its own staff and is overwhelmed with work creating special custom pieces for celebrity clients (Lil Nas X, Brockhampton, JPEGMAFIA, Princess Nokia and more)

In 2019, Ri took a position as a global design head at Ralph Lauren, where she refreshed the visual direction of the billion-dollar brand. By the end of the year, drawing on everything she learned from Ralph, she found the perfect fit — heading product design for NTWRK, the exciting ecommerce startup that sits in the streetwear and culture space she loves.

In spare time, Ri speaks on the future of ecommerce and mentors women who want to move into executive design roles and the tech space. For the most part, she was self-taught and determined, and champions the importance of self-education and working visas to the tech industry.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I found product design later in life, after being carried away attending a conservatorium and performing piano as a late teen. I desperately wanted to live in New York, and motivated by that, started from scratch pushing my way into a new career path that I truly loved. With no formal education or experience in design, I convinced ecommerce agencies to give me junior roles, learned on the job, and worked my way up for a good six years until finally my resume was appealing enough to move across the pond.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

I feel so lucky to have found NTWRK in 2019, it aligns with my interests and we have the best team I’ve joined in my career. The most interesting thing that has happened is that NTWRK shattered my notions of ‘correct e-commerce design’. I showed up, fresh from a role leading product design globally for Ralph Lauren, thinking I knew a thing or two about designing for successful ecommerce, and from week one, Aaron, the founder, challenged those opinions. We don’t play by the rules at NTWRK, we try to make new rules as we introduce users to more dynamic, exciting video commerce. We take gambles in our design and we have a savvy audience that responds to that.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My first mistake at NTWRK was trying to over explain using the interface. It took about six months to really get my head around video commerce and the social aspect of that. After working for businesses such as Ralph Lauren, Rent the Runway and Topshop in the past, I had the preconceived notion drilled into me that an interface should over communicate product information. At NTWRK, we extensively researched how consumers are using live video, auctions and newer shopping concepts and hypothesised that perhaps customers have new priorities in their shopping experience.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

NTWRK is engaging and exciting for our customers across all realms. We are launching our 2-day virtual festival TRANSFER this month (August 25–26), with an unbelievable lineup of panels, interviews and musical performances. TRANSFER is one of the ways we’ve been challenged to design a new way to consume content, engage within the NTWRK community and shop all at the same time.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I think the most exciting work we’re doing this year is changing the way people consume content and shopping in a far more dynamic way than they have previously experienced. We’re scaling our experiences quickly this year to create unprecedented excitement around attaining a product or joining in a live event.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

No! Diversity is everything in a successful tech team and we need representatives from all different experiences, including representatives of all gender identification.

If you already work in STEM, I can think of five ways you can help change the status quo today. I recently added these into my formal career responsibilities to maintain accountability — highly recommend.

1. Support meetups and groups that are bringing together women who want to work in STEM and speak at them!

2. Mentor women who want to move into STEM.

3. Hold a weekly diversity and inclusion focused meeting internally. Give attendees actionable items.

4. Attend local college events when students are showing their work.

5. Maintain fair pay grades.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

The barrier to entry going back to school and college age is a huge challenge. Free meetups and STEM groups helped me to come out of my shell and explore a new career in tech, and the more we enable these groups with mentoring expertise to reach out to younger women, the more women we will have entering the field.

Secondly, when a team doesn’t have all gender representation, there can be an underlying feeling of being ‘less welcome’ that leads to women accepting less salary than deserved, and under promising but over delivering in their roles. I can’t emphasise how much of a difference it makes to have women in a tech leadership position actively monitoring the issue and encouraging women to be in the industry.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

You don’t have to be bossy, extroverted, or try to inject any characteristics that are perceived as ‘strength’ into your character to become a leader in STEM/tech. My favorite bosses have been calm and introverted.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. The corporate world is not for everyone.

2. Don’t be afraid to encourage entrepreneurialism in your staff.

3. Great leaders have infectious passion and excitement.

4. If you are finding women aren’t applying for open roles, spend more time personally on hiring outreach.

5. Offer positions of leadership in both management and individual contribution.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Make the comfort of your team a priority. Send anonymous surveys to your team regularly to check this.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

No matter how busy you get, factor STEM/tech community participation into your work schedule.

Encourage your female staff to speak about their work internally and externally in tech groups.

Research alternative ways to handle complaints within the office and find a way that works for you and will make your staff the most comfortable.

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?

When I was looking for my first junior design roles, I had two product design mentors I found via the international group product design group, IXDA. They woke up very early to have coffees with me and guide my career trajectory, which I’m extremely grateful for.

Rent the Runway for giving me my first American working visa.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My success is on a small scale but I can say I’m so happy about everyone I’ve ever been able to hire into tech roles.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There are too many. I wish I could get everyone behind free healthcare, as offered in my home country.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Doing work that you’re passionate about will change your quality of life.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Bozoma Saint John, who just moved over to Netflix, makes positive, impactful changes.

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