My advice would be to seek out the good news — the stuff that doesn’t get the most clicks or the biggest headlines, but it’s real, it’s happening. Neighbors are supporting each other. Cities are supporting each other. People are coming together in ways that make my heart ache with hope for the future. When I’m really feeling the weight of all of it, I look at my kids. Sure, they’re fighting like snakes. Sure, they have pasta sauce on their clothes. One of them might be on my roof right now — I’m not quite sure what that noise is. But you know what? They’re doing remarkably well. They’re adapting. They’re resilient. The kids are alright. You will be, too.
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 Lindsey Shepard. Lindsey Shepard is VP of Growth and Product Marketing at the non-profit Mozilla that helps people take control over their privacy, security and well-being online and edits Firefox, the web browser. With two sons, ages 10 and 13, one working husband, three dogs, two birds and a cat, family life can easily get hectic. Add long-term confinement and work commitments, to quote Sheryl Crow: “every day is a winding road.”
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?
Mypath has been pretty untraditional! After 15 years in the jewelry industry, I jumped ship and joined forces with a good friend of mine to start GoldieBlox — a toy company that’s focused on bridging the gender gap in STEM. During that time, I developed a real passion for tech and creative problem solving — I just love a good challenge. That passion led me to a few different roles at Facebook, and ultimately here to Mozilla. The common theme throughout it all has been a love for building ambitious and resilient teams that thrive on taking on the biggest challenges. My personal mission? If it’s worth doing, it’s not going to be easy.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Mozilla has been around for a while, and we’ve always been focused on the same things: user privacy and agency, a free and fair internet, and just generally helping people be safer and smarter online. For a long time, that work wasn’t always relevant to what I think of as everyday people — not tech nerds like us, but people like my Aunt Darlene, who’s on the internet every day, but doesn’t necessarily worry over the inner workings of the tech she uses. These days, things have changed — more and more folks are concerned about their privacy, and want to know how to best protect themselves. The most exciting work I’m doing right now is figuring out how to connect these people to the tools and information that might help through the channels that matter most — our products. This is unique at Mozilla — historically, we really try to stay behind-the-scenes in terms of how we show up to our users. But times have changed, so our approach needs to change as well. People are more aware of the threats that online life can bring, and technology has become more central to our lives than ever — as we’re learning right now with online working, schooling and just everything in life now goes through the internet. As technologists, it is our job to make the benefits of technology easier to access to everyone, not just to the ones that know how to code.
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?
This is tough — there are so many people that have lifted me up. In general, the people that have done the most for me are the people that have challenged me the most, both in the “what” of work that I do, and the “how” — the way that I actually do it. That said, I think the most honest answer to this question has to be my mom, Sherry. As a single mom, she modeled leadership, independence and strength in our day to day life, and taught me to question outdated assumptions about what it means to be a woman. One summer, she re-roofed our house. By herself. It needed to get done, and we didn’t have a bunch of cash to hire someone to take care of it. She talked to a bunch of people, figured it out, and just did it. This is how I approach most daunting challenges — as my mom would say “there’s nothing to it but to do it!” — you’ve just got to begin.
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?
This situation has taken all the tensions and fears that we already face as working mothers and intensified them. We’re not strangers to multi-tasking, late nights, or anxiety about not being good enough — as moms, as executives, as friends, as colleagues — this is not new to women, not at all. I’ve learned to cope with these tensions over time by leaning on my village — the incredible group of people that have helped me do as close to “it all” as I’ve ever been able to. Teachers, neighbors, family, friends — not to mention the myriad of small businesses that I rely on to clean my house, unclog my drains, clip my dogs’ nails — there are so many people that help to weave together the fabric of my life. With the onset of this pandemic, much of that support system has vanished overnight. All of the sudden, this delicate balance has come completely unraveled, and there’s just entirely too much on my plate. For the first time in a very long time, maybe ever, I’m realizing that I just can’t do it all. That’s a tough pill to swallow. Do I sacrifice my productivity at work? My kids’ education? My marriage? Myself? There’s no good answer.
Being a woman in tech intensifies this even further. In general, women spend almost twice as much time as men on household or “unpaid” work. With the profound gender gap in STEM, especially at more senior levels, this often means that you just simply have more on your plate than your male colleagues.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’m trying to get really honest about priorities. What are the things that truly make my family tick? What are the things that we can put on hold? How can I relax my expectations to allow us some time, or laughter, or sanity right now? For example, we’re usually sticklers about bedtime. These days, we’ve realized that if the kids stay up later, they sleep in later. As long as they’re rested for their daily online classes, I don’t really care when they get up — and the quiet time in the morning allows me to get a head start on my day. I used to have rules about what my kids wore to school; sweatpants or gym shorts were a no-go. These days they have to change their underwear — everything else is optional. My house is a wreck, my dogs haven’t been bathed, and I couldn’t care less if the laundry is folded. We’re taking the time we used to put into housework or homework and investing it differently. There’s a lot of ping pong and basketball in the driveway. We’re playing a lot of cards. We’re baking a lot of cookies. We’re… eating a lot of cookies. Sometimes this also means throwing in the towel and leaving good enough alone for the day. The earth won’t tilt off of its axis if the kids play video games all night and I retreat to my room to watch trashy TV. Sometimes that’s just how it goes. More than anything, I just want us to come out of this time in one piece as people, and a family.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
I think the problem is that “work issues” and “family issues” are no longer mutually exclusive. There is no balance- there’s only a blend. There is less time and energy to focus on any one aspect of my life, so I’m having to make trade-offs. As a leader, I’ve struggled to find the right balance in supporting my team — there’s this tension between keeping everyone motivated, excited and inspired by the work, and recognizing that many folks are managing a very full plate right now at home. It’s been a challenge to balance the communication between these two things, and there aren’t easy answers for how to manage it with my team — there’s no “one size fits all” solution.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My approach to the work is unsurprisingly similar to my approach at home. It is all about prioritization right now. Everyone is in the same boat, so it’s critical to identify the key programs that make the business tick, as well as the things that can be put on hold. As far as the team goes, I’m just trying to communicate as best I can, and I’ve been honest about my struggle to communicate perfectly. I’m asking people to speak up and support each other. I’m trying to provide autonomy where it’s helpful, and prescriptive guidance where it’s needed. My team has been an incredible source of inspiration and support through all of this. There’s just no handbook about how to lead through a pandemic — we’re all learning how to do this together.
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’m still figuring this out, but a few tips and tricks that I’ve gathered along the way:
- If you can figure out the logistics, take some of your meetings outside. Video conferencing is SO USEFUL, but it can be exhausting. I find that sitting outside allows me to “stretch my eyes”, and the sunshine helps my mood. It certainly helps that I’m in California and the weather tends to be good, but I’ve even bundled up a few times on chilly mornings to make this happen.
- Establish a cut-off time for meetings. I’ve been blocking my calendar starting at 3pm every day. This gives me time to get my kids squared away for the afternoon, meal plan, have some family time, and get my head on straight. It’s been tough to swing this schedule, and it often means an early start time, but it’s worked fairly well for me.
- Find the comfiest chair in your house and steal it for your home work space. Nobody needs a sore butt at the end of the day.
- I’m holding things loosely as far as “homeschooling” is concerned: I just don’t have the bandwidth to work, manage our home life, be a mom… and be a full-time teacher. It’s just not going to happen. So, we do our best every day and let the rest go. All of us parents are going to be in the same boat school-wise when this is all over, and we’ll get through that together, just like we’re getting through this.
- I’m a baker, and I’ve been so grateful for that hobby these past weeks. Sourdough bread baking is a tool I use to help me learn and practice patience — some things just can’t be rushed. That’s really helpful to remember these days.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
Well, I’m not feeling particularly serene these days, and sanity is relative! All kidding aside, I truly think the key is calibrating your expectations to the situation at hand. Now is not the time to put additional pressure on yourself or your family. If you have the time to learn a new language, or paint your living room, or become Tik Tok famous — more power to you. If you’re like me, you’re probably just grateful to have remembered to feed the cat. We’re a society that often values productivity above all else — try not to get sucked into that right now. All you can do is all you can do. Be easy on yourself and each other.
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 help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
It’s a scary time, and the news can be really overwhelming.I’ve been trying to limit my intake — there’s only so much you can learn from any given news cycle. That said, there are some really amazing things happening right now. My advice would be to seek out the good news — the stuff that doesn’t get the most clicks or the biggest headlines, but it’s real, it’s happening. Neighbors are supporting each other. Cities are supporting each other. People are coming together in ways that make my heart ache with hope for the future. When I’m really feeling the weight of all of it, I look at my kids. Sure, they’re fighting like snakes. Sure, they have pasta sauce on their clothes. One of them might be on my roof right now — I’m not quite sure what that noise is. But you know what? They’re doing remarkably well. They’re adapting. They’re resilient. The kids are alright. You will be, too.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I have a very dear friend who recently moved to Austria. She’s a mom, too, and stuck at home in a new country with her two kids — my goddaughters. Needless to say, she’s feeling isolated, and I miss her companionship desperately. We’ve been coping by exchanging pictures every morning of our tired faces with the caption: “WHO CARES!”. This might seem odd or even nihilistic, but it’s our weird “best friend short-hand” way of reminding each other to loosen up on ourselves. Simply “being” is enough right now, and we can’t remind the people we love of that fact too frequently. It’s normal to feel anxious, scared, overwhelmed and stir-crazy. Let’s give the people we love the opportunity to just BE.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains” — from the movie “Bull Durham”
I’m not a sports fan, but it’s important to remember that, despite our best efforts, sometimes we just can’t control the outcome. Right now, in the midst of this crisis — it’s raining. It may feel like we’re losing — as parents, as professionals, as human beings. But we’re not losing — it’s raining.
We just need to hang on until the sun comes out.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!