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Women on Top in Tech – Janet Brunckhorst, Principal Product Manager at Carbon Five



(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is our interview with Janet Brunckhorst, Principal Product Manager at Carbon Five. She works across product, process, and strategy to get things done.

What makes you do what you do?

There are two main things I love about what I do: working with developers to solve complex product problems and developing teams that can create successful products.

I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with developers. Cross-functional collaboration is very satisfying. You can figure out things together that you couldn’t do individually. And I’m passionate about developing strong, effective cross-functional teams. As a consultant, I get to work on a wide range of products across industries, and I get to build a new team with every project.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

Like most people in product, my career is largely accidental. I started out as an editor at Lonely Planet but had an opportunity to join the IT team. From there I made the jump into digital, doing a combination of product and project management for B2B products. Those were the early days of mobile apps, and I spent a lot of time doing QA on different devices!

My big leap came when Lonely Planet was acquired by BBC Worldwide and we undertook a huge web relaunch project. On such a big project there are opportunities to lead no matter what your role. I was able to demonstrate my skills and flexibility, and towards the end of the project, I became Head of UX, leading the digital design team.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup?

I joined Carbon Five as a Product Manager just over three years ago. Prior to myself and one other PM joining, there was no product competency at Carbon Five, so it was up to us to define and grow the new practice. The overriding reason for me to join Carbon Five was that I knew that the people were exceptional and the culture was extremely supportive and healthy. I knew that I would be set up for success in any project I took on at Carbon Five, which helped to give me the confidence to take on the challenge of establishing the Product role.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

I have a few informal mentors, though no formal ones. I have been very fortunate to work with several female managers and senior leaders who actively focused on my development. I also have a couple of former coworkers who I like to check in with when possible to talk about ideas I’m working on. And the Carbon Five partners are all very experienced, skilled practitioners and leaders. I know that I have amazing resources to talk over challenges of any kind.

The hardest part for me in seeking mentorship is asking busy people for their time. I’ve found it helpful to be very focused and prepared when asking for advice or coaching so I can use the time efficiently.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

I think this is one of the hardest things about leadership. At Carbon Five, I don’t manage a team directly, but I take a leadership role in my projects. That means that I’m focusing both on the project team (both Carbon Five and client team members) as well as my coworkers. On a project, I ensure that I’m constantly working to monitor and measure how the team is doing, and then applying a rigorous process to understand how to make improvements. Within our product team, we do peer coaching to ensure that we are supporting each other and providing feedback to our fellow product managers. We have diverse backgrounds, so whatever people’s level of “seniority”, we can all learn from each other.

We actually built a tool at Carbon Five called the Product Dartboard that we use to assess how product teams are doing. It’s helpful to have a way to pinpoint areas of focus so you can really prioritize what you need to improve.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

I consciously support diversity. Partly this just aligns with my personal values. But from a business perspective, more and more research is showing that diverse teams are more successful. It’s a huge conversation in tech now, which is a good thing – the more we talk about it, the more aware people are of the issues and how we might address them. I saw Ellen Pao in conversation with Code 2040 founder Laura Weidman Powers recently, and it really helped to galvanize me into action.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

As outdated as it sounds, I really believe in servant leadership as a model. While I think there’s a place for visionary leaders, in my experience, they always need a sidekick who focuses on people, teams, and process. Leaders should be creating the conditions for success for individuals and teams. That means something different depending on your company, but it holds true for leaders in any industry.

Advice for others?

My advice is twofold: First, stop thinking about “hard” vs “soft” skills. It’s a false dichotomy and causes people to value “soft” skills less. You can bring as much rigor to leadership and team-building as you do to any product decision. And second, read and listen, listen and read. You can learn so much about how to be a leader by listening, not just to other leaders but to the people on their teams and yours. And as a compulsive reader, I think it’s essential to read widely in order to improve your skills. Not just business books. Some of the most insightful works on leadership and teams come from explorers, for example. Which is a great excuse to read books about Antarctica and space!

For me, the next step is to continue to build our data-driven approach to creating great product teams at Carbon Five.


Is International Women’s Day just another Tokenism?



Yearly on 8th March around the world, we celebrate a day for women. This year that was 2 weeks ago, before this article was published.

A Question for You:

Did we change for the better after that day? or

Did we just all go back just to Business as Usual?

And if so, why?

As a psychologist and conscious leadership coach, I work to change mindsets to do more good in the world. We all know bad habits are hard to change. Ignoring Women talent and needs is a bad habit. Calling attention to it once in a while is simply not just not enough, it also assuages leadership guilt. The guilt alone does not lead to sustainable efforts to transformation.

We all know one International Women’s Day yearly is simply not enough.

One women’s group in your company is not enough.

One women’s breakfast in the technology conference is not enough.

One Women’s March is not enough.

But it is the start.

It’s the start. We need to join forces.

Join forces with leaders who read #MeToo and ask themselves what we must do today to reduce and end such harassment. Tech Leaders who are aware of the power of money and resources lying in the hands of a few heightens potential bullying and unwanted sexual advances. Leaders who actively act to counter or stop abuses and want to create new workplace cultures. Leaders who promote women on merit, but who also look to sponsor, mentor, and support more women to the senior leadership tracks.

We need a critical mass to tip Gender Parity to become the new norm. We need to dialogue and language new ways of being and leading in the world. We need daily, weekly, monthly habits to make gender parity the daily actionable. What is your daily actionable to not just gender parity, but inclusion and diversity in all aspects of our work and life? Let’s build the momentum by increasing connections across companies, countries, and communities. This article brings insight to what we can do next and communities you can support.

On March 8th, at 1880 , a private club where one of the focuses in women’s leadership, the Salon discussion was on “Undressing Feminism”. Participants spoke frankly about unwanted sexual advances and what both men and women can do to stop work and national or religious cultures where such actions are deemed normal. One husband joked about how he told his wife he was attending the event and she told him to shut up and listen carefully. We were all listening carefully and we spoke as a group with a transparency that is rarely found in conservative Asian culture and even in rather Westernized Singapore.

Who we heard from:

Matthew Spacie at Magic Bus

He spoke of his work in the non-profit and called out the terrifying statistics that should not be hidden or ignored.

This is an average Indian girl’s gender based obstacles throughout her lifetime

There are about 600 million women in India. They have the highest rate of infanticide of girls. Women are 56 times more likely to die before the age of 5 years as compared to boys.  If a girl does get to go to school; up to 53 percent drop out and only 1 percent graduate. 40 % of the women are married off as children.  If she gets to have a job, 40% are in unregulated work which means they can be bullied, paid less, and anything else without any external regulatory bodies to assist.

Aware’s Executive Director, Corinna Lim:

If the vision is – a society where there is true gender equality – where women and men are valued as individuals free to make informed and responsible choices about their lives. Then we look towards Aware, Singapore  as a resource – for their mission is to remove all gender-based barriers so as to allow individuals in Singapore to develop their potential to the fullest and realise their personal visions and hopes.

In fact, after the #MeToo movement came out, there were 80% more calls to sexual harassment center in Singapore. And Corrina shared how one in ten women in Singapore has been physically abused by a man. Do know that AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, the only centre that supports victims of sexual assault and harassment  can be reached at  6779 0282.

Survivor of War, Human Trafficking, and Sexual Assault, Lurata Lyon:

Forgiveness is what is needed to heal and also to take the lessons and give ourselves strength. She shared how she was molested in Singapore by a British expat and she immediately grabbed his phone to keep him there while she called the police. Her two children were with her and thankfully a local pregnant woman came and stood by her as the man tried to force her hand to let go of his phone. She reminded the audience that this could not have been the first time this man acted in this unacceptable manner, yet how many others had let his behavior slip through our silence.

Asian Feminist Role Model, Activist, and Burlesque Artist, Sukki Singapora:

“Someone has got to be brave. If it is not you, it’ll have to be someone else. So make it you.”

Sukki braved her family’s strict culture and Singapore’s public indecency laws to fully express herself in her choice of art and profession, burlesque. She left us wondering why should sensuality be repressed? What is the world so afraid of? Her choice of expression was initially considered a crime in the public decency act of Singapore. Now she is a champion and face of freedom of expression for women in socially restrictive countries.

These conversations can evoke small changes in public consensus which will bring about swift changes in the societal consensus, that’s why we have political debates during the elections.  We are part of that dialogue, debate, and actionable steps and accountability. It’s our call to not let International Women’s Day fall on deaf ears. Let’s not just have one token discussion on one day set aside, but make such discussions a daily act.

Thanking Matthew, Corinna, Lurata, Sukki, and Marc Nicholson panel moderator and co-founder, 1880 for allowing their stories to inspire and confront us all again with the unknowing discrimination and bullying we may be supporting under our own roofs.

Like this piece?

See my article on International Women’s Day

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Women on Top in Tech – Vidya Vellala, Founder and CEO of Faasthelp



(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Vidya Vellala is the Founder and CEO of Faasthelp, a 24/7 (round the clock) customer support on any business application through Artificial intelligence powered products. It analyzes what the customer is asking using natural language processing, machine learning and processes that to give the accurate responses to the customers instantly. Vidya is an Entrepreneur with a passion for innovation and latest technologies, having 17 years of Technology Experience. She won the India’s Best Startup CTO by Dell EMC.

What makes you do what you do?
I believe technology can solve any problem. Innovations in technology can improve the quality of life and the quality of work people does.
I am grown with a mindset which says self-sympathy is the enemy of self and hard work consistently without expecting a result will open bigger pathways. What I am doing is the combination of all.
Being an entrepreneur is an eternal learning which I love and I enjoy playing with technology and challenges that is the reason why I am doing what I am doing today.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Updating myself with the latest technologies is a must. Having said that, that alone is not sufficient. Always thinking positively, fighting against the fears, perseverance, and working hard helps.
I am lucky to have a big support from my family. My sisters who are also into technology field, make my life more beautiful and meaningful, to share not only the personal but also technical matters with them.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
With the bigger goal of supporting the future generations, this is the beginning. It had to start somewhere. In the very long journey this is the first step that I took.
My current startup is Faasthelp. We build artificial intelligence products.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him?
There have been many mentors at all stages of my startup. A startup eco system has brought me too many friends and mentors who have been very helpful at every stage of my startup and I am thankful to all of them.
My primary mentors in my life are my parents. The spirit of entrepreneurship was ignited when I was a kid and my mother was managing her small industry. The strong value system, sense of service, and responsibility towards the society is instilled in me by my dad. The strong urge to do something by myself was driven by my parents. They are the role models and driving factors.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I take personal interest in grooming and nurturing talent. I have established processes that identify the potential talent and to groom. I play to the best of their strengths and encourage them to take risks. My business needs also drive me to develop new skills and grow them. I value emotional intelligence and so is the strength of my team.

Do you consciously or subconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously and subconsciously support diversity, this again I can say got from my parents, my dad always wanted all women to be empowered and my mother had more women in her work force.
I have mentored women entrepreneurs, especially in their technical initiatives as I come with a vast technical expertise. I have extended my entrepreneurial connections to other women entrepreneurs. Our organization has more women representation.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
To be a great leader, you have to be a good leader, for that you must be a good human being, driven by high values, honesty, and ethics with great empathy for the people around.
Motivating the team, being a good listener with persistent hard work is a general thumb rule. Now there might be several ways to implement these and depending on the industry the implementation might differ but the ground principles remain same.
Entrepreneurship is continuous learning and I encourage others to do the same. Aim high and work towards the set goals is a way to go. I believe mindset to do service is also a way to become a good leader.

Advice for others?
Always be positive and create a positive impact on everyone. Have your values defined and do not compromise on them at any cost. Each small step taken towards the big thing is important, value them and go ahead, you will succeed surely. Success is something which we define our self and it can be achieved from any field and anywhere, on the way keep helping others.
The present focus is to develop the startup which I have taken up and my next idea is to continue to innovate and create technology products which will improvise human life.

If you’d like to get in touch with Vidya Vellala, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about Faasthelp, please click here.

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