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We@PS Podcast

Exploration Geologist Turned Technology Accessibility Leader

 

- Welcome to another episode of We@PS. I'm Halley Marsh and joining me are my co-hosts Nadine Bennett and Nick Easlick. We are all part of the global talent acquisition team and come together each month to give our listeners an inside look at the people behind Publicis Sapient. As usual we're going to start with another round of our bites. Nick, will you get us started? What do you have for us this week?

- Yeah, sure. So March is Women's History Month and self-admittedly this is the first year that I've given a lot of thought about this month and how to prepare for it. So I took one of the first steps in understanding what or how Women's History Month came to be. And as I reflect back, you know, the last couple of years women have fought harder than ever for equality. And so I wanted to just talk through how Women's History Month came about. And then I have a couple stories about some brave women in history that people don't really know a lot about but I want to shed some light on their stories. So for starters, Women's History Month actually was a day and then became a week and then later became a month. So the Women's History Day was actually the first day was February 28th, 1909. So almost 110 years ago, a little over 110 years ago. And it started to commemorate the first year anniversary of over 15,000 government workers striking and marching in Lower Manhattan to protest working conditions and unfair wages. And most of these were teen women, teen girls working 12 hour shifts and making $15 a week. And so unfortunately things didn't get any better and in 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned down killing 145 of those workers, most of them women. So fast forward, 70 years later or so and an education task force kicked off Women's History Week on March 8th and that was intentioned to raise awareness to women's history, which wasn't included in K through 12 Curriculums at that time. And so then now fast forward, maybe 10 years later and that's when Women's History Month came about. Activists were successfully able to lobby Congress to declare Women's History Month. And since 1995, every president has issued a proclamation declaring Women's History Month, typically with a statement of its importance. So day became week became month. And now we celebrate that every year. So a couple of really cool stories I mentioned. So the first that I want to talk about is Claudette Colvin. Have you guys heard of her?

- No.

- Okay. So, nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, Claudette Colvin, a 15 year-old black teenager did the exact same thing in the same bus system in the same town of Montgomery, Alabama. So her recount of the events from a 2009 interview were just fascinating. She said that her head was too full of Black History Month coming off of February, Black History Month, that she said, it felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side, pulling me down, And Harriet Tubman was on the other side pulling me down and I couldn't get out of my seat. She later was arrested and she claims she didn't use profanity or become violent or fight being arrested, she just kept yelling, "It's my Constitutional right!" "It's my Constitutional right!" So I thought that was so powerful that a 15 year old black female didn't give up her seat, again nine months before Rosa Parks did the exact same thing. So for those wondering why Rosa Parks got all of the shine, if you will. A lot of it was because, and Claudette Colvin in an interview talks about this, but she had a book written about her life. And she says that, you know she was lower class and she was a teenager and thus becomes a bit more unreliable. She said that Rosa was a little older, well educated, articulate and put together in a higher socioeconomic status. But I thought that was just such an interesting character in our history. And so I wanted to bring the light on her story. The second person is a woman by the name of Sally Ride. You've heard of her.

- Of course, I have-

- Sally Ride I know! Oh, okay, there we go. This will be good for you to hear. For fun.

- Yeah. So her story is incredible too. So she was the first American woman in space. She was the third overall, but she was also the earliest space traveler to be recognized as LGBT. She first graduated from Stanford with a Bachelor's a Master's, a PhD, all in physics. She was a nationally ranked tennis player. She was selected to be an astronaut in 1978 which was the first class to select women. And she was one of 35 that were selected out of 8,000 applicants. And she helped for NASA develop a robotic arm that she later used for space missions in the eighties when she was up there. She was also named to the Rogers Commission which was the Presidential commission that investigated the Challenger and Columbia disasters. She was the only person to serve on both. And she left her DC post at NASA in '87 to go work at Stanford. And a couple of years later was a professor at UC San Diego. And then all of while continuing her work at NASA and she wrote seven children's books all focused on like space exploration and encouraging women and kids to get into STEM. And she even collaborated with the Obama administration on human space flight plans for future missions. But unfortunately in 2012 Sally lost her battle to pancreatic cancer. But not without a legacy that will last a hundred lifetimes. So for the Claudette Colvins of the world the Sally Rides of the world, and for all women around the world, the grandmas, the mamas, the sisters, the aunts, the daughters, the wives, the granddaughters, we see you this month and we see you every month. So, Halley, Nadine, how are you guys going to honor Women's History Month? And what are you going to, what does this month really mean to you?

- I feel stitched up following that Sally Ride story quite frankly, whatever I do is not going to even be a drop in the ocean compared to this lady who I didn't even know about, how is that possible? And also, can we just say Sally Ride and first person of the first woman into space called Sally Ride? That's amazing.

- Yeah! So awesome. So for me, you know, I'm a runner, you know I enjoy long distance running and this is a sport that has only really recently acknowledged women to even be able to participate. I'm sure you've probably seen images of a female runner in the Boston Marathon who's participating. And actually men are tearing at her T-shirt to pull her off the course. And me and our colleague Kristina Palmer Shedd who I'm named checking here, have both done the Boston marathon. So we're like, we've got some Sapient alumni from the Boston marathon. But for me it's about that 'cause I'm participating in a race. It's my first 100 Km-race, and I will see-

- Wow, that's amazing!

- If I finish it, but it's in a few weeks and every step I'm taking now is an acknowledgement to the women before me that have paved the way that I can even take part in this sort of sport and to be able to get my trainers on and run and be acknowledged and be part of the, be part of the game. And it means such a lot to me. So yeah, that will be my way of honoring the sports women before me.

- That's so cool. Y'all do give us an update afterwards?

- I will definitely.

- And I'm sure you're going to finish. I have all the confidence in the world in you, Nadine.

- Well, even if I roll the way all the way around, I'll try and get-

- I was gonna say, walking and crawling are completely acceptable ways.

- Totally, totally

- That's my kind of running.

- Yeah, well, and thank you Nick, for bringing those stories. I did not know the first one, and I always love talking about Sally Ride. I really like space and all that stuff. My first career choice, I think I've said that before was that I was going to be an astrophysicist. So Sally Ride is somebody who I absolutely liked and knew as a kid, but for me this month, you know the big thing is, so I have a daughter and it's starting to pass on that education to her. And so one of the things that we're doing is and so maybe shout out to another podcast, is we started listening to this podcast called, "Rebel Girls," and it has stories. So it had, for example, Sojourner Truth, it walked through her story and it's just mind-blowing to watch her little brain go, "Wait, women couldn't do what?" And so I love like educating her on that so that she's, like you, Nadine, right, where she's like, "I'm doing this stuff. "And I'm taking all of these women "from history with me "as I go through my journey." So that's one of the things that we're doing, and I don't think it's gonna, I will also say I don't think it's going to stop at the end of this month. Right? I think that we've kind of gotten into this habit and we're going to keep going and keep learning about it and reading books, which I might just order all those Sally Ride children's books that I didn't know about now, and keep learning 'cause I think it's an important reflection. So, thank you for bringing that. Nadine, what do you have for us?

- Well on the theme of International Women's Day which actually we're a few days ahead of here, so it's on the 8th of March and we're recording this slightly earlier than that. I wanted to talk about what we are considering as the main theme globally as part of this really important week. And to give you some background from the actual organization, IWD, they state, "A challenged world is an alert world." And individually we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions all day, every day. And we can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality and we can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. And collectively we can all help create an inclusive world. And that an alert world is a challenged world and from challenge comes change. And this one I love, the rise of women is not about the fall of men and everyone can play a role in forging gender parity. So I love all these themes and what I'm asking everyone today is what they are choosing to challenge for this International Women's Day. So I will kick-start because I've extended that question to you, but I'm choosing to challenge my inner misogynist which definitely exists and my own unconscious biases which I've become so aware of in the last few years because where I first worked was very, very corporate, very patriarchal culture. And I think I developed behaviors that became kind of prototype behaviors that had been cascaded down from strong dare I say, Alpha-male leaders. And that to me was how you behaved in order to be a leader and be successful. So I'm challenging that because I want to encourage more inclusive environments and more diverse ways of thinking and leading because that way is not necessarily the best way. And we'll talk about this, I'm sure in podcasts of the future, but there's not just one style of leadership that is successful. So it's really important to me to challenge, and unlearn what I've learned.

- I daresay, other kinds of leadership, maybe even more successful!

- Exactly, Halley! And in fact, I'm going to edge out to you then, Halley. What do you choose to challenge?

- So what I've been thinking about as taking this challenge is specifically about postpartum depression and reflecting on that. I think that... I think it's a big thing in the world that people don't talk about and it impacts women at work more than you would realize. And one of the things that I'm doing is trying to make sure that people understand that this happens and that it's okay. So when I have women that I work with or know that are expecting, I talk about this and I talk about the reality that I experienced personally with postpartum depression after having my daughter and that it's okay, it happens and here are ways that we can deal with it because there are absolutely things that we can do in the workplace to make it more inclusive and a safe environment to talk about that. So, that's where I'm at.

- Absolutely, and that's such an important one, isn't it? It's like building the narratives or creating narratives that are more commonplace in the workspace. Like menopause, for example. We don't talk about menopause, really. There were women of experience of a certain age will be going through this massive, massive life change. We should be able to talk about that openly. So I think that's a great one, Halley.

- I totally agree with that one. I have to just, not that I've experienced that in particular, menopause, but one of the things that I loved talking about or I was reading an article or something and it talked about, 'cause I've also experienced that in the workplace where I have people I work with who are going through it and I'm like, "Hey, talk about it." Just say like, "Hold on a minute. "I have to go and change into a tank top "instead of a sweatshirt because "I'm having a hot flash, like," or, "Give me a second to go get ice," or whatever. And there was this great article in the Harvard Business Review I think it was that talked about that. There was a woman who was like, I'm on a job interview. And I break out in a hot sweat. And so told the interviewer, she was like, "I'm sweating because I'm going through menopause. "And if you have a problem with that I'll just leave now, "because this is what mature women do." I was like-

- Right, love that-

- "Wow!" It was super awesome. And I hope I'm that confident when I go through my menopause.

- Same. And thank you for sharing that, Halley. Nick,

- Yes?

- What do you choose to challenge?

- I'm in a challenge. So I'm going on vacation here soon, tomorrow. And part of our vacation is overlapping with my sister's family. So I have two boys, she has two girls and they're all around the same ages, more or less. They're all very young kids, everyone under five. And as they play together, I'm going to be challenging the gender stereotypes that always comes up whether it's with the toys or the things they like, things not being, challenging things, being boy-things and challenging things, just being girl-things. So that's the big challenge that I'm going to bring over the course of the next couple of weeks. And beyond that. We already do a pretty good job of that, wife and I but still it's even more present when they hang out.

- Yeah, I was just saying good luck because I think my daughter's a little older than yours, maybe a little. And so it's like, there's this... It's starting to become an issue where it's like, she's starting to make those divides, right. We're like that's a boy-thing versus a girl-thing. And I'm like, dinosaurs are a neutral toy. They are not boy or girl, like in my opinion, which I think I mean, that's a pretty fair statement to say, dinosaurs are everybody's toys? So...

- Yeah, they're my toys!

- Ah, yeah, I mean, so I'm glad you're doing that. It's really important, I think.

- It's also interesting, isn't it? Because at that age for young girls to adopt what are kind of seemingly boy toys is acceptable and to be a tomboy is kind of cool. It's kind of Laura Crofty, but if you reverse that, it's less acceptable for boys to adopt the girl toys without there being some sort of question mark about that. There's more conversation around that. Like gender, I guess, interchange behavior, if that makes sense.

- Yeah.

- So I think it's great, Nick to just encourage this kind of open space and see what they enjoy and see where they thrive.

- Yeah. Yeah. We talk a lot about that. Yeah.

- It's important. Well then I'll switch over to, my bite is in addition to all of the wonderful things, celebrating women and recognizing the women this month, this month is also Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. So I wanted to highlight a recent blog post from the United Disability Services Foundation. They talk a lot about the fact that, 90% of adults with autism are underemployed or unemployed and there are lots of reasons for that. It could be because they lack quote unquote "soft skills." What people say is a requirement for a job or perhaps they struggle with social interaction and what really needs to happen and this is something that been reflecting about as a company as well is they need to create the right environment to allow people with autism or other neurodiversity to really thrive. And we talk about thriving a lot at our company. And so I wanted to share some of the lessons that that the UDS Foundation published. So one, they say, you know, first companies really need to take the time to understand autism, to understand what it means what it is and make sure that supervisors and managers and recruiters and interviewers are all really clear on what this is and what it isn't. Two, then once you decide to make a hire or somebody has shared that they are, that they have autism what you need to do is you need to figure out how to reasonably accommodate them and to manage them in a way that can so that they can succeed. And there are a couple of basic things that they threw out there that I just wanted to share with you both. One is to make sure that directions are really clear which I would kind of argue every supervisor should do for everybody who reports to them? So I'm not sure that I would make an exception but it's incredibly important that to recognize that dealing with things like ambiguity can be hard. Two is also to talk to the person and understand how autism is particularly manifesting in them. So it might be a situation where, and this would be if we were in an office and not all working from home but where you would want to do things like reduce the light. You know, maybe we have the lights off here or you give them noise-canceling headphones if noise is an issue for them, it could also be recognizing that this person doesn't like to make eye contact and that's okay. You don't have to like penalize them for not making eye contact and you don't have to be staring directly at them while they're talking. It's okay. It could also be reducing the times you touch people. I think when you're in an office and as you might like put your hand on their shoulder or something like that, and that could make somebody who has autism very uncomfortable, but it's different for each person. So the question too is figure out what each individual needs. The other two things that they really recommend is encouraging the person to create a schedule and to stick to it. And then also if there's change coming in the environment communicate it well in advance, give them lots of time to adjust to it and adapt to it. Once again, it's the ability to deal with the ambiguity or the non-, you know, the gray area of things that can be a challenge. So I just thought those were really important things that I wanted to highlight. I think that there are things that I know we've talked about incorporating into our recruiting process in North America. And I know that, Nadine, if I remember correctly you had done some work on that too. Or maybe I'm misremembering.

- I haven't, I haven't done any work on it but it's something that I've been really interested in pursuing as a recruiter to prepare myself to recruit for a more neuro diverse audience of candidates because I'm recruiting largely within our product function right now. And within that there are certain technical capabilities where there are those that don't need the soft skills that we talk about in order to-

- Absolutely!

- Do a great job. And I listened to a podcast it's called "How to fail." If we endorse, you can listen to other ones, of course, here on- It's okay, it's fine. But there's an 18 year-old activist and campaigner called Siena Castellon and she suffers from autism and she talks through her experiences in education as someone who needed reasonable adjustments in order to thrive. And in one school she did an economics paper where she got graded an E, I don't know if that translates to the US an E-

- It does not.

- Okay...

- So we would probably say an F.

- Okay, an F and it would be-

- whole other interesting side topic, but I would be totally, what, an E?

- So an E is borderline F, fail like you have literally just on the cusp. And she actually went to a completely kind of impartial examining body and was allowed to take the test again where she got an A-Plus.

- Ow!

- So, yeah, so there were some real biases in play with her teachers and the way she learned or the way she engaged with them. And that has just stayed with me so much. And Todd Meckenstock, who's a director in our product team who I'm going to give him a shout out because he's fantastic. He's trained himself, proactively gone out there to get himself the tools to interview, to prepare for neurodiverse candidates, to make sure that he understands what allowances we need to consider in order to be more inclusive to that, like I say, that audience of candidates. So I am certainly not informed on it now but I've got a real keenness to get better at this. 'Cause I think it's, we've got an obligation and a duty to get the best talent the best environment to thrive in.

- Yeah, Halley, I know which article you're referencing. In there it also talks about like their ability to provide detail, ability to concentrate, their creative thinking skills that these are skills that people with autism have that make them incredibly valuable employees. I thought that was just really interesting especially in our world where all of those are really key attributes to have, I will maybe wrap this up by providing a couple lines from a from a Sesame Street-song, ah, there's-

- Oh, please do.

- You're gonna sing-

- No, no, no-

- Elmo's voice...

- Oh, in an Elmo voice, even better.

- So there's a character in Sesame Street, her name is Julia and she has autism. And this was about I think, five or so years ago that she was created. And there's a song that is about Julia and about autism in particular. And there's two lines in here that says, "At times we may have our own ways to play and that's okay." "But in the end, "we're all so much the same in some big ways." So I thought that was a touching end...

- Ah!

- I love Sesame street and I love Julia.

- Yeah!

- I remember when Julia got her haircut on Sesame Street and how she didn't like people touching her, and how they adapted it was awesome. It's awesome. Okay. This was another great round of our bites-section. We're going to go into one of our interviews now. And so thank you both. And we'll talk to you soon. Bye, stay safe! Today, Nadine Bennett and I are joined by Alison Walden. Alison is a senior director of technology and leads the Accessibility Service for Publicis Sapient. She helps clients transform their organizations by empowering them with the knowledge and tools they need to support their ongoing creation of accessible experiences. She has been building and expanding our accessibility capabilities over her 15 years at PS through internal and external training, hackathons, road shows and public speaking opportunities. Alison, welcome to the podcast.

- Welcome, thank you!

- Alison, we believe that where we come from really help shape who we are now. So we like to start by asking all of our guests where did you grow up and what were you like as a kid?

- Well, I grew up in the Canadian Prairies in a small city West of Winnipeg called Brandon. And it was nice, but as a kid I remember I always wanted to leave. I dreamed of getting away from there and actually you can imagine me, one summer I entered radio contests on our only non-country radio station. Like that was what I was constantly trying to do all summer is win this golden ticket out of there. Oh my gosh.

- Well, I did want to a Pepsi prize-pack.

- Oh, fancy!

- Yes, I did! I won a Pepsi hat and some fluorescent zinc sunblock but no, I didn't win the big trip to California that I was shooting for. Aw!

- So you wanted to leave, so, but what else were you like as a kid? What were you super into? What were you, what were the things that little Alison was excited about?

- Well, I was a competitive swimmer so that took up a lot of my time. And you know, other than that, I really liked reading and I taught myself how to play guitar. I took piano lessons, that kind of thing. I actually used to spend hours in my room, just drawing. I was kind of the classic introvert kid.

- I love it, I love it.

- Yeah, that's so great. What about your first job? What was your first job Allison?

- Oh, no. My first job was when I was 13 years old and I worked at the register at Wendy's! That's the fast food chain, isn't it? Wendy's?

- Yes it is a fast food chain. And no fact-check here from me!

- And I was going to say they don't have that across the pond, I had no idea. Yeah, and I mean, that was different at the time, right? Because most of the fast food chains had multiple counters but at Wendy's I have to tell you it was much more stressful for the register person. You know, it was just us. We were the single point of contacts. We had to pace the orders so that the food line wouldn't get overwhelmed. And I got to tell you I was not good at it. I, they would constantly put me on fries so that at the end of my shift every day I'd always be on the fry station just covered in grease. So yeah.

- Was that the lower profile gig or the higher profile?

- Fries was low profile.

- Okay, okay.

- Definitely, for me a perfect day at Wendy's would be if they even move me off fries and had me cleaning up people's trays in the dining room. I would be so happy then was like, "Ah, don't have to talk to anyone." "This is amazing."

- Yes, that's quite a lot of interaction at such an early age, isn't it? like face-on with the customer. So what was that key lesson for you in that experience?

- Oh, well gee, a key lesson of working at Wendy's? Well, I knew I certainly did not want to work frontline and retail. I mean, that was probably my, key lesson that I learned just a little bit about what I liked and didn't like in terms of my work environment.

- And so from work environment to education environment, where did you attend college?

- Well, I went to, you know, I desperately wanted to leave Brandon, but I did end up going to university there and it was actually very nice. The university, there was really small family-like, and and I actually ended up studying geology.

- Really?

- So, yeah, so that became the escape route that I wanted, right. I was launched out of Brandon and I ended up as an exploration geologist looking for gold in the Arctic Circle.

- Ah, yeah, it's like a cool Ross! Cool Ross, yeah!

- You should totally add that to your resume and LinkedIn profile, like I'm like the cool Ross. Yeah, yeah-

- Exactly!

- So Alison, did you go to the Arctic Circle? Yes, yes, I worked there for seven weeks one summer. I saw the ice come off the Lake and then a week later come back onto the Lake. I found myself being struck by all of a sudden noticing the moon one day and realizing I hadn't seen it all summer just because the sun was out all the time. So our first night when we landed, we were building our camp and our boss told us that we should probably go to bed now. And we're like, stop working, take a break. And we're like, "Why, we want to keep working?" And he said, well, it's three in the morning. Oh, my gosh!

- Bright daylight, all right.

- Wow!

- Because the sun stays up all all day, so...

- What an amazing experience.

- Incredible!

- Yeah.

- It was worth the five years of studying geology. Get that one really cool job. You know, obviously I didn't stick with it, but yeah, I have no regrets.

- What happened, after that? I'm just so curious.

- Yeah?

- I have a joke about that. So my joke about why I switched careers and went from geologists to web developer is because I was looking for more gender diversity in my career.

- Nailed it, nailed it.

- And that's kind of a sad joke, right? We, we all know there aren't nearly enough women in the tech industry.

- Yeah.

- The real reason why though, that it was passion again you know, my colleagues were so optimistic. I would see them going out every day and I would actually hear them saying stuff to each other. Like, "I'm going to find some gold today!" Whereas in my mind I was thinking like, "There's no gold here." Like my, my approach to mapping was that I was serving the area to confirm that there was no gold. So I knew I needed to change careers-

- Right.

- To do something I was more passionate about. And, and I was based in Thunder Bay in Northern Ontario at the time. So I ended up going to college there. So back to our school journey, I ended up studying multimedia production there for a few years. And then I went on to do an internship in Toronto in the early two thousands as a web designer. And that's, and that's how I got here.

- Do you notice then the disparity of gender representation in your class?

- Yes, yes, of course it was. It was pretty obvious.

- Yeah.

- 'Cause right now the grassroots stuff that seems to be happening within STEM is like great. And a lot of our early careers, new joiners are women and if not 50/50, even more so gender representation. But that's a major shift, right from 20 years ago in what we're talking about, it it must be such a, such a great thing for you to see coming through now with the younger generations.

- Oh, absolutely. I mean, I used to say that I, as soon as I became the lead for our experience technology team in Toronto, shortly after that, I doubled the number of women on the team. Now, of course I was starting, I was starting with two. But, you know, it's better, it's getting better and better. And you know, I think people are finally starting to approach this where they need to approach it which is at the school level-

- Yeah!

- Like getting women interested in the careers and making sure that they're comfortable in the programs and that there's no kind of biases happening in that, so that they'll stay, right. So that they'll feel good and they'll stay.

- And I just want to clarify that what Nadine just said about the 50/50 is that's what our early careers team is doing here at Publicis Sapient. I don't want to give the impression that the entire industry is that. Our team is doing such a fantastic job, that we are we have gender parity at the entry level.

- Mm.

- And that's wonderful. Thanks for clarifying that Halley. Yeah.

- because I knew what you meant but it's true. I was looking up this stat the other day, 20% I believe is the number of women taking computer science programs-

- Oh wow!

- Right now.

- Yeah. Yeah.

- That's massive. I didn't realize that we were so, in terms of our numbers, they were so different to what are the broader numbers for the industry?

- Yes. It's really-

- That's why it's so impressive

- And so circling back to college, how did you get connected with your first job when you graduated? Tell us a bit more about that.

- Oh, well it was actually a really great program. They had an internship built in and they had a lot of contacts from companies in large urban centers who had taken students from that college program before. So I was hooked up with someone who had had an intern from my program before, and I ended up going to this small multimedia studio in Toronto. And back then, it was pretty interesting because the roles were much broader. So today we, we see this really kind of siloed look at how teams are structured. But back then, you know, when I got my first job I was a web designer and a developer and even a writer sometimes like they just basically got, you know, it's like, "Oh, you know how to access the web here, "just do whatever with all the contents on there." And one of the highlights of my internship I just wanted to bring this up for fun. Was designing a 3-D spinning logo for if anyone knows who this is, Jordan Knight of the New Kids on the Block.

- Oh my gosh!

- Of course we do. Okay-

- I like that was a 3-D spinning logo.

- It was a 3-D...

- Not just a normal one.

- No!

- But you wanna be cool, too?

- Oh, he was?

- Yeah, he was my favorite. And he had a single actually afterwards.

- Oh, Nadine...

- I won't sing it for you.

- Aw, come on!

- Oh, you could.

- You could, we can always edit that out.

- I used to love, I went to see New Kids on the Block.

- He's New Kids on the Block, wasn't he? I'm not getting that wrong.

- Yes, yes, yeah, cool!

- I got, lost loads of credibility with the fan base there, but that would totally have made my day, had I seen that...

- You know, he came to the office one time but I wasn't there- Oh, that was sad!

- Yeah, yeah.

- Of all the days to not be at work.

- Yep.

- For our listeners, I wasn't cut off then, I was stunned into silence that I miss that but you know, next time round.

- So, so how did you get connected with Publicis Sapient then, Alison?

- Well, I had one job in between my internship and Publicis Sapient and I just, I ended up just applying. I found out later, actually here, let me back up a bit. So my next job after my internship is I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers, again, had a really broad role there. One of the highlights there was I got to design a multimedia backdrop for the Juno Awards that year, they were partners with PwC. And, I'm just bringing that up to kind of show you the breadth of skill that a person used to need to work in the industry. You know, we wouldn't ask a developer to design a multimedia backdrop today that would just be silly. You know, I also maintain their websites which is something we would ask a developer to do today. And I used to make CD ROMs for our clients which is another old school activity that, you know I used to know how to do, and I'll never use that skill ever again. So then in 2005, I joined Publicis Sapient. And I found out later that the the office lead at the time actually had a friend from PricewaterhouseCoopers who had mentioned, "Oh, there's this person on my team." "You know, she's really good." "Her name's Alison." And then when I applied at Publicis Sapient he recognized my name and said, "Oh, I heard that person was really good." "I'm gonna snap her up!" So I didn't know that all of that was happening in the background, but it was a random application on my part and they happened to have heard my name in just some crazy coincidence.

- And then 16 years later we're here and, talking today. So talk about your current role then, tell us more about what you're doing right now.

- Well, okay. So I'm a Senior Director of Technology and as we've been mentioning, I've worked here for 16 years. So my role has changed a lot throughout that time span. Well, when I started, I was a senior front end developer for experience technology. And I'm just going to explain what that is because a lot of people are confused when they hear experience technology. I think the name makes sense, you know, understanding how the experience works is such a critical part of being a good front end developer. So when we say experienced technology, we're just saying front end development. So, so I started off as a senior developer within experience technology, and now I lead the Canadian experience technology practice. And as we mentioned earlier, I'm the accessibility lead as well. So I think it'd be helpful to talk about how it evolved.

- Yeah.

- It's actually, yeah. So part of the story is just the typical kind of story that you would hear about, increased responsibility project after project and embracing every opportunity that I was given but a really fun part of this journey that I like to talk about is it's a story of stealth and cunning actually.

- Brilliant...

- Right?

- You feel like it's a mystery that must unfold. It's a secret. So it's a normal part of the process of creating digital experience to have it reviewed for tech feasibility, right. That makes sense. We don't want our creative teams designing something and showing the idea to clients and it's not actually possible to build this thing, right? So we do these tech feasibility reviews. And this is something that I always did as part of my job ever since I worked here. So the stealthy and cunning thing that I would do is every time I do a tech feasibility review I would sneak in a review for accessibility compliance. So the front end developer is actually perfectly placed to review something for accessibility compliance for the first group that actually builds something real right up until then, it's just some idea in someone's mind. And since we know how to build things it's easy for us to look at a static wireframe or a design and we can imagine how it's actually going to work when we build it. We can imagine how it will work with the mouse pointing device, we can imagine how it will work for a keyboard user or someone using a screen reader. And we can point out all the gaps and opportunities for accessibility at that time. So no company was asking for this in the early two thousands except probably banks, but I would sneak it in and I would call my comments, tech feasibility, like, nope-

- I love this so much, Alison!

- You just took the initiative to say, this is what I think is right.

- Yeah.

- And this is what I think is important.

- Yeah!

- Where did it come from, Alison? Why did you start thinking like that?

- Well, I always had this strong sense when I was learning web development that there was a right way to code and a wrong way to code you and... You know, front-end development is very nuanced and it's kind of creative, you know. It's like an art form. People can just do it kind of whatever way that they want. And there weren't always a lot of standards that everybody would follow. So, yeah, I honestly don't know. I always thought that it should work with the keyboard and screen reader. And I think this is linked to maybe an article I read one time. And then when I noticed that things didn't work that way, I got really annoyed. And to me, that just meant that they weren't coded properly. It's not that, you know... To me, it's not like, "Oh, I can choose to do it this way "or choose to do it that way." There's one right way to do it. And that's the way that makes it work well for everybody. So, yeah, I was doing this on every project that I was on. And then this is what I encourage people on my team to do now, "Just do it." And then I built up the skill in myself and I don't really know when people started to notice, but I know in 2013, one of our big clients at the time, they had a huge website. It was a large equipment manufacturing company. They asked us if we could do an accessibility audit of their website and that's not something that Publicis Sapient did at the time. But there was someone who's still at Publicis Sapient. He's one of our group Vice Presidents out of our Boston office. He had the vision to imagine that we could do this kind of work. So he reached out to me and we ended up selling this service to this client for the first time. And honestly, since then I haven't looked back. All of my work since then has related to helping our clients improve their web accessibility compliance. My friend, who's a people strategist here at Publicis Sapient, she tells the story that I created a brand new discipline here.

- Yeah.

- I kinda shy away from that 'cause it sounds really grand, but it does feel pretty amazing to work in a place that's so flexible, right? And so supportive of somebody's passion that they would allow that person to basically create a discipline. And many of my allies along the way are people who you've interviewed on this podcast, you know, Sheldon, Alyssa.

- Yeah.

- They were so supportive and helped me make this happen. And the takeaway for me is, you can do anything here.

- I agree. I'll second that. And I would also say, Nadine, this reminds me of all of the things that you've talked about, how women are amazing leaders.

- Yeah.

- So, Alison, we do a bite section at the beginning of our podcast where we share research and news articles and Nadine has brought some really great ones on that. And Alison is just showing us exactly what it looks like.

- Yeah, such a great example. And Alison, with that in mind then, what piece of work, maybe recently, or whenever really, are you most proud of that comes to mind?

- Well, so over the last 15 plus years I worked on so many great projects, so many great people, but the one that stands out for me for a few reasons is when we were tasked with helping one of our airline clients meet this aggressive accessibility compliance deadline. It was few years ago. Basically our client was told to make all of their website's core flight booking functionality accessible by a certain date, or else they could take their site down. Or if they left it up, they also had the fun option of paying $20,000 US, per day as a fine. Oh.

- Yeah, and of course they left this until the end, right? Like there was an actual day where it had to be done and they had procrastinated and then they pulled us in at the last minute to help them figure out how they're gonna do that. So, that project was fun for a few reasons. I mean, number one, it was an instance where the client was willing to do anything to meet the requirement, right. So, they would follow all our recommendations with no fuss. So that was amazing. And I also got to go to China and Taiwan. That was a really amazing trip. But actually the best part came later. A few months after we had done the work I was at a web accessibility conference and one of the speakers told a story about her friend who had called her the other day, all excited because she had just booked a flight online and was given the option to choose her seat, okay? You could hear a pin--

- Yeah. You could hear a drop because we were all like, "So?" Yeah.

- You know, that's just basic functionality, right? I mean, this is like a few years ago, but it was still pretty basic functionality. We didn't understand why she was so excited about this. So it turned out that her friend was blind and her friend had never been able to choose a site online. A seat online before because that functionality that so many people take for granted had never been available for her because she was navigating with a keyboard and screen reader and the airline website wasn't accessible. So this is actually a perfect story for anyone listening, who's not sure what I mean when I say a website is not accessible. That means that the functionality on the website wasn't designed, or developed considering that some people using it might need to navigate some other way than with a mouse. I mean, obviously it always works with a mouse, right? 'Cause that's how

- Yeah.

- most people test it. But hardly anyone will test in all of these other ways that someone might navigate. So, someone who needs to book a flight, they might not be able to use a mouse for some reason or they might not be able to see. There's a billion people in the world who have some kind of disability that would require them to navigate the website a different way. And we have to make sure that the websites work for everyone. So, this story, back to this conference. This story was a story of how happy her friend was being able to do this normal thing on the airline website. Now, chances are she wasn't talking about the airline that I worked with, but the reason that functionality came available on all airline websites was no doubt because of the same compliance deadline that our client had, right?

- Yeah.

- And I loved being part of the team that made that functionality available.

- Yeah, changing people's lives and their ability to do things

- Yes! that we take for granted every day

- Yes. I imagined it like a light turning on across all the airline websites on that compliance deadline date and suddenly so many more people could use and that's just really important.

- Yeah. I've been... We talked actually on our bites section that Halley mentioned, how we can be way more inclusive to prospective candidates coming through a recruitment process. We don't just talk about reasonable adjustments with interviews and thinking about what plays to an individual's strengths and the needs of the role, but actually from the point of submitting your CV, is your website accessible? Can the candidate actually see what roles you are advertising for? And can they make that application with whatever prohibitive factors they're facing. And it's so fantastic that it's part of the narrative now. It's definitely part of the conversation. And of course we need to do more, but there is so much potential to see more diversity. From neurodiverse candidates, from many different protected characteristics. And that's what we wanna sort of see in the future.

- Yeah, absolutely. If we could that diversity on our teams then that would make this conversation happen a lot earlier on every single project and a really natural way. We had a contractor come in on one of my projects a couple of years ago and he was blind since birth. And we had him come in and help us assess this website for compliance. And we watched him use it. And then we could... You know, he was a power screen user and we could tell what kinds of issues that he was running into just from watching him use the website. And I noticed that since the day that he came into the office, it was kind of again like a light turning on for people. Nobody wants to exclude anyone based on how

- Hmm.

- they navigate online, right? It's just what ends up happening because it's not built into our current processes at most organizations to do these kinds of tests. But when you have the diversity on the team they become built in 'cause it's just obvious. As soon as someone meets a person who's trying to navigate a different way it's totally obvious. And they'll bend over backwards to make sure they're doing it properly for that person. But I think it's something that has to get embedded into the processes.

- And how do you keep. I'm gonna quote you back in an article you contributed to on "Medium, actually, Alison. And you say that, "We will need to help bring about "the required process changes to enable accessibility "in our client's organizations. "And regardless of where a company is on their journey "there's always a role that we can play "to help them be successful in creating accessible experiences "that are inclusive and benefit everyone." I love that. And, yeah. Very well said. But how do you stay ahead of the curve? Because, you know, accessibility needs are always evolving and we're learning more and more about different groups of people with different needs. How do you keep yourself sort of educated in that sense?

- So I've been supported by Publicist Sapiens. They supported me in getting my Usability Analyst Certification many years ago when I just started. As soon as the accessibility certifications from the International Association for Accessibility Professionals became available, they supported myself and many of my team members in getting those certifications as well. We're lucky that we also have the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that we can refer to. So that's like a whole group of people whose sole job it is to continually refine the recommendations on how to make digital experiences accessible. And so they're doing that work, right? They're doing that work to try and make the standards more robust. And then, as long as we keep following those standards then we're in a way better place than someone who hasn't looked at them.

- Yeah. Yeah, totally. And who would be your dream client to work with, or dream brand?

- Well, you know, I feel really fortunate working at Publicis Sapient and I can make a huge difference because we have so many large retail clients. That's really my passion. Every year I do an accessibility review. It's like a quick audit that I do, of the top 10 highest grossing retail websites because I don't wanna pick on a mom-and-pop shop, right. I look at big companies

- Yeah, yeah.

- Who can afford to do a good job. And so, I come up with different insights every year of kind of where these companies are falling down. And I share these with our retail vertical leads, internally at Sapient. But my dream would really be to work on a really large retail client, so I could impact all of the people who are trying to access the products and services on those kinds of websites.

- Great, and why would a person choose to work with Publicis Sapient?

- Well, I mean, I've been here for 16 years, so it's obvious how much I love it here. One of the really basic things that I love about Publicist Sapient is the respect that a person gets in doing their work. My experience has been that I am not micromanaged. Nobody kind of... Everybody is very respectful of my time. And just the main thing is to think about the client, do your work and collaborate with the team. And as long as you're available when you say you're going to be available, it's fine. I've worked at other places where the manager sat in front of the door and if you were five minutes late you had to explain where you were. You had to get permission to go to the dentist.

- Gosh.

- I mean, I know--

- I see why you quit!

- Yeah, right? I know that it sounds really basic, but I feel so respected here. That has been a huge reason. And the other reason is because I believe that our hiring team does a fantastic job of hiring people who end up being collaborative and who work together

- I think so, Alison.

- very well.

- Thank you so much, Alison.

- Absolutely! You do such an amazing job. I am... I've told this story before. I think everyone has the experience with that person in the office, you know, like, "Oh, if it wasn't for that person, "it would be so amazing to work here." There's never. That person doesn't work here. There's never that person.

- I'm gonna just play this over and over again. So when I'm having a bad day and I can't find enough people, I'll be like, "Just remember what Alison said."

- Yeah. We're changing lives, Halley. We are changing lives. You are, you are! You do a phenomenal job. I tell this to everyone. I tell this in job interviews. That I let people know, "That that person doesn't work here. "So it's all good." Oh, it's so great. And actually, I really like this question, but I use it in a positive sense. What mistake have you made over your career that you wish you could do over, or that you've learned from?

- Oh, well there's... See, now I just have to wade through all of many-- All of the many, many mistakes. You know, I think early on in my career I learned what I think became an important lesson. I don't have a specific incident that I can point to, but it's all about the mindset. And I think one of the most important things that I've learned is that when you're working with another individual, or a team. And especially at Publicis Sapient, you know, we have to operate. And during COVID, right, everyone in the world has to do this now. We have to operate over the phone and you don't get to have that face-to-face interaction. But with our offices all around the world it was pretty typical for me to work across geography with someone and never get to meet them in person. And I found that everything went a lot smoother if I made the assumption in my mind that no matter what that person said or did, they had good intentions and that they were a smart person.

- Alison, and I love this.

- That makes all the difference in the world because it's so easy over the phone to kind of get this internal dialogue in your mind and you're thinking like, "Ugh, what is wrong "with this person? "Oh, they're just making life difficult for me," or, "Oh, they obviously suggested that "'cause they don't know what they're doing." And then that makes everything very tense. And so, I just assume everybody's smart. Everybody means well. And that has made a huge difference. I wish that I knew that from day one because, I think it improved my experience at work. It improved the quality of my team's work ever since that day, when I thought of that. And I wish that I was kind of born thinking that way.

- You have got to coach it. Halley and I were only talking about this a couple of days ago, about self-compassion talk and kindness and

- Uh-hm.

- I've got to meditate to get to your mindset, Alison. And it takes a lot of practice. And it's like... If you can just enter a conversation, and I don't just mean this professionally, but personally, knowing that everyone has the right intentions. It's just about sort of connecting on the same sort of level, or syncing, or whatever it may be. The world would be a much easier place, wouldn't it? This helps with my rage.

- Another piece that we'll be listening to over and over again.

- Yeah. Calm, calm.

- If I can help out with someone's rage then this is already a really good day.

- Yeah. You totally have a good vibe. And then, last question from me before I will hand over to Halley. For prospective talent listening, what advice would you give someone looking for a new job right now?

- Oh, right now. Right now, during COVID? Is that what you mean about right now, or just, right now?

- Yeah, just, right now. Obviously COVID is a massive element of that. And being in lockdown and hire. Excuse me. Applying for roles virtually, but in general.

- Well, you know, I did a talk about this at South by Southwest, back in 2016. And this was... This part of the talk about giving people recommendations about what they should do when they're trying to apply for work, or how they're writing their resume was kind of gender-specific. So I hope that's okay. I have the opportunity to see a lot of resumes. And one thing I noticed is that sometimes if it's a woman writing the resume she can be a lot more modest in her resume than some of the resumes that I've seen from men. And these people could be equivalently skilled but the... I hope it's okay to say this. You know, the man's very confident and he'll say, "I led this team. "I made this happen. "I launched this project." Whereas the woman might be more modest and say, "As part of a team I worked toward this goal," you know. Or for example, let's say, that there are necessary skills listed for the job. A male candidate might say, "Yeah, I can do all of that stuff." Whereas a female candidate might say, "I've done the first three things "for the last several years and I'm pretty confident "I could learn the fourth one. "And I've had experience watching someone do the fifth one." I wish I could just kind of help everybody rewrite their resume to just.

- Yeah.

- You know, this is your chance to sell yourself. Just say what you did. Take ownership for what you did. And just be very, very confident and just kind of own it, you know? Don't feel like you have to shy away and be modest. That would be one of my recommendations

- Yeah.

- for people looking for jobs.

- That's such great advice.

- Yeah, it is.

- That's such great advice, Alison. And so, as Nadine alluded to, we like to end all of our interviews with something we call, "The Sapient Seven." So it's seven rapid-fire questions. I don't want you to overthink this. I don't want you to like worry about if your answer. There is no right or wrong. It is just what comes to mind, okay? So,

- Okay.

- Are you ready?

- Maybe. Okay.

- Well, let's give it a shot. Okay. First question. "What is something new you have learned "in the last 30 days?"

- Meditation. I've been doing a meditation app for the last week.

- That's awesome.

- I'm so getting that from you right now, Alison.

- It's subsidized by the company. I will send you the info.

- Amazing.

- Very cool. Next. "What is one trend you're paying attention to?"

- Um. Paying attention to. Well, I mean, COVID numbers. There you go. There you go. Hey, that's one that's obviously, everybody is looking at, so good one. Next. "What is something on your bucket list?"

- I would like to go on a trip again, someday.

- Any special place you wanna go, since you've already been to the Arctic Circle? I don't know how much more exotic you can get than that.

- Well, I was looking at this remote resort in DC where you can see grizzly bears.

- Oh, that sounds kind of scary, but also kind of nice. I like the remote idea. Okay, next. "Did you have a nickname growing up "and if so, what was it? "If you're willing to share."

- Well, my best friends would call me Allie. And that's actually a hack, if you know me. I will instantly feel closer to you and we're better friends than we are if you call me Allie. I just can't help myself.

- What a cool hack and how self-aware. I love all of this.

- Yeah. Okay, next. "What is the most valuable thing "you learned from your parents, or family?"

- The first thing that popped into my head is, "Go to university and save for your retirement." Yeah.

- There you go. That's two valuable lessons.

- Yeah.

- There you go. Next. "If you were on a deserted island, "what album would you take with you?" Please say New Kids On The Block.

- I would definitely take the Cure, Disintegration.

- There you go. There you go. Okay. And last question. "What book are you reading right now, "or maybe one that you recently finished?"

- I'm reading, How to Be Both," by Ali Smith.

- "How to Be Both." Adding that to my TBR list. So, Alison, this has been so much fun. Thank you so much for indulging us and being here today. So, but before we let you go, where can our listeners find you if they want to connect, or learn more?

- They can find me easily on LinkedIn, Halley.

- Great, great. Well, I'm sure a bunch of people will be connecting to you, especially for resume, or interview advice since you have given a lot of really good tips this last hour. So, thank you so much, Alison. And we'll talk to you all soon.

- Bye, Halley

- Bye, everybody.

- Bye. Thank you.

- Thanks again for listening to another episode of the We@PS Podcast. Don't forget to subscribe in whatever app you choose and check us out at careers.publicissapient.com Until next time, I'm Halley Marsh.

- I'm Nadine Bennett

- And I'm Nick Easlick.

    

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