Babbel women share their thoughts on the gender conversation

Megan Toon from Babbel’s Public Relations team explores the diverse ways in which women at Babbel experience the intersections of gender, language and technology.
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Megan Toon, originally from the UK, works in Babbel’s Public Relations team. In time for International Women’s Day on March 8th, Megan takes us deeper into the perspectives and backgrounds of Babbel’s employees from across the company, in order to reveal the diverse ways women working at Babbel engage with gender, language and technology in the startup industry.

What attracted you to your profession and to Babbel?

Annabella Da Encarnacao: I am Vice President of Marketing Performance – responsible for user acquisition channels and bringing new customers to Babbel. Babbel was the ideal next move, as I was looking forward to working for a company with a strong vision and a product whose purpose is to change people’s lives for the better.

Maria Robledo: I am Director of Engineering. I believe technology changes the world and I want to work in an industry that has an impact on people and society. Babbel has that impact. Babbel also offered me the opportunity to work outside of Spain and start a career in Germany.

Belén Caeiro: I am Director of Product Marketing – a part of the technology industry that figures out how to best convey product innovation, so that the user is better able to understand the value of your product. I’ve always looked for fast-moving creative spaces – for me that is the tech industry. I started my career in neither product nor marketing, but my experience has slowly led me to where I am today.

Nicki Hinz: I have always loved languages and technology – I suppose I’m a bit of a geek in that sense. Babbel really is the perfect place for me to combine those two passions. I used to be a language teacher in the UK, where I had already used Babbel for years before starting to work here. Now I am Senior Project Manager for German, which gives me the opportunity to create content and design the learning experience for learners of German.

Julie Krauniski: I am Public Relations Manager for Brazil, and as such I am responsible for increasing brand awareness in Latin America. I studied journalism, and it’s common for journalists to eventually become PR managers. The two jobs complement each other and require a shared skill set. For example, both PR and journalism require creative writing and interpersonal skills. Through my work, I can make people aware of a product that positively and meaningfully changes people’s lives.

Nazly Sabbour: I am a Data Scientist in the Analytics Decision-Making Team, in which I support internal teams to make better decisions, determined by customer and product data. Babbel offers a welcoming environment and has a large customer subscription base. This is essential as a data scientist, as we require a certain quantity of data to infer significant conclusions. It is also important to me that I work on a product that has a positive impact and is meaningful for customers.

What do you want your career at Babbel to enable you to do?

Annabella: I see my job as enabling others to punch above their weight. I enjoy seeing an individual grow from their first day, in what could be their first job, to learn about the company and the product, and become better than I could ever hope to be.

Nicki: I want to spread passion for and knowledge of languages. Working as a teacher in the classroom, there are perhaps 20 students to teach, whereas at Babbel I reach tens of thousands of language learners. I also want my job to enable me to grow as a person. Babbel offers opportunities to learn and try new fields, to fail and to learn from those mistakes.

Julie: Once I was part of a team building day, and we had to invent our own slogan. Mine was “every Latino Learning Languages”. That is my role here at Babbel. Only 5% of Brazilians are bilingual. Speaking another language is more than just career opportunities – it is about opening our minds. When you speak another language, you acquire more empathy and societal understanding. I want to make a change and spread language learning throughout Latin America.

Have you experienced moments of gender bias – whether conscious or unconscious? Has this changed the way you approach your work?

Belén: Definitely. I first encountered gendered comments during my studies in Energy Engineering. We were 10 women in a class of 200. While most professors would joke, saying “these women are going to eat your lunch, because they are not only more hard working but more intelligent”, others stated that we weren’t “suited” to work in oil fields. I have worked in aggressive company cultures and experienced unhealthy competition between teams and genders. At that time, my approach to fitting in to a male-dominated field was to act like a man. I showed them I can be just as competitive, to prove that I didn’t need to be treated differently.

Julie: I experience three biases – I am Latino, of African descent, and a woman. Bias affects me on a daily basis. For instance, I hear jokes with gender or race biases hidden behind the humour. This is bullying. The prejudice I have experienced has made me more empathetic and sensitive to issues others may overlook. In my work, I am able to give Babbel social responsibility at the intersection of language and cultural bias.

Nazly: In interviews for other companies, I have been asked whether I plan to have children. I don’t believe men face similar questions, and I don’t feel I should have to answer. I believe that these questions demonstrate those companies have biased recruiting processes, which is also likely a reflection of a biased working environment. On the other hand, I think women should be strong and not be over-sensitive in these situations. It is important to acknowledge someone’s background. Biased comments may stem from the culture in which someone was raised. Sometimes, comments are because of gender bias, but sometimes it is simply an individual with bad manners or a different cultural upbringing.

Is your industry heavily weighted in favour of one gender? Has this altered your approach to work and management?

Annabella: The team I currently lead is a healthy balance of both genders. I’ve achieved this by leading souls, not genders. We also need to recognize that bias goes beyond the job. It is an everyday occurrence, and one needs to speak up when it happens to ensure the ignorance which caused it is tackled.

Maria: I have never felt differently when managing men and women. I’m sure it also depends on your personality and the environment in which you grew up. I grew up with two brothers, so I suppose that helps. It is true, however, that you need to have a strong personality.

Belén: The tech industry is a male-dominated field. In my previous job, I learnt how unconscious bias manifests at work. Biases are ingrained responses and difficult to avoid, but creating awareness of them unifies us and enables us to find a solution. Everyone has felt some kind of bias at some moment, including men. Now that we are all more aware of the existing gender gap, we need to put in place ground rules. I make my team members aware that unconscious bias takes place in the workspace as soon as possible and, in this way, we look together for ways to avoid falling into it.

How is Babbel different to other companies with respect to gender equality? What initiatives are in place to tackle gender-related issues?

Annabella: Babbel is diverse – it is one of our strengths. Which is why diversity is one of our company values. We empower our employees to show and lead initiatives. A number of Babbel employees self-initiated an ongoing series, “Stranger Talks”, which are internal presentations aimed to tackle race, gender, and other topics around diversity. This makes me proud.

Maria: I have never worked in a company that is so aware and active around gender issues. Babbel is not only conscious of the gender gap, but is actively taking steps to close the gap. For instance, when we recruit here at Babbel our job descriptions are written with a gender neutral tone, including he, she, and transgender.

Nicki: I co-organise an event at Babbel called “Stranger Talks”. We offer a bi-weekly platform for individuals within the company to speak to an audience on issues around diversity, looking at a breadth of topics, including gender, race and religion, amongst others. Our aim is to bring these issues into the open and to start a dialogue. Babbel’s People and Culture Leadership Circle is also inviting girls to Babbel to speak with and learn from our engineers. We want to show the girls what they can achieve in a diverse and empowering company.

What do you believe women and companies can do to improve gender equality in the workplace?

Annabella: We have learnt from the Catalyst 2016 study that only 24% of senior management roles are held by women. This is too few – we need more women leaders and I believe those women need more visibility. At the Senior Management level of Babbel, we’ve managed this balance. I can see it’s making a difference elsewhere – it’s had an influence upon other companies, so I believe we need to continue highlighting companies who promote gender equality as role models.

Maria: Be conscious of the gender-gap. Many companies hide behind the stereotype of a mono-gendered industry. We need to ask why women aren’t applying for specific positions. Women in engineering need talk more openly about the positive aspects of our job and our industry, the benefits and our support for both genders. We have to discuss this with  friends, family, colleagues… everyone!

Belén: I think we are at a point where we must include everyone in the conservation. An issue that creates publicity for one gender may provoke alienation in the other. We must ensure that we do not isolate any social group, but instead show them how closing the gender gap benefits everyone. When we have equal representation of women in work, equal pay, maternity and paternity leave, this will also free men from social stereotypes, expectations and pressures. The first positive outcome is helping women, and the second is that everyone benefits from a lack of pre-defined gender-based expectations.  

Julie: Women can start with themselves. Many women have an ingrained sexist mentality arising from the culture in which they were raised. Once we change our thinking and self-perception, we will see ourselves for who we really are. Women must speak out when they encounter bias. While speaking out might not change the mindset of your boss or colleague straight away, if we speak every time something happens we will create change. Sometimes, those in privileged positions are not aware of how their behaviour affects those around them.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self, who is just setting out on their career?

Nicki: Be bolder! I often hesitated and allowed discouragement to influence my decisions. Now, I tell myself to try. It doesn’t matter if I make a mistake if I learn from it and move on. Mistakes enrich experiences and have helped me to grow as a person.

Julie: Do not work for something you don’t believe in. The pleasure of working on something you find meaningful is essential to feeling fulfilled and inspired. On the other hand, working in organisations and for products that I didn’t like was important for gaining experience. Not everyone gets to work on something meaningful, so I am thankful. My negative experiences have made me who I am today, and given me invaluable perspectives.

Nazly: Look at the larger picture. For example, I enjoyed maths and programming, which is why I pursued a career in computer science. When I made this decision, I was not aware that a computer science career limited options in other aspects of my life. The majority of computer science companies are concentrated in major cities. I hadn’t considered whether I wanted to move to the city, and if I had, I would perhaps have chosen a different path.

Are you involved in any gender-focused initiatives either within, or outside of, Babbel?

Annabella: I am involved with the “Lean-in Circle” in Berlin. “Lean-in” is a global community where women meet on a regular basis, share their experiences and mentor one another – initiated by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Their ethos is women leaning-in at the table rather than away. I am also part of “Women in Tech” initiatives, aimed to inspire, celebrate and connect women working in this sector.

Belén: At my previous company, I co-founded a self-organised group. Our goal was to empower women in the workplace, generate inspiration, and showcase successful women. We organised workshops for negotiating skills, coding, product development and public speaking, and invited external women who had revolutionized their industry to speak. For example, we had Obi Felten – the leader of Google X at Google moonshot factory – who drew a huge audience in, both male and female. The people who came were interested in the speaker and the opportunity to connect and discuss, regardless of the fact that we were a women’s awareness group.

Nicki: As I mentioned, I am involved in the “Stranger Talks” project here at Babbel. I believe it’s important to hear people’s stories and create a dialogue. We can broaden our perspectives around gender issues if we listen to each other and understand how other people have faced and overcome challenges.

Julie: I have faced biases my whole life, and although I would like to join an initiative, it is too emotionally exhausting for me right now. I know this is selfish, but I think everyone knows their limit. I admire those who are involved in initiatives tackling gender issues, and I hope I will soon be able to participate in these movements again.

Megan Toon

Megan spent most of her childhood outdoors in rural Somerset, England. She graduated from Yale University with a double major in classics and Near Eastern languages and civilizations, and has published work in a number of foreign policy and global affairs publications. In her spare time, Megan plays squash, runs, adores any animal that is four-legged and furry, and is always eager to travel to and explore new places on the planet.

Megan spent most of her childhood outdoors in rural Somerset, England. She graduated from Yale University with a double major in classics and Near Eastern languages and civilizations, and has published work in a number of foreign policy and global affairs publications. In her spare time, Megan plays squash, runs, adores any animal that is four-legged and furry, and is always eager to travel to and explore new places on the planet.