At marketing automation and CRM company Main Street Hub, the product engineering team has grown from six people to 30 in three years. The entire company employs more than 500 people, so in the product, engineering, and design department, the leadership is proud of the diversity and success they have achieved.
Nicole Cornelson, the director of engineering, and SVP of engineering Qingqing Ouyang echoed each other in interviews with Street Fight about what it’s like to work at Main Street Hub. Both described two themes that help shape the culture and support the company’s goals and progress. One is the team – people join the company and stay because hiring for fit is largely successful. Two is the leadership’s commitment to diversity in communication – different points of view are always valuable.
Cornelson says that the industry as a whole could benefit from more diversity in thinking, but different points of view are not always about having male leadership or female leadership.
“It’s not about that or any other sort of label,” she says. “It’s about adding the way we think about problems into the mix, making sure we’re asking questions and challenging assumptions.”
In engineering, teams are often male-dominated, Cornelson says, and having a woman at the table provides that different point of view that in many cases will help things move along faster and can help progress. In the hundreds of meetings she’s been in throughout the course of her career, she says she has witnessed that men tend to repeat what other people have already said.
“When a female is at the table, they tend to ask questions rather than repeat already stated information,” she says. “I feel like that basically allows more discussion around topics. If you’re constantly saying the same things but worded a little differently or with different inflection, you’re not really changing story.”
She clarifies that she doesn’t mean to describe this difference in a condescending way, as if one is better than the other, because both are valuable in their own ways. But the questions, often coming from women, can change the discussion.
“I think it actually leads to progressing things faster,” Cornelson says. “There’s a way that allows everyone to feel that they’re participating in the conversation instead of just the default repetition.”
But this is a topic – male compared to female leadership – that Cornelson says she has only recently begun addressing. Ultimately, workplace progress and communication is about driving action, and without clarity around a group’s dynamic, challenges can come up no matter what.
Cornelson was hired recently in August 2017, joining Main Street Hub after working in engineering leadership positions for user-generated content marketing company BazaarVoice for almost six years. Ouyang says she had her eye on Cornelson for the past two years, knowing she was a good fit for Main Street Hub but waiting for the timing to be right.
Ouyang also says that the male versus female leadership is not the focus, and should not be the focus.
“In my entire career, I had never really thought about this topic all that much,” she says. “If anything at all, in any kind of group setting, I was more intimidated by being a foreigner ESL person, English isn’t my first language, than by being the only female on the team. I actually don’t notice it at all.”
Having a diverse leadership team covers a wide spectrum of perspectives, she says, but that’s not female versus male at all. The goal is the focus and it depends on what problem needs to be solved.
“The way I think about it is when you form a leader team, leadership is leadership is leadership,” Ouyang says. “It’s all about well-roundedness. It’s about the strengths of every person on the team. If they all have the same strengths, it not going to be a well-rounded team that can easily solve that problem.”
Having a diverse group of people can create a team that complements each other, and Ouyang says that the feedback she gets from her team shows their satisfaction.
“The team and people they work with is what keeps them coming to work every day,” she says. “We do spend a lot of effort with hiring, and recruiting is really important to us.”
The other thing she hears is that employees appreciate the impact they’re making.
“A lot of our employees’ parents own small businesses, so they inherently understand what we’re trying to do and they can get behind the mission,” she says. “We just reached 10,000 customers, and everyone felt empowered. They can really feel the direct impact that they’re making.”
The company does use customary benefits like giving employees pay increases and promotions, but they adopted a new tactic about three years ago, Ouyang says: the Main Street Fighter award. (The name is coincidentally similar to Street Fight, she says, but it isn’t related.)
“The Main Street Fighter award is different,” she says. “It’s rewarding specific behavior. Something you did where you went out of your way, something that set a great example for how we want our company to work. It’s really on the spot when we recognize that someone has done something extraordinary.”
Five employees have received the award in the last three years, with the most recent recipient being a member of the front end development team. For months, Ouyang says, the team had been discussing the need for a pattern library – a collection of user interface design elements that is often used to do things faster and more consistently.
“The discussion had been, ‘Can we take a quarter to do nothing but implement this pattern library?’” Ouyang says. “But we’re a small engineering team and we really can’t afford to not do anything on the front end for a full quarter. So how do we make this happen? This engineer took it upon himself, he thought, ‘We really have to do something, it’s not realistic to wait until all the conditions are perfect to make this happen.’”
The senior software engineer, Steven Rapp, decided to start with step one: define exactly what the team wanted this pattern library to be. He aligned all the ideas from the product and design teams, and proposed a solution.
“It became tangible,” Ouyang says. “Because of his proactiveness to kick off the process, he basically primed the idea and we got it done in a quarter while delivering everything else. And having that pattern library has made our product development so much faster.”
April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.