Hey there, I’m Francesca Marano, the Director of Engineering (Learning & Growth) at XWP, and today I want to share with you some insights from some of our fabulous women and non-binary folx here at XWP on their experiences in WordPress.
But first, let me give you a little background on myself. I co-led the release of WordPress.org versions 5.3, 5.4, and 6.2, and I’ve been actively involved in the WordPress community for years. I’m also the proud founder of C+B, a blog that has supported countless Italian creative female entrepreneurs.
Let’s dive into the exciting world of WordPress and the experiences of some incredible women and non-binary folx at XWP.
Inspiration from WordCamp Europe:
At WordCamp Europe 2023, I had the pleasure of hosting a panel discussion titled “Women and Non-Binary Folx of WordPress.” with Yoast’s Chaya Oosterbroek, Automattic’s Thelma Mutete and Anne McCarthy, Extendify’s Jessica Lyschik and Level Level’s Rian Rietveld. The aim was to bring together a diverse group of individuals for an honest conversation about underrepresented folx in the WordPress open-source project.
The panelists shared their achievements, struggles, and advice for those starting out to a packed out room of people. This inspiring session made me realize that we have a wealth of untapped knowledge within our own XWP community. So, I decided to pose the same questions to some of the brilliant women and non-binary folx right here at XWP. Let’s hear what they have to say!
Introducing the XWP Panel:
Hi! I’m Shelby, my pronouns are She/Her and I’m based in Texas, in the USA. I’m a QA Ninja (can that be my official title, please?) But, honestly: Quality Assurance.
I first used WordPress in early 2000’s, as I was a young, aspiring web developer, and I was reintroduced to WordPress in 2022 when I joined XWP. In the role of QA, I touch every aspect of WordPresses functionality.
Hello, I’m Mika. My pronouns are She/Her (but I will answer to They/Them). I’m from Southern California and I started working with WordPress around 16 years ago with WordPress 1.5—I wanted to manage a website more easily than editing HTML (or SHTML) at the time. Since then, it sort of skyrocketed. At XWP I develop and write awesome code for making websites beautiful and functional.
Hey, I’m Danielle! My pronouns are She/Her and I live in San Luis Obispo, California, USA. I’ve been using WordPress professionally in each one of my jobs since graduating college in 2010. In 2011, I was publishing quarterly magazines online for the University of San Diego. Throughout the decade I designed WordPress sites for Stanford University and managed these sites as evolving products.
Zdrasti! My name is Ana, my pronouns are She/Her and I live in Ruse, Bulgaria. I started working with WordPress when I began working with XWP—exactly 2 years ago (summer of ‘21). Before that I didn’t know much about WordPress—I only knew that it was a platform to build websites, but over the past 2 years I’ve learned a lot.
Although I don’t directly work for, or with WordPress, I still feel part of the community. I’ve now been to 2 WordCamps and I’m always positively impacted and excited by the spirit of the community.
Hola! I’m Ivana, I live in Ciudad de la Costa, Canelones, Uruguay, and my pronouns are She/Her. I’ve been using WordPress since I joined XWP a little bit over 2 years ago, and I’m now the Principal Product Owner. I work with the clients to understand their goals, translate to the dev teams and try to find the best solutions to better fit those needs.
Mary (JJ) Jay
Hi! My name is Mary (JJ) Jay, and I live in London, United Kingdom. My pronouns are She/Her and I’m a Lead WordPress Engineer here at XWP.
I started using WordPress for work in 2008 or so—everything is so long ago, I can’t quite remember. The first time I heard of WordPress was when the startup I worked for used multisite for user blogs. This was mid 2000s and I was warned away by the lead engineer 😁 (This was pre merge into core).
Have you had any mentors in your career? What role have they played? Have you been a mentor to others?
Shelby: I have had two amazing mentors in the dressage industry. Women who have taught me how to value and grow my skills, find clients who value what I bring to the table, be realistic about what I have to offer, and how to remain ethical in the face of adversity.
My mentors showed me how important it is to build connections, to nurture your network, and to support others around you. In turn, I’ve done my best to pass that on to others I’ve encountered, especially young women.
I’ve had many wonderful mentors throughout my career. Most have been mentors in business, design and professional development. Others have been previous managers who have supported my trajectory and helped me pivot from design to product management. They encouraged me and provided me with opportunities to learn and grow my skills, mindset and confidence.
Danielle Steussy, Senior Product Owner @ XWP
Mika: My experience has been a little different. I’ve had one mentor, back when I worked at a bank, but really that was it. Most of my career has been chucked into the fire and told to swim—but I feel like I excel there most of the time.
Ivana: No, I also haven’t had any mentors in my career. As part of my principal product owner, I do mentor other product owners in different areas related to the product discipline, though.
I’ve been fortunate to have a number of mentors through XWP. Tammie Lister introduced me to UX and recommended some amazing books and resources. Our Principal Designer Dawid Młynarz mentors me through 1:1 meetings where he is helping improve my skills and creativity in UI and web design, and Rohan Mohana and Lukasz Krzemiński (who are also on the design team) regularly help with feedback and shared learning.
Ana Stoyanova, Graphic Designer @ XWP
JJ: Early on, pre WordPress, the lead engineer at the startup I worked for supported me and gave me pretty free rein to try and fix things. I usually broke them in the process of course. However, I haven’t mentored anyone.
Being part of an underrepresented group, have you found any struggles in your job or the WordPress community?
JJ: I have often noticed that people who don’t know me don’t take me seriously. I’ve had the common experience of someone talking about technical things at conferences to the guy I’m with and ignoring me, but being able to say “I’m in engineering at XWP” has made this easier.
Danielle: Prior to XWP, I worked in higher education whose staff skews female. That completely flipped when I came to XWP, and I now work with teams where I may be the only female on a project. They’ve been extremely different work environments with completely different cultures though, so it’s hard to point to gender-balance as a differentiating factor.
Shelby: I know that I personally experienced pay inequality in a company I used to work for, being paid much less than my male peers. In my past experiences, it was very common to be the only woman in a meeting, or the only woman on a project.
I’ve heard the ‘locker room talk’ in meetings, I’ve heard other women being referred to as ‘shrews’ and ‘nags’ in meetings. When I was younger, I didn’t know how to handle that, and tried to ‘play it cool’ and fit in as ‘one of the boys’. As I gained more experience, perspective, and confidence, I have called those conversations out as unnecessary and inappropriate in a calm, but very clear and direct way.
Shelby Blades, Senior Quality Analyst @ XWP
Mika: In WordPress… I get a LOT more harassment and abuse than men do in my position. The early part of my career with OpenSource, I was relatively anonymous and people assumed I was a man. As soon as I ‘came out’ as a woman, a lot of relationships in tech changed and more people started to demand to speak to the MAN IN CHARGE.
In my job-life, pre WordPress I was once told I’d never excel if I didn’t wear a skirt and makeup—that was by someone at a major tech company. I never did either.
Ivana: My experience has been a little bit different. I have never struggled to find a job in the tech industry and I don’t feel that being a woman made any difference. Through university and my different roles in tech companies, I had many cases in which I was the only woman or part of a small group, I don’t feel that there was any difference because of this.
However, I feel that being Latin-American added an extra bit of difficulty to access certain roles in companies outside the region.
Ana: I’m also lucky in the respect that I haven’t experienced any gender-based issues in tech so far.
What has been, so far, your biggest achievement in the tech industry?
JJ: This is going to seem like such a small thing but on a personal level, I’m so proud of myself for standing my ground at the first (?) Day of Rest in London and making sure Gravatars didn’t get automatically added to the REST API if a site has opted to not use them.
Cleaning up the plugin guidelines. They were incredibly vague and hard to enforce, but I did manage to rewrite them and get them understandable by more people. Just having the part where you HAVE to document what external services you use is a really big moment.
Mika Epstein, Lead WordPress Engineer @ XWP
Shelby: I am, by my nature, a helper. I find a lot of satisfaction in helping others. QA is a great fit for me because I am augmenting the accomplishments of others, while simultaneously ensuring that the finished product will delight the end user, thereby improving their experience. My greatest achievement isn’t defined by one particular accomplishment or accolade, but instead by the clarity of purpose, plan, and process that I strive to bring to each project I work on.
Danielle: I’m most proud of the clients and organizations that I’ve supported and influenced with design and product management, particularly the non-profits, universities and smaller publishers.
For me, it’s working at XWP, a globally distributed company, where each I day I get to connect with the best talent and support amazing clients. It gives me the opportunity to contribute to the development of the product discipline inside XWP, and mentor others.
Ivana Gruszka, Principal Product Owner @ XWP
Ana: I completely agree with Ivana, for me it’s working with a company like XWP where I get to learn, grow and befriend some amazing people.
What advice would you give to other underrepresented folx who want to get involved in the community or tech in general?
Shelby: Channel your inner Nike, and Just Do It. Do it with intention, integrity, passion, and joy. Remember to invest in your own knowledge acquisition. Remember to connect to the like minded individuals you encounter. Build your network. Believe in the value you bring to companies, projects, and teams. Understand that everyone comes from a different perspective, and while you don’t have to all agree, it’s absolutely appropriate to set healthy boundaries on what kind of treatment you’ll accept from others.
Ana: Don’t stop learning and improving your skills. Giving and receiving feedback is SO important.
Learn more about how we promote and encourage feedback at XWP in Why I Joined XWP (And How We Do Things Differently!) by our Lead People Advocate Aline Andres
Mika: It’s hard. I won’t lie. Yes, it gets better, but it does so SLOWLY. It’s constantly running into glass walls you didn’t expect, and it’s tiring, but it DOES, slowly, get better. Find the people who are like you and stick with them for support. But it’s hard, and it’s not just you who struggles. Don’t feel alone.
There’s so much advice and even if most of it is given in good faith, only a small amount will be relevant to who you are and what you can do. I personally find it helps to be more deliberate in trying out different things and trying to consciously build on what works for me and discarding what doesn’t. It’s not a failure if someone else’s advice doesn’t work for me, I note it and move on.
Mary (JJ) Jay, Lead WordPress Engineer @ XWP
Danielle: If it’s earlier in your career and you have the ability to, find people who need help and who you can help with your skills. Barter, trade or give your time for the experience and portfolio-building. Advocate for yourself and be persistent about it, even with the little things. Celebrate (and document) your wins and reflect sincerely (but not for too long) on your failures.
Ivana: Make learning a part of your routine, build a backlog of the things you want/need to improve and work on those things.
Conclusion from Francesca
Hosting the panel in Athens, and hosting the panel for this post have been a gift to me. I am honored to be able to bring stories of traditionally underrepresented groups in tech to a broader audience—and you can do it too!
Everyone has a story to tell and collectively, as an industry, we can uplift each other by sponsoring diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at every level. You got it. We got it! ❤️