The Inclusive Code Podcast - Episode 4: Continental Cultures, Women in Leadership and the Power of Speaking Up

In this instalment of the Inclusive Code Podcast, we were joined by the brilliant Angeley Mullins

Angeley is the Chief Commercial Officer for Resourcify and has a tremendous amount of experience in leadership roles across the world, making her the perfect guest for delving into what makes work cultures tick and, more importantly, how companies can create environments that support inclusivity and diversity.

Throughout the episode, she helped us unpack some crucial topics, including the difference in work cultures across continents, why we see fewer women in leadership positions in tech, and how speaking up for yourself can make all the difference in your professional career.

To read the article that Angeley references in the episode, click here.

To listen to the full episode, click here or the preview below.

What has led you here today? Do you want to share a little bit about your journey?

A - Sure. So you know I'm in Berlin, but my accent, you can probably tell, is not German. I actually come from California. I started out my career in sales and in the finance arena and then grew out of that and then got my first role in tech at Amazon doing marketing and going to market and then sales again and then full divisions and then decided to move to Australia. So I've been to many different countries. I was in Melbourne before working for a scale-up, and now I'm in Germany, and this is my second scale-up.

I'm currently the Chief Commercial Officer at Resourcify. We do digital waste management, recycling, sustainability, and circularity. So, I’ve gone up through the ranks in many different divisions and am super happy to be here. It's been a long road, but it's a very good road.

OH - Yeah, wow. You've been all over the world.

A - Definitely many different countries, and I have lived in many different countries as well. So, that's a great perspective.

Has there been a pivotal point that has led you to focus more on DEI and women in tech?

A - A lot of things. So firstly, just my personal experience, you know, going through different tech companies and myself coming from California, you're always taught you can be anything as a woman, you can be anything you want, you can do anything you want, and then you get into the real world. And then you see that things are not always what you're told. And you run into certain situations, and you're thinking, you know, the year now, working in 2024, but you're thinking, okay, at this point in time, at this stage of human evolution, we're still dealing with these topics, this, these things are still happening. 

Or if I go to a panel or even if I go to a meet-up and meet younger women who are coming up through the ranks. And I say give me your challenges, and the challenges that they're talking about are still the ones that I had when I was at their stage. And I'm thinking, what has changed? So for me, every woman in leadership, every woman, even if you're not in leadership, just have your voice start speaking out. The only way we can overcome these challenges is if we're open and honest about them. If we talk about them, that's really the key. So, this is really what has piqued my interest.

What would you say are some of the main differences between men and women, especially in leadership in sales and tech? 

A - You know, one of the biggest ones, and I wrote an article about this: Women are perceived as having to be super soft, while men are perceived as being aggressive. If you're a woman in leadership, especially in senior leadership, and you are strong and capable, intelligent, and assertive, then that gets turned under the label of aggressive or pushy, or you know any of these words that have stigmas around them.

If you're a man and you do the same thing, it's that you're strong, you're so powerful, and you are a confident leader. There are these different perceptions. Likewise, the same thing happens with men and women on the reverse. If you're a man and you're in senior leadership and you are soft and caring, "Oh, he's weak". And if you're a woman and you're soft and caring, ohh, my gosh, she doesn't know the word incompetent, you know, starts coming up. There's a lot of these double standards that happen. 

I think what we really need to understand is the skills and capabilities of a leader. What is the personality of a leader, and how do you utilise those strengths in a well-formed leadership team? Everybody is different. The idea is for people to come together and take their strengths and put them together. It's not for everyone to be a carbon copy of one another. So huge differences.

OH - Yeah, 100%. I feel like there’s such a benefit in bringing so many different types of people together. Because it's not just you. You don't see black and white; you actually start to see so many different things that could be changed. People bring in more creative ideas, and I think that's something I see as well. It really needs to change in terms of the people that we mainly put into leadership as well as the kind of people that we set as an example for what could actually happen. Or allowing other people to, like you say, speak up and actually listen to their ideas and what they have to share.

What do you think about women in tech and how that's changing, do you think things are actually changing?

A - Complicated question. So, I would say women in tech have a long way to go. Tech is still dominated by men, especially at the senior levels. If you look at the founders, if you look at boards, it's still primarily men. I would say 90% men. If you have a question about that, just go to TechCrunch and look at all of the pictures of all the money that's being raised.

It's usually, and we have jokes about this: two guys on the bench, three guys against a wall. You can basically see those photographs, and kudos to them for doing their business and raising money. I don't want to discount the hard work that they do because it is hard. But at the same time, we need diversity in all aspects. So we need diversity basically in venture capital and private equity so that there is diversity of thought on who to give money to. 

We need diversity at the C level and the founder levels. We need to encourage more women to start and run businesses and then diversity at the C level and senior leadership within companies. When you're younger and you're coming up through the ranks, you're always looking at, OK, what are the options for yourself? What could I do? Who are the mentors, the people that I can learn from? And if it's too homogenised, then it automatically excludes people. 

And so there was a great thing. I always think of things in movies and television shows. So, apologies to those who are not telly watchers, but there's a great show from the States called Scandal if you've ever seen it. And the main character, Olivia Pope, is this person in the White House, you know, kind of fix-it woman. And at the very, very end, they kind of did the mimic of what they did with Michelle Obama. And they put her in this really beautiful picture. And they're basically up on the wall. I think it was a museum. And there's this great scene of this little girl coming into the museum, looking up at the picture, thinking, wow, I could be this person, too, like opening up the eyes of opportunity. 

And I think that's what needs to happen in tech. We just need to have diversity. Diversity of gender, race, where people come from, their thinking styles, ideas, and the countries they come from. And I think if we can do our best to do that, then we'll have a well-rounded, you know, situation in tech. 

The theme a couple of years ago was we can't find female leaders. We've all heard that. And I just completely disagree. You know, are you looking for them? That is the question. Are you open to the differences of thought and opinion that it takes? There are a couple of interesting statistics that female leaders do get hired into organisations, but they actually leave faster or quicker because they feel like those organisations aren't supporting them. We need to make sure that we not only hire senior female leaders but also support them along the way and that they have a voice.

So, this is a long-winded answer, but it is very important.

OH - No, absolutely. Absolutely. I feel the word cultural fit kind of comes up in my head a lot because it's something that I've been thinking about a lot in terms of that. What can happen very often is we just expect anyone to adapt to the culture that's already there, instead of trying to adapt the culture to the new people that are joining and trying to adapt around them, but also as a person allowing them to find their place where they're just started.

Do you think work cultures can evolve with the addition of new people?

A - It's a tough one. Culture is like a living organism that grows and adapts as companies grow. It's not just a set culture like you think of a seed company, and as it grows through the scaling stages, there are many books and articles about how cultures adapt and how companies adapt at each stage. People have to be willing to open their eyes to the things that need to change in the culture to get where they want to go, as well as the things that need to change in a culture so that they can become more well-rounded.

It's much harder to do it than one might think because, as humans, individual human beings, people don't like change. And it's the really ironic thing because everybody talks in a business sense. We have to make these changes, you know. But when it comes down to actually doing it, it's amazing how much humans and human nature don't want to change. So the best thing that you can do is talk about it, be open, recognise it, and just have as many discussions as you can to help people understand by going through those cultural changes. It's a win-win for everyone.

That's the biggest thing is people think it's, you know, "Oh my gosh, what's going to happen to me? What's going to go on?" But it's actually, you're going to grow and learn and evolve through the process. We see those quotes flying around on LinkedIn all the time; it's only when you feel uncomfortable that you know that the change is happening. If you're too comfortable, you know, nothing's changing.

OH - Yeah, it's like that collective comfort zone. It's a workplace comfort zone that we need to break through and challenge.

Have you noticed significant differences in work cultures across countries and continents?

A - So many things. Communication styles, work habits and work styles, and decision-making. So I would say in the United States, it's very fast and quick decision-making with very hard driving type of work styles. They don't have as much guilt or shame around taking risks or even failing. They don't. They're not as process-oriented.

Here in Europe, especially in Germany, where I'm at. It's just it's a different culture, and it's a different model where there seems to be more of a risk aversion, which, I would say, is an impediment to scale-ups to grow and thrive because there are so many rules and regulations. From a cultural perspective, a lot of the founders that I meet are just afraid to fail because, culturally, inherently, in Germany, there's this fear of failure. The thinking gets changed into the risks that need to be taken and the decisions that need to be taken for companies to scale and grow. 

However, for people in the United States, if you fail, that's OK. And so it's just a different cultural aspect.

I would say European companies tend to be more process-oriented, especially in Germany. In certain circumstances, that could be fantastic, but in others, where you need to be nimble and move fast, it may be questionable. So it all depends on the situation that you're in as well. Australia, as an example, is super laid back, super friendly people, really, really great. There have been some great startups that have come out of Australia; Canva is one from Sydney. So if you've used that software coming out of Australia and then you've used Jira, Atlassian, they're big juggernauts now. 

Huge companies are coming out of Australia, but in the actual startup scene, the smaller companies, I think, struggle in Australia just because they're not as quick, not as nimble, and not as fast-paced. Europe is getting to be a little bit better, and especially with a lot of expats coming into Europe now, it's starting to change that culture, and it's becoming more of a, I would say, a melting pot of diverse thinking. But yeah, with culture, communication, work ethic, work style, and pace, you can see the differences everywhere.

What do you think is one of the main driving factors in terms of decision-making?

A - There's always a financial factor, but this comes down to the individual ethos of the company. And I wouldn't necessarily say it's a cultural aspect between different continents or countries because I've seen it happen in many different ways in many different regions of the world. However, each company has an ethos, and that starts with the founder and it trickles all the way down through the company. And then some companies, they're going to say, no, we have a set structure, and they have to go into salary band, and that's it. And there are no exceptions. That's one way. Another way, like you mentioned, is, "Hey, we have a really great candidate. We're going to make exceptions, or we're going to pay more to get the best candidates." And so some companies decide we're going to have fewer people but super high calibre talented people that will outperform.

Some other companies decide that no, we want to stretch our euro or our dollar, whatever currency you're in. And so they're going to have as many headcounts as possible that they can get for that money. Maybe that headcount is more junior, and it's an interesting philosophy on what wins out. My personal opinion is that higher calibre talent that knows what they're doing usually will outperform the other option. 

But it's a blanket statement, and it really needs to be applied, I would say, carefully depending on the situation of the company, but certainly it. But that just really goes to the company ethos. And as a founder, if you're running a company, you have to make that decision. What kind of founder are you going to be? What's the, you know, the ethos of the company that you're going to set and what's important? And I think you can probably see right across many different companies on many different continents; it’s different everywhere.

Have you noticed the adversities in the workplace that people have had to overcome? Are they very different in Europe or the US? Do you notice a collective pattern there?

A -  The sad thing that I have to say is what I've witnessed; I would say about 85% of it is exactly the same, which proves that, as humans, we have a long way to go. I would say that one of the shining areas and silver linings actually has to do with maternity and paternity leave. In Europe, especially Germany, and I would also say in the Nordics, there's a huge focus on this topic.

And many people get a year, two years, three years, you know, even more, I guess, if you stretch it, depending on which country you're at, where my home country, the United States, I still think they're on 12 weeks of unpaid leave, which is just absolutely insane from my perspective. So yes, that's the only shining star that I would say. But outside of that, the majority of things, especially that women struggle with and people that come from diverse backgrounds. 

For example, having a voice, having a seat at the table if you're a female leader, and making sure that your voice carries the same weight and authority that a man's voice does. Make sure that you are considered as serious. Having the perception situation, if you're too kind and nice and soft, how you're perceived versus if you're strong and confident, how you're perceived. All those things seem to be pretty similar. Unfortunately, doesn't matter what continent you're on.

OH - Sadly, I didn't really imagine it to be to be any other way. 

It's interesting because you were talking about how I had a memory, if you don't mind me sharing it. When I used to be a waitress I remember specifically, and this was a huge trigger point for me. It was Halloween, and I had to work with this guy at the bar who I didn't like, and he didn't like me either. He always had this big attitude about him, and he thought he was going to be the manager of the restaurant very soon because he was working so hard. But he was also really aggressive towards all the women working there. So it was it was a little bit of a weird atmosphere. 

But I remember, I can't remember why, but he just shouted at me in front of everyone and said you would never, ever, ever be able to run a restaurant. You would never be able to run any business. And I got so angry. I'm an angry crier. So, I just burst into tears. But I was so angry because I knew that was not true. I know that I can do that. And when someone says that to you, especially as a woman, and I was 18 or 19 at the time, it just really, really annoyed me.

I think that was demotivating at the time, but at the same time, it also lit a fire under me. Because I do, I run a little side business where I host safe spaces for people in Manchester. I remember when I first started that, like 4 1/2 years ago, I remember having this memory again, which I hadn't had in a while. And I just thought to myself, no, I'm perfectly capable of doing this. And it's just very interesting just how we can choose to turn that into a fire. But also, sometimes, it doesn't really work like that either.

A - Yeah, I mean, thank you for sharing that, especially for whoever is going to be listening to this podcast. I'm sure people have gone through similar situations in life and business. You know, the one thing I always try to express is that your words have power. People's words have power, and you can use that power with your words to lift people up or to tear people down. 

So, in your particular situation, as you've explained it, what he said, and any listeners if that's happened to you as well, if somebody says something like that to you, that has more to do with them and their situation and how they're feeling and they're insecurities than it has to do with you. They're just projecting that onto you. 

But as you said, you can choose how to respond and react. Some people use that as the switch to say no, they're going to buckle down, and I'm going to achieve my goals. But unfortunately, not everybody's like that. They're not at that same place or stage or mental space in life. And sometimes, that can shut people down as well. And it's really unfortunate to see. 

So that's why I always say words have power, so really be careful with your words. It's very important. None of us are perfect,

We're human, but if you at least try to have the consideration and the care for individuals, you're at least going to try your best. And I think there's that other famous quote: people won't remember exactly what you said, but they're always going to remember how you made them feel. So it's really this that's important. Even if you can't get the right words to express it, if people understand that your intentions are good and you really care about them and you're trying to help them, they will remember that.

What do we need from leadership teams moving forward?

This is why we need diversity in leadership and diversity of thought. But it's also another leadership topic about having empathy and leadership. It kind of brings up this whole new genre of what leadership is and what it means. When I first started out in business and in tech as well, leadership was all about dominance and authority. And you have to tell people what to do, and you always have to be right, you know, and the person who has the top job, it's because they're the smartest ones in the room, and they always are right. 

To me, that's completely wrong. That's not if you have a technical expert; that's maybe where that role should lie. But when you get into senior levels of leadership, it's about mobilising people and how you handle organisational structures. How do you work with people? How can you try to work with people who even have opinions that are opposite of yours? This is very difficult. And I think you need empathy; you need to be caring in order to do this. 

It's a really important skill to have, and I think it's one that we need to start over-indexing on now. I think we need to get away from this dominance, and we need to get more into understanding and communicating.

OH - 100%. Absolutely. I remember I actually had this conversation with a friend of mine yesterday about having a more international team, for example, if you communicate with them and check out what their needs actually are. What if they want to pop home for a week? What if they want to see their family abroad for a little bit? 

She told me that they had this woman join, and she wanted to go see her family, who was in the exact same time zone, but she refused to work from there. She would have had to take annual leave. So she left the company because they obviously didn't adjust to her needs. If you have family abroad like us, I feel like it sometimes can be quite important to just allow that little bit of flexibility to make your people feel heard and welcome in the company. Because, like you say, you need to communicate that and adjust yourself a little bit, adjust the culture. 

You can't just expect everyone to take the few days off that they have to go see their family when they could just have dinner with them for two weeks and feel a little bit more at ease because they have actually seen them throughout the year.

How the world of work is changing.

A - Especially with this era of remote work that we're in, I think the one thing that the pandemic taught us is that you don't necessarily have to be in an office. Now, I know if there are certain companies out there that are making rules that they want to drag people back into the office. So I know this is a hot topic, but I've always been thinking that if people can do their work and achieve results, then that's really what matters. Working together, it's great to see people in person, but sometimes you need that space. 

I think everybody's different. So, having flexibility, which is what you pointed out, is important.

OH - Just allowing your employees to live a little bit. And if you need to be home for a little bit or if you need that little break so that you enjoy your time in the office a little bit more, that's also OK. As you said, I think it's not really an excuse anymore because we've seen COVID work. We've seen it proven to work and even improve some people's lives. 

I know some people have different preferences, which is fine, but for a lot of people, it did wonders, and I mean for myself included. So it is quite nice to have that option and to kind of adapt again. It's I guess it's like it ties in with the cultural and cultural kind of flexibility and different companies.

A - Yeah. And it's it's really interesting. I know that for some, the role can never be totally remote. So there are different roles, but if you are lucky enough to have a role that can be remote, you know, try to have the flexibility that you can. Remote companies have more flexibility, which is kind of inherent in the policies. So I would just say look for companies that fit your lifestyle and what you're looking for. Just do your best. And I think now you're seeing kind of, I think it was like 2 years ago, it was the great resignation. 

I think they have; they make different terms for it. But people are really now taking more of this approach to work, and their working style and location are a lot more serious than they once were.

OH - Absolutely. I feel like there's so much more self-awareness as well about where we feel good and where we might want to want to be and all of that. 

Do you feel like there are any actions that people who are listening could take today to start to make a difference?

A - Speak up. I think that's the biggest and most powerful thing that people can do. So, a lot of times, action is not taken in a company because people are not voicing their opinions or because they feel like they don't have a voice. They feel like the culture is set in a particular way, and there's nothing that they can do. So that also is kind of a self-perpetuating situation because it doesn't create an open, inclusive environment to hire more people who may come from diverse backgrounds and feel they don't have a voice. 

So speak up. If you see something, just ask a question. "Hey, is it possible for us to do this?" or "Hey, you know, in the country that I come from, this is how it's done. What do you guys think?"

Just open up those communication lines, and I think what you'll find is at least what I found from travelling. Yes, we come from different countries, and you have different languages and different foods and all of that. But at the heart, people actually have a lot more in common than they have differences. 

So there is common ground to be had people want. If you're working in a company, you hopefully have the same goals to progress. People tend to like to work together. Most humans are, I would say, pack animals. They like to work together. They like to be in work groups. They want to have those connections. I found in my current company, my previous one, people become lifelong friends, people, you know, who you would normally think, "Oh my gosh, I wouldn't even know how to talk to this person." And now you're talking to people from different cultures and different ideas. It can really create some wonderful things.

The power of speaking up.

OH - Wow. Yeah. No, it's interesting. I feel like sometimes we can be a bit unaware that we can just speak up. 

Something that popped into my mind: I'll hear people complain about something, but why don't we just actually talk to the people that this is relevant to, and we can actually open up the conversation rather than stew? Just sit in it and complain about it rather than just raise it and talk about it in order to actually provoke some change.

A - That's the only way changes ever happened, right? If people speak up. So, to all the listeners, if they are in doubt, speak up.

OH -100%. Yeah, I mean, sometimes it's easier said than done

A - True. But you have to start right somewhere. So yeah, speak up. 

Has there been anything throughout your career that you were really grateful to speak up for?

A - I've had to speak up multiple times to defend myself on projects, etc. To defend others who felt like they didn't have a voice. Speaking up for the company's direction and where the company should go, fighting to have a seat at the table.

Fighting to be heard and given equal seriousness and weight, so to speak, as others. So it's a muscle. If you constantly use it, it becomes easier. But in those early days and early years, people are afraid of doing it. They think, partly due to imposter syndrome, especially with women, do I have anything to say? Does it matter? Do people want to listen? Yes, they do. They answered all of those questions with a yes. So it's a muscle. You have to use it. 

Start practising. Use it early. Not every opinion you're going to have is going to be the world's smartest thing. Not every single thing is going to be perfect. And that's OK.

OH - Well, everything that you're saying is resonating with me so much. We tell ourselves so many different things. But one of the most common thoughts that I've noticed over the last few months is, who am I to be doing this? And it's so crazy how it just kind of pops up. It just subconsciously appears, and at some point, you notice it, and you're like, oh, actually, I'm telling myself this story, and I kind of need to change that narrative a little bit because I'm actually preventing myself from speaking up about things and doing things that I would actually love to do.

A - You know, it's the interesting thing. Most people are not afraid of failure. Most people are afraid of success. 

They're afraid of what will happen if I achieve this. What will happen if I do this? And more quotes are flying around LinkedIn. But you know, what would you do if you weren’t afraid? So it's really about overcoming the fears. And they can be real fears in your company, whatever might be happening. Or it could be just imaginary fears in your own mind; it's overcoming those fears that lead people to growth and success. 

And again, if you feel uncomfortable, that's great because that means that you're growing. If you feel too comfortable, that's actually not so great because that means that you have that word called stagnation happening. And that's not what we want.

OH - Yeah, predictability. We don't want predictability,

Is there anything else you'd like to add before we wrap up?

A - I would just say to all the listeners, do the inner work and do the self-work; the only person that you can control is yourself. If you do the inner work and the self-work, you're going to go a long way. 

I would say that the challenges that people face in business are because they haven't done the inner work on themselves. They think it's about a project. I promise you it's not. It's about all the people that are working on it and how they're working together. That's usually 80%, 90% of the situation. So, if you want to grow into leadership, or if you're already at a leadership level and you want to keep advancing, it's the inner work. 

A lot of people ask me what my favourite book is. You know, what's the best technique and what's the best seminar? And although there are very good books and techniques like seminars, these things change. If you and I were to do this podcast a year later, there would be a new book, a new technique and a new seminar. So what I always say to people is do the inner work. It's the one thing that you will need in business, especially at a senior leadership level. But it's also the one thing they don't teach you in Business School.

A lot of the business books, all the best-selling books, don't talk about this. They say to do this process, and you will, you know, magically be successful, right? Or you know they're trying to sell their books, which is good for them. But it's more about, in my mind, in my experience, that inner work. And that's the one thing that you will be advancing yourself. The more you learn about yourself, the more you learn about how you relate to others, and the more you can be aware and gain self-awareness. These are the traits that I think are most powerful in leadership.

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27th March