Breaking Into Tech
My Advice for Girls
Being a transformative leader means having a unique perspective. That’s how Minette Norman—a liberal arts major with no engineering background—became a high-powered female executive in the male-dominated tech industry. As the former VP of Engineering at Autodesk, Norman led a team of 3,500 software professionals and transformed the company culture from the inside out. Today, she draws on her experience to demonstrate the power of radical empathy and diverse teams to demolish silos, unlock creativity, and inspire a culture of collaboration.
As the former VP of Engineering Practice, Minette Norman directed collaboration at Autodesk, helping world-renowned engineers overcome silos and work together on common solutions. Norman—who holds degrees in Drama and French, not Engineering—was also serving in a position traditionally held by men. For some, this may have been an insurmountable challenge, but for Norman, having a different perspective was an essential part of her success. While influencing more than 3,500 software professionals, she spearheaded what she calls ‘radical collaboration’—initiatives that reward engineers who contribute to each other’s designs and tests. Today, she draws on deep personal experience to describe what makes a rewarding workplace; how greater diversity in all industries means innovative solutions; and how the liberal arts and emotional intelligence can transform technical, male-dominated fields.
Previously, she gained international attention by transforming Autodesk’s localization team through best-in-class automation and machine translation. And before joining Autodesk, she held a variety of technical communication and management positions at companies including Symantec and Adobe. Named one of the ‘Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business’ by the San Francisco Business Times, Business Role Model of the Year’ by the Women in IT Awards Silicon Valley, Norman is a recognized industry expert with a unique perspective. She often speaks at international conferences where she is asked to share her thoughts on engineering practices, culture, and behavior.
Norman has a broad approach to community service, working with local, national and international charities. She serves on the Board of Directors of D-Rev, a non-profit devoted to developing medical technologies for impoverished and vulnerable populations worldwide. She also works with GirlsWhoCode and YesWeCode, national organizations that help women and under-represented populations succeed in the technology sector. Norman holds degrees in both drama and French from Tufts University, and studied at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris.
While diversity is top of mind in the corporate world, too often inclusion and belonging are afterthoughts. It is only through creating inclusive workplaces that we can attract and retain a diverse workforce and find greater success, vibrancy, and innovation.
In this keynote, Norman shares examples of how underrepresented groups experience work. Drawing on thirty years of real-life experience as a woman in the male dominated software industry, she brings the topic of diversity and inclusion to life, inviting her audience to reflect on their own experiences. Sharing research on unconscious bias, cognitive diversity, and diversity as a driver of innovation, Minette Norman takes her audience on a journey, asking everyone to be open-minded and curious about others’ differences. Minette makes it clear that we should not shy away from the topic of diversity and inclusion—even when we are uncomfortable—instead, let’s dive in and embrace all the wonderful, complicated, and fascinating diversity around us.
No company today can succeed without empathy at the core of its business strategy. But empathy isn’t just about compassion and consideration for customers. For an inclusive, transformative culture to thrive, organizations need to ensure that all employees feel valued, heard, and appreciated. And that takes work.
In this keynote, Minette Norman outlines her approach to ‘radical empathy’: a leadership plan that embraces the challenges of 21st century business and upends outdated mindsets about work. She asks audiences to see vulnerability, emotion, and compassion as strengths—even, or especially, in male-dominated, tech-based industries. Challenging the premise that women must “lean in” with emotional detachment to be successful, she explores how an embrace of vulnerability and empathy can break—and re-write—the rules of business for everyone, men and women included. With reference to personal challenges she’s overcome in her own career, Norman helps us abandon ‘us vs. them’ mentalities, engage in active listening, and make time for the challenging conversations we’ve been putting off. Ultimately, this is a talk for leaders to feel empowered and take action—and embrace a mode of leadership that’s backed by science, economics, and the human heart.
We spend so many of our waking hours at work. So why not make it the best place it can be—an arena of meaningful relationships, real collaboration, and lasting rewards? To Minette Norman, we’re hard-wired to connect. So as leaders, it’s our duty to create cultures of connection wherever we work. In this talk, Norman inspires us to think differently about how we interact in our work lives, offering experience-based strategies for breaking down barriers, feeling inspired, and assuming responsibility for improving our relationships with colleagues. Drawing on diverse fields—from neuroscience to biology, philosophy to psychology—she shows audiences how to manage feelings of defensiveness, seek a diversity of opinion, and cultivate better communications. To stay competitive in today’s complex world, we need to stay connected—with each other, with our customers, and with ourselves.
There is no single formula for being a successful and effective leader, even in the world of science, tech, and engineering. And to this point, Minette Norman is resounding proof. At university, Norman studied Drama and French, never set foot in a computer lab or programming class, and eventually taught French in a private school for boys. Eventually, she became the VP of Engineering at a major software company. And instead of being a hindrance, her liberal arts background has been instrumental to her success. Her theatre training helps her speak in public and think on her feet; her language skills make her a better global ambassador, interested in learning about other cultures; and her connection with people and emotional intelligence make her a strong organizational leader. Throughout this inspiring talk, Norman extols the values of a liberal education—how it can open doors, prepare us for collaborative, dynamic workplaces, and give us an edge on the competition.
Forget what you may have heard. It’s smart to be a drama major. And with Minette Norman, you’ll understand exactly why.