People Behind the Product: Get to know Pinterest’s 2021 Women’s Conference co-chairs, Gracious Nyamupachitu and Jenny Persson
Gracious Nyamupachitu and Jenny Persson had been at Pinterest for around three months when they were nominated to co-lead our fourth Women’s Conference. The Pinterest Women’s Conference started in 2018 as an employee-driven and employee-facing event to celebrate the women of Pinterest, and over the last four years, it has grown from a local effort at our San Francisco headquarters to a global full-day event involving all 3,000+ Pinployees as well as external partners, job candidates, and advisors. This year’s event took place on December 1st and aired in four global time zones — Gracious and Jenny co-planned the virtual conference from two different time zones. We sat down with them to learn more about their experience with this huge undertaking, and to hear some wins and learns for virtual, global event planning.
Let’s start off with a bit about your backgrounds. You’ve both joined Pinterest within the last six months, and made such an impact already. What led you to your current role?
GN: I joined Pinterest after several years in the finance industry. My current role (Marketing Operations Manager) attracted me for two main reasons: it was the very first role on a brand new team in the company, and it allowed me to merge my analytical and creative sides daily. I enjoy building ideas and projects from the ground up, and this was definitely an opportunity to do that. Secondly, I’ve found tonnes of inspiration on Pinterest over the years. Joining the company, especially in Marketing, meant doing something that could really help spread that inspiration to other people. I love that I can make such important impact in my daily work.
JP: I’ve been a (read: obsessed) Pinterest user since 2015, so joining the organisation was truly a dream come true for me. I started my career in ad-tech in Dublin, and relocated to Canada around 2,5 years ago. I’d missed the dynamic environment and what working with marketers daily entails so jumping back into that world was refreshing for me. I’m passionate about sales, and especially what it means to be a woman in sales.
You both joined the company in the middle of a pandemic. Can you tell us about that experience?
GN: There are definite upsides and downsides. Less of my daily routine had to change in terms of commute, office space familiarity, etc. so it was easier to focus on settling into my role and ramping up on the work as quickly as possible. It was also logistically easier in our virtual world to meet folks across time zones and global offices. I did miss the person-to-person interaction though and was so happy to finally meet folks on my first day in the Dublin office.
JP: Transitioning jobs during the pandemic was an obvious challenge, and I thought long and hard about it before ultimately deciding to join Pinterest. At first, I was very worried about potential challenges with relationship-building, but once I started the interview process here at Pinterest and from my first interaction with both the recruiter and my hiring manager, all worries disappeared. To me it was the constant communication, transparency and most importantly, the kindness I was met with that helped me overcome my worries. Joining Pinterest is one of the best career decisions I’ve ever made, and I feel very fortunate to be able to call myself a Pinployee.
What inspired you to get involved with the Pinterest Women’s Conference this year?
GN: Firstly, meaningful initiatives that promote inclusion and belonging in our workplaces are very close to heart for me as a Black woman and an immigrant. So when I heard about the Women’s Conference, I was immediately drawn to the opportunity of helping shape one of such meaningful initiatives with the event. Given the impact that inclusion and belonging initiatives have had on me, I really wanted to spend time extending that opportunity to more women. I was so excited to be part of highlighting as many women’s voices and perspectives as possible, and to connect folks globally on topics that all our identities are affected by (allies too!).
JP: I’ve been involved in women-focused employee resource group initiatives across all organizations I’ve worked for, but never been presented with an opportunity like this. When I looked into the previous year’s lineup and what an impact we would be able to have on the organization as a whole, I knew I had to get involved. Especially after 1,5 years of lockdown and everything that we’ve all been through, it felt more needed than ever to shine a light on certain issues and how we can show up for each other.
The conference’s theme this year was Build Better. What does the theme of Building Better mean to you? Does it have any personal importance?
GN: Building better is two-pronged for me. On one hand, it means coming together to work against all the inequitable systems that discriminate because of identity; even if we don’t belong to all of the affected identities. That looks like listening, unlearning, and taking daily actions to combat things like the authority gap, the inequitable access to opportunities, and to call out bias in all its forms. On the other hand, especially from this conference, Building Better means being inspired by our speaker’s stories while reflecting on our own choices. With that, setting in motion a plan to define what “better” looks like for our own lives, and making sure to choose that regardless of how taboo or even scary that is.
JP: The pandemic has deepened pre-existing social inequalities and women are no exception. Women the world over have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, considering exiting the workforce at higher rates and experiencing more pressure at work than men. McKinsey reports that these sentiments are even pronounced for working mothers, women in senior positions, and Black women. They are shouldering the weight of their own aspirations as well as their families’ and communities’. Building Better to me means to continuously work to change this, and I see this conference as a starting point in doing so.
Speaking of pressure at and outside of work, what was it like to juggle conference planning with your day job? Were you able to manage it with support from your teams?
GN: It was a lot, but so is everything worth doing. I felt particularly supported as I was able to add women’s conference planning as a personal goal (called OKR at Pinterest) for the quarter. This was a great indication of Pinterest’s commitment to seeing this conference be the most impactful that it could be. On a practical level, it meant that I could prioritize conference planning just as much as my core role during peak times. It was also really fun and energizing working with women from all across the organization who I otherwise may not have met.
JP: It was challenging, motivating, exhausting and energizing all at the same time. Making it a part of my OKRs confirmed that this was an important initiative to my manager and the organization. The team was supportive and women across the Canada office continually checked in on me, and I really felt encouraged to take on this additional responsibility. It was so challenging at points, but that support made me realize how important it is to everyone and I was inspired to work harder to make it happen. In the end, I felt really safe throughout the process, and I would definitely do it again.
Gracious, you live in Dublin and Jenny, Toronto. What was it like planning a virtual event for 3000+ attendees from two different continents? What did you learn about your work styles and how they fit together?
GN: Jenny and I are from two different backgrounds and experiences, but we came to the conference with the same perspective. It was affirming to realize we had such similar views of what was most important to bring to this conference. At the same time, our differences were a good thing, too! We learned a lot from each other – and our different perspectives ensured that no groups were left out of our minds during planning.
JP: We worked with women across every part of Pinterest, it wasn’t just for one team. We both had different skills. Gracious is very structural with a background in marketing planning. I learned a lot from working with her, and there is no way I would have done so on this level without the conference.
Can you share some wins and learns about the process? What was your favorite part of the planning, and what did you find most challenging?
GN: My favorite part would have to be what we call the “look & feel” of the conference. This included branding – and I loved being part of that initial visuals design process, I learned so much about what goes into it. Look & feel also meant identifying the conference tracks around wellbeing, elevating perspectives, allyship, personal growth and self defined success. It was a big win when this came together, as it emphasized our commitment to an intersectional and actionable program of events. The most challenging part was speaker selection. We had so many fantastic speakers suggested by Pinterest women, and I still wish we could have fit everyone in!
JP: My favorite part of planning was connecting with so many people across the organization. For the actual conference itself, I really enjoyed moderating a Q&A session with Samantha Clarke. That was truly an out of this world experience and so energizing! On the other side, I found the logistical coordination and expectation setting challenging, but rewarding.
How has this experience impacted your broader career?
GN: One of my biggest take-aways is the emotional intelligence required when working with 20+ people across the world about something that is deeply personal. Being a woman is personal. Women’s issues are personal. Our team was so critical to the success of this conference, and I had to learn and apply simultaneously to get things done, while managing how people feel. This is such an important leadership trait that I can’t think of a better way to have had a crash-course in.
JP: I grew and developed in two main areas: internal cross collaboration and team leadership. During the conference, I was able to apply my skill set of stakeholder management from my Sales background. It became clear that event planning internally had a lot of similarities with client management externally, so I felt comfortable flexing and building on these existing skills.
Thank you both for sharing your journeys with us! We’re immensely grateful for the time and energy you put into planning this incredible and necessary conference. Do you have any closing thoughts?
GN: One of my favourite pieces of actionable advice from the conference came from Pinterest Chief People Officer, Christine Deputy. She said that instead of being fixated on the next position you want, consider what you want your career journey to be and what your legacy will be. Think: “who am I as a human being and what am I trying to accomplish?” And remember, it is your career. You will always be disappointed if you compare your career to anyone else’s.
JP: From the perspective of running the conference as a co-chair, this was a perfect opportunity to try a role that isn’t the role you are in. Getting to stay in my core role while having the experience of doing something else was so empowering. Here at Pinterest I have access to development opportunities that push me outside my role and comfort zone. I’m so grateful for that and really enjoyed it.
For more information on the Pinterest Women’s Conference, check out this blog post from our Chief People Officer, Christine Deputy. To learn more about our open job opportunities, visit: pinterestcareers.com.