Profile: Carol MacKinlay, CPO at UserTesting

“Having more women in management roles can and will create a safe place for other women to flourish”

Gabriela Motroc
women in tech
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Last year, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Carol MacKinlay, CPO at UserTesting.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Last year, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Carol MacKinlay, CPO at UserTesting.

Carol MacKinlay, CPO at UserTesting

Carol MacKinlay, Chief People Officer (CPO) at UserTesting, has held CHRO positions at several high profile/high potential companies such as Xero, Plantronics, Jawbone, Borland, and Coverity. Carol brings a broad perspective to her role – having spent many years as a strategic, financial, compensation and operations consultant. Her expertise is helping companies recruit stellar talent and preparing the organization to scale.

What got you interested in technology?

I grew up in the Bay Area, going to the same high school as Steve Jobs (Go Mustangs!). The tech community built up around us during my high school years. I went to the University of California, Berkeley originally to study the “new” area of computer science. While I shifted into Math, the interactions with Berkeley and the tech community were everywhere. During the years that I was consulting, many of my clients were in technology and the enthusiasm, intelligence and future thinking was palpable. When I finally joined my first tech company, there was no going back – I’m hooked on the entrepreneurial nature and brilliance I find within the tech community.

It’s been a long path to get to this career. I ended up with a technical degree because my father pushed me to be educated in “something that I could prove to him would get me a job,” or he wouldn’t pay for my college. As a Math major, I went down the path of operation research, financial analysis, treasury management and management consulting before I entered the world of HR. I’m different from most HR Execs in that I started at the top – having crossed the line from being a Board consultant to taking the reins of a fast growth technology HR department. I haven’t had many obstacles but I always need to overcome the bias that HR doesn’t matter or that we don’t deserve a seat at the table. With the breadth of my experience and background, it’s pretty easy to overcome and I’m pleased that I can be an example of what a business partner HR can be.

I receive tons of support from all over – I’ve met so many people in my life and it’s created a huge support network for me. My family is very proud of what I do and what I’ve done and they tell me so all the time. I don’t have a set role model – I try to learn from each person I encounter since each person has something interesting to offer. I feel like I am constantly learning and love an entrepreneurial spirit in anyone.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

I’ve had more than my share of “Me Too” moments and I’m very glad there is advancement in dealing with a male dominated workplace. It has affected me by redirecting my career more than once. I had a notable conversation with my business partner, who wrongly felt he was better and senior to me, when he told me, “You’re not as good as you think you are.” That was a defining moment in our relationship and something I remember every time I feel my confidence waning – it is now a great motivator for me.

A day in Carol’s life

I’m currently the Chief People Officer for UserTesting, responsible for all the administrative functions of the company except finance and legal. I have a very talented group of managers working for me in multiple locations and I support what they are doing to move the company forward. As with most startups, recruiting is key to my day – keeping the pace of hiring going. I spend quite a bit of time working to improve or simplify processes and putting in automation – which gets us ready to scale. I work with the CEO on moving the organization and structure to the best model for what we are doing.

But the biggest part of my day is providing counsel to employees and the Execs on a variety of things – mostly guiding on how to navigate the company to get things done or working through difficult situations.

I feel incredibly proud of the lives I have changed during the time I’ve been in HR. From mentoring women to achieve their goals, to helping young PEO KS be successful first jobs, to redirecting someone’s career to a better suited occupation, to helping people struggling to find new, beneficial careers. There’s a lot of good that can be done in this field, if you focus on the individuals along the way.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

As a Berkeley Math major, I was in a small group of women that went through the program at that time. Women didn’t opt into STEM and related fields, and we’ve been seeing the result of the lack of trained female engineers and scientists for years. It’s refreshing to see women start to fill the pipeline in the technical areas and I’m proud to have been part of that change.

There’s no lack of diverse candidates, but there is a lack of thoughtful approaches to the problem of finding them and altering expectations just a little to embrace them. It takes very little pushing to get hiring managers, HR teams and CEOs to recognize that diversity adds so much to a company’s culture and output. Once you have their attention, the shifts start happening quickly. It’s getting the attention that has been the problem… and now it is front and center.

Women in STEM

I’ve seen statistics that talk to projects that get funded versus those that don’t – men’s health projects being funded significantly more than women’s. I see how company cultures can shift grandly from having a diverse group lead – being more open, more thoughtful, more community oriented. I see the definition of what is “work” shifting to be work/life balance as the result of a rising female workforce.

Challenges for women in tech

From my observation, the biggest obstacles are still that it is a man’s world… but this is changing.  I’ve seen women hide their need to take care of their children, be reprimanded for having to take their kids to school or stay home with them when they are sick, for wearing the wrong colors, for the way they wear their hair, and on and on.

I’m seeing some quick change happening now and it is refreshing. Having more women in management roles can and will create a safe place for other women to flourish without having to worry about what men are thinking.


Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments