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Profile: Lilac Mohr, Interim VP of Engineering, Flow, Pluralsight

Women in Tech: “Never lose that sense of wonder”

Sarah Schlothauer

Four years ago, 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 Lilac Mohr, Interim VP of Engineering, Flow, at Pluralsight.

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?

Four years ago, 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 Lilac Mohr, Interim VP of Engineering, Flow, at Pluralsight.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Lilac Mohr, Interim VP of Engineering, Flow, Pluralsight

Lilac Mohr leads the Flow engineering group at Pluralsight. She has a passion for helping individual contributors and teams use data to frame the human stories behind their engineering work. Lilac has 25 years of experience in the tech industry and holds a B.S. degree in Computer Information Systems and an M.S. degree in Statistics. She is also the author of two middle-grade math adventure novels that encourage girls to pursue STEM fields.

When did you become interested in technology? What first got you interested in tech?

I took my first programming class in 9th grade, and I was the only girl in the room. While my classmates jumped right into the DOS prompt and started hacking away, I struggled with finding the right keys on the keyboard since I’d never worked on a PC before. The boys sitting behind me were placing bets on how long it would be before I dropped out of the class. Despite a rough start, I fell in love with coding. By the end of the year, I had written a functioning Tetris game in GW Basic and had earned the respect of my peers.

How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

Finding tech jobs was never challenging for me, but the male-dominated tech industry didn’t cultivate a healthy sense of belonging. I felt that as a woman I had to work harder to prove my worth. This often led to loneliness and burnout.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

My father is a physical oceanographer and my mother has a background in biochemistry. I had the privilege of growing up in a family that valued STEM education, which made the decision to pursue a technology career easier. My childhood hero was astronomer Maria Mitchell. I remember reading a biography about her in the second grade and finding out that Maria could do long division at the age of seven. When I asked my teacher if I could also learn long division, she shook her head and told me to be patient. Determined, I found a textbook on the subject at my local library and decided to teach myself. The academic drive and tenacity my parents modeled for our family had a huge impact on the way I approached challenges.

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

I think the biggest obstacle in my professional advancement has been my introverted personality. People have a mental model of leadership qualities that are based on past experiences, often white male, vocal, and charismatic business leaders. I’d rather let my team shine than take the spotlight myself. I’d rather quietly listen to ideas than come into a discussion pushing my own solution. I have a quiet voice. At certain points in my career, I was passed over for leadership roles because I’m different from other leaders. I decided, however, that I’m not going to ever pretend to be someone I’m not in order to get ahead. I’m so lucky that Pluralsight recognises that leadership qualities come in many different forms.

As women, we need to support each other and teach our coworkers what allyship looks like.

A day in Lilac’s life

As the interim VP of Engineering for Flow at Pluralsight, I partner with groups across the organization to define and prioritize high impact objectives for the Flow team. I support delivery of customer value by cultivating an engineering culture where seeking and receiving feedback, continuous improvement, and psychological safety are woven into how we do our work. Our own Flow product is a critical piece of this culture, which we use to build empathy, increase collaboration, and get better as a team. My heart overflows with gratitude every day because I get to work with an amazing team on a product that I love.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I have a gap where I left the corporate world for five years to spend time with my children and develop educational products. I’m most proud of the fact that I was able to come back to the ever-changing tech industry, up-skill myself, and overcome imposter syndrome to become a female leader. I’m proud that I can show other women that there isn’t a single defined path to career success, and that they can bring their authentic selves to work.

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

I think that to encourage more women to join tech organizations, companies need to focus on belonging. I recently interviewed a female engineer who told us that every other company she had interviewed with had an all-male panel. She was ecstatic that she was being interviewed by two female leaders. I think that seeing women at all levels of an organization makes a big difference in recruiting and retaining the diverse talent we need to create high-performing teams.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

It’s difficult being in an environment where you are the minority. I remember being the only female engineer at a small start-up. The male engineers would apologize or ask me for permission before making off-color jokes. They thought they were being allies and I never spoke up and said ‘this is how I need you to support me.’ It’s hard to be brave in those types of situations. As women, we need to support each other and teach our coworkers what allyship looks like.

The best engineers are not the ones who write perfect code – they are the ones who try new things and ask lots and lots of questions.

How would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic, and cultural) impact?

At its core, every company is a tech company. Technology drives everything, and how humans become part of that transformation looks very different from what ‘tech work’ looked like in the past. By starting STEM education at an early age, we’re providing children with a foundation that will open up new opportunities for the careers of the future. Technology has shown that diverse teams are teams that produce better outcomes. When we create environments where people with different backgrounds, experiences, and problem-solving approaches come together… amazing things happen!

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current discussion?

We know that diversity produces better outcomes. Companies put a lot of effort into hiring a diverse workforce. But when your career ladder and compensation structure requires self-promotion, chances are that you’re not hearing the voices of those female team members. Often, the solution we make up is to tell those team members to ‘speak up’ to ask for a raise or promotion, basically we’re telling them to be more like the people whom the system is designed to acknowledge. We don’t question the system itself. And we don’t recognize the stress that women and under-represented groups feel when they are put into a climate where they have to prove themselves against stereotypes. It’s real and measurable. Positive change in the diversity of the tech workforce depends on the willingness of organizations to question their assumptions and transform the system that’s making it harder for women to advance.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

Children have a natural curiosity and a learner’s mindset. They’re not afraid to ask questions. They’re not afraid to attempt the impossible. As we get older and more self-conscious, a lot of those qualities fade. My advice to children and adults, alike, is to never lose that sense of wonder. The best engineers are not the ones who write perfect code – they are the ones who try new things and ask lots and lots of questions.

More Women in Tech:

For even more Women in Tech, click here

Author
Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for JAXenter.com. She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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