Ep. 130 – Wikimedia Chief Operating Officer, Janeen Uzzell

Ep. 130 – Wikimedia Chief Operating Officer, Janeen Uzzell

Wikipedia has done a lot more than it gets credit for when it comes to increasing global access to information. The operations of Wikimedia Foundation, the global nonprofit that supports Wikipedia from the backend, is led by the brilliant Janeen Uzzell. It is Janeen’s job to ensure operational efficiency and scale at a time when the foundation is at its historically fastest period of growth. Prior to Wikimedia, Janeen served at General Electric – a significant stylistic change in leadership that she shares with Cameron Herold in this episode. She also shares some details about how her current company is funded and how it competes with other companies that are funded at higher tiers.

Janeen Uzzell is the Chief Operating Officer of the Wikimedia Foundation, the global nonprofit that supports Wikipedia. She’s dedicated her career to exploring how technology can drive equality and representation globally. In her role, she oversees operational efficiency and scale during the period of the fastest growth in the Foundation’s history. In addition to being second in command at Wikimedia, Janeen is committed to driving equality in the representation of diverse communities on the platform and is passionate about access to information. She is on a mission to expand the free knowledge movement and welcomes new voices that are more representative of the world around us. 

Prior to joining the Foundation, Janeen was Head of Women in Technology at General Electric, GE, where she worked with the company’s global CEOs to cultivate a culture across their workforce of 300,000 employees which accelerated the number of women in technical roles. Prior to that, she was the company’s Global Director of External Affairs and Technology Programs. Before that, she spent five years as the Director of Healthcare Programs for GE Africa, based in Accra, Ghana. Janeen, welcome to the show.

Thank you. It’s great to be here. I appreciate it. I look forward to the time we get to talk.

I laughed as I read GE having 300,000 employees. I’m like, “That’s three times more than the city that I grew up in.” You know that GE is big, but it was big.

My favorite question is, “You work for GE. Do you know so-and-so?” I’m like, “Sure. There are 300,000 people there, of course, I know them.”

Is Ghana on West Coast Africa?

West Coast. You’ve got Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Ghana is down in there.

Did you live over there?

I did. It wasn’t my first experience in Africa. I’d been to Kenya doing some missionary work. Ghana is where I landed and was like, “I could be here.” It was a game-changer for me in my career, in my personal life. It’s a wonderful experience. It’s still a second home to me.

That’s super cool. That’s a part of the world I’ve never spent much time in. I’ve done Egypt, Morocco, but I’ve never got into the heart of Africa at all.

Ghana is a whole different experience.

How did you get involved in General Electric?

I spent sixteen years at GE. I “grew up” at GE because it’s where I went through the leadership maturation cycle and became an executive. I landed there after business school. I was on an interview track when I finished business school. I graduated in May and started working at GE in August. I was working full-time somewhere else and had an opportunity to go and work for what was then called GE Medical Systems, which is now known as GE Healthcare. The bulk of my career at GE was always in healthcare technologies, healthcare products. I bounced from healthcare to corporate to GGO, which is our international division, Global Growth and Operations, to the research center, which is corporate and where every engineer, which I am, wants to work. I bounced around a lot in my time there but all within the GE family.

You were there in the Jeff Immelt era and not the Jack Welch term, correct?

I joined right when Jeff became CEO. I left six months to a year or so after he had left and after I repatriated.

What an amazing organization. It is known for its leadership development program. Was it in Crotonville?

It’s Crotonville all day. The work that we do at GE is great work. We get to work on tough problems, build great things. We lead. We build. We solve all of that. The leadership moxie, the chops that you build, to me, in that company, set a great standard for me. Crotonville is our leadership institute. It’s in Connecticut. It’s where folks from all over the world come. When you work at GE, you have an opportunity to do residents work there and spend time training there.

I was always enamored with Jack Welch, but also with the whole leadership development program that GE was known for. I got to spend a few days at one of the facilities in Louisville.

That’s when we owned appliances. That’s where our appliance business was.

I did a leadership program there. We used washing machines as one of our case studies. I was fascinated. From the outside world looking in, was it as good?

People are like, “You worked at GE that long. You’re part of the DNA.” Sure, it was a huge part of my life. Our leadership programs are hands down some of the best, the case studies, and the problems that we get to solve when you’re in these training sessions. You’re taking leaders from all over different parts of the company, different businesses, different areas of expertise, different parts of the world. You all are in a room and you’re solving a real problem. You’re thinking about shareholders and the board, employees, staff, and marketing. I’m an engineer and I learned what it meant to be an engineer but to consider marketing, to be an engineer but to consider sales, to be an engineer but to consider communications in these different models. That’s the result of what happens when you go through a program at GE, which I did, and when you have an opportunity to be a part of the leadership development. It’s great.

Is problem-solving one of the core skills? You talked about the GE workout process, is that one of these? What would the top 2 or 3 skills that you would say are most transferable or have been the most useful for you?

One is your approach to leadership. There’s a maturity and a standard of leadership when you are GE trained. As all leadership models do, that includes integrity. There’s resiliency and a leadership expectation that you take on. That’s the first one. The second one is problem-solving, for sure. The way that we approach a problem, the way that we consider a problem, and the way that we operate across various disciplines to think about how to solve a problem is important and a strong suit. I’m going to lean on the global perspective within GE as the third one because we were multinational. On any given day, we were working across many different cultures and diversity of thought. Other former GE colleagues may not have them in that order. If I had to list three, those are the three that are standing out for me.

It’s interesting that you said the global perspective because GE was global and built its chops around being global when global wasn’t easy. Now we’ve got the internet and accessibility. Back then, it would have been way tougher to be that global organization and think globally than it is now.

SIC 130 | Wikimedia COO
Wikimedia COO: The Wikipedia editing community does a great job in working to ensure a safe space, a thriving movement, and an opportunity for the open knowledge platform to be successful.

 

The work that I was doing in Africa, as far as 2016, 2017, 2018, even then, we were more developed. When we went to Africa, we worked for the CEO of GE Africa. His name was Jay Ireland. I worked for Jay. He’s a great leader, a great person to work for. We were still over there building these flag companies or organizations across the continent. We had a large office in Egypt and an office in South Africa. We didn’t have offices in Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Those were offices that they brought us there to stand up, to learn how to do business there, to hire locally.

This is what I mean about this resiliency because we had to get there. When I first got there, we were working in a Holiday Inn, trying to chomp on their Wi-Fi, and running around town and trying to figure out where we could send a fax to work on deals with the US. We were GE but this is what it took to solve problems in that region before we built our office space there. We got our headquarters in Kenya. We were huffing it.

It’s like entrepreneurial bootstrapping in a 300,000-person company. It’s crazy. Why would you leave there? Did you go right from GE to Wikimedia?

I did take a sabbatical, a break in between. Mostly, that was because of some personal things. During my time as an ex-pat and time away, my family went through a series of losses that were tough, one being my father and his brothers. I was away for much of that. I came back to the States and I went to the research center and was working. I had an opportunity to take some time off. I was thinking that I was going to go back to GE. During that time that I was spending with my family in New Jersey, I went to stay with my family for a bit, I had an opportunity to think about what I wanted to do next. I thought it was to be at GE, where I had a great experience.

The company had changed a lot. Jeff had left. I had repatriated. All of those things that I told you about, what it meant to be like doing startup work in Africa for GE, those opportunities weren’t as present for me when I came back to the Americas. It was an opportunity for me to consider something different. Probably two months into my sabbatical, I got a phone call to consider the Wikimedia Foundation. I started the dialogue.

Most people have heard of Wikipedia. What’s Wikimedia overall? Is that the parent organization? Can you walk us through what that is?

When I received this phone call from the Wikimedia Foundation, it made sense of what that might be. The Wikimedia Foundation, we are the organization that hosts Wikipedia and a series of other Wiki products. The most external-facing that the audience would know would be Wikipedia, which of course, is the online encyclopedia, one of the top ten websites in the world. It’s unique in tons of ways. We are an organization of a little less than 500. We’re going to grow to a little over that. Not including our contractors, we have about 417 people.

The communities that build Wikipedia are hundreds and thousands of volunteers that write the content for the platform. They are the heroes and the sheroes and wonderful folks that do this work that allows 1.5 billion unique devices to touch the Wikipedia platform every single month. One of the ways I love to put that in context, for those of us that are social media fans, I’m a big Instagram user. Instagram has about one billion users a month. People count on us to be a premier source of information. What I like to say is if it happens in the world, it happens on Wikipedia.

It’s super interesting to think how Wikipedia and the Wiki organization can stay on top of the content so well when in this era of fake news, we can’t seem to discern what’s true and what’s not true even in the real news. You guys have done an extraordinary job of being able to edit or to approve the content.

It’s the accuracy in the editing. The talk pages are things that a reader wouldn’t digest if they were logging in whether they go to Wikipedia.com or they access it on their phone as an app. When you Google, you’re pulling Wikipedia content. The talk page is like the behind-the-scenes chatter. Editors assume good faith. You assume that everyone means the best in the way that they write. The articles are supported by citations.

When the media reports on information, we’re able sometimes to be in front of it, particularly with all of our different time zones and where we work. We support and add weight to the content through the citations that are written. That’s a great thing. There’s certainly going to be a gap in perspective sometimes when we don’t have a diverse community of editors always. For every great thing, we also have a challenge. I could go on about some of the diversity of Wikipedia. The editing community does a great job working to ensure a safe space, a thriving movement, and an opportunity for the open knowledge platform to be successful.

I’d never thought about the diversity of the community that’s contributing. That’s got to be a huge issue because it certainly leans towards the nonprofit contributor. That’s an interesting problem. That’s why you got GE behind you because you can figure that stuff out.

I am trying to help figure that out. What happens is, with any product or any experience, the outcome is always going to be the output based on what’s put into it. It’s as bias or not as the community or the technologists or the folks that build it. Wikipedia editors are mostly male, mostly white, mostly American, mostly European, that’s a small percentage of the world. It’s about 1% of the world that is telling the world’s stories. About 18% of the stories or the articles on English Wikipedia are about women. That’s not a fair representation in terms of what the makeup of women is in the world. These are the things that we have to continue to go after and to continue to work on and improve. I’m excited that I get to use my operational skills on something that has such a great impact on the world.

How is the organization funded? You mentioned that you’re a nonprofit. How do you raise your money?

It’s a super cool way. The majority of our funding is from all of the readers of Wikipedia that donate approximately $15. Can you imagine? We are over $100 million in terms of annual givings.

Where do we donate? I should be getting pop-ups or something asking me.

Don’t worry. You’ll get it. I’ll make sure that we get it to you specifically. There is a campaign season, particularly when you use the site during certain times. We’re in English campaign season. You will see that request to give. The average donor is about $15. We have some larger campaigns too. We’re fortunate to have an endowment that is fed annually. It’s a gift and an opportunity to focus on the work of free knowledge and supporting this gift to the world.

Do you attend the TED Conference or TEDWomen at all?

I have not attended. I am a TED fan. When I was at GE, one of the offices that I worked for spoke at TEDMED. I had a chance to participate in that. We have some upcoming opportunities and I hope that TED is one of them. I’d like to wait until it’s back in person again.

You should put TED and TEDWomen both. I’ve attended TEDWomen twice which was a privilege to be one of the men in the audience. I’ve gone to the main TED. Both of those, you’d be a perfect fit to be at.

Thank you. Can I use you as a reference when I’m ready to do that?

For sure. Tell me about the organization, Wikimedia. I saw a little bit of your sense of leadership because you were gregarious and outgoing. One of your team was going to be on the call with us as well and I saw the energy with them. Walk us through what kind of a leader you are and what you believe a leader should be. The second part is, has that changed from GE to Wikimedia as well?

Yes but no. I’m looking forward to digging into that. First of all, my staff labeled me the Chief Extrovert Officer. I’m not shy. I am a leader that is committed to leading from the heart. People are important to me. There are a few things that are important to me, making sure that my team feels valued, seen, accepted, appreciated, and empowered. I want them to feel confident about the work that they’re doing. We have to have tough conversations. We have to have them because we’re doing a lot of culture shift and change management at Wiki. Some of my conversations are long and hard. They’re required. It’s important for me that in the engagement, they have a different experience with me. We were already a pretty remote culture even before our circumstance with COVID and the pandemic. It’s even harder to make sure that I did that for groups of people that didn’t get to see me in person that often. Those things are important.

One of the things that I do, specifically, I’m committed to building diverse teams. As a woman of color, that’s important to me. I’ve had great success with the diversity of teams. The thoughts and the ways that we solve have always been rewarding. I love hiring people that can grow into their roles, that are great at what they do. I love to let them go for it. Hiring them to grow up into a role gives me a chance to shape some of the skills and challenges. I love that I’m a leader of people.

SIC 130 | Wikimedia COO
Wikimedia COO: The open culture at Wikimedia allows for some practices that are very different from the more regimented style at GE.

 

Within the Foundation, it’s much smaller than my 300,000 colleagues at GE. We have 417 staff members and not including our contractor base. We’ll be a little more than 500. Our planning year ends in June of 2021. We are in 37 countries. About 32% of our staff is global. In that number, 46% of our senior staff, not including the C team executives, are located outside of the United States. We’re diverse and widespread. We are a tech company. The majority of the staff that works at Wikipedia are techies. We’re software engineers. We’re programmers. We’re data specialists. We’re a tech organization that happens to be funded like a foundation.

Has your style changed from GE to Wikimedia?

The open culture at Wiki allows for different practices. Honestly, some of them have been a bit challenging for me. GE is more like the way that I was raised. My dad is in the military. I come from a regimented family. We have rules and we do our homework. We eat dinner at 5:00 and all of these things. Wiki has a much more relaxed culture, much stronger freedom of conversation. We work a lot in the spirit of consensus. 

There was a lot that still had to be developed at Wiki, operational procedures, even quarterly report outs, metrics, and things like that. There was some shaping that had to happen, which meant I had to still bring the rigor and the strictness of what I’ve learned at GE because there are some things that we needed to do better. It was seeking to understand and not be understood. There was a fine line between considered a bit of command-and-control thing. Trying to find a way to make it fun and make it palatable. Some of it was met with some difficulty. It’s like, “Don’t corporatize. Don’t turn us around. We’re not that.”

It was helping our staff see that process and operations. These things are necessary in order for us to ensure that we are doing our best work and the right work and that we are able to sustain the long haul. We’re not here for today, tomorrow, and ten years from now, but even longer than that. My experience can help us ensure that we do that well. Maybe I can dance on stage and I might not do that with Jeff. Knowing me, you’ll never know.

I’ve seen Steve Ballmer dance on stage. If you can do it at Microsoft, you can do it at Wikimedia.

I’m not shy.

How do you identify whether people are growth people? You like to hire growth people or people that will grow. How do you identify that they are that? What do you look for?

I’m looking for not just a hunger or a passion for the specific work that they do, their skillset, the thing they’ve been educated in, the job that they’re being hired or interviewed to do. Not even the passion or the mission or the organization. I’m looking for a breath of interest even if they don’t have expertise in it. I’m looking to hear how they speak about leadership and if they’re simply focused on being the best programmer or the best coder as opposed to using those ideas to solve cross-departmental problems. I’m looking for those things. How they talk about problems or issues, are they very much, “Tell me what to do and I’ll fix it?” Are they willing to engage in a little contrast, debate, pushback? I’m fine with all of those things.

On any given day, my team and I don’t agree. We agree to disagree. We make decisions and we move on. I’m looking for people that are interested in that. Usually, when we’re having a conversation, whether it’s in the interview or in some teams that I’ve been able to inherit, it’s the coachability and how I feel they respond to some of the feedback or the discussions we have. You can tell if a person is shut down, checked out, settled in, single-focused.

You mentioned a little bit as well that you’ve always been a remote team or largely remote. What percent of your company is remote and what percent are in offices?

Pre-COVID, 70%-plus of us were remote. I am an office junkie. My CFO, our CEO, some of us love it. We’re there every day. I am struggling to not be there. I miss it terribly. Our main office is in San Francisco. I’m based in Washington, DC. I also was living in San Francisco for a while. We have a smaller office here, both of which are closed with the COVID restrictions. We’ve committed to keeping the curve as flat as we can by keeping our offices closed. We were 70% remote already. we were such a big travel team. Working remote wasn’t something we had to learn how to do. When the world went remote, we didn’t have to switch on any special light and say, “How are we going to do this?” We used our knowledge as a way to give back and help other people figure out how to do this quickly. The most we had to do was get me and the exec monitors and things at home because we didn’t have them. We didn’t work at home.

How did you lean out far to June of 2021 and say, “We’ll stay remote until then?”

Honestly, because our main office is in San Francisco, we’ve been working to align with what some of the other tech companies in Silicon Valley have done. You’ve got Salesforce and Google and other companies that have offices right in downtown SF where we are. We’re right down the street from Salesforce and others.

Is Salesforce remote?

We’re all remote. SF is still remote. Maybe there are some folks that may be going in, depending on if you’re considered essential.

It’s like, “The last person to leave the Bay Area, please turn out the lights.”

EA, the gaming company, I have friends that work there. My friends at Google and Facebook are still remote. Everybody is still remote. Thinking about that, it was like, “Let’s reevaluate this.”

We’re all conjecturing but it’s fun. Where do you think the future of work is going? Are we ever going to go back to these big offices?

I don’t know about never but it will be a long time before we’re back in the sense that we experienced now where you’ve got tons of people in small spaces. Our office in San Francisco, like most spaces, is an open work area. We’re all over the place. We couldn’t bring ourselves back into that. We don’t have dividers and separators. We’re all lying on couches and sitting in chairs and huddled in corners and getting it done. Whether it’s some process where we have A days and B days and teams go in at different times so that we have less people in the space, that might be what we go back to. I don’t know.

It’s amazing to try to think about that. I had a client in Colombia who had 800 employees. If you’d say that any of his employees would ever be remote, he’d say, “Over my dead body.” He said that 700 were remote. They had to get Wi-Fi access set up for the other 100 that didn’t even have it at their homes yet. He said that within two weeks, all 800 employees were remote.

For us, it’s been getting many of the execs and a few folks set up at home, making sure we have the right chair so I’m not doing work on my couch all day and things like that. The future of work is going to be us trying to find ways to host these virtual sessions and stay engaged in multiple time zones. We’re doing even the simple things of rotating our staff meetings in various time zones. We have a monthly all-staff meeting. Our staff meeting starts at 9:00 at night if you’re on Eastern time. I’ll be with our staff from 9:00 until about 10:30 or 11:00. This is what we have to do so that we create some equity and inclusiveness for everyone. I’m fine with it. I love it.

What are you doing to create the community and the connection while we’re all offline? I had a bunch of the members from the COO Alliance. We did an online trivia and music bingo which I thought was going to be the stupidest thing ever. I was laughing for 90 minutes. I laughed my ass off. I don’t laugh out loud like you do all the time. For 90 minutes, I was laughing. One of my team is like, “You’re the happiest I’ve seen you in years.” I’m like, “I don’t know. It was silly. It was fun.”

I love to laugh. I’ve got quite a hearty laugh. You can hear me come in. I’ll tell you a couple of things. The head of our talent and culture department, Robin, has done something great in our staff meeting where she’s been inviting local artists to perform. For the first ten minutes of our staff meeting, we’d listen to some great music. I love horses. My department staff, meaning the ops team, reached out to a farm and invited a horse in our Zoom chat. We use OKRs, Outcomes and Key Results, as our practice. All of a sudden, in our team meeting, I see something pop up and it says, “OKR the stallion.” I’m like, “What does that mean?” Here comes this horse. It was the funniest. They did it as a surprise to me and I loved it.

SIC 130 | Wikimedia COO
Wikimedia COO: In handling long, hard conversations with your team, best tell them the bad stuff upfront and then say something good afterwards.

 

We’ve been doing some things where it’s on our staff calendar at different times. It’s optional. It‘s the watercooler. Staff members are dialing in. Some folks are talking about what they’re working on, kids at home. Some folks are on there with their headphones on, listening to chatter as background noise, as something to work with. In true Wikimedia and Wikipedia fashion, the funniest thing, someone on our staff made a link on one of our internal office Wiki pages that has a clicking sound to a keyboard and different office voices, all the things that get on your nerves when you’re working with people, Toby’s laugh or so-and-so’s nails clicking. Those sounds are meant for you to listen to when you want to be annoyed or laugh. Those are funny and creative things.

We have a Slack channel called Distancing Socially. Folks are putting pictures of their dogs and things in there. We have a Push Up Slack channel where you type the word go and everyone is supposed to drop and do ten push-ups. It solicits a lot of interesting commentaries when people don’t want to do the push-ups. Those things are fun and entertaining. We’ve also done our best to care for our staff in some different ways and that’s shifting to a reduced workweek as needed. Those expectations are that staff and contractors can work twenty hours a week if necessary.

Is it more the results-only work environment that you’re moving towards?

Definitely. It’s keeping folks aware of where you are and how you’re getting your work done so that you can feel free to check-in and care for your families. We presented a stipend to our staff, for folks that needed to maybe do some upgrades to their home office or their Wi-Fi speed with the way the world is working and things like that.

I’m lucky. My kids know the rules. They do their own thing. They make their own food. Life is pretty simple. I can’t imagine having a 3 and a 5-year-old running around. I’d be losing my mind.

They come to our meetings. When we have special workers visiting us, we want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable because we’ve still got to keep Wiki running.

You talked about the long, hard conversations that you sometimes have with teams. What is the model that you use for these long, hard conversations?

The model is to say something good, tell them the bad stuff, and say something good afterward. That good sandwich. I hate that sandwich, but because you know the sandwich is coming, I start up front, like, “We’re going to have what might be a little bit of a tough conversation. I’m going to try and make it as palatable as possible and let’s work through it together. Let’s put that out front. Now, let’s start with the sandwich.” I’m not even being sarcastic. It’s like, “This could be a tough conversation or maybe not but I want to set the expectation. I want you to know that I’ve got the time blocked. We’ve got 30 minutes but I’ve already blocked an additional fifteen afterward so that you don’t feel rushed, whatever the case may be. I’m putting my phone down, the camera is on, I see you, I’m with you, let’s have this conversation.”

I like that you call it out right away because they know it’s coming so you throw it out there. I’m even going to use the sandwich like, “Here it comes too.” If you have a conflict issue that you have to address with somebody or a hard discussion you have to have, from the instant that you know you need to have it and you’re boiling, do you give yourself an hour cooldown? Do you count to 100? Do you have anything to breathe into it before you go at it full force?

I am not going to claim to be the expert. It takes a lot to get me heated but when I’m there, I’m there. You took me there if that’s where we’re headed, as opposed to the general frustration of we’re going back and forth. What I try to say at that point is, “I need you to know that you’re being heard. I hear you. I also need you to know we don’t agree on this. I’m going to call it. Here’s the decision that we have to make, but I hear you. I got your points. I got your idea.”

If I’m pretty hot, if we’re in a dialogue, I may say, “Let’s take two. Let’s catch our breath.” I honestly don’t know that I did that well at GE or I didn’t have many of those. I don’t know. I definitely will take a moment. If the conversation is something that I become aware of, I am learning to do better at taking that into the whole spending time with it, putting more thought around it, even getting some coaching on it maybe, and then coming back to it.

It’s some of the wisdom that we gain as a leader over time. We’ve had enough of the hard discussions and we’ve seen, “I screwed that one up. That one went better.” We learn our own model or methodology with it too.

Perspective too. I have to keep everything in perspective and I’m trying to remember what might they be going through right now, what might they be considering. That’s something that I’m trying to stay conscious of.

That’s a huge one that we talked about at one of our COO Alliance events, one of our in-person events. I had everyone write down one thing they were struggling with on a Post-it notes. We passed out the Post-it notes and then shuffled them all up and I read them all. One person said, “I have a brain tumor.” Another one was, “I’m splitting up from my spouse.” “My mom is in the hospital and I shouldn’t be here.” You realize everybody is struggling with something. When they miss that deadline or they’re short in a meeting or they’re scattered, sometimes it’s life. People don’t want to show up and mess up.

Your perspective on that is intuitive. The last question is on the technology side. When you’re in the Bay Area and you’re competing for this war on talent, especially you’re an engineer and techie company, how do you compete against these companies that are funded like the Facebooks and the Googles? It used to be called predatory pricing. Now it’s predatory hiring. They overpay to hire people.

Our compensation philosophy is not that. We are a nonprofit. This is my first nonprofit. The Foundation is a competitive pay structure. Particularly with our tech folks, I’m tech folk myself, you’re not going to get the Google bonus and the Google stock. That’s not what you’re getting here. You are a part of this mission, passion, and this calling. This is where you want to serve. We do offer competitive pay as a foundation but you’re working here because you want to be a part of the free knowledge movement, that’s for sure. We may not be able to offer something that competitive on that tier and pay. We have an incredible set of policies around holidays, benefits, flexibility, work from home, and before COVID, travel. There are many great things that we offer to be a Wikimedian. You can lean into that as well.

It sounds like you’ve got your base. If we think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you’ve got that base pay. It’s solid enough that the rest of the stuff matters. If you were way too low on the base pay, none of the other stuff matters.

To me, it’s a safe balance. Everyone is going to say, “How much do you want?” The answer is more.

Janeen, if you were to go back to your 22-year-old self, you’re getting ready to embark on your career and you’re going to go and give yourself some advice, what advice would you give yourself?

I would tell myself at 22 to bet on myself sooner. I was that girl that didn’t believe she was bringing enough to the table. I over-studied, over-compensated. Some of that is what society and life feed you particularly when you’re a black woman in tech. I wish that I had bet on myself more sooner. I would tell the 22-year-old me that you’ve got to bet on yourself sooner because it’s a good bet.

It’s a great bet. You’re solid.

Thank you.

Janeen Uzzell, the Chief Operating Officer from Wikimedia, I appreciate the time and sharing with us. It was amazing.

I love this conversation. Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be a part of here. I look forward to hearing more of the interviews that you do.

Thank you. I appreciate it.

Important Links:

About Janeen Uzzell

SIC 130 | Wikimedia COOThe Wikimedia Foundation is the global non-profit that supports Wikipedia.

Janeen has dedicated her career to exploring how technology can drive equality and representation globally. In her current role, she oversees operational efficiency and scale during the period of fastest growth in the Foundation’s history. In addition to being second in command at Wikimedia, Janeen is committed to driving equity in the representation of diverse communities on the platform and is passionate about access to information. She is on a mission to expand the free knowledge movement and welcome new voices that are more representative of the world around us. 

Prior to joining the Foundation, Janeen was head of Women in Technology at General Electric (GE), where she worked with the company’s global CEOs to cultivate a culture across their workforce of 300,000 employees which accelerated the number of women in technical roles. Prior to that, she was the company’s Global Director of External Affairs and Technology Programs, and before that, she spent five years as Director of Healthcare Programs for GE Africa, based in Accra, Ghana.

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