Canva’s WLT Winner Sally Woellner Reveals Why She’d Reinvent Cryptocurrencies

Canva’s WLT Winner Sally Woellner Reveals Why She’d Reinvent Cryptocurrencies
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Whether due to their share price or because of NFT artworks exploding onto the scene, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been in the news of late. But despite the hype, Sally Woellner reckons we ought to rethink cryptocurrencies.

It’s been just over a year since Canva’s template design lead and product designer, Sally Woellner, picked up the inaugural Women Leading Tech award for design.

And as we’re preparing for the second edition of the awards show that champions greater awareness of the need for diversity in technology, B&T is speaking with past winners and standout voices in the industry.

Woellner is among this cohort, and recently revealed how the industry can see change for the better when it comes to improving opportunity in tech for women—while ensuring we don’t end up with the diversity problems of Silicon Valley.

Sally, if you could uninvent one piece of technology, what would it be?

Bitcoin. Or at least I’d love to reinvent the blockchain and its most famous cryptocurrencies using an approach that doesn’t have such devastating consequences for the environment.

Analysis by Cambridge University suggests that Bitcoin mining is using more energy than Argentina—and as the price rises, its energy consumption only increases.

Even though there are many industries or countries we could target for their horrific carbon footprints, it’s such a clear example where using less energy-intensive alternatives would make an immense difference for our future.

What was your initial reaction to winning a Women Leading Tech award?

I had no idea what my chances were like before I began—the women in my category were experienced and incredibly diverse, and my main thought was I didn’t envy the judges who had to make the choice at all.

So I was elated and honestly incredibly humbled to win—and in many ways, it made me think more about the opportunities and the corresponding responsibility to be visible in the industry.

Sometimes it’s easier to fly under the radar—but even just being visible can encourage others who may feel left out. I want to make sure that I honour the trust that was placed in me, in a way—and work even harder for diversity of all types in the industry.

What are some structural changes you believe could be made at the education level to help improve diversity and inclusion in the technology space?

Cultural change in educational institutions is utterly key. There are so many challenges for people wanting to make education more inclusive—educators are often underfunded, overworked, and short on time.

It can be easy to simply suggest that teachers and lecturers should do more to ensure that design and technology education is accessible and inclusive. And many do wish to make sure their materials and courses are accessible to students of every culture, ability, gender and age—but they lack institutional support, time, and resources to put practices into place that would really make a difference.

Cultural change is needed to make sure that inclusivity is valued from the top down—so that it’s seen as a benefit for the institution (which it is!), not the individual responsibility of already hardworking teachers.

Silicon Valley has become notorious for its diversity problem.

As Australia continues to grow its technology sector—and attempts to create our own version of Silicon Valley—how can we avoid facing these same issues?

Looking beyond the immediate hiring pipeline is so important. Those of us with established careers can reach out and offer mentorship, insight, and support—but of course it’s so much bigger than that.

Workplaces and government need to support programs that address the underlying inequalities that mean that so many applicants don’t even have the chance to enter a tech or design career to start with.

That’s why events like this can be such a good starting point, as they can create those networks of support, and start to talk about the tough questions of how we can address systemic problems that stop people from even getting to the stage where they apply for a job in tech.

In your opinion, where does technology fit into the creative process?

My first job was in tech support—where I gained a real appreciation for how creative you need to be to solve problems in tech (even if it’s in a dial-up modem). Creativity is all about how you solve problems, and tech is an amazing tool for highlighting and solving problems.

I think that what’s important to remember though, is that technology isn’t a solution on its own. It just amplifies existing social or institutional trends.

It’s not a magic wand that can set things right on its own. It needs to be used with an understanding of the cultures, systems and trends you’re using it in, otherwise you can just end up amplifying existing inequalities.

How does your role combine creativity and technology?

In my previous agency work, I’d always enjoyed exploring the ways I could use technology to speak to people. But at Canva, in a way I’m doing the opposite—working on a platform that allows people to speak creatively to the world.

I’ve learnt so much about how people from all cultures and backgrounds think of creativity and communication, and that’s just exponentially widened how I think of them in turn.

It’s a super cool challenge to make sure that the technology supports and inspires creativity in anyone—that the platform gets out of the way, and just makes it easier for people to speak however they want.

Have you had to develop your skills throughout your career to bring technology and creativity together?

Absolutely. To work in tech creatively, there needs to be such good communication, and empathy.

You’ll never get anything done if you end up fighting with the technology (or the engineers!), and so I’ve had to learn how to translate creativity to practical mindsets and outcomes.

But it’s honestly more fun working in constraints—and learning where you can stretch the technology, or where the creativity needs to stretch instead is always a wonderful balance and exploration.

Do you believe leadership is a learned skill or is it something that comes naturally?

A bit of both. I think it’s really important to recognise what gives you energy in your work—some of us are never going to be super enthusiastic about people leadership and being in a million face to face meetings, whereas some people can’t live without it.

Having the flexibility in your team to let people grow where they’re strong is difficult, but can be so powerful. Some skills in communication, empathy and openness can and should be taught—but it’s also important not to try to force someone who loves being on the tools into a boardroom all day.

You can find all of the 2021 winners here.

Thank you to our incredible sponsors and supporters for making this event possible. 

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