Women Leading Tech: Canva’s Jennie Rogerson On Being Kind & Mentoring At Work

Women Leading Tech: Canva’s Jennie Rogerson On Being Kind & Mentoring At Work

From starting as an executive assistant at the end of 2019 and rapidly accelerating to becoming the company’s global head of people in just over two years, Jennie Rogerson’s journey at Canva has had a remarkable journey.

Now, with a year heading up the company’s People team and a Times Square billboard under her belt, Rogerson tells B&T how the Aussie startup darling is changing the world of work for women.

Can you tell us about your career and how you came to Canva?

I started out in hospitality, but always knew I wanted to work in tech. Not coming from a traditional background, I found it incredibly tough to break into tech and certainly got a few knockbacks. After meeting some of the team and seeing the amazing Sydney Canva office and all their inclusiveness at a “how to make presentations on Canva” workshop, as cheesy as it sounds, I knew this was a company I wanted to work for.

After applying for a few different roles, I thought I’d take a chance and apply for an executive assistant role. Although it was completely not in my area of experience, I knew that it was a role that I could learn a lot from. I created a Canva website on all of the things I could bring to the team. Cliff, Canva’s COO and co-founder, messaged me a few minutes later to see if I could come in for a chat.

From there Cliff and I worked together to create Leadership Operations at Canva, similar to a chief of staff role. In that role, I was able to drive projects like our post-COVID approach to flexible work, our Celebration of Diversity strategy, and the co-founders’ pledge to give a 30 per cent stake of Canva to the Canva Foundation. After a few years, I was lucky to then join our amazing People team as head of people, and work towards our mission to empower our team to do the best work of their lives.

What steps has Canva taken to make you feel empowered in your career?

From the start, we’ve taken thoughtful and intentional steps to make the whole team feel empowered to play an active role in making Canva your dream company and your dream job – and in a way that’s meaningful to each person. That may be building a product you’d want to use, contributing to a cause you care about as part of our two-step plan, or creating one of our more than 400 clubs to connect with like-minded people (my favourite is Tetris club).

One of the actions we’ve taken is really taking the time to listen and learn about what the team loves about our culture and the areas of opportunity we see. That includes through culture surveys or our Inclusion-Ideas form where we submit ideas on how to build a more inclusive and diverse culture.

You have been posting on LinkedIn talking about the importance of kindness at work and how to face the current challenges affecting the tech sector. What advice would you give to other women within the sector having a hard time?

Kindness to others, as well as to ourselves, feels more important now than ever before with so much turbulence in the world and in many of our lives. At work, kindness can be thought of as putting you “behind” not “ahead” which, to me, is entirely untrue. Giving genuine acts of kindness, no matter how big or small, and taking care of ourselves, can reduce our stress and anxiety and can improve our overall contentment. These small moments of kindness can have a huge impact on others, can also foster inclusion, and give people space to create and innovate.

What initiatives is Canva working on to champion women in the company?

We talk a lot about how it’s not on one or a few people to create an inclusive culture, and that each of us plays a role in building a safer, fairer and more equal workplace and world for everyone. One of the many projects we are working on across this space is our Unstoppable Me group coaching program that’s run by our internal coaching team and aims to empower more women in engineering leadership roles. Since 2020, 75 engineers have taken the program with more than 35 per cent becoming a team lead or coach. As a result of its success, we also just launched a new mentoring program where our women engineers can have one-hour sessions every six weeks across six months with an internal mentor, with the goal to increase their confidence and help them achieve their goals.

We’ve made a commitment towards ensuring we pay equitably by gender. That’s through initiatives like our regular and in-depth pay equity analysis and actions with Syndio, training sessions with our salary decision makers (along with Unconscious Bias training during onboarding) and running multiple rounds of calibration during our review process to ensure fair and equitable decisions.

On International Women’s Day, we launched a Celebration of Women initiative with a range of events, workshops and resources that our team can get involved in now and in the months to come, with the intention to generate discussion throughout the whole year, not just on one day. For example, we recently had an event where some incredible external speakers shared their stories of women in war zones and underrepresented communities in Ukraine, Iran, and Afghanistan.

What changes would you like to see in the tech industry to make women more empowered and able to affect change?

While there have been great wins in this space over the past few years, the pandemic has set us back a lot — which means we still have a way to go. Seeing the impact you can have firsthand when you don’t come from a traditional background, I’d really like to see it become a lot easier for women from all different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences to break into tech, and continue to grow.

A big part of this, to me, is recognising and applying transferable skills across leadership from different specialties, and creating internal and external pathways for women from all kinds of backgrounds to pursue more technical roles. An example of this is an internal program we ran last year that coached five women Canvanauts from non-technical industries to product manager roles.

Working together as an industry to increase education and awareness among young women, especially at a time when they’re just planning their careers, is also something I’d like to see more of. That might involve educating girls on things like the types of tech roles or impact you can have in tech, whether that’s through supporting nonprofits or we have an early talent program where we run workshops with high school students to encourage them to explore a career in tech.

Finally, there are so many amazing nonprofits and organisations around the world that are doing incredible work in this space, so the more we can support them through our foundations to our volunteering, the more impact we can have in building a better, more inclusive world for everyone.

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