Women In Product’s Julie Wenah Reflects on Gender Inclusion and Tech at Davos 2024

Posts, Taking Action for a More Inclusive Future

At the World Economic Forum’s 54th Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2024, Women In Product Board Member Julie Wenah took part in two panel discussions that shed light on the evolving landscape of gender issues, technology’s role in bridging gaps in gender equity, and the power of storytelling and leadership in advocating for women’s rights. Here, she shares some of what she learned and reflects on the complexities of not just envisioning a more equitable world but actively participating in its creation.

Women In Product: It seemed like there were more discussions than usual focused on gender equity at this year’s Davos gathering. Do you feel like the event moved the conversation on this issue forward? 

Julie Wenah: At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, I had the privilege of participating in two pivotal panel discussions that delved into the multifaceted dynamics of gender equity and technology’s pivotal role in reshaping societal norms. Partnering with The Female Quotient, one panel explored the profound impact of women on the global economy. Additionally, a panel centered around the Silicon Valley Inclusion@Work report, a collaborative effort by  PRISCA, UN Women, and APCO Worldwide, dissected the challenges and opportunities in fostering inclusivity across industries.

These discussions were catalysts for change. As we navigated the evolving technological landscape and its implications for our global economic landscape, there was a palpable sense of urgency to foster collaboration and innovation to propel us toward a more equitable society.

WIP: What were your initial expectations going into Davos, and how did the experience align or differ from those expectations?

JW: Entering Davos, I had high expectations, fueled by the anticipation of engaging discussions and transformative insights. My expectations were not only met but exceeded. My panel host organizations created fertile ground for thought-provoking and engaging dialogue. Moreover, the myriad of events hosted by many companies amplified the diversity of perspectives and solutions shared. The experience left a memorable mark, igniting a renewed sense of purpose and determination to effect meaningful change.

WIP: Considering the rapid advancements in technology and AI, how do you envision these tools being utilized to bridge the gender gap in access to opportunities, especially in underrepresented communities? Are there ways you can see them being used specifically in product management to level the field? 

JW: With rapidly advancing technology lies immense opportunity to bridge gaps, particularly in underrepresented communities. However, this potential must be harnessed responsibly, with a keen awareness of inherent biases and pitfalls that may accompany technological evolution — whether that involves facial recognition technology misidentification leading to false arrests or machine learning models making assessments on creditworthiness by utilizing arbitrary factors that may be biased on its face – that need to be solved for or mitigated, at a minimum. Collaborative endeavors across disciplines and industries are essential to navigate the unintended consequences of technological advancement. 

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to participate in the real-world impact of the evolution of responsible product management and development across disciplines and industries – from hard manufactured products to software technology products. During my time leading President Obama’s manufacturing communities agenda, I watched manufacturers introduce robotics and 3D capabilities while creating training programs for the evolution of manufacturing careers. After the Obama White House, I shifted into building responsible technology in the digital sharing, software, and social media economies – whether it was in leading Airbnb’s legal efforts for Project Lighthouse, a groundbreaking initiative to uncover, measure, and overcome discrimination when booking or hosting on Airbnb, to creating Project Height at Meta, a multi-pronged approach to building responsible technology by developing a framework for product teams and investing in the future leaders committed to building responsible technology. Further, the Digital Civil Rights Coalition I created in 2019 is leading important work to help shape a regulatory future that advances an inclusive digital technology ecosystem.

WIP: You discussed the power of storytelling and collaboration across industries. How do you see these collaborative efforts evolving within the field of product management?

JW: During the Female Quotient panel, Alice McKown from the Atlantic asked about examples of collaborative efforts across industry by women. I shared the example of filmmaker Ava Duvernay, whose collaboration with philanthropic organizations, such as the Ford Foundation and Melinda Gates, birthed the thought-provoking film, Origin — an anthropological thesis based on Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of our Discontents. This film encourages us to examine ourselves and how we are interacting in this world and with each other. The power of storytelling and collaboration knows no bounds, transcending industry barriers to drive meaningful societal change. Ava Duvernay knew she was making a film that was meant to have societal impact in the world. 

Product managers have a unique opportunity to leverage collaborative efforts to drive innovation and inclusivity. By forging partnerships across industries, similar to Ava Duvernay and Melinda Gates, we can create a collective impact and pave the way for a more conscious community.

WIP: In the current societal climate, how do you see your approach to leadership and advocating for women’s rights evolving? Did your experience at Davos change that at all? 

JW: The through-line in my academic and professional journey has always been centered in women and communities at the margins, from creating the first Women’s Empowerment conference as a college student to making an award-winning short film focused on women and healing. The World Economic Forum served as a poignant reminder of the imperative to amplify women’s voices and champion women rights in every facet of society. The Inclusion@Work panel underscored the business case (backed by data) for diversity and inclusion; they also reinforced the importance of intersectionality in our advocacy efforts. Backing assertions with data is core to telling the story, and I will continue to marry my love for numbers with the ability to amplify and advocate. Moving forward, I am more resolved than ever to center the stories and experiences of women from diverse backgrounds, ensuring that our voices are not only heard but amplified.

 

WIP: What advice would you give to other product managers aspiring to evolve their careers and excel in the field, inspired by your experience and discussions at Davos? 
JW: Attending the World Economic Forum in Davos further underscored the unique and unconventional lens I have gained through recent life experiences. In the last two years, my family has lost eight people including my favorite human — my mom. My advice is simple: find your why and embrace your how. Take the time to unearth your passions and purpose, and let them guide your journey. Why do you do what you do? And how are you doing it? Sitting with and excavating these answers within yourself will allow you to tap into a greater potential within yourself which will produce a journey that is in alignment with who you’ve ultimately been called to be — in any space, place, or time.

About the author

Julie Wenah Headshot

Julie Wenah

Julie is a global product leader, civil rights lawyer, tech executive and award-winning filmmaker who has successfully led teams and launched products, policies, and legislation focusing on equitable and scalable solutions for domestic and international markets in the public and private sectors.