This week we talk to an inspiring woman who is an entrepreneur, an industry influencer, a blogger, a writer for Forbes, an international keynote speaker, and the creator of the Emotional Banking and HumanDebt concepts.
Duena Blomstrom is the Co-Founder and CEO of PeopleNotTech, a company designing a human work platform based on measuring and increasing psychological safety for high performing teams.
With a background in psychology as well as business, she is the author of ‘Emotional Banking’ and ‘People Before Tech: The Importance of Psychological Safety and Teamwork in the Digital Age’.
Over the past 20 years, she has worked with multiple large organisations be it to assist them in their digital strategy or to help them transform.
How and where did you start your career in tech?
I was lucky enough to have entered the banking sector just as we were all arriving at the term fintech and witness the birth of the sector while understanding the extreme challenges of incumbents and challengers alike so many years ago. I had fallen in love with Agile and making products customers loved before then though when, before banking, I had worked in technology and starting marveling at the way technical minds and teams work and how their interaction and dynamic makes for fast and often delightful outcomes. Since then, the journey took me through hundreds of enterprises and it opened my eyes to the basic truth that technology in itself and the processes we need to make it happen are not what is holding us back and what we need to focus on but instead, it is people. Hence the name of the company and the title of my latest book ‘People Before Tech’. Somewhere along my journey of consulting, making products, running startups and being in corporate leadership roles, I became acutely aware that the real obstacle, the first hurdle to deal with is what I call ‘HumanDebt’ which is the same thing as ‘TechDebt’ but for humans – all the projects, topics and needed left undone, all the ways in which we should have served our people but we didn’t and all the transgressions against them – they all amount to more and more HumanDebt in every organisation if we’re not careful. And that before we take this seriously and we start to diminish and pay it off by doing the hard human work, we will never realise on the potential of Agile and fast technology delivery.
Are there any women in tech that have particularly inspired you?
Undoubtedly. First and foremost Helene Panzarino. She makes me think and keeps me on track every day. Then Ffion Jones, Karen Ferris, Devie Mohan, Andra Sonea and Tracy Bannon are unimaginably elevated minds and true powerhouses of courage and without them having crossed my path and helped me at various points I would have hung up my cape many times before.
What’s the most pressing issue for women in tech today?
The most urgent to-do for women is to shake the impression management (trying to uphold a certain image of yourself that you perceive your team mates or peers have without loss of image) surrounding the people topics. There is an undercurrent in the business world today that sees the discourse on ways of work and culture having opened up and become ubiquitous in lieu of a Friday afterthought. This needs driving home in a solid, lasting way. What I mean is that the point of doing the human work must be emphasised and conceded upon at every level as a matter of company sustainability. Women impression manage against looking emotional in the workplace a lot. This is because being emotional has traditionally been seen as a weakness and condemned for all genders but a lot more so for females who have had to overstate their extreme detachment to protect against the label and ignore the eye rolls around being a woman and therefore being emotional. We need women to overcome that. There’s no impostor syndrome to be had around having feelings. No one genuinely needs us to “do the robot” and pretend we aren’t human and now with the dialogue happening, it will not be men driving the point home to where it is translated into true new ways of work and processes but women, so I need us all to roll up our sleeves.
What challenges did you face when founding and running People Not Tech?
The HumanDebt we fight to combat is the biggest challenge. We make the world’s first platform to enable the human work at the team level focusing on the psychological safety of teams so that people are able to actually be Agile and make awesome technology. As you can imagine, that often times feels Sisyphean or not impossible. We’re not only creating demand but forging roads into pure corporate stone. It’s a need that’s evident and pressing and it becomes even more so in the face of the great resignation, extreme disengagement, burnout, new hybrid setups, etc., but it is utterly new of a concept that people deserve better and they can achieve that better themselves, so we encounter a lot of resistance. Organisational level resistance where the company is so mired in HumanDebt that they simply don’t know how to untangle it and lost the ability too in some cases where there is no ownership of the people-life-bettering function; but team level resistance too because people spent their entire company life never being allowed to feel anything and they find it hard to believe their emotions are now allowed leave alone important or discussed.
What advice would you give to women looking to get into tech?
The world of technology needs you. Your courage, your resilience, your instinctive recognition of what matters most so if you feel charitable, come along and make your unapologetic mark. The good news is that the tech industry is sublimely open and working in technology is in fact immensely equalising. The topic of gender is nowhere as ever present as other industries and women in tech teams may even feel the gender disparity a lot less than elsewhere. It isn’t about your chosen pronoun as much as it is about working in tightly-knit teams that care deeply about each other and make magic together in moments of sublime fast running of psychologically safe dynamics and that’s truly freeing and hopeful.
Check out the previous tech-themed interview with Fazilat Damani, Founder of conscious tech startup SULY, here.