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Becoming Better Allies, with Karen Catlin

Episode 18

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After spending 25 years building software products and serving as a vice president of engineering at Adobe, Karen Catlin witnessed a sharp decline in the number of women working in tech. Frustrated but galvanized, she knew it was time to switch gears.

Today, Karen coaches women to be stronger leaders and men to be better allies. Her client roster includes Airbnb, DoorDash, eBay, Intel, and Intuit, as well as motivated entrepreneurs and individuals. Karen’s coaching offerings include tactics for increasing visibility, being more strategic, managing stakeholders, negotiation, and cultivating ally skills. Her writing on these and related topics has appeared in Inc., the Daily Beast, Fast Company, and The Muse, and she’s consulted on articles for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and the New York Times. In late 2014, Karen started the Twitter handle @betterallies to share simple, actionable steps that anyone could take to make their workplaces more inclusive. That Twitter handle became the inspiration for her books, Better Allies®: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces and The Better Allies Approach to Hiring. She continues to tweet and blog for Better Allies, and she also emails a roundup of “5 Ally Actions” to her subscribers every week.

A self-professed public speaking geek, Karen is a highly sought-after and engaging presenter who has delivered talks at hundreds of conferences and corporate events. She speaks on a variety of topics, including inclusive workplaces and women in leadership. Her TEDx talk, “Women in Tech: The Missing Force,” explores the decline in gender diversity in tech, why it’s a problem, and what can be done about it. In addition to speaking herself, Karen is determined to change the ratio for who is on stage giving keynotes and other presentations. To support her goal of bringing more diversity to speaker lineups at tech industry events, she coauthored the book Present! A Techie’s Guide to Public Speaking with Poornima Vijayashanker.

Karen is a graduate and active alum of Brown University, serving as an advisor to the university’s Computer Science Diversity Initiative and mentoring students on how to launch their careers. She’s also a member of the board of directors of DigitalNEST and on the advisory boards for the Women’s CLUB of Silicon Valley and WEST (Women Entering & Staying in Technology). In 2015, the California State Assembly honored Karen with the Wonder Women Tech Innovator Award for outstanding achievements in business and technology and for being a role model for women.

What you will learn in this episode:

  • Why Karen wanted to make workplaces more inclusive
  • How our words and our actions can speak to people about being more inclusive
  • What simple, everyday actions and language can we take and use to be more inclusive
  • What is the difference between intending to be an ally vs being an ally
  • How do you interject without making the perpetrator look bad
  • How to seek common ground before educating someone
  • What phrases or language is surprisingly racist or non-inclusive
  • What behaviors and language can we stop doing and uses to be better allies


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