Women in Leadership and Technology: Fireside Chat with State of California Controller Betty Yee

What can women in technology do to find their path toward meaningful careers? And how is technology impacting government?

That’s a discussion that newly re-elected California State Controller Betty Yee led as guest speaker at OpenGov’s recent Women in Leadership and Technology Fireside Chat. We were so honored to have her with us and to learn from her more than 35 years of experience in the public sector.

In her role, Betty is responsible for paying the bills for the State of California, including the payroll for more than 250,000 State employees. She’s involved in overseeing pension funds and her agency conducts audits and extensive financial reporting. She was first elected in November 2014, following two terms of service on the Board of Equalization. As Controller, she continues to serve the Board as its fifth voting member.

Ms. Yee was first elected to the Board of Equalization in 2006 where she represented 21 counties in northern and central California. She was elected to her second four-year term in 2010. Now serving as the state’s chief fiscal officer, Ms. Yee also chairs the Franchise Tax Board and serves as a member of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) Boards. These two boards have a combined portfolio of nearly $570 billion. Ms. Yee also serves on the Ceres Board of Directors, a nonprofit organization working to mobilize many of the world’s largest investors to advance global sustainability and take stronger action on climate change.


The following are excerpts from her talk with OpenGov:

What can women do to drive greater impact?
I want to do my part to ensure that women are full participants in our economy and society. I’m only the 10th woman to be elected to a statewide office in California. We have always siloed how we look at women at work—by sector, women in entertainment, women in tech, etc. But it’s about what we bring to the table. Part of breaking down these silos is changing the criteria by how people determine how we measure up.

We each have different backgrounds and personal journeys that add to the richness of everything we do. I am very active in the climate space globally, and I have seen more women in the investment sector incorporate their very diverse backgrounds into shaping policy. This is a good change. You need to look at how you can touch global situations while making a difference at the local level. Your background does not limit what you can touch.

What advice would you give women in their early 20s about their career trajectory?
Don’t waste time mapping out your future, just live every day. The opportunities present themselves in non-traditional ways now. You will see what comes to you. Seek out mentors—not the traditional kind—but the people you believe have elevated and done it in ways that have not been traditional. Those with different backgrounds, or who have made career changes, specializing in fields, etc. More times than not, they will share their stories. What matters is what has shaped you and your outlook on life, because that makes you open. If we were all following the same development path and stayed in our lanes, it would be a really dull world.

So, loosen up on that, but at the same time check yourself. What drives you? What do you want to make a contribution to? In every sector, we work because we want to make a difference. In some ways it may be a few levels removed from what that difference is, but you’re still making a difference. Be in touch with that and your own values. And never lose sight of why you are doing what you’re doing. It has to be purposeful. Invest in relationships. It is a time that is challenging in terms of the richness of the tools we have to work with, but we have to make sure our tools don’t replace our relationships.

How do you interact with the tech sector in your role and how does tech play out in your job?
We do not have formal interaction with tech from my office, but as an elected official, I do. I view it from a global perspective, changing economy, future of work, as a fiduciary on boards of pension funds, etc. I used to think that if you had any touch with finance that it would drive public policy. Money drives everything. But now I would also say technology is a driver. How will technology change the business with government? We’re at the forefront. We see major disruptors as opportunities. Technology applies to all of the major issues we face and we’re looking at how we can use technology to get rid of silos and drive improvement.

What can we do to help drive a culture of innovation in government?
We are approaching an era of finite resources. We’re going to reach our limits on how much we can tax people. We’re going to have to work better with existing resources. How do we prioritize policies and finances? Technology can help us do this by analyzing it and providing the data to help us see where money is spent. We need to bring in more people who understand tech and we need to solve challenges around how we fund technology. It is an issue of working with finite, existing resources—because if you have money, then you won’t feel the need to change. As resources become limited, it will drive innovation.




To learn more about OpenGov and how it is driving innovation in government, check out our customer success stories.


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