Annie Ta is Making Pinterest a Positive Corner of the Internet

The Head of Inclusive Product talks setting boundaries and the importance of being human in the workplace.

Annie Ta starts every day with morning meditation and a kale smoothie. Before the day is through, she and her toddler call her grandmother. That routine is part of how she keeps herself grounded—she balances the long hours of working with AI with human interaction.

As Head of Inclusive Product at Pinterest, Ta uses integrated features to help Pinners from all walks of life have a positive experience with the platform. The most important part of her job is remembering that humans are the ones using the app. She’s inspired by the visual nature of the platform, and is on a mission to ensure that everyone, no matter who they are, how they identify, can see themselves on Pinterest.

“Building inclusive products is a completely new field,” Ta says. “Not everyone understands what it feels like to have that moment like me, where I've looked at magazine covers, and I don't feel represented. So, being able to tell the story, the power behind what it actually feels like and have that kind of moment where you realize you're impacting real people. That is so important in everything we do day to day.”

Thanks to Ta, anyone using a non-branded beauty search on Pinterest should see a diverse range of skin tones in the top ten results. She’s behind that skin tone range feature you see at the top of your makeup inspo searches.

She’s creatively and technically skilled, and blends these to improve Pinterest as a platform. Ta thinks of the app as an interactive experience, and the natural desire to feel seen shapes her thinking in building these products.

“There are so many problems that you could address in the world,” Ta says. “We're not always trying to boil the ocean. But, you can do one small thing that helps people a little bit, and that butterfly effect can be sometimes just immeasurable.”

For Glamour’s Doing The Work series, Annie Ta talks about reframing rejection, finding a creative outlet, and representation for WOC in tech.

I know you consider Pinterest to be a dream job—what was your childhood dream job?

I grew up the daughter of immigrants, and I think that my parents’ definition of success was always “become a doctor.” I think that I wanted to become a doctor. In college, I was a biology major, but I decided to focus on looking at how medicine impacts disadvantaged communities. I really studied things about children, as well as underrepresented groups, and how medicine and health impacts them. On the flip side of things, I always wanted to be an art teacher. In the very early parts of my life, I loved to draw and color. I can't say I'm a particularly great artist. It doesn't matter what kind of outcome there is or what I make. It always has felt really positive.

Explain the moment you realized, “Okay, I might actually be successful.”

People use Pinterest for inspiration. But sometimes, you actually need inspiration when you're feeling a little bit down. So if you're stressed or anxious about things, people actually search for things like stress quotes or anxiety quotes, just as a way to kind of unlock inspiration for themselves or feel a little bit better. We saw people were doing that so much that we decided to build an experience called compassionate search.

We partnered with a team of psychiatrists at Stanford to add a series of exercises that would help people kind of reset again. So there are simple things like a breathing exercise, or an exercise to write down three things that you are grateful for about yourself.

I build all these experiences at Pinterest with all the teams that I work with, and sometimes I'm like, “Do people really love that?” and we received this incredible letter, a really thoughtful note from someone who had seen this experience, and how it impacted their life. That was one of those moments where I was like, “Wow, we're doing this. We can really build experiences that change people online.” That meant so much to me and to the team of getting this personal letter, this person didn't have to do that. They just like, googled our address, wrote a handwritten note and sent it to the team. And that was like, I can make a career out of this thing.

I was also eight months pregnant at the time, so I was very emotional about the whole thing. But I was like, “Wow, I can be a mom, and I can do this.”

How do you typically deal with rejection at work?

I think that breaking down rejection into the bits and pieces of what you're looking for, can really help to reframe your perspective, to help you achieve what you want, without it being kind of this gargantuan scary thing that's happening to you in your life. How can you think about getting those opportunities in different places, or finding people to help you get those skills? For me, figuring out what skills I may need to build on can be a really interesting and fun learning opportunity, rather than an idea of rejection. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and you can learn from everything that happens in your life.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve personally received?

I remember struggling a lot with how to lead. I was telling my manager how I was trying to do things like someone else, and he said to me, “Annie, why don't you just try to lead as yourself? Why don't you think about leading using your own strengths and what you're good at?” That really changed things quite a bit for me, because I struggled to be super confident and assertive in meetings. I am the kind of person that really leads through building relationships and connections. The fact that someone gave me the space and advice to really think that through, that I as a unique human being could lead a little bit differently, has really helped me in my career and in a lot of ways.

I use it a lot now, in my day to day as I mentor women and BIPOC folks within Pinterest. That's like a passion of mine. How might I really help other people like me succeed in places like Pinterest, where we may not always feel super represented? We have to take that on for ourselves in a lot of ways, and no one's going to fight for us if we don't fight for ourselves.

What’s your biggest at-work challenge?

My biggest workplace challenge is balancing it all. As a mother, as a partner, as a woman, I feel like there is a lot of pressure to take on everything. I have grown up with a very specific mentality being the daughter of immigrants -- you work hard. You support your family and I think that my biggest challenge has been figuring out, how do I balance the work side of things? How do I be there for my family and how do I be there for myself?

One of my greatest lessons learned about this last year and becoming a mom – really doing it remotely with not a lot of help – was that by taking time for myself, that 20 minutes in the morning that we're talking about, I'm actually better at everything else, by setting that boundary. I'm a better person, I'm happier, I'm healthier. I figured out something that works for me and it gives me a break. And I don't have to give 130% to everything I do every second of the day. Because if I give a little bit more to myself, I can be there a little bit more for everybody else.

After a successful productive day, what's your favorite low-stakes treat?

Ice cream. Anything that has salted caramel in it.

If you weren’t in your current career, what would you be?

I love fashion. I think I'd be a creative director at a fashion brand.

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This story originally appeared on: Glamour - Author:Condé Nast

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