Pulling Others Up the Ladder Behind Her

Miriam Warren ’02 had a tough time navigating her college experience. She mentors Mills students so they don’t face the same problems.

No comments
On November 8, 2019, Miriam Warren ’02 took Mills students on a Career Trek at the Yelp offices in San Francisco. Career Treks are part of the Mills Career Connections and Community Engagement Center’s programming. (Photos by Teresa Tam)

By Rachel Leibrock, MFA ’05

After stumbling her way through applying to college and entering the workforce, Miriam Warren ’02 mentors Mills students in the hopes of easing their paths.

It was 2014, and Miriam Warren ’02—more than a decade out of college—found herself pondering a big question: How could she best give back to the school that had shaped her life in such a profound way?

The Yelp executive was already making a point of regularly donating to the Mills College Career Connections and Community Engagement Center to help others follow their dreams. Still, she thought, there must be other ways to invest her years of professional experience in Mills, from which she’d graduated with a degree in ethnic studies.

The College had just launched a new mentoring program, and in an off-handed comment, Warren told Inés Barbosa, the Mills assistant dean for advising, career, and global learning, that she wanted to help others gain access to networks they might not otherwise have. As a student, Warren explained, she’d seen first-hand the financial and informational edge others had if they had wealthy or well-connected parents.

Warren imagined it this way: What if someone showed you all the things that are possible for you—things you may have never imagined on your own?

It’s this simple idea that motivated Warren, now vice president of engagement, diversity, and belonging at Yelp, to explore mentorship, both within her company and at Mills. The concept has—in some ways—also guided her to embrace the unexpected.

When Warren first started at Mills, she didn’t have anyone in her life who could guide her through all of the nuances of college life, but she saw the difference it could make.

“I noticed how it could get you internships, it could help you with your college admission essays, it could get you into grad school,” she says. “I thought, maybe I could be a proxy for that.”

Barbosa instantly recognized how Warren could help. As a first-generation student, Warren could empathize, share experiences, and offer critical guidance.

“She didn’t always know the right questions to ask [as a student], but now she is a sounding board for students,” Barbosa says. “She understands the range of possibilities that exist.”

Mentoring, as it would turn out, also offered Warren her own space to grow and learn. “I first said, ‘Just send me some students and I’ll sit down and have lunch with them and figure out what they need,” she says. “That was a bit naive on my part—eating lunch with them wasn’t going to actually change anything. They didn’t know what they needed yet.”

Warren changed her approach. In addition to sit-down chats, she invited students to her workplace where they could observe, ask questions, and meet others. The process evolved into one that included not just talking to mentees, but actively listening to them as well.

“One of the things that has been really exciting about mentoring women at Mills is that it can manifest in so many different ways,” Warren says. “I think that sometimes when people think about taking on a mentee, they think, ‘I’m going to have to figure out everything for them.’”

It’s not so much about solving someone else’s problems as it is helping them discover a wealth of solutions. For example, many of the students with whom Warren works have never been inside a tech company before, much less understand what career options such a place could hold.

“I didn’t want to just show them my desk—I wanted to introduce them to other people,” she says. “I want to introduce them to what these jobs look like.”

While Warren says she welcomes all opportunities for her mentees, she also places a special focus on connecting them with women. “I want to lift other women up,” she says. “I’m a big believer in the old girls’ network.”

Warren’s journey to that network has taken many turns over the years, some harder than the others, simply for a lack of knowing. When she applied to colleges, for example, the whole rigmarole that came with it—the application process, test prep, and career possibilities— was such a mystery.

“There were a bunch of things I didn’t know, and when I found out that I didn’t know those things, I’d assume it was my fault for not knowing,” Warren says. “I realize now that if you don’t have people in your family who’ve been to college, then there are a lot of things you don’t know.”

For starters, she says, maybe submitting that college essay on brightly colored paper wasn’t the best idea. Warren laughs about it now. After all, she was accepted at Mills College despite the neon purple.

Still, things could have been easier. Conceived in the Philippines, Warren moved with her mother, a German immigrant, to Las Vegas when Warren was just six months old. There, her mother married an American who adopted her— and Warren wouldn’t meet her biological father again for years.

The experience had a profound effect in forging her perspective. “I grew up as a really brown girl in a very white family,” she says. “I never knew my biological family until I was 17 years old.”

When she did finally connect with her birth father and his family, it didn’t go quite as Warren expected. She had expected that all the alienation she felt as that brown-skinned girl would disappear. The puzzle pieces would finally fit together.

But they didn’t. “I realized that, no, they were just as Filipino as my German family was German, and then my white American family was white and American,” she says.

Fundamentally, she realized, she embodied all of these identities. “When you’re all of these things, you are yourself and new things, too,” Warren says. The experience is a key reason why ethnic studies interested her as a major, she adds.

“These days, if you have a mixed-race kid or one who’s transracially adopted, you would probably try to expose them to their culture, but that didn’t happen for me,” she says.

In high school, Warren excelled at speech and debate and wanted to study law in order to become a civil rights attorney. Before she started classes at Mills, Warren was invited to tour the campus as part of an overnight preview trip. During her stay, Professor Emerita of Ethnic Studies Melinda Micco told Warren about an introductory ethnic studies course, and she decided to enroll.

“It was just an eye-opening experience—there’s this whole world of history, particularly about people of color in the United States and the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation,” she says.

The summer after her first year at Mills, Warren took an internship in the marketing department at a tech company in Minneapolis. While there, a coworker suggested Warren would make a great recruiter for the company. “I didn’t even know that was a job,” she says.

The tech firm had an Oakland office so, once back at school, Warren continued her work there. The experience led to a full-time recruiting job offer from another company, this one in San Francisco. Initially, she turned the job down—she was intrigued, but still in college. Eventually, the firm came back to her with another offer, this one parttime. Warren agreed, deciding to take a semester-long leave of absence from Mills before she convinced the company (and herself) that she could juggle both. After graduation, Warren took another recruiting job, this one at an executive search firm in Berkeley.

It was there that Warren inadvertently started on the path that would lead her to Yelp, the popular website that specializes in gathering and sharing user reviews for all kinds of businesses. Her boss at the time, newly single, liked Warren’s fresh perspective on all things hip: “I would plan her dates and say, ‘You should go have cocktails at this place and if things go well, maybe try dinner at this place.’”

“You’re really good at this,” her boss told her at one point. “You should do this for a living.” A couple of recruitment gigs later, in fact, Warren ended up at Yelp. It was there, however, that she realized she wanted more.

“I would recruit people and then they would work on some other team or at another company,” she says. But she soon realized she was sending them off to do the work that made Yelp into a household name instead of getting to do that herself.

She’d already been doing some of that on her own, posting numerous reviews and photos to Yelp—she was one of the site’s earliest “elite” users—and throwing parties for friends on the side. When a community-building position came up, Warren leapt at the chance.

The job took her to Washington, DC, where Warren used Yelp as a way to get to know her new city. Since then, her work with the company has taken her to many countries, and included stints living in New York and London.

Warren landed in San Francisco in 2012. Since her start at Yelp, the company has expanded from 50 employees to more than 6,000. Along the way, Warren’s position has grown as well; over the years she’s held many positions within the company, including vice presidents of new markets and of enterprise engagement and culture.

It’s that growth and all those experiences that have helped her advise others. Mindy Walsh ’17, MBA ’18, worked with Warren as an undergraduate and says her guidance gave her clarity on what it meant to apply for a job or internship.

“Miriam provided an excellent potential perspective from the point of the interviewer, and that really helped me take a step back and really think about my answers to each question,” she says.

Her expertise and enthusiasm are key, Walsh adds. “She’s encouraging and willing to share skills and knowledge,” Walsh says. “[Warren] has a positive attitude and helped me set goals—not only throughout the job process, but afterwards as well.” Walsh now works as an assistant facilities manager at McCuen Properties in San Francisco.

Warren’s natural curiosity also makes her a good mentor, Barbosa says.

“Miriam asks questions in a way that lets students thoughtfully explore what their options may be,” she says. “I think Miriam is just genuinely interested in helping, sharing knowledge. She’s interested in learning about the process.”

Warren says she tries to bring that same mindset to her work at Yelp. During her 12 years with the company, she’s learned a lot about the importance of asking questions and listening.

Her current role as the company’s vice president of engagement, diversity, and belonging allows Warren to focus on community development within her own workplace by addressing a range of issues, such as the representation of people of color in leadership and confronting one’s own biases. Some of the policies she’s helped lobby for and implement at Yelp include designating gender-neutral bathrooms and, for new mothers, private lactation rooms. Among the many connections she’s helped students make, she also helped bring another Mills alumna into the company—Lupita Vaca ’18, who spent a year with Yelp as an account executive.

These days, Warren also serves on several nonprofit boards, including Reading Partners, an organization that addresses literacy for children in kindergarten through third grade. She also regularly moderates Yelp-sponsored panels, including a recent one addressing legal services for undocumented immigrants.

Although she says motherhood has slowed her down a little—daughter Matilda was born in 2017—Warren aims to keep pushing herself. She wants to continue mentoring (it’s a “privilege,” she says), but she’d also like to publish op-eds and speak at events.

“I have a lot of opinions and I have a lot I want to share with people, whether that’s about nonprofit service or leadership, or creating a sense of belonging in the workplace,” she says.

Through these activities, Warren says she’s learned a lot about the concept of success and how different people achieve it. There’s no linear path, she says, and it’s important to welcome life’s unexpected twists and turns.

“It’s not ‘Oh, I’m so smart, I’ve made such great decisions, look at my life now,’ she says. “It’s more like, ‘We’re all faking it until we make it.’ Even today I make decisions and I don’t know how they’ll turn out, but it’s OK.”

Warren says that’s one of the key takeaways she tries to instill in her mentees: just go for it, and if it doesn’t go as planned, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “You can make bad decisions and things will still turn out fine,” she says. “You’ve still got so much time.”

Become a mentor—or find one—through MillsConnect

If Miriam Warren’s path to mentorship sounds intriguing, keep in mind that you have the opportunity to mentor current Mills students as well as other alumnae through MillsConnect.

The MillsConnect online platform was created for students and alumnae to help ease all of the professional difficulties Warren describes—not knowing where to start, what questions to ask, or who to look toward for advice, and how to figure out what you’re truly meant to do. Many students and recent graduates don’t even know what sorts of paths are available.

Developed by the Alumnae Association of Mills College in cooperation with Mills College and its Lorry I. Lokey School of Business and Public Policy, MillsConnect enables students and alumnae to engage in discussions about their working lives. Members can build personal profiles, explore others’ profiles, send emails, schedule meetings and video chats, ask and answer questions, and locate resources full of tips for cultivating mentoring relationships.

One can benefit from having a mentor at any stage of a career, whether just starting out, seeking promotion, or taking a leap of faith into another field entirely. Warren’s story illustrates that you can benefit from being a mentor, too. Through mentoring others, you can come to understand yourself more deeply and learn new perspectives and approaches to the work that you do.

To join MillsConnect, visit connect.mills.edu and log in using your email address. If the address you provide matches the one in our records, your account is pre-approved. If not, your account will be approved within one or two business days. If you have questions, contact 510.430.2110 or connect@mills.edu.