Working Geek: Amazon manager MaryBeth Pecha and colleagues create card game to break down gender barriers

MaryBeth Pecha is an Amazon finance manager who moonlights as a game creator.

During nearly a decade working in finance and accounting, MaryBeth Pecha experienced the challenges that come from gender inequity at the office first-hand. She bonded over those challenges with colleagues Amber Hanson and Kathryn Ekloff at Amazon, where she’s worked for the past two years.

Their mutual struggle became a common topic of conversation at regular women-only happy hours at Amazon. Blowing off steam, swapping stories, and laughing about their shared experiences caused a lightbulb to go off.

They began working on “Persist,” a card game that encourages players to think about the challenges working women face in a lighthearted, humorous way. Originally, they created the game with women in mind but later realized it was an opportunity to foster a dialogue between people across the gender spectrum.

“Somewhat unexpectedly during our beta testing for ‘Persist,’ we discovered the game worked equally well with men and thought this game would work great as a medium for change to discuss gender challenges in a workplace setting,” Pecha said. “’Persist’ allows everyone to have a seat at the table in a fun, real, and non-threatening way.”

The “Persist” card game.

Pecha and her colleagues are crowdfunding for “Persist, the Game” at a time when workplace gender equity has become a lightening rod in the technology industry. She hopes the game can take some of the hostility out of the dialogue.

“We are grateful to have the opportunity, in the near future, to talk about using ‘Persist’ as a way to break down gender discrimination at Amazon and are really looking forward to partnering with senior leadership on our innovative solutions to how we might tackle this issue,” she said. “Though, we will have to quickly develop a new version that is work-appropriate.”

Although the game isn’t explicit in nature, Pecha says it does have some adult themes that may need to be toned down for a corporate setting.

When she isn’t working on her extracurricular game, Pecha leads the finance team for Amazon’s Home Innovation unit, which focuses on the home shopping experience. Before Amazon, she worked as an accounting manager at Endologix and started her career during an audit at KPMG.

We caught up with Pecha for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current Location: “Seattle (Maple Leaf) in my parlor that doubles as an office.”

Computer types: “HP for Amazon (#frugality), Macbook Pro for Persist and personal use.”

Mobile devices: “iPhone 6 plus (white + gold). I’ve been an iPhone fan and owner since 2008. I love the easy interface and sleek design.”

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “Slack has been crucial in helping us organize our creation and launch of Persist. It makes collaboration fun, easy, and effective. As true Amazonians, we have a lot of written documents we create when thinking about strategies for Persist. Google Docs has been a great resource for this and makes remote collaboration easy between each other and our Persist partners. With Amber moving to London, we also use Google Hangouts as a replacement for what used to be weekly happy hours in South Lake Union. Though it isn’t the same as laughing over a glass of rose while discussing game strategy, it’s incredible how technology really has made remote work with a co-founder in London a non-issue.”

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “At Amazon we get to pair frugality with the fun of having dogs around. All three of us have pups (Zuzu, Larry, and Clyde) so getting to bring them to work is a huge perk and offers a nice outlet when we need a quick break from a spreadsheet.”

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Don’t chase a perfect balance. Instead, aim to be intentional with your time and let your life goals dictate how you prioritize your day. Some days may require working late to meet a deadline, while other days you should leave early to spend time with a loved one. It’s not a balance, it’s a dance. Also, be patient and understanding with yourself, nobody gets it right all the time. This is something I constantly battle.”

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “Instagram. I’m a person who is highly motivated and inspired by visuals. Although my full-time job is more geared towards analytics and numbers, I love the creative outlet that Instagram offers. We’re just getting started on building our Instagram following for Persist, and we enjoy curating content that is useful, inspirational, and entertaining as we begin to engage with our first wave of customers.”

Persist co-founders MaryBeth Pecha, Kathryn Ekloff, and Amber Hanson. (Persist Photo)

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “Honestly, several hundred, which dates back to May. At Amazon, I’ve seen varying degrees of survival tactics when it comes to email as it can become overwhelming quickly. Mine involves responding to what I believe is important and letting the rest fall through as noise.”

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “23, which is probably about average.”

How do you run meetings? “I like to have a clear outline of the agenda ahead of time. I think this is a great way to show you respect others’ time and also ensure the right people are in the room to make decisions.”

Everyday work uniform? “Totally depends on the day for me. It can range from sneakers, jeans, and a tee to stilettos and a dress. I like that Amazon gives me the flexibility to just be me and wear what I’m feeling on any given day.”

How do you make time for family? “I like to put things on the calendar ahead of time, both during the week and on weekends. This gives me something to look forward to, and also ensures that I’m being intentional with my time.”

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “I like to get up each morning at least two to three hours before I need to be out the door. This gives me time for me so that no matter what comes my way during the day, I feel accomplished and start with a healthy mindset. My mornings include a rotation of meditation, exercise, reading, working on Persist, hanging out with my husband, Ryan, and listening to podcasts.”

What are you listening to? “NPR’s “how I built this” and the “Brand Ambition” podcast with Valerie Howard. Both are inspiring and informative as we experience the challenges in launching a side business with Persist the Game.”

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “New York Times, Business Insider, Washington Post, and Twitter. I also love reading Gates Notes for Bill’s latest book recommendations.”

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “I recently finished Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” on my kindle and it was one of my favorite reads of the year. You rarely come across a read that is equally informative, entertaining, and inspiring.”

Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “Early riser! If I’m idle past 8 p.m. there’s a chance I fall asleep. However, I’m usually up between 5 – 5:30 a.m. and cherish my morning ‘me’ time.”

Where do you get your best ideas? “Going for a run or travel. Travel always sets the reset button for me and leaves me with inspiration, courage, and clarity after experiencing the beauty and diversity that live in a different perspective. It was during a trip to Palm Springs where I sourced the inspiration for ideas on how to start building Persist, the Game. We’ve also held several weekend off-sites while building Persist and it has been so fun to innovate with Kathryn, Amber, and our husbands as we collectively brought this project to life. We have big goals that involve off-sites in exotic, inspiring locations to fuel future strategy discussions for Persist.”

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “Tory Burch. I am fascinated by her ability to pair incredible fashion and business sense into a brand empire. She’s also spent a lot of time and resources devoted to philanthropy, which is something I aim to spend more time on.”