The topic of women in the workplace has been a huge conversation in the past 6 months. The Time’s Up movement and some of the resulting revelations have sparked a long overdue nationwide conversation about the challenges faced by women in the workplace.
These conversations have created the opportunity for organizations to propel women forward in the professional world, removing stigmas and helping more women shatter the glass ceiling.
But there’s one industry in particular where female representation is especially scarce — enterprise tech. Enterprise tech organizations, defined as a company that sells technology into large enterprises (IBM, Oracle, Slack, Salesforce, etc.), have mostly been founded by men, with a long history of promoting male-dominated culture.
Based on research from Work-Bench, only 2% of CEOs of enterprise tech companies are women.
Enter the Navigate Women in Enterprise Tech Summit, the first annual enterprise tech conference dedicated to women in a field dominated by men.
The event was organized by the team at Work-Bench and Salesforce Ventures. Emissary was happy to serve as a sponsor for the post-event happy hour, and really excited to learn from some of the most impressive women in the tech game.
I personally heard powerful stories from six women leaders, and gathered a ton of valuable insights that I wish I had known when starting my career in enterprise tech.
All the content was great, but here were some of the biggest highlights:
Choosing Your Ideal Job
Everyone wants to be part of the next big thing — the next Google, Salesforce, Slack — but as a woman, there’s a whole separate list of qualifications to consider before joining a company to make sure you’re in the best environment and position to succeed.
Julia Grace, Slack’s Head of Infrastructure Engineering, and Hilarie Koplow-McAdams, New Relic’s former CRO & President and current Venture Partner at NEA, gave their take on what every woman should look for when choosing the right company.
1. Your potential boss has experience managing women.
Julia from Slack identified this as a key factor in choosing your next job. Managing a woman is very different from managing a man: women are less likely to receive raises and less likely to negotiate on contracts and compensation.
A boss who has managed women before will have the knowledge and experience to empower women to succeed and level the playing field for their male and female employees.
From my own experience, a good manager will want to set you up to move to a position within the company that is above their own. There should be transparency in your openness to ask your boss if you are making the same salary as the men in similar positions.
In interviews, for example, I always ask my potential boss what their goals are for me within the company. If they are thoughtful and show a vested interest in helping you achieve the outcome you want, it’s a good indicator they will be an active advocate in your success.
They should articulate their commitment to your professional growth and how they will help you get there.
2. It’s a fast-growing company.
According to the Navigate speakers, there are several ways to determine a fast-growing company, or a “rocket,” as Hilarie Koplow-McAdams, New Relic’s former CRO & President and current Venture Partner at NEA, calls it.
“Find a rocket where you can rock it.”
Hilarie Koplow-McAdams, Former CRO & President, New Relic; Venture Partner, NEA
There are two leading indicators that will give you a good idea on the opportunity for the company, Total Addressable Market (TAM) and disruptiveness of the idea or product.
To determine how big a company’s total addressable market is, you need to see if their product can span every target market. Most really successful growth companies start out selling to mid-market. Compared to enterprise, there are a lot more of them, they make decisions faster, and there’s a lower barrier to entry. Once they have a proven track record of success, companies then move into enterprise, adding to their overall TAM.
The second aspect, a disruptive idea, is crucial.
“Disruption always wins,” said Hilarie. “Companies that improve on the status quo will only go so far.”
According to Hilarie, disruption doesn’t always have to be about the product. Some of the most recent disruptions have come in the way of operating principles, pricing, subscription model, delivery, or customer care. Take Instacart and Uber, for example. They didn’t create a new market. They took an old, outdated model and transformed their operating principles to fulfill a 21st century need.
3. The attributes of the company’s CEO are what will be rewarded in the company.
Julia from Slack shared an interesting point that provides insight into your potential growth within a company. “Look at the attributes of their senior leadership. Those are the attributes that will be rewarded,” she said. “Do you have those attributes? If you do, there’s a better chance you will be promoted.”
Everyone has inherent biases — if the founder and leadership team’s attributes don’t align with your own, that’s a sign you have a smaller chance of moving up the ranks.
Getting Ahead in Your Career as a Woman
The truth is, the rules are different for women in enterprise tech than men. Compared to every other industry, women have the second lowest representation at the top in tech. And it’s not just breaking into leadership; at the first step up to manager, women are 18% less likely to be promoted than their male peers. As a result, it requires women to get more creative in their career path, and these Navigate speakers are no exception.
4. Don’t take a linear path.
The reality is that women can’t rely on traditional paths of climbing the corporate ladder to become successful. The latest study from Women in the Workplace found that women are less likely to receive advice from managers and senior leaders on how to advance, and employees who do receive advice are more likely to get promoted. So, we have to write our own playbook.
“One of the biggest myths is that there is one playbook to success. There are so many different ways to get to the top.”
Therese Tucker, founder and CEO of Blackline
Hilarie, for instance, started out as a product manager at Oracle. Despite having no technical background, she had success in her role, and her manager didn’t understand how she was doing such a good job. He assumed she was getting help from her boyfriend, who also worked at Oracle at the time.
“That’s when I realized perception really is reality,” Hilarie said.
As a woman, Hilarie recognized that it’s even more important for her to show her direct value to an organization, and she recognized sales as a way to do that, where the revenue she drove for the business outweighed any perception of her as a woman. Not surprisingly, she became one of the top sales leaders and GMs at Oracle for new products and markets.
Much like Hilarie’s story, I started out my career with a background in energy and IT consulting for Deloitte in NYC. But I couldn’t stand seeing processes and rules in place just to have them, transitioned into earlier stage tech startups where I was part of building the organization. My path is truly not linear: I started in consulting, where I managed people, moved on to developing account management and customer success teams, transitioned into a product discovery role, and eventually ended up in sales.
Choosing a non-linear path gives you a well-rounded understanding and empathy for every part of the business. You are able to connect the dots quicker and build a cohesive strategy if you understand the goals and pain points of cross-department teams.
5. Let your friends, colleagues and strangers co-author your career narrative.
“Don’t forget what got you there,” said Rosa M. Ramos-Kwok, a Managing Director at Bank of America. “Ask your peers and colleagues to say three words that describe you, and make a list or a word cloud. Those are your strengths.”
Most of the time, as women, we are the ones that are holding ourselves back. Start talking to people and ask their perspective. You might be surprised that they give you the courage or feedback you need to propel you into your next move.
6. Volunteer for a tough assignment that no one else wants.
The best way to stand out? Rock a difficult assignment that your colleagues are too afraid to take on.
“My bump from Executive Director to Managing Director at Bank of America was a hard one, and I got stuck,” Rosa said. “So, I proved my value by taking on the project that no one would touch.”
Since women are still at a disadvantage in the workplace, we have to be more receptive to taking on these type of projects, which showcases our skills and willingness to roll up our sleeves and get the work done. For Rosa, this helped her get “un-stuck” and promoted to Managing Director.
7. Lead with influence over authority.
Traditionally from product, Julia from Slack learned a unique skill set that has helped her manage and lead teams as she’s taken on more responsibility.
“Product is a unique role because you don’t have any direct authority over anyone, but you still need to get them to do what you say and buy into your vision. So I had to learn how to lead through influence instead of authority.”
Developing the skills to sell your point of view and vision will open up new opportunities and is a key skill-set that is required as you get into more leadership positions.
8. Be good at sales, even if you’re not in sales.
“The higher you go up, the more your job is sales,” Julia said. “I’m an engineer, but I am constantly selling Slack. To potential employees, to my executive team, to investors.” Sales gives you the skills to build your own business with less leniency, as well as the skills to articulate a vision, mission, and service.
There is no Playbook to Success for Women
Whether it’s finding the right role, growing your career, or venturing out on your own, women are faced with different expectations. Instead of fighting to join the masses, forge your own path and prioritize what’s right for you as a professional woman looking to make it in enterprise tech (or any industry, for that matter).
The navigate Women in Enterprise Summit was an inspiring and educational experience of just how different enterprise tech can be for women compared to men, and how we can take charge and find our own success.