7 Women in Tech Share Their Best Advice for Managing a Team

February 24, 2020

“If you think you’re 50 percent ready to manage people, you’re 100 percent right for it,” said Jayne Pimentel, senior director of digital growth marketing at DraftKings.

“We women tend to undervalue our skills and managing people is one of them,” added Pimental. For women managers hoping to move into leadership positions, knowing their strengths is the first step.

But being strong doesn’t mean sacrificing vulnerability.

As Kim Smathers of Snapdocs said, “Be authentic. Women often try to adopt a tough persona in order to fit in with and feel effective in male-dominated environments.”

We talked to seven managers about how they developed their management styles and gathered advice for future women leaders. Besides investing in personal development and growth, they said embodying values like transparency and empathy were essential to their success.

 

Julie Mann
Senior Director of Global Sales Development

Senior Director of Global Sales Development Julie Mann said good managers need get to know their employees on a personal level. At Optimizely, she does this by being direct and open with her direct reports, and spending time learning about their professional goals. Once she knows what makes her team members tick, she can provide honest feedback on what they need to accomplish to get to where they want to be.

 

What's one really important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

Transparency and empathy are critical to being a great leader. Genuinely caring for the people you manage and giving and receiving honest feedback make all the difference. I have been really fortunate in my career to work with leaders that treated me as equals and shared the good, the bad and the ugly with me. That honesty and feedback have only helped me identify my areas of opportunity and growth. 

I try to always be direct and transparent with my team. If we are going to dedicate more than 40 hours of our lives every week to working together, it better be worth it. To me, that means investing in personal development and growth, making an impact and helping others be the best version of themselves. 

Being a good leader means you need to partner with your employees.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Long gone are the days of people robotically carrying out the functions of their job because their manager told them to do so. Leaders need to start recognizing the unique strengths their employees have and help them build skills and competencies to further their success for the future or employees will leave. 

Being a good leader means you need to partner with your employees to understand the challenges they face day-to-day and help them to solve them. You also have to help them build competencies and frameworks that will serve them 20 years from now.   

 

Srividhya Gopalan
Senior Director of Engineering

“Managers do things right; leaders do the right things,” said Srividhya Gopalan, senior director of engineering at Expedia Group. To do the right things for her direct reports at the travel brand company, Gopalan said she leads by example, which builds trust and earns the respect of her team members.

 

What’s one really important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

I have learned through my career that ‘leading by example’ is the most reliable strategy to instill trust, garner respect and propagate culture within the organization. In practicing what I preach, I get to experience firsthand any challenges with actions I am advocating for. This has allowed me to better empathize with issues our processes and practices pose, be it a cumbersome process for access to a tool or a meeting practice that inconveniences remote participants. I work with the team to solve issues without waiting for anyone to raise them. 

I am also able to experience the rewards of the behaviors and skills we promote, like no-disruption vacations or data-driven troubleshooting, and am able to build on those benefits to grow individuals and teams.

I have learned through my career that ‘leading by example’ is the most reliable strategy.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Managers do things right; leaders do the right things. I highly recommend Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk on “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” to get a perspective on women in management and leadership roles. Stealing words from the talk, “believe in yourself, negotiate for yourself and own your own success.” It is important for managers, especially women managers, to be self-aware of their strengths and opportunities, invest in themselves to continue to improve their readiness and confidence, and go after what they deserve without holding themselves back.

 

Jessica Tiwari
SVP, Product and Design

At Upwork, freelancers and professionals connect to get things done. Jessica Tiwari, SVP of product and design, said it’s important for managers to be able to make tough decisions in order to accomplish team goals. Even when managers are unsure of the best course of action, Tiwari said they should never let indecision prevent them from moving forward.

 

What’s one really important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

There is something worth learning from every individual. Everyone has something they are truly excellent at or a valuable perspective that could help others to understand the world better. Realizing and internalizing this has helped me approach people with an open mind and makes me a better listener and a better manager. 

As a manager, you’re constantly asked to make calls about whether to change something.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

As a manager, you’re constantly asked to make calls about whether to change something now or ‘hold the course.’ Human nature is to avoid change. Generally, managers tend to shy away from tough decisions. But even when holding back is the right choice, too often it's approached in the wrong way. Holding the course becomes an unchecked ‘let’s just see how things go’, where at the end of it nothing has changed and no one is aware of what they were waiting for. Never let this happen. If you're waiting for something, know what you are waiting for specifically and put everything in place to make it happen.

 

Jayne Pimentel
Senior Director of Growth Marketing, Digital

DraftKings allows sports fans to get closer to the games they love. To make that possible, Jayne Pimentel, senior director of growth marketing, digital, uses her emotions as a strength to motivate others and create a safe environment for colleagues. For her, successful leadership is all about allowing everyone to be themselves. 

 

What’s one really important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

I’ve learned over the years that being a good people manager isn’t about being a robot. Having emotions at work can be used as a strength. A strength to motivate others and create a sense of safety within my team, letting them know that it’s OK to come as you are and be yourself. You’re most productive that way.

I’ve learned over the years that being a good people manager isn’t about being a robot.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

If you think you’re 50 percent ready to manage people, you’re 100 percent right for it. Women tend to undervalue their skills — and managing people is one of those skills. Take a risk and manage people if you’ve never done so. Always strive to be a better manager. Always ask for feedback from your direct reports; they won’t assume you want it.

 

Kim Smathers
Head of Information Security

Head of Information Security Kim Smathers said it’s important to connect with her team members at real estate company Snapdocs. Being your authentic self in the workplace encourages future women leaders to build confidence and fosters trust between colleagues. 

 

What’s one really important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

I think one of the most surprising and important things I have learned is that genuinely connecting with staff is the best way to unlock the potential of an individual and provide value to the organization. When I was early in my career, someone advised me that it was not advisable to get to know staff members too well, as it would impinge on the ability to manage effectively. Turns out, the opposite is true and good for all parties equally.

Women often try to adopt a tough persona in order to fit in with male-dominated environments.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Be authentic. Women often try to adopt a tough persona in order to fit in with and feel effective in male-dominated environments. I have found that approaching professional situations in a way that allows me to be open and authentic builds my own confidence, but also creates trust between me and my colleagues. I am unafraid to admit to not knowing or understanding something and am comfortable taking responsibility for a mistake.

 

 

Dorothy Tse
VP Product Management

Vice President of Product Management Dorothy Tse said being transparent and even vulnerable brings her team closer together. At adtech company Quantcast, she leads by example. Being confident, even when asking for help, empowers her direct reports to make bold decisions and own their outcomes.

 

What’s one really important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

It’s OK to show vulnerability and ask for help when you need it. At Facebook, I was leading a large team of product managers supporting seven distinct business areas. I internalized every challenge and pressure that came our way. The mom in me wanted to handle all the curveballs so my team could focus on their functional areas. 

When I finally shared where I needed their help, a huge boulder broke down and realized I had missed an opportunity for them to grow and be challenged. We also became closer as a team because we were solving these hard problems together. Now at Quantcast, I’ve taken those lessons and have become a much more transparent leader, sharing what’s keeping me up at night and asking for feedback. It has created trust and collaboration with the teams I work with.  

Always look for ways to empower your people to make decisions and own their outcomes.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Be your authentic self always, even when it might seem like you’re going against the grain and ruffling some feathers. Women bring diversity in thinking, so don’t let your voice be dampened just because you have a different point of view from others in the room. Leading by example empowers your team to think boldly and be heard, too. 

Always look for ways to empower your people to make decisions and own their outcomes. This may come in the form of coaching them on how to think through an important decision, and how to communicate that decision effectively and execute it. For more senior people, coaching can come in the form of delegating the decision-making and ownership so they can grow. It can be hard initially for both of you, but your people will thank you for the opportunity.

 

Kitt Caffall
Nylas Engineering Manager

Nylas’ Engineering Manager Kitt Caffall said it’s OK for managers to make mistakes. Being honest and transparent builds trust among team mates. For future women leaders, Caffall said, “Don’t let imposter syndrome get in the way of your goals.”  

 

What’s one really important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

Management is not one-size-fits-all, so your management style can’t be either. Different members of your team will need different things from you as a manager. Some need small nudges, some need leading questions, some will need firm guidance and all require respect. In order to know how to manage a specific individual, you must take the time to get to know them. This requires prepping for one-on-ones by being up to date on current projects’ statuses, clearing out blockers and discussing in detail long-term goals.

Don’t let imposter syndrome get in the way of your goals.”

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Perfection is procrastination. As a manager, you are going to make mistakes. Don’t wait until you think you have all the skills you need before applying them. You’ll never have the skills if you don’t step up and do the work. Being a manager is different than being an individual contributor and a good transition is being a team lead. Be honest, open and transparent and your team will forgive slight mistakes as you come up to speed. Don’t let imposter syndrome get in the way of your goals.

 

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