When Can We Stop Writing About Women in Tech? When We Reach Parity.

We asked three women for their mentorship advice to future tech leaders.
Written by Eva Roethler
September 29, 2021Updated: September 29, 2021

Hopefully someday the topic of women in tech will no longer be newsworthy. Ideally, it will be so commonplace to see gender parity at every level of leadership in tech that it would be silly to include it in a headline. Someday it will stop being clickworthy to see yet another woman represented in leadership or balancing out a board of directors. 

The hard truth is that, for now, gender parity is still a critical issue in the tech industry. Women make up just 34 percent of the workforce at the five largest tech companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft — according to research from Statista. Meanwhile, 66 percent of women in tech report that there is no clear path forward in their careers at their current companies, and 41 percent identified the lack of a mentor as an obstacle to promotion, according to data from TrustRadius. Not only is representation lacking, but the path forward for many women in tech is difficult to navigate.

The bright side is that the tech industry is listening, and many companies are working to do better. But until the industry reaches gender parity, it’s important to share stories from women in leadership. So, Built In San Francisco talked to three women in tech leadership for advice to help a new generation of leaders expand their understanding of what it means to lead with authenticity. 

 

Susie Emmerling
Vice President, Marketing Operations

ServiceNow is a digital workflow platform. 

 

First, how would you describe your leadership style? 

I want to be authentic to who I am. I don’t put a label on my leadership style. I’ve taken the traits of the best leaders I’ve worked for and added them to my own leadership style over the years. 

 

Susie Emmerling’s Six Leadership Tips

  1. Hire great people: “The people I hire and lead are the ones who ultimately determine my success or failure as a leader. I hire people who I believe can fill my role one day with strengths that offset my weaknesses.”
  2. Capitalize on employee strengths: “Take time to understand their goals and pave the path for them to realize their aspirations through coaching, mentoring and stretch projects.”
  3. Establish a shared vision: “Once you have the right people, it’s about cultivating them into a high-functioning team with clearly established short-term and long-term goals. Leverage the team to help develop the shared vision and goals — the more they are involved, the more they will feel a commitment to success.”
  4. Develop strong communication skills: “Be as transparent as possible.”
  5. Cheer successes; learn from mistakes: “Celebrate wins both big and small. Establish a safe environment where minor failures are acceptable.”
  6. Demonstrate your investment: “Show you genuinely care through respect and empathy.”

 

What experiences or lessons helped shape your leadership style throughout your career?

Identifying my strengths early on helped me realize I needed to hire people who could offset my weaknesses. Don’t spend too much energy focusing on overcoming your weaknesses. 

Don’t be afraid to leave the path — I took a non-linear approach to my professional development. I took opportunities to learn across many functional areas: marketing, sales, technical support, training, development and partner management. I believe this approach made me a more well-rounded leader who can relate to and have empathy for leaders in other functional teams.

 

What advice do you have for others who may be struggling to define or own their leadership style?

Be true to who you are. The best leaders are the leaders who aren’t afraid to be themselves. Don’t feel that you need to define your leadership style based on one of the 10 leadership styles that have been published over the years. Develop your leadership style by pulling from the traits of others you’ve admired.

 

 

Lana Klein
Head of Analytics, CPG & Retail, North America

EPAM Systems is a software development agency. 

 

How would you describe your leadership style? 

My leadership style is often influenced by the situation, but over time, I have learned to foster an environment of trust and empowerment among my teams. I spent my early career in management consulting, where mentoring junior team members is part of the culture. This leadership coaching approach resonated with me and shaped how I approached my teams throughout the years. 

My management style has continued to evolve during various stages of my career. When I started my own firm, the proverbial buck stopped with me, and at the beginning, there was not much latitude for coaching my team. I had to be more direct and probably more controlling when telling people what to do. When my company was later acquired, my team’s success depended on selling our vision to a larger organization. As a result, I had to adapt again and become more of an evangelist. When it comes to being a strong leader, I believe the key is to blend these experiences and learn as you grow.

 

What experiences or lessons helped shape your leadership style throughout your career?

It is important to know when to step back and let somebody else run the show. When my team was smaller, I was more hands-on with most clients. But as the practice grew, it became increasingly difficult for me to stay involved. Nevertheless, I was afraid to let go and let my engagement managers run things more independently. I would pop into client meetings, review deliverables and even meddle in approaches.

At some point, I became so overwhelmed that I had to drop a few projects completely. Amazingly, things did not fall apart, and these accounts kept going. This made me realize that my close involvement was counterproductive not only for me but also for my team. My oversight made things worse — I didn’t fully understand the context and nuances of their work yet kept providing suggestions that drove my managers crazy. This approach was also stifling their growth and confidence. Once I realized this, I made a conscious effort to let them lead – even when I thought I knew better. In doing so, my leadership style has grown to become one of empowerment and trust.

It is important to know when to step back and let somebody else run the show.” 

 

What advice do you have for others who may be struggling to define or own their leadership style?

Professional services is a people and client-focused business. As a leader in this field, situations often arise where my client’s interests and my team’s interests conflict, and balancing these priorities is difficult. Pushing an exhausted team through a tough deadline is not fun. What worked for me is being honest with people in difficult situations, and building goodwill by being flexible when the situation allowed. It is critical to build long-term relationships with people. This means taking a genuine interest in a person, understanding where they want to go with their career, and helping them to achieve their goals — even if this means that they must leave your team at some point to grow.

 

 

 

Kristina Nguyen
Marketing Lead

Doorvest is a property rental investment platform.

 

How would you describe your leadership style? 

As a leader, I try my best to be authentic to myself and my team, actively listening and encouraging the execution of new ideas. My leadership style tends to lean democratic; I like to hear feedback from direct reports on ideas and how to solve problems and challenges. I believe in giving people free rein to have autonomy over the projects they work on.

 

What experiences or lessons helped shape your leadership style throughout your career?

I’ve had many experiences and lessons shape the way I lead and am excited for the journey ahead. I find that a lot of greatness can be achieved when you give others the platform, space and trust to think of an idea and run with it. In my marketing role here at Doorvest, my direct report, Justin Huynh, has crushed it in numerous projects with little support and guidance. He’s getting ready to launch a community and we’re all excited! 

Greatness can be achieved when you give others the platform, space and trust to think of an idea and run with it.”

 

What advice do you have for others who may be struggling to define or own their leadership style?

Developing relationships with people you look up to and staying connected can help you define and refine your leadership style. Something that our CEO, Andrew, has encouraged me to do since joining Doorvest is setting up informational interviews with people. It helped with understanding different leadership styles and character qualities. Consider engaging with a career coach, doing regular self-reflection and listening to feedback from colleagues.

 

 

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