Tell us a little bit about you and how you came to be where you are now.
I graduated university with a computer science degree and landed my first job as a developer. Early in my career, I moved around the engineering organization and pretty much did every job on the team before eventually becoming the Team Lead for a small engineering team. That started my journey into leadership. I eventually transitioned into VP of Engineering for the business unit I was with. I've now spent about fifteen years in different VP of Engineering and CTO roles, ranging from groups of 20 people up to 1500.
My last two roles have really set me up for my job now, the first as a CTO of one of the three business units at Thomson Reuters. After that, I joined a small company as both a product and technology leader. It was an amazing experience. Leading product helped me to be a better technology leader. I look back at that experience as one that really made me a better CTO because it enabled me to understand both sides of that Product/Technology partnership. I’ve also done some writing. This year, I taught at NYU for their CTO executive education program. I sit on the board for the Value Stream Consortium and do a couple of other industry engagements. Most recently, I joined a network of women who are deeply passionate about the sponsorship of women. We're working together on creating awareness, education and support on this topic. I am currently working as the CTO of Shutterstock.
What are some challenges you’ve faced as a woman in such a male dominated industry? Do you have any tips for other women trying to forge similar paths?
It is so important to know when you have sponsorship and when you don’t. And when you don’t have it, being able to recognize that and having the courage to walk away. I’ve had a lot of great experiences where I’ve been sponsored wholeheartedly. It was sponsorship that landed me in my first VP of engineering job. The CTO of the business unit was willing to back me to try something I hadn’t done before. That is sponsorship at its best. I’ve also experienced not having it. In hindsight, I didn't know I didn't have it. I thought, like many other women, that if I put my head down and did my job well then people would take note. Many of us believe that sponsorship will come if we work hard enough, but that isn’t necessarily true. Recognizing the signs of not having sponsorship is critical to keep moving forward.
I also think it's important to have a network of mentors who can give you good advice, and to make an effort to diversify that network so you have a wide variety of people to speak to and lean on when you most need it. Networking can be hard and exhausting, but it’s important to build and maintain professional relationships that last. Being able to own and talk about your accomplishments to others is so important. That can be hard for women, because they find it difficult to talk about themselves. I encourage people to practice. Take some time to write down what you've done and practice talking about yourself, your experiences, and the outcomes that you were able to drive in a way that feels authentic and natural to you.
What do you think companies can be doing better to support more women making it to leadership positions?
Organizations need to realize that women often can’t break into the old boys network. It's just not gonna happen. That means that new networks have to be built, and there is support that is needed in doing that. Organizations can also do a better job of teaching allyship. Sometimes, being the only woman in the room, microagressions happen. The burden can’t fall entirely on women to call this out and course correct. Organizations have to recognize these negative patterns, when women are getting passed over for promotions, aren’t getting credit or kudos for their hard work or aren’t feeling like valued team members and work to fix them.
Women often think that hard work is the thing they need to do and eventually it’ll pay off, but sometimes it isn't enough. In one of my previous roles, I started on a leadership team where there were two other women, and they both left quickly. I spent two years in that job as the only woman on the team. It was a tough two years, I still remember sitting in meetings, saying something, and having the senior leader lean over me and ask a younger man in the room if he agreed with what I had said. I remember thinking that over time that would stop, they would see me for the expert that I was. I should have realized the first two times it happened that it wasn’t ever going to stop. There was just something there that was making this leader feel like he had to validate what I was saying.
You have been at the C-level for a long time now, and recently joined as CTO of Shutterstock, who or what gave you the confidence to rise into this role? How do you pay it forward?
After years of experience, just being comfortable in my own skin and knowing that I could do the job really gave me the confidence to get here. It took a few years for me to be able to learn how to tell the story of my experience in a really impactful way. The past two to three years has accelerated my learning journey and honed my focus on that storytelling ability. A combination of being able to tell my story and knowing I had what it took to succeed gave me the confidence to be able to raise my hand. In terms of paying it forward, I always make the time to connect with women. I’ve had plenty of help along the way. I will always give my time to connect with others, open up my network to them, coach and mentor wherever I can. It's the best way to pay it forward.
You’ve been in executive roles for a long time. How do you go about looking for a new role at this level? What have you found are the most effective approaches and channels to find a new leadership position? How have you known when it’s time to move?
Networks, networks, networks. Getting to this level and job searching at this level is all about managing those relationships consistently and deliberately. It means making a conscious effort to keep in touch with people. That isn’t just reaching out when you need something, but proactively offering help to others and reaching out to just say hi. Small gestures to remind your network that you’re there. Over the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot more of that. Interestingly enough, when I step back and think about it, what led me to my last opportunity as a product and tech leader was my network. It's what led me to my board membership with the value stream consortium. It's how I met the dean of the school at NYU. It’s how I learned that the CTO role at Shutterstock was open. Not everyone loves networking, but you have to take the time to do it. Just be deliberate and be thoughtful about it and find something that feels authentic to you. Every time I've been serious about looking for a new job, I've always let the people closest to me know. Sometimes, just putting that out into the universe is when it comes back to you.
In terms of knowing when to move, the time I knew I should move was when I wasn't learning any more, wasn’t engaging in new experiences, solving new problems or just wasn't excited by the job anymore. That's when it's time to go. I will add that in my career, I spent over 15 years in one place. I knew that it was time to go because I'd moved across several roles and areas and expanded my career, but I felt like there was no expansion left. You don't stay because it feels comfortable. You have to go out there and seek expansion.
You do so much, you teach at NYU, you’re on several boards, you take on a lot of initiatives, how has this other work impacted your career journey?
In the past four or five years, I've made an effort to do more things externally after realizing how important and impactful it can be. My external work has given me confidence, visibility and exposure to different people. It gives you insight into what’s going on in the industry. I think those experiences and interactions enable you to tell stories about what you’ve learned and allow you to connect the dots in ways you couldn’t before. It enables you to apply new knowledge to what you do in your full time role. It also shows others that you can handle a diversity of experiences and perspectives and that you’re someone who is constantly learning. I try to stay in touch in different areas because there is so much out there and it keeps me current. Currency is so important in tech because something is changing every day.
How do you hire? What do you look for in potential employees?
Technical skills are a must in this industry, but soft skills are equally if not more important. I look for self awareness, humility, and leadership style and philosophy. I look for someone with a leadership philosophy focused on safety, learning, and information sharing, all the attributes that make a team successful. Speaking of a team, it's more about the WE than the I. Hiring is more about creating a team than finding the right individual. Awareness of external topics and trends is also really important for me- it shows me that an individual is a life-long learner, they’re curious about what's going on in the outside world, and they’re willing to bring that curiosity to work. They're willing to learn new things and apply it to what they do every day.
What advice would you give to your 25 year old self?
Just get comfortable with being uncomfortable all of the time. When I was 25, I didn't know that this was what I was going to be doing, of course. Things are never going to turn out the way you think they will. I didn't have a well thought out plan, but I was a hard worker, I was curious, and I wanted to keep doing bigger and better things all the time and that meant that I had to spend a lot of days in the uncomfortable zone. With that, you can’t be afraid to take risks and say yes when you sometimes feel like saying no. Don’t say no, say yes, you never know what’s going to happen.