“If it scares you, you should try it”: How these women are shaping growth at 6 Seattle tech companies

by Quinten Dol
November 14, 2018

Every tech company loves to talk the talk when it comes to gender equality, but what does walking the walk actually look like? How can women in Seattle tech shape the growth trajectory at their companies?

We spoke to women in a range of roles at six area companies about how they take ownership of their organizations’ growth. Read on to learn how these Seattle techies are getting past the obstacles in their career path — and getting on with the job.

 

pitchbook women in tech
photo via pitchbook

PitchBook tracks the public and private equity markets, scanning the web for information which it then filters and organizes using machine learning and natural language processing. The company recently launched an employee-driven internal group focused on the personal and professional development of its female team members.

Product Manager Jenna Bono says her company makes her feel empowered to take on challenging tasks beyond her comfort zone.

 

How are you helping to shape the growth of your company?

I was originally drawn to product management because of the very tangible impact you can drive through product. As a product manager at PitchBook, I’m responsible for leading initiatives that are core to our growth strategy. I enjoy looking for new ways to integrate the machine learning work of our data science team into client-facing features, in order to realize more value for our users. Taking an idea through design and implementation to rollout, and seeing the value new releases bring to our users is incredibly rewarding.

If it scares you, you should try it.”

 

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in pursuit of that goal, and how have you overcome them?

More often than not in my career, when I’ve walked into a meeting I’ve been the only woman present. For me, the challenge lies in your instincts telling you that because you defy the norm, you have more to prove than everyone else. Earlier in my career I would assume that everyone else in the room had it all figured out, and my contributions weren’t worth adding. The biggest thing holding me back was self doubt. By realizing how important diverse perspectives are in shaping products, figuring out my strengths, learning to appreciate them and consistently delivering, I’ve been able to stop standing in my own way.

At PitchBook, I feel empowered to take on challenging initiatives, even if they are naturally outside of my comfort zone. Finding a role and company that make you excited to come to work every day plays a big part in building that confidence.

 

What advice do you have for other women who are eager to make an impact with their work?

If it scares you, you should try it. Ask for that assignment where you think you can add a lot of value. So often we assume that because we’re working hard and putting in the hours, someone will notice and give us the opportunity we’ve had our eye on. In reality, asking helps open up those possibilities.

 

payscale women in tech
photo via payscale

Ping pong and beer on tap might help win over the right candidates, but at the end of the day it’s still all about dollars and cents. PayScale helps employers figure out the right pay grades to attract the right employees, and unlocks effective communication about salaries and wages across businesses.

Vice President of People Stacey Klimek has worked hard to solidify the status and expectations of her team, and encourages tech professionals to stop looking toward the next promotion and instead smell the metaphorical roses throughout their careers.

 

How are you helping to shape the growth of your company?

I focus on people — all day, every day. My role is to drive the alignment of every team in the company toward our business objectives. I do this by bringing heart and soul to our mission, vision and values. I have the opportunity to drive strategy on people management and give a strategic voice to our culture and employee experience. For me personally, it’s all about building relationships. At PayScale we invest in people differently. We have an executive team that genuinely cares about our employees and engages in a very authentic, personal level. We consider our team members friends and family and strive to create a space in which individuals can share and learn about each other.

Have a point of view, and don’t be shy about sharing it. Be open to possibility and new opportunities.”

 

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in pursuit of that goal, and how have you overcome them?

Hypergrowth can be a challenge. Our company values are more than just words on a wall, and we have been very intentional in how we communicate and model our values during our recruiting and onboarding process. Another challenge has been changing the perception of the people team, so we are seen as trusted advisors, business partners and strategists. I’ve worked closely with my team to develop an updated narrative and provide role clarity throughout the organization. We offer our employees tools to self-solve, and are consistent with our messaging. We model our values and are relentless with experimentation to see what works and what doesn’t — and pivot quickly when necessary.

 

What advice do you have for other women who are eager to make an impact with their work?

Have a point of view, and don’t be shy about sharing it. Be open to possibility and new opportunities. And enjoy the journey! I’ve met too many women (and men, for that matter) who are so focused on climbing the corporate ladder that they miss opportunities to build relationships with people in other departments, learn new skills and explore new avenues for their career.

 

xealth women in tech seattle
photo via xealth

Xealth’s healthtech platform helps physicians keep their patients on track, with the ability to digitally share treatment regimens, reading material and exercise programs with patients. The company spun out of Providence Health and Services in 2017, and has delivered over 200,000 programs and videos since then.

Director of Operations Rebecca Dean recently joined forces with several other women on Xealth’s staff to organize a forum for women in tech, focusing on the power of relationships to advance careers.

 

How are you helping to shape the growth of your company?

Maintaining the inclusive company culture and core values at Xealth is important to me, so I take every opportunity to be involved in hiring decisions and the interview process. Hearing what other hiring managers and team members are looking for in a new candidate is an incredible learning opportunity, which gives you an opening to influence and shape the direction and growth of the company one new hire at a time. 

Prioritizing opportunities to build relationships across the company and within the healthcare and technology area is another way to shape growth at Xealth. This means recognizing the value of professional collaborations and finding ways to support each other.

 

Operate with a default assumption that everyone you work with is doing the best they can.”

 

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in pursuit of that goal, and how have you overcome them?

Time is always the biggest constraint. So creating opportunities for conversation and to step back is essential. A team of our employees and I planned a women in tech “Kicking Down Walls” event hosted by Xealth. We invited a wide-ranging group of women to share their experiences and learn why a relationship-driven career is so important in the tech world. Women from several Seattle startups, health systems, UW’s business school and Xealth spent the evening with Heidi Rozen, a partner at DFJ Venture Capital. Our favorite quote from Heidi was: “Life is about meaningful work and meaningful relationships,” which we carry through our daily work at Xealth.

 

What advice do you have for other women who are eager to make an impact with their work?

Celebrate every personal and team milestone, big and small. Also, operate with a default assumption that everyone you work with is doing the best they can with the information and skills they have at that time. 

Also, it is okay to ask for help. Better still if you can make it easy for others to help you, by being specific in your ask.

 

limeade women in tech seattle bellevue
photo via limeade

Limeade is all about employee engagement. Through their software, users can complete interactive learning, well-being and social activities, along with personalized challenges, all of which are designed to improve company culture and make employees feel more connected.

Senior Director of Product Management Tiffany Napolitano was one of Limeade’s early employees, and says it’s important to know when to say no.

 

How are you helping to shape the growth of your company?

Being one of the original LimeMates, I find myself mentoring many of my teammates. I know I can have a big impact on employee engagement. Employees who are deeply engaged at a company drive better business results, and this drives company growth. The support and mentoring I give teammates is directly related to how we perform as a company. And that is fun, fulfilling and very rewarding for me.  

 

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in pursuit of that goal, and how have you overcome them?

There was a time when I wasn’t confident in my ability to lead. It took years to reach the level of confidence I have now. In a nutshell, we’re responsible for whether our users love our products or not. It can feel overwhelming at times, yet I love the creative nature of what we do and the collaboration of working with all facets of the business. My teammates fuel my confidence, which has grown over the years as I learned from mistakes and developed mastery in the product management.

I have had to respectfully ask for a teammate to let me speak. Confront these moments — it’s all about doing it with respect.”

I have managed to stay engaged by setting boundaries. I block out my calendar for lunch every day, don’t take meetings before 9 a.m. and don’t work at home while my kids are awake to avoid burnout. Establish your boundaries and communicate them to your teammates, so they know the best ways to work with you. 

Lastly, you can still be a servant leader and say no. It’s necessary to keep your eye on the prize. Using data, being kind and respectfully saying no are all part of the job — even though you may sometimes feel like you’ve let a teammate or customer down. I’ve learned over the years that we can’t do everything and be everything to all people. It’s my job to keep us focused and build a great product.

 

What advice do you have for other women who are eager to make an impact with their work?

As a manager and long-time LimeMate mentor, a top goal of mine is supporting and connecting with my teammates. I’m making their lives better by improving their wellbeing, and it’s very fulfilling. It also leads to better business results — teammates are more engaged in their work and better equipped to build or support our product.

Your voice is important and it matters. Have opinions, thoughts, ideas and share them — LimeMates call it “speaking plainly.” Have the data to support your ideas. Working with a lot of strong personalities, there have been times where I have had to respectfully ask for a teammate to let me speak. Confront these moments — it’s all about doing it with respect.

Finally, find colleagues who will support you and help you reflect. Some of my best life lessons have come from failure. I have had many supportive teammates lift me up and guide me to higher places during these low times.

 

hearsay systems women in tech seattle
photo via hearsay systems

Hearsay Systems’ client engagement platform helps advisors and agents in the financial services sector build and maintain business relationships, through a variety of digital tools. Those include engagement across social networks, websites, text messaging and email, with the goal of maximizing efficiency and compliance. 

Front End Developer Lauren Le didn’t think much of her contributions to group discussions among her user interface team — until a colleague went out of her way to say, “Thanks.”

 

How are you helping to shape the growth of your company?

At Hearsay, my team is in charge of building major new features throughout the app. We jump from project to project, working with other teams to make sure their front end code is performant, clean and accessible. Since the UI team is so small, I get to have a strong say in anything from flow and user experience to overall code structure. I’ve helped set standards and processes in the company that, hopefully, lead to long term success and make scaling much easier. Scalability is often overlooked in order to get something out quickly and it’s great that we’re putting such an emphasis on that.

Although my face turned bright red whenever I spoke up, I was always asking questions and sharing my opinion.”

 

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in pursuit of that goal, and how have you overcome them?

I suppose the biggest challenge may be that the way people organize projects can vary. Some people are more laid back and okay with minimal instruction, where others may want everything spoken for before work is started — I’m the latter. In order to keep my projects consistent I try to meet with the people I am working with beforehand, and go over the plans and designs with a fine-toothed comb to make sure every edge case I can think of is accounted for, and any complexities are reworked or thought through. As long as everyone is on the same page and knows what’s going on from the start, there should be very few issues.

 

What advice do you have for other women who are eager to make an impact with their work?

Speak up! When I first started at Hearsay I was shy, fresh out of college, new to an office setting and incredibly nervous. However, I didn’t let my anxiety stop my curiosity. Although my face turned bright red whenever I spoke up, I was always asking questions and sharing my opinion. I didn’t think anything of it until one day, a woman I rarely spoke to thanked me after a meeting and told me how valuable my input had been. It was validating to hear that speaking up wasn’t actually obnoxious and that I was really contributing. Ever since, I’ve tried to boost the confidence of other women by thanking them when they speak up.

 

hiya seattle women in tech
photo via hiya

Hiya’s technology protects your phone from spam and robocalls, partnering with some of the world’s largest service providers and cell phone manufacturers. Hiya also provides caller ID information, and has satellite offices in London and Budapest.

Senior Software Engineer Hasmik Kalantarain just celebrated her second anniversary at Hiya, and was recently promoted to lead a growing team of engineers.

 

How are you helping to shape the growth of your company?

One of the advantages of working at a startup is that every employee has the chance to shape growth from day one. The key to this is when you identify an area that needs improvement, take ownership to fix the problem or implement a better process. This works on all levels of the organization, and as you grow and learn within your role, you find yourself better at identifying new areas to help out in.

Instead of rushing to solve a problem, first think ... if the work you are doing will make long-term improvements rather than a short term patch.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who are eager to make an impact with their work?

Collaboration and cooperation are so important for making an impact within a company. Instead of rushing to solve a problem, first think about what your team or company is trying actually accomplish — and if the work you are doing will make long-term improvements rather than a short term patch. The key to this is being unafraid to stop and ask “why?” when you do not understand something. With clear understanding of the problem you are solving and working with your team for common goals, your work will make a big impact!

 

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