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Women’s History Month: Celebrating the Women Who Opened Doors for Me

Niki Hall
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March 17, 2021
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Read Time: 5min

It’s been an awe-inspiring Women History Month so far. Organizations everywhere are celebrating the women who have blazed a trail in business, transformed their companies and led them down the path to success. The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2021, #choosetochallenge, speaks to the power of not settling for less, of working to move beyond a reality where one in two women experiences gender discrimination in the workplace.

This day, which marks the first week of Women’s History Month, got me thinking about the women in my own personal history — those who have made me believe I can, and whose mentorship helped ensure I did. Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook and Founder of Lean In, an organization that empowers women to pursue their dreams, has spoken extensively about the benefits of women mentoring women, and of women senior leaders supporting their junior colleagues.

Here are some of the women I have had the pleasure to work with throughout my career and who have made a lasting impact on me, both as a person and as a professional:

 

Blair Christie, formerly CMO of Cisco, taught me an invaluable lesson: be a business professional first, in order to be a functional expert. If you don’t understand the overarching quantifiable goals of the company, you won’t maximize your chances of succeed in your role. 

 

I met Terry Anderson, now VP of Global Communications at Slack, when she was Chief Communications Officer at Cisco. I learned so much about management from her — she taught me that different situations, teams or campaigns call for different leadership styles, and that leading is not a monolithic practice. To always keep my “T” in check — am I going too deep on my T, if so, why? Am I providing the strategic broad perspective to the team and ideally a combination of the two.

 

I crossed paths with Tracey Newell, President at Infomatica, when she served as Executive Vice President of Global Sales at Polycom and WebEx Sales at Cisco. She gave me this golden piece of advice that I still follow to this day: What is your top 5?  Depending upon where you are in your life, your top 5 changes. Today, my 5 are:

  1. The company for whom I work needs to have an awesome easy to use and super valuable product. 
  2. The relationship with whom I report to is supercritical — I am always looking for (and have found) a true partnership with my CEO.  
  3. Customer-first mentality; to be literally obsessed with doing right by the customer.  
  4. Culture — enough said. 
  5. Hypergrowth. Taking the time to access what I need and what is important to me today in my growth enabled me to land with a company 100% aligned to my needs.

 

Sheila Jordan, always an inspiration, we working together at Cisco, she is now the Chief Digital Technology Officer for Honeywell International and has held many respectful leadership positions. In her off-hours (!) from leading the digital strategy of a multinational tech conglomerate, she somehow found the time to write a book about working mom guilt — something many of us are all too familiar with. Not only is You Are Not Ruining Your Kids: A Positive Perspective On The Working Mom a great read, it gave me an invaluable perspective on my own work/life choices and the daily juggling of career and family responsibility.  That working moms can have it all and we tend to add a different perspective of growth to our children.

 

Not only is Kara Wilson, Senior Advisor at KKR, one of the most intuitive people I know, she is also an incredible growth marketing leader. When it comes to technology investments, she has the uncanny ability to identify a diamond in the rough — it has been said she has the Midas touch. Her perspective on innovation and digital acceleration is always one step ahead of everyone else’s.

 

Melissa Selcher, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at LinkedIn, was my boss at Cisco and I have always regarded her as something of a self-development guru. She is an amazing leader, and I learned from her the value of a succinct strategy directly targeted to the needs of the business. She paved the path for our function to be put on the map at Cisco and value from @johnChambers and his team. Very well educated (Yale alum), she is very humble and I try everyday to channel my inner Mel humility. 

 

Denise Persson’s leadership is one of the elements of the incredible Snowflake success story. As Chief Marketing Officer of the company, she led the charge for the largest software IPO in history. She’s fearless and laser-focused, and the way she has built her career in tech is nothing short of inspiring.  We’ve known each other for a little over a year and I always leave our conversations fueled with inspiration on how to use marketing to fuel growth at the company for which I work — Contentsquare.

 

Author and tech analyst Maribel Lopez, who founded her own market research and strategy firm, Forrester alum and now LopezResearch is a force to be reckoned with. She helped me learn how to identify untapped high potential growth market opportunities, and she’s also something of an oracle on emerging technologies and innovation — especially in AI — which I’ve learned a lot from her.

 

Whitney Bouck, COO of the HelloSign business at Dropbox, is an all-around great leader. Former SVP Global Marketing & GM Enterprise at Box, she was instrumental in taking the company through to IPO. She didn’t know me well (we were introduced by a mutual colleague) and yet she took the time to coach me and guide me, at a time when I was at a crossroads in my career.  She even connected me to several people and equipped me with some of the tools I still used today in decision-making.

 

Kate Hutchinson took a chance on me and hired me as VP within Marketing for Polycom ($1.5B company), back when she was the Chief Marketing Officer there. I was in my mid-thirties — under her mentorship, I learned the power of the story, the narrative to build brands and shape markets.

 

As CMO of Contentsquare, I’m inspired by my day-to-day interactions with the 300+ women who work every day to push our company forward to the next level. There are too many to mention them all here but here are a few of the women whose dedication to our business and perspective on how we reach our goals energizes me every day:

 

It doesn’t get much more inspirational than working with Lucie Buisson, Contentsquare’s Chief Product Officer, who started her career in marketing and customer success, and today is responsible for leading our Product House and delivering our ambitious innovation roadmap. 

 

In 2018, Sahana Sekaran, our Director of Marketing for Northern Europe, founded Contentsquare’s Women in Ecommerce community to connect and empower women in the industry, and promote gender equality in the workplace. Today, this global community has over 2000+ equality advocates (male and female) and keeps going from strength to strength.  She is truly an inspiration.

 

Marion Ranvier, the founder of AdaptMyWeb, an assistive technology recently acquired by Contentsquare, turned her own experience with dyslexia into one of the most innovative solutions to address the challenges of digital inaccessibility. Today she is working hard to get this technology into the hands of students and health practitioners. Her passion and entrepreneurship are simply awe-inspiring.

 

I know I haven’t finished learning from the women I will continue to encounter in my professional life. The women in tech I have known and worked with are leaders and innovators, they are bold and ambitious, and they make great things happen. The problem is, there aren’t enough of them.

 

When it comes to gender gaps, there’s no denying the tech industry is lagging. Underrepresentation of women in our industry is a real problem, and it’s even worse for women of color. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, 26% of computing professionals are women, but that only 2% are Hispanic women, 3% are Black women, and 7% are Asian women. Not only that, but 37% of women of color feel that racial bias is a barrier to promotion

As tech leaders, it is our collective responsibility to address the underrepresentation of women in our industry, and ensure that every year, the list of women our companies recognize and celebrate on March 8th and this month gets longer, and more inclusive and diverse.

 

Missed our Women in eCommerce webinar on March 12, 1 pm EST? Watch it on-demand now and hear from Chidinma Asonye, Chief Operating Officer of S by Serena, and Kathy Ando, Head of Digital at Tile as they discuss their own professional development journeys and share the triumphs and challenges they met along the way. 

Author

Niki Hall