Women in leadership at 7 Austin tech companies share advice for others entering the industry

by Kelly O'Halloran
June 29, 2018
Women leaders in tech
photo via shutterstock

Promoting women to leadership roles creates more than an inclusive work environment — it creates a more successful company.

A study conducted in 2016 by the University of California, Davis showed that of 400 public companies in California, the 25 businesses with the largest percentage of women executives and board members had a substantially higher median return on assets and equity.

Austin tech has a long way to go in order to get more women a seat at the “boys’ table,” but we're already seeing an increase of incredible leaders — who happen to be women — making waves. Check out these seven Austin-based tech leaders.

 

Laura Bozoian
VP of production, sourcing and development

Prior to joining Kendra Scott as VP of production, sourcing and development, Laura Bozoian spent three years on assignment in Vietnam as country manager for COACH. It’s this role, she says, that taught her how to navigate various cultural styles and to respect individual differences.

What advice would you offer to other women on the rise to leadership roles within the tech sector?

Always remain positively curious. Ask questions, and then offer solutions and suggestions. Spend time thinking about the future strategy and needs for your role, in addition to current operational execution.

 

Always remain positively curious. Ask questions...Spend time thinking about the future strategy.


What are your biggest challenges right now?

As a leading fashion and lifestyle brand, we work fast and are constantly juggling our priorities to deliver quality services and products. We focus on operating smooth and steady, with a concentration on the top priorities.


How would you describe your leadership approach?

My leadership style is that of a high-energy motivator who influences, inspires and empowers others to achieve results. I am a balanced leader with attentive listening and enthusiastic communication skills.

 

April Downing
Chief Operating Officer

April Downing joined Civitas Learning in May of this year as COO after five successful years serving as WP Engine’s CFO. Downing said failure has been imperative to her professional growth, adding that people too often get caught up in worrying about failure and don't end up taking risks. She attributes much of her success to the combination of having responsibilities across all segments of the business while working for and alongside leaders who encouraged her to take risks and challenged her.

What advice would you offer to other women on the rise to leadership roles within the tech sector?

I consistently give the following advice to people looking to advance in their careers, and I don’t believe it should be any different for men or women: Get involved outside the four corners of your role. Don’t just run the business, change the business. Focus on things that make your manager’s life easier. Be curious. Focus more on the impact you are having versus what you are getting “done.” And build relationships across the team.

 

Get involved outside the four corners of your role. Don't just run the business, change the business.”


What are your biggest challenges right now?

I have been in my role for less than 30 days, so anyone who has ever started a new job knows what that feels like. All of us want to start making a positive impact when we start a new job but, as I have shared with others for years, it takes at least three months to really figure out what’s going on. My challenge is to look for ways that I can make positive impacts on small things while I am learning the business, and be patient with myself in the process.


How would you describe your leadership approach?

My approach very much aligns with my top five CliftonStrengths: relator, competition, achiever, harmony and empathy. Said another way, I like to build close relationships with team members to achieve great outcomes together and win against tangible goals, while ensuring folks feel like they contribute and are part of the win.

 

Jeanne Teshler
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Wellsmith CEO Jeanne Teshler said throughout her career, she’s always naturally organized and motivated teams, departments, divisions and now companies. This ability to assemble and inspire teams while managing her work responsibilities is what Teshler said has prepared her for taking on the title of CEO.

What advice would you offer to other women on the rise to leadership roles within the tech sector?

Being a woman in the tech sector has some unexpected advantages. For one thing, there are not so many of us right now, so the fact that we “stand out” just by being women can be a good thing. Leaders will notice us because we are more visible. But that means we have to learn how to take a stand for what we are doing and work outside of our comfort zones to be included in conversations.

My advice: Participate by being visible and taking on roles that you may not feel fully qualified for, then figure out how to do that job well. Discover and develop a leadership style that works for you. Focus on what your team and your company want to accomplish and be part of that success. And be passionate about you — who you are, what your purpose is and what you want to accomplish.

At the leadership level, I’ve discovered gender tends to disappear because the focus is on building the company, the product and the culture, so everyone starts working from a shared vision. When that happens, differences disappear and great teams appear.

 

We have to learn how to take a stand for what we are doing and work outside of our comfort zones to be included in conversations.”


What are your biggest challenges right now?

It’s all about keeping an eye on the present and the future. We have recruited amazing product and engineering teams who are focused on continuing to design and deliver an exceptional platform. At the same time, we are focused on building our customer base and maintaining great relationships with our investors. Plus, we have grown rather quickly, so intentionally working on our culture and ensuring everyone has a stake in the mission is another key area of focus. As with all companies, taking a leadership role means balancing all facets of the company so it grows and performs optimally.


How would you describe your leadership approach?

I tell my teams that my primary job is to back them up when needed and help them break down barriers to reach their goals and success. If the teams are performing well, and we can remove obstacles from their paths, then the company will be successful.

 

Claire Morris
VP of Customer Success

While ShippingEasy might not technically qualify as a startup, the company still operates like one — lean, agile and abuzz with energy. This startup-style approach made Claire Morris’s transition to VP of customer success at ShippingEasy a bit easier due to her experience supporting early-stage companies. Morris said that learning resilience, how to teach herself new things, the importance of relationships and accountability has shaped her into the leader she is today.

What advice would you offer to other women on the rise to leadership roles within the tech sector?

Work on projects. Even if project management is not in your core job, ask for a special project or to be a project member. These can build resumes, experience and problem-solving skill sets that are coveted at any job.

Another great piece I learned was to ask for feedback often and write it all down. For executives and key decision makers, identifying rising stars is all about seeing who is self-aware enough to identify their own gaps (or self-confident enough to hear about their gaps from another person), implement feedback to close those gaps quickly, and continue to improve.

Finally, find your champions where you work who would not only take you under their wing to provide feedback but who will vouch for you when opportunities arise. Lean into those relationships and make those people proud. If the champions you find are females in leadership, even better. These are the people who will campaign for you when the time comes.

 

Find your champions...who would not only take you under their wing to provide feedback but who will vouch for you when opportunities arise.”


What are your biggest challenges right now?

Our biggest challenges are also some of our biggest opportunities. I have a lean, talented team and I’m playing lots of different roles. The beauty of this is that I get to spend time with various people in my department and can get to know them, their workflows, and their strengths and challenges really well. I’m lucky to have a group of passionate, hardworking people who know a ton about our customers, and as VP of customer success, that’s critically important.


How would you describe your leadership approach?

It starts with teaching. I teach about the things I have learned through trial and error and often share stories of how I came to learn something. I also love giving people opportunities to stretch and work out new skills. I set expectations early on with members of my team to bring me challenges they’re coming up against, so we can work through them together and find learnings. They need to own their growth, be self-aware of their shortcomings and weaknesses and ask for help. That approach allowed me to grow and find success in every one of my past roles, and I want the same for my team members.

 

Kirsten Newbold-Knipp
VP, CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER

Kirsten Newbold-Knipp said nearly every professional experience — from her first job leading front office and valet parking teams at a beachfront resort, to leading marketing teams at SolarWinds and BigCommerce — has made an impact on her path to her new role as VP and CMO at Convey. She’s built and invented things only to break them down and rebuild as the companies she’s supported pivot, grow and adjust.

What advice would you offer to other women on the rise to leadership roles within the tech sector?

Become an expert in your craft: Whether your expertise is in systems architecture, content marketing or customer success, find a functional role that keeps you interested and learning.

Proceed with confidence: As long as you continue to learn and stay educated, you can and should take ownership of your expertise and put forward your knowledge and skills with confidence. Far too often, women in leadership roles succumb to the “impostor syndrome,” assuming others know more or have more experience — when in fact, they may not.

Lean into empathy: Marrying confidence and expertise with empathy is a powerful mix. The intuition you have about a colleague struggling either professionally or personally can make you a powerful ally or source of inspiration.

Build a team of mentors: The idea of the singular mentor who will take you under his or her wing and guide you through a 20-year career is out of date. It’s up to you to take control of your career and to identify those people who you admire for a specific skill or trait.

 

Become an expert in your craft. Proceed with confidence. Lean into empathy. Build a team of mentors.”

What are your biggest challenges right now?

Prioritization is my greatest challenge today and that will probably hold true six, 12 and even 18 months from now. Fast-growth companies in dynamic industries will always have more opportunities than they can realistically pursue. In the meantime, it’s always a fun challenge to learn a new industry and identify quality partners that can help our team execute flawlessly. As you might imagine, I’m drinking from the firehose right now.


How would you describe your leadership approach?

Share the why: Every team and every talented marketer needs to know the “why” behind the “what” they are trying to achieve. I can’t possibly be involved in every decision, but if I can provide the context and guidance around what we are trying to achieve, the team can make brilliant decisions.

Empower, invest and hold to high standards: My perfect team includes a mix of experts and novices, each of whom is continuously learning and improving their craft. Empowering these people to maximize their potential and investing in them to expand their skills are top of mind for me.

 

Aida Fazylova
CO-FOUNDER & CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Before co-founding XOR AI, a new recruiting startup that leverages a chatbot system, CEO Aida Fazylova was a recruiter herself. Her experience searching for talent and working in HR helped her see firsthand what pain points others in her industry were facing. This experience, plus a previous startup role managing a chain of tech hubs in Russia and her love of math, data science and machine learning inspired her to launch XOR.

What advice would you offer to other women on the rise to leadership roles within the tech sector?

I’m originally from Russia. My father always taught me not to care about being a girl or a boy, but instead to follow my passion, work hard and be honest with people. I don't think I have ever experienced any discomfort or special attitude about being a woman in tech, but I know that often there are additional obstacles for women to overcome.

The advice I'd give to anybody rising into leadership roles within the tech sector is the same: listen to your customers, think about their problems deeply and from different perspectives, keep focused and learn to delegate.

 

Listen to your customers, think about their problems deeply and from different perspectives, keep focused and learn to delegate.”


What are your biggest challenges right now?

We recently moved our company to Austin from Eastern Europe, so we’re focused on establishing our U.S. presence, building a great team and gaining traction in this market. Blending the company’s culture was a challenge for me when I first moved, but thanks to the friendly people of Austin, my colleagues and the welcoming tech environment, I managed to overcome it pretty easily.


How would you describe your leadership approach?

I hire people who are the most qualified and strong in their area of expertise and whose dreams and life goals are directly aligned with the company. And then I just get out of their way. Of course, we still need discipline and management, but if there's no true passion and sense of urgency, then it's hard to make things work within a startup.

 

Heidi Farris
VP and General Manager

Heidi Farris leads Idera’s database tools division as VP and general manager. While playing sports throughout high school and college along with recent work experiences have contributed to her leadership approach, Farris credited her time at SolarWinds as the most impactful to her career. It was during this time, Farris said, that she worked alongside a strong and competent group of women who lifted one another up while reinforcing a results-driven culture.

What advice would you offer to other women on the rise to leadership roles within the tech sector?

Be confident and be true to yourself. It's easy to follow the herd when you see the successes others have. Remember that you were hired for a reason and that your unique perspective is valuable, even when it is not popular. Results-driven CEOs and investors will recognize this.

 

Remember that you were hired for a reason and that your unique perspective is valuable, even when it is not popular.”


What are your biggest challenges right now?

Idera, Inc. acquires companies at a rapid pace. Learning new technologies, various go-to-market models and adapting teams to our culture at a very rapid pace while delivering world-class results is definitely challenging — but equally rewarding.


How would you describe your leadership approach?

Inclusive. In my experience, this is actually rare. Most leadership teams take a very top-down approach and only a few have input early on. By consciously including the entire team early on, you make projects more successful because people buy into the process and have context. Without context, people lose interest and become dispassionate.

 

Jobs from companies in this blog7 open jobs
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Civitas Learning
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Civitas Learning
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Kendra Scott
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Kendra Scott
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Wellsmith
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