The tech industry often gets a bad rap when it comes to throwing out the welcome mat for women in business. From the so-called “tech bro culture” to the raw statistics showing lacklustre female representation at all levels, the technology sector has long been considered a more male dominated domain.
That’s thanks in part to women like GoDaddy executives Laura Messerschmitt and Tamara Oppen who lead by example as senior leaders in tech. Ahead of International Women’s Day, these inspirational business leaders share their tips for women in business everywhere.
Meet Laura and Tamara: women breaking the glass ceiling in tech
Laura Messerschmitt, President of GoDaddy’s International Division based in the U.S., says she was never attracted to working in tech.
I grew up in California, so I grew up around tech.
“I never saw myself reflected in tech, so it was never something that I aspired to because it was mostly men. The persona was mostly guys coding at the time.”
Laura, who studied science and math at college, says tech eventually found her.
After a successful stint at a well-known financial technology company, she joined GoDaddy when the start-up she was working at was acquired by GoDaddy in 2012.
For Australian-based Tamara Oppen, GoDaddy’s newly appointed Vice President English Markets overseeing Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, the tech industry had long held appeal.
I love the fast pace of the tech industry.
“There’s constant learnings, the ability to be able to fail, and just the fact that you can create a business online and carve your own path is really exciting.”
Like Laura, Tamara is an entrepreneur, having co-founded a digital consulting firm after running a digital health start-up. She’s also had a successful career as a publishing and advertising executive.
Women are making their mark in business
The number of women in technology and science fields is growing, but they are still in the minority at work. Stastics show well under a third of all employees at technology firms are women.
Her strategy for navigating the so-called “bro culture” was to be conscious about when she might need to alter her behaviour to fit in, and when she wanted to rebel.
“Rather than feeling like ‘wow, this culture isn’t set for me’ or ‘it doesn’t fit me,’ I’m going to consciously navigate it,’’ she says.
During her time in the tech sector, Tamara says she has never felt like she hasn’t been listened to because of her gender and believes that’s in part because she’s sought out companies that align with her values.
When I was younger, my career ambition was very much around my ability to move up the ladder or earn more money.
“Post children and in this second phase of my life, it’s very much around values alignment. The value I can offer, the impact the business is making, and the leadership values of the business is what I look for.’’
GoDaddy striving for equality
Research shows diverse teams deliver better outcomes. That’s why many organisations and governments around the world are striving to encourage more women into careers in science and technology.
GoDaddy’s commitment to diversity and pay parity accelerated six years ago when the company published the first of its annual diversity and salary data.
This puts the company ahead of other large technology firms, with the average proportion of women leaders in large tech companies expected to be 25% in 2022.
Laura was among the executives who helped accelerate the diversity push in 2013/14 and serves as Executive Sponsor for the GoDaddy Women in Technology group.
She says the addition of more women to the business has lowered attrition rates and has helped GoDaddy to better connect with its customers.
The importance of backing yourself
As GoDaddy leaders and successful entrepreneurs in their own right, both Laura and Tamara know a thing or two about the challenges that aspiring entrepreneurs can face in getting their big ideas out into the world.
Their key advice – just go for it.
“If you don’t get your business idea out there, you’ll never know if it works,’’ Laura says.
Tamara says many women entrepreneurs tend to be self-critical or worried about how to deliver a website or what happens if they fail.
When I speak to our customers, the common theme is ‘I wish I knew how easy it was’ and ‘I wish I started earlier.’
“You can build an online store with payment capabilities and plug in your social and email. It’s all automated in one, two, three clicks.
“You don’t have to be the best. Failure is part of learning, adapting and challenging yourself.’’
Tips to work it like a boss
With many decades of experience across the corporate and philanthropic sectors, Laura and Tamara have these tips to help female entrepreneurs and women in tech.
Why we need to rethink imposter syndrome
Tamara says imposter syndrome has a lot of negative connotations, but learning to listen to those nagging anxious feelings can be revealing.
When I step into a new role, I always feel a little bit anxious, and that momentary doubt of ‘Am I going to be able to do this?’’
“I actually think it’s a positive thing to go into a role accepting that you are not going to have all the answers. That really allows you to engage with your team, ask them questions, and look to their expertise.’’
How to say “no” without the guilt
It doesn’t matter how compelling your reason is, sometimes saying ‘no’ at work is not as easy as it sounds.
For Laura, the art of saying no when priorities clash comes down to responding without guilt and without over explaining.
If I do need to say no, I just say no.
“I don’t give more detail than I need to, and I don’t let the guilt play a role in how I communicate it or over-explain it,’’ she says.
Tamara says she has long struggled with saying “no” and a podcast from organisational psychologist Adam Grant changed her perspective.
“He talked about saying ‘no,’ but then connecting them to someone else that can say ‘yes.’ I loved that,’’ she says.
Why work life balance is a myth
In 2020, the Australian Institute of Family Studies found 46% of working women with families reported their work life balance was “quite or very difficult.” For Tamara, perfect work life balance is a myth.
“Work life balance just doesn’t happen, and I think the idea of it creates too much pressure, particularly for working parents. They’re always striving for this unachievable goal,” she says.
Where I’ve evolved to is more about work harmony and being mindful about decisions.
“Being thoughtful about how I’m spending my time and making choices that are right for me personally and for my family. I’ve evolved to quality time for instance with my children rather than quantity.”
Laura says she relies on understanding and honouring her values so she can try to prioritise what’s important, and compromise on what isn’t.
“You are going to have to compromise for sure, particularly being a working mother. But it’s just making sure you’re compromising on the things that don’t matter as much,’’ she says.
How to protect your mental health
Tamara says reading Genevieve Hawkins’ book Mentally at Work was eye-opening to the importance of ensuring real connections, both to yourself and to others, as a strategy to improve her and her team’s mental health.
When things got busy previously, Tamara said the gym sessions or pilates classes were the first to go.
“Now I am so rigorous around my gym sessions,” she says. “I have to sweat every day, and I meditate every morning. As women we often put other people first, but I’m really trying to put the things that matter in my life first, and to me that’s exercise and mindfulness.’’
As a leader, Laura says she’s also focussing on forging more mindful connections with her colleagues and seeking out what energises her.
For me, it’s about figuring out what aspects of work drive my energy, what brings it down, and trying to design jobs and roles around that.
“It’s also making sure that people have space at work to talk a little bit about what’s going on in their personal lives.’’
Why setbacks can get you ahead
Through diverse and decorated careers, both Tamara and Laura have learned that taking the easy or obvious path doesn’t always yield the best — or most interesting — results.
“I think the biggest thing for me that I’ve learnt in my career is that your career is not linear. Sometimes the roles that I’ve taken that haven’t progressed the way they should have, but they’ve opened up another door,’’ Tamara says.
“So not being afraid to take that challenging path.’’
For Laura, some setbacks have turned into unexpected opportunities.
“There was a role I didn’t get that I wanted to get, but it put me on the company’s radar and I got a great new role with them a few months later,” she says.
The tech industry may still be a largely male dominated space, but more diversity is coming, in part thanks to women like Laura and Tamara. These two are breaking through glass ceilings and empowering other women to do the same.
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