Two years ago, twenty-four women gathered for breakfast during Adobe Summit 2017 to share their insights and discuss how they could support each other in a primarily male-dominated industry.
Several of these women were in attendance last week, as we hosted our third annual Women in Digital breakfast at Adobe Summit 2019. The event has quickly grown in size from a small group in a hotel suite to a packed restaurant filled with women eager to band together and learn from one another.
Our discussion was led by a panel of four women who shared a number of stories, tips, and also made us laugh (a lot):
- Loni Stark, Senior Director, Strategy & Product Marketing, Adobe
- Rachel Truair, Director of Global Enterprise Campaigns – Commerce, Magento, an Adobe company
- Cheryl Miller, General Manager, WW One Commercial Partner GTM, Microsoft
- Kathy Leeman, Global Head of Enablement, Marketo at Adobe
As the conversation began, the panelists told us about the women and people who inspired them. The answers ranged from “balls of spitfire” grandmothers to artists to powerful women in leadership.
A key takeaway came when Kathy Leeman shared what really stood out to her after watching the movie Notorious RBG. She discussed how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and late Justice Antonin Scalia – although often bitter opponents professionally – maintained a deep friendship. “That’s something I aspire to because I think there are times lines get blurred if someone disagrees with you. It’s really hard to not let that bleed into some of your personal relationships.”
RBG and Scalia were able to engage on ideas and respect each other’s opinions, all the while maintaining their friendship through the years. Kathy went on to discuss that women need to empower and respect each other, even when we don’t agree.
Loni Stark, a returning panelist from last year’s event who is also an artist in her spare time, was recently in Europe for work and attended a lecture in London at the Tate Modern around Dorothea Tanning. Dorothea was a self-taught artist who painted until she was 94 years old. While regarded as a Surrealist artist, she persisted, developed her own artistic style, and defined her own path. Loni said that it’s women like Dorothea who paved her own way and continued to evolve throughout her career who motivate her each morning to get out there and “armor up.”
Sidenote: I was impressed to learn, after reading more on Dorothea, that she took up writing in her 80s, publishing a collection of poems alongside a short novel well into her 90s.
Importance of Mentors
Our panelists all agreed that mentors (as well as sponsors) are vital to have no matter what stage you’re at in your career.
Kathy shared that she has benefitted from a mentor, particularly during times of transition like Adobe’s recent acquisition of Marketo. “I think there are times where she helped me balance my approach. She was a good sounding board and could share candidly from a management perspective, giving me insights on how my actions would be perceived by senior management. Sometimes you have to back off a little bit and not be a bull in a China shop to get your ideas on the table.”
This concept shifted the conversation to how women can introduce their ideas and get them on the table in more creative ways. Again, our panelists all concurred that this is where the right mentors can be a huge asset.
Kathy discussed watching her mentors navigate up and realizing this would be a struggle at every level. “It happens across the board. It’s not just you. And watching someone manage it with grace and professionalism, even despite some of the things we’ve all seen, are the situations where you can really take it to heart the way they step back yet move the business forward.”
Loni recalled that throughout her career, her mentors taught her how to be empathic to where someone else is coming from to enable better communication. Ironically, she’s grown the most from managers who she did not get along with. “When I think about where my growth came from and where I became a better leader, it’s from the managers who had a different opinion than me. I remember being told I need to develop my EQ. And I was at first offended until I realized if I could develop it, I could improve my relationship with him.”
Loni also reminded us that it’s important to have someone who simply believes in you, whether it’s a spouse, sibling, or friend.
Finding Mentors Who Help Fill Gaps
For Rachel Truair, it’s important for her to seek mentors in places where she feels like she has a gap. Her current mentor is CMO of a manufacturing company with tons of CPG experience. Rachel, on the other hand, has always worked in technology on the services side.
Rachel continued, “If I feel like there’s something I need to grow or develop, it also helps me to be around people that have different personalities or styles than me. I can watch them in action, spend time with them, and see how they try to lead me. This allows me to better understand what it feels like to be on the opposing side, and I can take what I learn back to my team and apply it.”
Like Rachel, Cheryl Miller discussed the importance of finding people who have the skills that you want to develop – she refers to them as her “Board of Directors,” with each person having a trait or capability she wishes to grow. This example spoke to the entire room because we all have those people, our circle of trust, who we rely on to help guide and direct us.
Cheryl also mentioned the importance of finding sponsors in your work environment, which serve a different purpose than mentors. Your sponsors are the ones who will advocate for your growth and push you forward.
The final question posed to our panelists was “What is the biggest challenge for the next generation of women?”
This topic naturally pivoted into cross-generational challenges. Loni brought up something that’s a good reminder for anyone, as careers grow and demands grow. “Your most valuable asset is your time. It’s a thing that no money, no anything will change…. so you need to figure that out. What sacrifices do I want to make?”
I think it was Oprah Winfrey who once said, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.” How true is that.
What are you willing to give up? As each of us grows in our respective careers, there will be more and more demands. Things in your personal life may need to shift, be it responsibilities at home or time spent on hobbies. Loni spends a lot of her free time painting, and because of that, knows she can’t dedicate time daily at the gym. She instead devotes three hours each week to high-intensity workouts (that are also highly intense, with her trainer yelling/keeping her motivated).
The panel also brought up an issue that women have struggled with for generations. Trying to balance their career while simultaneously being there to support their spouse and family at home. Loni mentioned, “I have people who will go on business trips and they’re stressed out. Why? Because before the business trip they have to get everything packed up thinking ‘Oh my gosh will the kids be okay if I don’t do these things?’ But you know what….. no one dies. The worst case is that they start to appreciate you a lot more.”
The group appreciated this honesty and continued to discuss using time wisely, setting expectations with managers, and having a support system in place.
The Takeaway of All Takeaways: Armor Up
As the conversation drew to a close in order for us all to head to the general session, Loni put it into perspective. “I think about what happens to people in other parts of the world and the obstacles that they have and you start to realize. Life is not fair… So I use that as a way of not staying bitter about disappointment or things that don’t go my way. I’m not using this as a way to pacify. But to try to bring out the best in who I am so that I let it go. How do I become the best version of me? Because doing that is what attracts success. I call it ‘armor up.’ You’re going to be judged more critically, scrutinized, put under a microscope. So every morning, armor up and make sure you’ve got everything you need to get into battle.”
As they wrapped up, the panel reminded the room to stand up for what’s important to you. Be strong when you know you deserve something, yet be prepared to get knocked down a few times (and of course, get right back up). And above all, find your mentor in armor!