Women in Tech: A Candid Conversation with BigCommerce Women Leaders
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Women’s History Month serves as a dedicated time to honor generations of trailblazing women. Recognized annually in March, it celebrates women’s contributions to history, culture and society.
In modern times, women in tech like Whitney Wolfe Herd — the youngest female CEO to take a company public — and Reshma Saujani, Founder & CEO of Girls Who Code, stand out as strong female figures worthy of celebration. However, everyday women who aim to #BreakTheBias are also deserving of recognition for the work they are doing.
In honor of Women’s History Month last month, BigCommerce’s BEmpowered Employee Resource Group (ERG) brought women leaders from across the organization together for a panel discussion on what it means to be a woman in tech.
BEmpowered is BigCommerce’s global ERG for women, non-binary people and allies. The mission of BEmpowered is to create a welcoming and inclusive space for all BigCommerce employees, to empower women and non-binary people through professional development, and to provide resources for helping these groups thrive within our community.
Hosted by BEmpowered’s Executive Sponsor Veronica Servantez, last month’s candid conversation offered raw takes on professional development, pay equality and work/life balance for women. Panelists included: Ericka Barnes (Manager of DMS), Melissa Dixon (Director of Content Marketing), Grishma Rupani (Senior Director of PMO) and Neha Shah (Director of Customer Success Management).
Read on for a recap of the empowering female perspectives that were shared.
BEmpowered Women’s Month Panel: A Female-First Perspective
Veronica Servantez: Tell us about your role at BigCommerce. What has your career path been like, and what has helped get you to where you are today?
Melissa Dixon: “My role as a content creator is exciting, it’s creative, it’s very demanding and it’s very fulfilling, which is why I do it. My career path was definitely not linear. I knew I could write, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I eventually found my way to copywriting, which introduced me to marketing. Then, it was like, ‘light bulb moment!,’ but I was a little late to the game. I had to make up for a lot of lost time. The way that my career path has progressed is really through trying everything within marketing to see what really stuck, what I was good at, and where I could add the most value.”
Grishma Rupani: “I look after the project management function, mainly within Product & Engineering (P&E), but slowly expanding to other areas as well. Growing up though, that was not what I thought I’d grow up to be. When you grow up in India, you don’t really have many options. You either become a doctor or you become an engineer, so I followed the crowd — I became an engineer.
“I started doing development and realized this is not for me. When I moved to Sydney, I got married and thought, ‘Let’s change things up and do something I’m more interested in.’ I was always interested in talking to people, understanding businesses, so as such, took up a business analyst role and then slowly moved my way up to project management.”
VS: It’s great to hear how organic everyone’s career path has been. In conversations I’ve had with leaders and peers, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone say, ‘I had a plan. It was going to go 1, 2, 3. A, B, C.’ It just doesn’t work like that.
How do you strive for balance between your personal and professional life?
GR: “After I had my little one five years ago, I realized getting a balance is almost impractical, and it was stressing me out. This whole concept of, ‘I have to be a hundred percent at everything.’ — very quickly I realized that that was not keeping me sane.
“At that time, I lowered my involvement at work. It’s all about communication. You communicate with your colleagues and let them know what you’re going through. You communicate at home and tell them why you’re so busy at work. I think it’s figuring out where you’re needed the most and focusing on that instead of trying so hard to get everything right.”
Neha Shah: “Finding that balance is an ambitious task. It’s all about expectations and it starts with that. Keeping those expectations real, and making sure you know that you’re not going to be able to do it all. But as long as you’re available, be present. Be wholeheartedly into that task, whether it’s at work or at home.
“Take a minute and decide what you want to do for yourself first, and then decide what you want to do for everybody else.”
Ericka Barnes: “It truly is an ongoing exercise that I have to practice every day. I have five children and a lot of passions outside of work.
“That’s always changing, right? Because I always want more for myself professionally and more for myself as a mom. My kids range from eight months to 12 years old and I want to get time — meaningful time — in with all of them. I have to consistently evaluate where I am and whatever I decide to do, not hold any guilt about what I’m putting down, but just as Neha said, to be present.”
MD: “The other thing I will say that recently has become my mantra is ‘important versus urgent’ in terms of actually making the attempt to balance things. I really live by that these days, because I find that there’s an increasingly fine line there.”
VS: Everyone on this panel is in a tech career. As a female, are there any specific challenges that you’ve experienced?
EB: “Being a project manager, you’re expected to come to the discussions prepared, on top of what everyone’s doing, and be highly communicative. I’ve been in conversations and meetings where folks of the opposite sex may just show up and wing it, totally relying on bro culture and being lackadaisical. I know that would never fly for me as a woman or even as a black woman. I have to be very prepared.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say this particular challenge has been overcome, but it’s something that I am very passionate about. Something that affirms the work that I’m doing with ERGs like BCinColor and by climbing the career path here at BigCommerce, is to create those equitable seats at the table. I think that’s a huge blocker for some folks who want to pursue management opportunities or climb that ladder.”
GR: “I’ll address specifically the tech industry, because the tech industry moves really fast. I think the biggest challenge I had was when I took some time off for my maternity leave. I was away for about four or five months, but when I came back, it felt like I lost years. Everything had moved so fast, I was playing catch up. It took me another year to recover just from that.
“It was hard because while I was trying to keep up, I felt like I was losing confidence. I was like, ‘I used to do this so well. Has everything changed? Things have changed. How do I go ahead?’ I was constantly second-guessing myself.
“At that point I was lucky enough to find a support system. In that case, I had a HR person that I used to work with who recognized that I was struggling from a confidence perspective. I was trying to get everything right, but somewhere that confidence kept getting a hit.
“She encouraged me and she made me stop. She said, ‘Stop everything you’re doing. Think about what you want to do. Go through some training just to get that confidence back and fill that gap that you feel like you’ve got there.’”
VS: Why do you think there is greater gender diversity in some parts of the business or the industry than others?
GR: “In the STEM industries, I do find that the representation of women was really less growing up. When I was doing engineering, we had a class of 60 and we had about five or six girls. That’s it. That definitely got me thinking.
“I think that the answer is somewhere in between. We look at women as nurturing and caring. Those are the things that we think of first. We don’t think of them as scientists. We don’t think of them as technologists.
“Definitely, different business sectors have better diversity but, I guess the problem is something that is deep-rooted and we are looking to fix it now.”
VS: Let’s talk a little bit about imposter syndrome. How do you build confidence, resiliency in your career? How do you manage instances of imposter syndrome?
GR: “I don’t know how it goes away. It comes back every now and then, and hits you when you least expect it. How to handle it is something that you’ll get better with in time. Finding your support system has always, always been useful to me.
“I’m not going to try and hide and run away from imposter syndrome. It will keep coming back every time I’m trying something new, but if you have the right people to talk to and help you get that lift, that will definitely [help].”
NS: “I think the support system is [important]. I’ve been really blessed to have great peers, colleagues and leadership around to just listen. Even sometimes just to give me feedback on whether this is going the right way or not, and helping me go through it.”
“I feel like my kids are that reality check sometimes. They might not understand what you are going through, but I think sometimes just talking aloud about it, whether in your workspace or at home, it changes the perspective. Sometimes a seven-year-old’s perspective is very different and very beneficial at different points of your life.”
EB: “How I combat it is I try to be as prepared as possible. I used to walk into situations where I was very intimidated and tried to be the first to say what I know so that you know I know something and let’s just establish this. I’ve matured in that a little bit. I have accepted that I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room.”
VS: What are your best tips for negotiating salary and promotions?
MD: “Keep a list of wins and ways that you’ve added value to your organization. You should always be ready to assert and articulate how you’ve impacted the business. Not in an overly aggressive way, but in a way that you can intelligently convey to others. That’s something that’s worked well for me and that I’d urge others to do.”
GR: “Know your worth. As Melissa said, make a list of your achievements. Know what you’re good at. Do your research. See what similar jobs are paying outside. Talk to your manager. Understand your blind spots. Put a plan together.
“More importantly, don’t give up. Maybe this time you don’t get it, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get it ever. Go over it again. Make a list, talk to HR, do your research and build a plan. You own this and you own your growth. Don’t rely on others to find you and say, ‘Oh, you’re being underpaid.’ You have to take this in your own hands.”
NS: “I think the one advice that I give myself, I remind myself and I tell everybody is, don’t be afraid to ask. You won’t know the answer until you’ve asked.”
VS: I second absolutely asking, because the worst they can tell you is no.
What kinds of relationships have helped you to be successful in your career, and how do you cultivate those relationships?
EB: “I think that watching more senior folks and watching leadership on my side of the house have really ingrained that in me. That’s one thing that I love about BigCommerce, is that the folks are so open, transparent and kind. It really felt unreal to be working in this space, coming from a dog-eat-dog agency lifestyle. It was very much whoever’s paying the highest, whoever’s getting me there the quickest until I get that offer from Google or Facebook mindset. It was very cutthroat. I really appreciate being able to shadow folks like Neha during escalation calls or reaching out to my VP or former manager.”
MD: “Early on, the relationships that were most valuable and still are today, were the people that I was producing the work with directly. I learned that those are the people that are going to help me, and I can help them. We can create things together and move swiftly to meet goals.
“Now that I’m older, I definitely value more of the leadership conversations with people like you, Veronica, where it’s people that I aspire to be at that level. I think I’m at a better place now in my career to be a lot more intentional with those conversations.
“When I was younger, there was a lot of, ‘You should have a mentor.’ I didn’t even know what I wanted to ask them. I think now when I have those conversations, they’re more valuable because I know what kind of information I’m seeking. I think both are really important: the day-to-day relationships and then the aspirational ones.”
GR: “One thing I’ll add to the cultivation part of it:
“Giving people time and giving them undivided time. Even if it’s five, 10 minutes, just listening to them, listening to the other side, it helps build a really genuine relationship and helps with trust.”
VS: Someone told me this one time: Remember when you’re in your current role, you’re interviewing for your next. What they meant is, everyone that you’re building a network with, those are the folks that pull you in, that think of your name, that say this person was great to work with. Aside from just being a good collaborator within the company, think about how you can foster those relationships — because that’s how careers advance.
Making a Difference Now and in the Future
As more companies move the needle on gender equality in the workplace, there is still work to be done. Women only represent 30% of the workforce at large tech companies, with less than 25% representation in technical roles.
At BigCommerce, we’re committed to celebrating and advocating for women year-round. Learn more about BigCommerce’s ERGs and how these organizations are making a difference for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at BigCommerce.
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