An incubator of women leaders

Member Spotlight - Sherry L.K. Main

Name: Sherry L. K. Main
Job / Title: Chief Communications & Marketing Officer / Associate Vice Chancellor

Company: University of California, Santa Cruz

Industry: Higher Education

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

Sherry: Being a soft-spoken person, leadership means leading by example. When a leader models consistent behavior, and exudes the values that she feels are important to the success of her team, I have found that colleagues are quick to adapt if they believe in what you are doing.

I say “if” because leadership also means being able to handle difficult situations with grace. It’s OK, if a colleague does not believe in your philosophy or style as a leader. Good leaders allow for room for disagreement and debate to get to an end goal that is ultimately the best course of action.

Q: What have been the hallmarks of your success?

Sherry: I feel that my desire to navigate the new or unknown is a motivator and has allowed me to continue to grow and evolve my career. Along the way, I have taken several deep dives into the new areas that are up and coming for my field.

Over a decade ago, the digital landscape was flipping the communications field upside down, and I jumped into social media and multimedia communications early on without a roadmap. What I was doing in my field then was pioneering and thus I built a reputation for being the go-to person for digital communications strategy in higher education.

Similarly, as technology has given rise to the need for reputation management, especially in a social media age, I have taken on the challenge of crisis communications. I am enjoying finding creative solutions to the most challenging of reputational matters. Every storm will pass, but how does an individual or brand weather it and come out ahead when you look long-term into the future?

In both of these examples, I have stretched myself beyond my comfort zone – past the point where I know can do well.

Q: If you can share one piece of advice that you know now about navigating your career, what would that be?

Sherry: Take the road less traveled, and even pave your own road to success. While a lot of programs will offer road maps for traditional careers in a field, don’t limit yourself to those options.

I knew early in my career that I wanted to be a chief communications/marketing officer. I also knew that I did not have a traditional media relations, newspaper writing background that is typical of such a position. But by becoming a leader in my own niche of digital and creative strategy for marketing communications, I was able to demonstrate the value of innovation to a traditional communications practice, and thereby have been able to stand out as a non-traditional candidate as I have grown professionally.

I’ve found this unchartered path effective because when I’m on my own course, I do not have to compare where I am to where my peers are or predecessors have been. And that I am leading the way for my industry and peers has been rewarding in itself!

Q:  What is the challenge that you are most proud of overcoming?

Sherry: The biggest challenge that I have always grappled with is public speaking. I cannot say that I have overcome it, but I have learned to identify opportunities that allow me to better present myself.

For example, I enjoy myself more and do better when I can present to a group in a way that is engaging and encourages audience participation. This gets into what I often call “storylooming” – I try to make my point or deliver a message by building on experience that audience members have had. And as I get input from my audience through prompts, I weave – or loom – them into the larger picture that I am trying to make in my talk. I also feel that this allows for the participants to buy into the topic since they’ve heavily contributed to the talk.

I also do well in panels or Q&A sessions and cherish those opportunities more as good ways to engage publicly. On the occasions that I do need to give lecture style talks, I cannot over-prepare. Asking a peer or coach for help is something that I am more and more comfortable with.

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to grow in her career while making time for her family?

Sherry: There are two things that I find helpful in navigating career growth while balancing a family. The first is support from within – whether it be a spouse, grandparents, nanny, or combination thereof. A strong core at home helps to build a strong foundation for the other parts of your life.

I think it’s important for children to understand why working is important to you. I talk about this often with my kids, and they are open to asking questions about what I do, whom I manage, and whom I report up to. This helps them understand when I need to be away for business or be otherwise pulled away from home life.

The second part of the equation for me has been to be able to balance expectations with coworkers. I always ensure that those who need to reach me can. If I have a family commitment, those who are most impacted at work know that I am tending to my family.  And lastly and I think most importantly, I strive to offer the same support and respect to my colleagues when they are balancing family commitments. In this sense, I truly feel that it takes a village to make it all work.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that is a fun fact.

Sherry: In high school I was voted “Most Technologically Advanced.” Who knew that was a category that one could be recognized for??

Q: How have you grown your professional network?

Sherry: Jumping on volunteer opportunities – small or big – has been helpful in growing my professional network. Early in my career, I sought leadership positions in internal organizations at work, which allowed me to connect with other employees outside my work area. These leadership positions gave me access to leaders who I otherwise would not have exposure to as an early career professional. Developing this network also allowed me to find leads to future jobs.

Pursuing industry organization volunteer and leadership opportunities is also important. I was able to land an interview for my current position through such a professional network connection.

Externally, I have been involved in volunteer leadership in support groups such as Girls Inc. of Orange County, Women for Girls (auxiliary group of Girls Inc.), California Concert Artists, Mathcounts, and other non-profits where I have been able to engage with community leaders and executives from unrelated industries who share the same outside interest.

Most recently, I was appointed the by UC President Janet Napolitano as Staff Advisor to the Board of Regents of the University of California. In this role, I serve as an advocate for the nearly 150,000 staff at the University of California. As I engage with the many staff across the university system statewide, I know that my professional network is sure to grow and strengthen.

Of course – and especially as a fairly recent transplant to Silicon Valley – seeking out opportunities such as The CLUB and its Incubator program have been very valuable and rewarding for building my professional and personal network.


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