An incubator of women leaders

Member Spotlight

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  • 01/06/2016 8:47 AM | Anonymous member


    Name: Erin Sawyer
    Job / Title: Sr. Purchasing Manager of Core Technologies
    Company: Tesla Motors
    Industry: Automotive, High-Tech, Clean-Tech




    Q: What have been the hallmarks of your success?

    Erin: One of the hallmarks of success in my roles is frequent feedback.  I believe that being a good people manager is giving and receiving frequent feedback among your team so that you are all on the same page with priorities, responsibilities, opportunities for improvement and celebrating wins.  It’s super important to have frequent, real-time dialogue with your team and your boss, so that you know what’s working well, and what to refine.

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

    Erin: My one piece of advice is to own your career.  You need to take ownership of the direction you want your career path to go.  Do not be afraid to ask for more responsibility, ask for a promotion, take on new roles, change companies, relocate, etc.  It’s up to you to be your own advocate and be proactive about what you want.

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


    Erin: Hands down, I’m most proud being a woman engineer.  As a mechanical engineer, and working in Automotive and Tech industries, I’ve always been one of very few women in the workplace.  Establishing credibility among both my technical and non-technical colleagues, both as an engineer and leader, has been key to my success.  I’m immensely proud of serving as a positive role model to the more junior women in my organization of what a woman engineer and leader looks like.

    Q: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten?  Explain what and why it was so good.

    Erin: When I joined Tesla, my boss and mentor told me “welcome to the revolution!”.  His advice was that no matter how large or small of an organization you work in, you should not be afraid to change things for the better.  If the team structure, processes, or ways of working aren’t optimal– then don’t be afraid to change them.  This piece of advice really empowered me to take ownership of the organization and create a future-state that I wanted to be a part of.

    Q: How do you approach someone who you may want as a mentor?

    Erin: Some mentor / mentee relationships are natural, and some only come about if you approach the person.  When I was a young professional early in my career at Honeywell, and we had a new female executive in the organization, I approached her right away to ask her to be my mentor.  As one of the few women in Honeywell’s automotive division, she served as a more senior mentor with a similar engineering background that provided me with great advice.  I’m so glad that I wasn’t shy about asking for her to be my mentor and scheduling monthly lunches!

    Q: What are ways that you have balanced career, personal, and other interests?

    Erin: First, you have to prioritize what’s important to you, and second, you have to set boundaries to make time for your top priorities.  For me, the time with my husband is a priority.  We decided to set aside Tuesday nights to cook dinner together – so no matter what is going on at work or with friends, we always protect that one night per week in our calendars.  My other top prioritize is my health.  I’m a firm believer that eating healthy, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep will enable me to be happier and more effective in my career, so I make time to work out at least 5 times per week.  Once you identify your top priorities, you can set boundaries – leaving the office, setting aside your cell phone, etc. – to make time for the things that are most important to you.

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

    Erin: This year I became a board member of the non-profit Kids’ Vision, which is an organization that works to inspire young girls to enter into STEM fields.  We created an amazing after-school program, where girls 3rd thru 6th grade visit tech companies in Silicon Valley, meet female role models working in those organizations, and do hands-on experiments to learn about how mathematics and science are applied in companies in Silicon Valley.  I believe providing positive role models of women in STEM is critical for increasing our future pipeline of women engineers and leaders.

    Erin was selected for the 2015 CLUB Incubator program based on her achievements in the automotive industry and her passion for giving back to young women in STEM. Erin has been recognized as one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Generation. You can learn more about Erin’s professional interests and volunteer highlights at www.erinsawyer.com.

  • 01/11/2015 9:08 AM | Anonymous member


    Name: Laraine McKinnon

    Job: Advocating for American retirement readiness and security thru employer sponsored 
    retirement savings plans
    Company: BlackRock

    Industry: Financial Services

     

    What initially attracted you to The CLUB? What keeps you engaged?

    I am a big believer in women’s leadership and using the power of an inspired network to get women to the next level. I especially like the idea of the CLUB being an “incubator of women’s leadership”, which is why I offered to build a formal Incubator program to help provide a boost for a small group of CLUB members each year. The CLUB is just starting to uncover its potential – and that keeps me engaged and excited

    How do you see The CLUB evolving?

    The CLUB is gaining momentum. There are so many opportunities for our members to grow – learning from the strong content of events, taking opportunity to network, participating in the mentoring programs – and to give back through providing their own leadership on CLUB initiatives. I hope people take full advantage of it.

    I also see the CLUB taking a leadership position of its own – in connecting other women’s organizations, in helping redefine an inclusive workforce, in growing the pipeline of women ready for more powerful positions whether in corporations or on Boards. I hope we become the ‘go-to’ for recruiting and networking.

    What role has mentorship played in your career?

    I have a few mentors as well as an executive sponsor.  It took me a long time to understand how to make use of a mentor – the trick for me was asking my mentors open ended, somewhat unstructured questions. My executive sponsor changed the game for me when he provided unequivocal support.

    What has surprised you about your industry?

    This is less about my industry and more about corporate America more generally: I’m surprised by how challenging it is to drive real change. I think we all find this to be true even of ourselves in various ways – humans are slow to make changes even when we know the change is truly beneficial. (Think of dieting, saving money, exercising, quitting smoking, etc.)  I spend a lot of time with academics on behavioral finance, reading the literature around habits and figuring out how to methodically influence change.  This has implications for my work in helping Americans save for retirement – but also for the CLUB as we try to incent and inspire significant improvements in the number of women leading key businesses and initiatives.

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

    Women need to build an external network and become more publicly known.  Many of us keep our head down and do the very best we can at our jobs and don’t find the time to network externally, or publish, or -god forbid!- speak publicly. But we need to showcase and grow our expertise.  A strong external network gives us support, opportunities and a reality check (on our skills, leadership, achievements).

    Fun Fact

    I’m a sailboat racer – it’s a big part of why I moved to the Bay Area.  I met my husband Steve when we were racing against each other in a national regatta; we raced ocean or Bay nearly every weekend for 10 years and accumulated two boats along the way.  Although I don’t get much opportunity to race anymore (we have two busy girls, 7 & 8 years old) there’s hope: my 8 year old just went through Stanford University’s kids sailing program and loved it!

  • 12/01/2014 9:10 AM | Anonymous member

    Name: Lee McEnany Caraher
    Job: President & CEO, Author
    Company: Double Forte
    Book: “Millennials & Management: The Essential Guide to Making it Work at Work”
    Industry: Public Relations & Social Media

    From your perspective, what are the most important trends that will take place in your industry in the next 10 years?
    Public Relations and communications has gone through a dramatic transformation in the last 4 years – while the fundamentals of what matters – what’s the message, who’s the audience, and how do you connect the two has stayed constant – how we do our work has completely changed and will keep changing. In the next 10 years I think we’ll see more dramatic changes in how people communicate and we’ll need to be right behind the edge of how things are working to be effective. At the same time I don’t think the fundamentals of communication will change – be real, be honest, be helpful.

    If you can share one piece of advice that you know now about navigating your career, what would that be?
    If your job grates against your soul, then you’re in the wrong job. Find work and an employer (or become an employer) where your worst day at the good job is a regular day in the soul-grating day. You are in charge of your career and your happiness.

    What advice would you give those beginning their own business?
    Focus is your friend, and it’s important to focus your activities on where you are most valuable. Focus on what you do well and pay or barter with someone else to do the things that you don’t do well. I can do the numbers and the billing but it’s drudgery for me. The first employee I had at my company was my accountant, who I paid 6 months before I paid myself. Best decision I ever made. (Although I still go to Office Depot myself because I love office supplies.)

    How do you approach someone who you may want as a mentor?
    Mentorship is so important – when my mother graduated from the first Simmons all woman MBA class, her advice to me was find a male mentor who is in the position you want and copy him to get where you want to go. That worked really well for her – she retired after creating the career she wanted, at the top of her game. I think today, gender is not as important in looking for a mentor. I recommend people identify someone who’s “just out of their league” or at least 2 rungs up the ladder. Consider what you want from a mentor — what do you hope to get out of a mentorship with this person? what is the timeframe you want? what is the subject matter? how would you like to engage (on email, on the phone, on Skype, in person)? and how often? What do you have to offer the potential mentor? Get specific so that when you approach the person, they will know exactly what you want and will be able to respond productively and more likely, in the positive. Then stick to your plan. And at the end of every meeting, check in to make sure it’s working for them.

    What does leadership mean to you?
    You can only lead those who want to be led. Leadership means that other people trust you to get them to their goals. I think the most important thing for leaders is to focus on engendering positive feeling among those who follow. That means we need to understand who’s following us, what makes them tick, and what will motivate them in the context of the company’s goals. It’s humbling and invigorating at the same time.

    Fun Fact.
    I strongly dislike olives, which my assistant noticed and took to heart. One day when we ordered pizza for the office I heard him say to the Office Manager “make sure there’s pizza without olives for Lee” – and since I overheard him, everyone else overheard him too, and now it’s “thing” in the office.

  • 10/06/2014 9:21 AM | Anonymous member


    Name: Nicole Bartow
    Job / Title: Senior Litigation and Labor Counsel
    Company: Atmel Corporation
    Industry: Semiconductor

     

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

    Don’t try to change who you are.  Instead, emphasize and capitalize on your strengths.  Determine how to use those strengths in the face of any given career challenge.

     

    Why did you choose to be a lawyer?

    I chose to be a lawyer after participating in speech and debate in high school.  I enjoyed the process of learning and mastering a subject and then presenting it (and then repeating the process again and again with new topics).  Plus, I love to win.

     

    What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten?  

    Find and fill a need – for example, mastering a substantive specialty and becoming the “go to” authority on the subject.  Or, positioning yourself to fill an upcoming void (e.g., where leaders in one area will be retiring soon) so you are the natural “next wave” for that role.  These strategic moves can make you indispensible and also offer the opportunity for rapid career advancement.

     

    If you had it to do all over again is there one thing you would have changed?  

    I would have taken time off between college and law school to travel, work and accumulate diverse life experiences, rather than going “straight through.”

     

    From your perspective, what are the most important trends that will take place in your industry in the next 10 years? 

    The explosion of the Internet of Things.

     

    What has surprised you about your industry? 

    The dearth of women working in the industry, especially in technical and sales roles, and at the executive and board levels.

     

    What role has mentorship played in your career? 

    I was very fortunate to find a great mentor in my third year at a firm.  This person was a male partner in my group, and we worked very closely together for seven years (until we each took different career paths).  He gave me a lot of responsibility on matters; much of the time I was in “sink or swim” situations, which are motivating for me.  He also helped me navigate the large firm politics and was my champion at the firm.

    Now that I have almost 20 years of experience of my own, I’m enjoying serving as a mentor, both to other lawyers (mostly through The CLUB’s mentoring opportunities) and to other non-lawyers in my organization.  Serving as a mentor has increased my own confidence and awareness, as I’ve had to reflect on my own career and experiences and realize that I have a significant depth and breadth of experience.

     

    What are the hallmark traits of a great leader that you have observed in your career?  

    An ability to get others engaged and focused on achievement and providing their best effort; genuine appreciation for contributions; passion, drive and vision; integrity.

     

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

    Launch your career in a supportive environment; it’s hard enough to juggle multiple priorities without trying to do so in an unsupportive environment.  Get good help on the home front and show your appreciation for that person/system (whether that is a spouse/partner who takes on a majority of household responsibilities or a dedicated nanny or daycare provider or something else).  Outsource tasks that aren’t the highest/best use of your time – e.g., via Google Shopping Express, TaskRabbit, and other resources.

     

    What are ways that you have balanced career, personal, and other interests?  

    I have declared certain priority items as “sacred” and schedule around those items, even when difficult to do so.  Also, I have viewed the areas of career, personal and other interests as fluid, spending more time/effort in one area at certain times, but have reassessed regularly so that any “imbalance” doesn’t become the norm.

     

    Fun Facts 

    My first job was selling patio furniture.

    I have been a Stanford Football season ticket holder for 22 years (Go Card!).

     

    What do you like to do to unwind? 

    Exercise!  I have a weekly workout schedule that covers strength, flexibility and cardio.  These workouts are sacred to me – there are very few things that I will let disrupt this schedule.  On the weekends, I enjoy walking The Dish and bike riding on the Stanford campus with my wife and three kids.

  • 06/27/2014 9:28 AM | Anonymous member


    Name: Holly Hogan
    Job / Title: Partner, IP Litigation
    Company: K&L Gates LLP
    Industry: Law / Technology

     


    From your perspective, what are the most important trends that will take place in your industry in the next 10 years?

    As an intellectual property (IP) litigator, I work at the intersection of law and technology, and believe that we will continue to see efforts to refine and further shape IP law at all levels of government, which will impact both the legal profession and the tech industry.

    Let’s take patent litigation reform, for example, where many branches and layers of government are “tuned in” to the concerns about how to do things better when it comes to dis-incentivizing frivolous lawsuits − from the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on the standard for awarding attorneys’ fees in meritless cases, to the White House’s patent reform recommendations, multiple (albeit stalled) bills in Congress, the FTC’s review of patent demand letters, and investigations pursued at the state level.  Similarly, in the arena of copyright law, stakeholders are looking for the “next great Copyright Act” that will adapt the current body of copyright law to the new mediums of expression that exist because of technological advances.  And it’s not just within the government, as we’re also seeing heightened interest in intellectual property issues in the news and among the general public, making these issues ever more critical to the business side, not only the legal side.

     

    What has surprised you about your industry?

     I’ve come to appreciate more and more just how much litigation is about telling a story.  Sure, you have to meet the legal requirements and find the evidence, but the compelling case is the one that connects all those pieces together into a narrative that resonates with a judge or jury.  There is a (mis)impression that IP litigation is “cut and dry,” but even in cases with intensely complex technology, there is always an interesting story, and I like finding it.

     

    What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten?  Explain what and why it was so good.

    Early in my career a mentor told me to always keep in mind that “people don’t want to hear about problems, they want to hear about your solution to the problem.”  Excellent advice.  This point is especially true for lawyers, who want to avoid the label of being someone who just tells everyone “no,” and doesn’t try to find a viable alternative.  Being someone who can not only spot an issue, but figure out how to fix it, is a great way to distinguish yourself early in your career (and throughout your life).  Keeping an eye on solving an issue also builds judgment and decision-making ability.  Problems and thorny issues are opportunities to show your ability to work through them.

     

    What role has mentorship played in your career?

    It has played a big, and meaningful, role.  I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors at every phase of my career who have helped me think “big picture,” opened up opportunities for me, and gave me great practical advice.  Earlier in my career, a partner at my firm let me run with depositions, and she invested the time to teach me how to do them well.  That experience set me up to lead a piece of the case, which in turn led to great trial experience.

    I also came to the CLUB through mentorship.  CLUB founder Annie Rogaski mentored me in Leading Women in Technology’s WILPOWER program (which I can’t recommend highly enough).  She is an oracle of first-rate, practical advice.  For example, a rut that women can get stuck in is being known just as someone who can get the task at hand done well − a “worker bee,” so to speak.  Of course you want to be known for doing a good job, but you don’t want your reputation to stop there.  You also want people to regard you as someone who can drive a strategy, and think about the overall issues.  Annie encouraged me to focus on building that kind of reputation, and taught me that to be strategic, you need to set aside time in the press of getting things done to actually stop and think about strategy − literally, put the time on the calendar!  I found that getting myself in that mindset at a dedicated time really trained me to be in that mindset the rest of the week, as well.

    We have an excellent group of women in the CLUB who are happy to mentor others, which I think says a lot about the women who make up this organization.  Check out the website for information on how to find a mentor.

     

    What does leadership mean to you?

    I’m a history buff, so I’ll borrow the wise words of John Quincy Adams; that is, leadership is inspiring others to “dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.”   It’s one thing to excel in your own endeavors, it’s quite another to lead others to excel in theirs.  The latter requires thinking beyond yourself, and thinking about other people, an organization, and the goal.  Leaders who have impacted my life all had an ability to inspire others to “think bigger” and “get things done, better.”

     

     Fun Facts

     I love to read and have a copy of every book I’ve ever read (Yes, I’m one of the dinosaurs that still buys a hard copy!)  I tend to re-read Hemingway, and enjoy his Hemingway-isms, chief among them: “When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.”

  • 05/01/2014 9:32 AM | Anonymous member


    Name: Pam Fulmer
    Job / Title: Partner
    Company: Arent Fox
    Industry:  Legal



    My name is Pam Fulmer and I am a trial lawyer specializing in representing technology companies in high stakes intellectual property and commercial litigation matters.  Rather than simply writing a biography about myself and my background, I thought it might be helpful to talk about two very important life lessons that I have learned and how these lessons have changed my life for the better, and why these lessons may also be important to Club members reading this Spotlight.  I am talking about the value of not being afraid to take risks, and not hesitating to mentor and be mentored.

    Risk Taking 

    One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is to not be afraid to take risks. Lawyers tend to be naturally risk-averse, and that is why many of us go into the law. But the most successful lawyers among us are calculated risk takers.

    One risk that I took early on, was moving to California with my college roommate after graduation. Although I knew no one in the Bay Area, I figured it was as good a time as any to make a move, as I did not want to spend my entire life in Ohio.  The idea was to work for a year and to get our California residency, so that we could enjoy the lower California in-state tuition for our post graduate studies. With only $1200 in my pocket and nowhere to live, I rolled the dice and took a risk.  I boarded a plane in Cincinnati, Ohio and my roommate boarded one in Miami, Florida, and we met at San Francisco International Airport.

    We decided to move to Berkeley (it was a college town after all), and try to get jobs as waitresses. The Grateful Dead were playing in Berkeley that night and the hotels were almost all booked, but we finally managed to get a room in a flea bag hotel (The Capri) on University Avenue.  Even that cheap hotel was expensive to me given how much money I had to work with.  None of the rooms had phones and I remember standing in a phone booth on University Avenue watching the traffic whizz by, and assuring my Mom and Dad that everything was fine.  I was scared to death and already second guessing myself.

    The next day I started my job hunt, and discovered that no one wanted to hire me as a waitress as I had no experience working in a restaurant.  Finally, with my money running out and my prospects looking exceedingly dim, I secured a job as a Radio Shack management trainee.  I knew virtually nothing about electronic equipment, or antenna or fuses, but somehow I managed to eke out a living for a few months and save up additional money until I could find a higher paying job.  And then despite additional challenges, things finally started to break my way.  By the time I entered law school, I knew absolutely that this is what I wanted to do and I worked hard to do well in school and go to a highly regarded law firm.

    I have never regretted my decision to take the risk of moving to California.  And I have found that sometimes as a lawyer I have needed to take risks too. These are of course calculated risks, and ones that are weighed carefully and thought through.  There is risk involved in advocating a novel legal theory, which may not be well settled, but through hard work and flawless execution secures for the client a great settlement.  Or going with the witness that others doubted could withstand a vigorous cross-examination, and preparing her so well that by the time she got to the stand she told her story so convincingly and so honestly that the fact finder had no trouble going her way.

    I think as a general matter that women tend to be more risk adverse than men.  I don’t see this as a good thing. I think it is one of the challenges that we face as women in the work force. When I first started practicing law, in-house lawyers who were women seemed reluctant to hire other women. It was much safer to stick with the tried and true men who had always been hired, and who were familiar to their bosses. But sometime in the last 10 years or so, I see in-house female lawyers much more willing to take the risk and hire that female outside counsel, even though that female lawyer may not be a well-known brand name.

    I am thankful to those women in-house lawyers who have taken risks on hiring me.  I work very hard for them so that they never regret the decision that they made in choosing me to handle their case.  I urge other Club Members who are in-house lawyers to make that stretch and to take risks and to hire other women, and give them an equal opportunity to pitch your cases.     The way law firms are structured it is sometimes hard for women to get a place at the table.  If our in-house women colleagues are demanding that law firms provide qualified women candidates for their consideration, we will only gain by breaking down some of the barriers that hold all of us back.

    Mentoring

    Another important lesson that I learned is that it is a lonely road to try to go it alone.  It is very important to trust other people and to actively seek out mentors, and to look for people to mentor along the way.

    After graduating from law school I started as a first year associate at the Howard Rice law firm in San Francisco.  My first case was an environmental lawsuit where we were representing a landfill in Northern California that was allegedly leaking into the groundwater.  The Senior Associate on the case ran me ragged for a year, and really put me through my paces.  I felt at times like she was unhappy with her job and perhaps did not feel that she had been treated fairly, and she was enjoying hassling someone more junior.  I could never go to her with questions, and she had no interest in being a mentor, and my life was tough.  I resolved at that time that if I was ever the senior associate on a case, and provided I survived my first year as a lawyer that I would be different and I would actively seek to be a mentor to others more junior.  Well of course I did survive, and I have fulfilled that promise to myself and have served as a mentor to many other lawyers.  This has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying aspects of my career.

    I have also benefited by being mentored by other great lawyers throughout my career.  I believe that it is essential for women to actively seek out mentors or sponsors that can help and facilitate their professional journeys.  Also I believe that it is essential for women who are still junior in their careers to make sure that they are looking out for and offering to mentor newer lawyers.  I learned so much during my first year out of law school, that by my second year I actually was a great resource to the lawyers who were just starting.  Everyone knew that they could come to me and I would share the knowledge that I had.  I also made sure that I didn’t use the fact that people were coming to me for advice against them later.  The conversations that we had were private and were between the two of us and I never tried to leverage someone’s lack of knowledge to my advantage.  Now some of my best clients have been colleagues who I mentored years ago.

    My advice to Club members is to stretch, get out of your comfort zone, take risks, and treat people fairly and be a sounding board for them.  The encouragement, mentorship and support that we give each other now will pay off both personally and professionally for us all.

    Pam Fulmer is a Partner in the San Francisco office of Arent Fox and is a member of the firm’s Women’s Initiative and Diversity Committees.

  • 03/09/2014 9:37 AM | Anonymous member


    Laura V. Fechete, P.E.
    Company: SSL
    Position: Department Manager, Structural Technology
    IndustryAerospace – Satellite Design and Manufacturing

     

    Q: From your perspective, what are the most important trends that will take place in the satellite industry in the next 10 years? 

    Laura: We are seeing a trend away from larger and more powerful satellites to customers wanting smaller and more versatile spacecraft which can be inserted into diverse business plans. Customers want a satellite with radio and TV content, and internet and broadband content also.

     

    Q: Given your position in technology and manufacturing, how has your work or work place changed in the last 5 years, and what do you foresee as changes in the next 5 – 10 years?

    Laura: Satellite designs have gotten more complex, while costs and schedules have reduced due to market forces.  In my area, computer models are increasingly complex, and more upfront analysis is performed. There is a large quantity of information, from requirements to actual test data, and manufacturers building a few components are looking to large-scale production techniques such as product lifecycle and lean manufacturing principles for engineering and manufacturing.

     

    Q: What tips do you have for other women just starting out in your profession?

    Laura: I would steer a new engineer towards getting involved in a professional society that compliments her work interests. By volunteering for chapter positions or committees, she can gain valuable leadership experience. And make sure to let her manager know the new skills she is acquiring!

     

    Q: What have been the hallmarks of your success?

    Laura: I would attribute my success as an engineer and a manager to several factors. Besides fundamental skills gained through school and work experience, I happily volunteered for additional work assignments, especially those involving interaction between other groups, for continued learning. I gained leadership experience through professional societies, which improved my communication skills. I’ve worked in many different roles and organizations, each time learning something new along the way, either from the project or from the people.

     

    Q: What role has mentorship played in your career?

    Laura: I have very few regrets in my career, but one big regret involves mentoring. Early in my career, a VP assigned me a mentor; another manager in his area. There was no mentoring program, and I was too naïve to understand the value. When that manager left the company shortly after, I did not know enough to go back to the VP and ask for another name. Now, any young woman can read “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg and get a good education on the importance of mentoring!

     

    Q: What are ways that you have balanced career, personal, and other interests?

     Laura: I have been active in professional societies during the majority of my career, and The Society of Women Engineers has been very good about bringing in women executives as speakers. Almost all mentioned that while you can ‘have it all’, you probably can’t have it all at the same time. I think on that when I have too many irons in the fire. I know I’m happier doing fewer things well, than trying to do too much with mixed results.

     

    Laura fun fact: I enjoy Dragon Boat paddling, and am a member of the Bay Area Dragons. I can paddle both right or left sides of the boat!

  • 09/17/2013 9:46 AM | Anonymous member


    Name: Karen Catlin

    Job / Title: CEO

    Company: Athentica, P.B.C.




    Tell me about your recent career transition. How did that come about? 

    I’ve actually had two major career transitions in the last 20 months. The first one was deciding to leave a great job as an executive at Adobe Systems. I wanted to pursue my passion of helping other women be successful in the software industry, so I became a leadership coach, speaker, and consultant. After spending my entire career up to that point in corporate jobs, I loved the flexibility of being self-employed. I spent time blogging to build up my personal brand, meeting with friends and former colleagues to promote my business, and growing my professional network. At this time, I joined The CLUB and became a member of the Programming committee; I’ve enjoyed meeting so many talented women through our events.

    Coincidentally, the networking I did to build my consulting business led me to my second career transition. Earlier this year, a friend invited me to lunch to discuss a business idea he had. Over the next six months, we met every so often, and I saw his business idea morph into what it is today—a social network to help the growing population of online learners complete a curriculum of courses to develop mastery in a field. Along the way, I started seeing connections between his startup and women I met who were taking online classes to improve their technical skills. Many told me that they liked online classes because they could fit them into their busy lives, yet they didn’t think they were learning enough to apply to a real-world programming need. They knew they needed to take more classes and get more experience building software, but they struggled with next steps. As a result, I knew my friend was on to something.

    In a surprising twist of events, my friend asked me to be the CEO of his company. I wasn’t looking for this kind of role, but I decided to consider it seriously. As I evaluated the opportunity and met more of his team, I became really excited. And I realized that, by joining the startup, I could help more women than I ever could as a consultant. With the support of my husband and kids, I decided to lean into my career once again. I’m now the CEO of Athentica, an early stage online learning startup. And I’m having the time of my life.

    What drew you to a career in technology?


    As a child, I was a good student, I enjoyed solving puzzles, and I loved making things. This last memory is especially strong. My family didn’t have much disposable income, and my parents instilled a strong sense of frugality in all that we did. We canned vegetables from our garden, made jam, hand-crafted gifts, and learned to sew and knit. I especially loved making my own clothes; not only did it save me money, it gave me a wonderful creative outlet.

    When I was in high school, my dad showed me a magazine article of a young woman earning more money than I could have imagined. She was strong in math and science in high school, and she studied computer science in college. My dad suggested I could do the same, and I was definitely enticed by the potential salary. Growing up in such a frugal household, I knew I wanted to pursue a career where I’d be able to support myself.

    A year later, I was accepted at Brown University and declared computer science as my major.  In hindsight, this was pretty risky—I had never even touched a computer! Fortunately, I enjoyed my classes. Just like sewing and knitting, building software met a basic need I had to make things. I found it fun, fulfilling, and frankly addictive. 

    Tell me about your management style today.

    As an executive and a working mom, I became a better leader because of the parenting skills I learned, and a better parent because of the leadership training I received. Not surprisingly, my leadership style is a blend of the qualities I think are important for both leaders and parents: empathetic within reason, nurturing, respectful, decisive, dependable, resilient, and calm. I put a lot of trust in the people around me and encourage them to grow their skills. Professionally, this is called “succession planning.” At home, it’s called “making sure your kids can eventually move out and support themselves!”

    I see intersections of parenting and leadership on a regular basis, and I share my thoughts on my blog “Use Your Inside Voice.”  Please stop by if this sounds interesting to you.

    What advice would you give to a woman looking to grow in her career while making time for her family? 

    For today’s working parents, there are never enough hours in the day. We all develop coping skills to get it all done, some more extreme than others. What I’ve seen in myself and in my friends is that we’ve mastered the ability to shrink our household duties down to the bare minimum. Even if you have a partner who equally shares these duties (as recommended in “Lean In”), you can still simplify your life to have more time to focus on family and career.

    Earlier this year, I shared my strategies for simplifying household responsibilities on my blog: http://karencatlin.com/2013/03/18/confessions-of-the-time-starved/. I’m always looking for more ideas. Please tell me about your strategies by leaving a comment on that blog post. Thanks!

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