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In honor of Women’s History Month and inspired by the United Nations theme of “Women in Leadership: Achieving An Equal Future In A COVID-19 World,” we’ll be featuring five of Codility’s inspirational leaders. Each week in March, we’ll share these Q&A sessions to inspire, encourage, and support anyone in tech looking to elevate their leadership skills.
Today, Rachel Whitehead, our VP of Marketing, shares tactics for developing leadership skills, how she overcame career challenges, and why it’s important to foster authenticity in your teams.
1. What is your role at Codility, and what do you aspire to do in tech?
I’m VP of Marketing, leading a team of extraordinarily talented people spread across Europe and the US. Together we bring Codility to the world, amplifying the story of how customers use our platform to improve how they make hiring decisions and ultimately build strong and diverse engineering teams.
Working in tech is made up of equal parts adventure and challenge, where I get to work alongside smart people to solve pretty difficult problems – problems that change constantly. I’m impatient for progress and love the urgency and creativity that drive innovation in tech companies. In other words, I’m in my happy place in tech.
2. What has been the most significant barrier or challenge in your career?
Earlier in my career, I found it difficult to speak up. As a young woman from New Zealand, I often felt like an imposter in the room, surrounded by people I assumed were probably more qualified, so I would silence myself. Looking back, I see how ineffective I was, but at the time, I would often share my ideas passively to one person at a time or behind the scenes in quieter ways.
My manager at the time was a great cheerleader and encouraged me to speak up and take my seat at the table. This was a huge turning point in my career which paid off very quickly in the fast-moving startup environment where collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving are hyper-valued skills that require proactive idea-sharing.
Fast forward to today; I report directly to the CEO and am part of the executive team. I’ve learned to speak up, challenge the status quo, and bring all of myself to work.
3. What advice would you give someone who is aspiring to grow in their leadership responsibilities?
Firstly tell the people around you about your aspiration. You’re going to need your manager, friends, and colleagues to give you feedback, support, and advocate for you. Start by asking for their help identifying development areas, and in return, offer your help so you can learn from others in leadership roles and get more feedback.
Next, prove that you’re already a leader (the CEO of your domain) by taking the initiative to identify opportunities for improvement and proactively problem-solving. The best leaders start by being great individual contributors, so work hard to refine your skills.
Finally, take your learning into your own hands. It’s never been easier to access great stories, examples, and ideas that can help you get ahead. I started by watching VC and CEO content on Snapchat every morning at breakfast, some of which were a little flashy, but most were pretty good.
These days, I spend a decent amount of time each week listening to podcasts, in particular, interviews with other tech leaders and reading blogs. To get started, I recommend Inside Intercom, Skimm’d from the Couch, and Masters of Scale, to name a few.
4. What strategies have you implemented that have helped create a safe environment that fosters diverse ideas & promotes authenticity?
As someone who at one point felt pretty excluded, I try to bring that empathy with me into my team and create space for others to share the mic, speak up and feel accepted. Sometimes, this leads to long silences, but it’s a tiny trade-off to ensure that we get a well-rounded perspective, which is when the best ideas come (something I’m still working on).
I’m also pretty talented at not taking myself too seriously. Especially after the year everyone has just had, I think we need to foster vulnerability by being open about our blindspots, listening to each other, and being ready to change our minds. I was born without a poker face, so I’m naturally pretty authentic and transparent with my team, and I’m lucky to work with people who give me that in return.
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