WALK THE WALK: StackPath leads the way with a culture of success and inclusion
The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. –Harvey S. Firestone
As we began to think about what company should be selected for the very first installment of our latest feature, Walk The Walk, we quickly realized that there was a firm unapologetically charging forward with bold new ideas and a commitment to hiring women in key leadership roles. But first, a little background on why we felt strongly that a feature like Walk The Walk was needed.
While the technology industry continues to boom with every new product or startup that seems to pop up daily, the actual tech workforce, when it comes to women in leadership specifically, still has significant work to do when it comes to gender equality.
None of the companies surveyed by Statista (see chart above) have achieved equal gender representation in their workforce. And yes, some of the companies are doing better than others, but overall, there are still too few women in leadership roles and doing tech jobs.
At a time where more than half of all startups continue to have all male executive leadership teams, we felt the time was right to not just recognize incredible women in technology, as is often done, but to truly celebrate those companies that are “walking the walk” when it comes to gender parity, equality and inclusion in the workplace.
Dallas-based StackPath, a tech startup on a mission to make the internet safe again, bucks the current trends as most of their key leadership roles are held by women.
Founded by Lance Crosby in 2015, StackPath embodies an environment where open communication, creative problem solving and teamwork are valued. That, combined with a clear and strong leadership vision, is what makes the company a thriving startup culture. And we’re thrilled to introduce you to some of the incredible female leaders who share firsthand their experiences working in a male dominated industry, advice for other women in tech and their thoughts on what makes StackPath a special place to work.
Meet The Featured Leaders
Marissa Bybee, Director Channel Sales
Kim Ledesma, VP Business Information Systems
Susie McDonald, VP Corporate Communications
Dawn Mumm, Co-Founder, Executive Assistant to the CEO and Chairman
Carista Ragan Hill, Chief Legal Officer, General Counsel
Sherri Russell, CFO
Pooja Trivedi, Senior Member of the Technical Staff / Principal Software Engineer
Amber Vaught, Corporate Controller
Amazing things happen when women help other women. –Kasia Gospos
Launch DFW:// Ladies, as we mentioned earlier, more than half of all startups have entirely male executive teams. StackPath obviously is breaking the stereotypes. Can we attribute that to the values of StackPath’s founder? Or the culture that employees have created? Or a little bit of both?
Susie: Our CEO, Lance Crosby, has definitely had a lot to do with that. Lance has said one of the biggest keys to his success has been surrounding himself with the best and brightest – so it makes sense that this includes a large number of women! This attribute of “the best man (or woman)” for the job has become our company’s culture. No one cares who you are, just what you can do.
Pooja: I think both. And both things feed into each other. It clearly is the trickle-down effect of good leadership, so much as it is of the cultural values flowing back up. And at both levels, a knack for recognizing and encouraging good talent is important too.
Sherri: I think the answer is both, but that’s because the culture of StackPath is also closely tied to Lance Crosby, our founder. Lance is a firm believer that diversity is good for the company, and anything that promotes diversity is something we should embrace. Our executive team is very diverse, but it’s also filled with some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with.
Kim: I’ve always been a firm believer that a company is as good as its leadership team. This is especially true of our founder. Lance did not know anything about me before I joined StackPath. What I learned is he doesn’t care who or what I am. He cares about what I deliver at StackPath and what my contributions are to the StackPath vision. He provided me with my leadership position at StackPath. His leadership style has transcended to the leadership team and throughout the company to provide an inclusive culture.
Carista: I have to give this prize to our founder, Lance Crosby. Typically after working at a company for a while, I have asked who has diversity on their radar screen (it often takes a few “asks”). Lance brought up the importance of diversity to me – not the other way around – during the first few meetings we had about the StackPath Leadership team. He told me about the gender statistics in tech, with which he was not happy, and said that StackPath will be better. The fact that this was at the forefront of his mind before we had even launched the company meant that I didn’t have to seek out a diversity champion… because the champion was the CEO.
Launch DFW:// Tell us about an important decision or person who helped shaped your career trajectory.
Kim: The most important thing that shaped my career trajectory was being open to the opportunities that were presented to me. 15 years ago, I was asked to work on a new inventory system with an online retail company. I did not have any system implementation experience at the time, but instead of bowing out, I plowed head first into the project learning as I went and found that I had a talent for these types of initiatives. Now, I’m responsible for all of the backoffice systems for StackPath.
Marissa: Making a transition from telecommunications to the datacenter industry back in 2005 was a pivotal point in my career. I was also fortunate enough to be mentored by two separate female VPs during my career. They taught me how to be firm and share my opinions without being perceived as a difficult or whiny woman.
Pooja: Career decisions for me have always revolved around one thing — I wanted to stay technical, “dirty-hands” technical. It is my adrenaline; it is what keeps me going. Recognizing that about myself has paid off and helped me shape a career where I like what I do and I do what I like, most of the time. Often times at companies, a purely technical career ladder is not well-defined. But I have been fortunate enough to have worked with people who highly value technical ability and know the importance of promoting career advancement while ensuring job satisfaction.
Susie: My career has had an unusual trajectory. After receiving a Master’s in Public Health, I began working for non-profits and hospitals, then transitioned to marketing and communications. I’ve been fortunate to have a number of great mentors and friends along the way who gave me opportunities and encouraged me to try something new even if I didn’t have an official degree in that field.
Sherri: My first great decision was to go to work for a tech company after college. The flexibility that I’ve always found at tech companies helped me to balance work and life through my career. My second important decision was that my family was always going to be my number one priority, and I needed to work at companies that would support that. I was blessed in my career to work for several really top-notch managers. I learned more real world skills from those individuals than I ever did in six years of college. I also had some really bad ones, and that was a learning opportunity as well. But I learned something from the great ones that I still benefit from. I will forever be grateful to these managers for seeing something in me that they thought was worth nurturing.
A leader is someone who demonstrates what’s possible. — Mark Yarnell
Launch DFW:// What were you most surprised by when you entered the tech/startup world?
Carista: The passion – it is nothing like I’ve ever seen or experienced in a business setting. Every C-level executive on this team left a flourishing career at various long established global companies to form the leadership team at StackPath. Most of our employees – and definitely those of us who joined very early on – did the same. This company and its leadership consist of many people who weren’t looking for new jobs, yet abandoned good ones to join it. That is what happens when you have both absolute passion for the vision and unwavering faith in the visionary.
Sherri: I’ve worked in tech my entire career. I never felt the presence of a glass ceiling and that astonished me. Growing up in the 80’s and having a working mother, I was aware of the challenges that women typically faced in the workplace. In my third year at my first company, I was told by my manager “you are the highest paid Sr. Analyst in the company. We’ve got to get you promoted to a Manager role.” There is a great Dilbert along those lines… And I was surprised to learn there is a big difference between “managers” and the people that earn the right to be called “leaders”.
Susie: I have had tech companies and startup companies as clients in the past, but working for a tech startup is a whole new ballgame. While StackPath isn’t a typical “startup” just based on our rapid growth and substantial funding, it is still amazing to me how quickly things move. There is always something new, different and better happening. It’s not like other places I’ve worked where days are predictable, innovation stalls, and things bog down in bureaucracy. There is freedom to get things done and a lot of excitement to do them.
Pooja: The sheer number of men! Not one bit of exaggeration about the skewed gender ratio in engineering. In fact, it’s worse than I had imagined. Throw in hardcore system-level programming, kernel hacking and you are talking about women in the 2-4% range. Ugh!
Dawn: I was in the tech industry for seven years before entering the startup world and have had the best 8.5 years being part of these companies [SoftLayer and StackPath] that have changed the world.
Kim: The most surprising thing about coming into the tech/startup world is how many different hats that everyone wears from the beginning. The org structure that is typically in place for an established company doesn’t exist. And with everything moving as fast as it does, everyone needs to roll up their sleeves and jump in where the need is for the day. Whether it’s setting up telephones in the conference rooms to ensuring that the back office systems are set up, it all needs to get done.
We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored. –Sheryl Sandberg
Launch DFW:// Speaking of tech culture, tell us more about StackPath’s culture. What makes the company unique? And how can other companies “walk the walk” when it comes to more women in leadership roles?
Carista: it’s a culture of commitment. We’re all committed to the vision, to each other and in the end to our customers. It’s also a startup full of badass overachievers in our respective departments determined to help make the internet safe. Yes, I just called us badasses.
Sherri: Our culture is unique and strong. It pumps up the team, motivates us when we are challenged, and drives us to move mountains – because we know we can. It’s a mix of people with diverse skills that know they are highly valued. And people that know how to have fun. StackPack is filled with people at the top of their game, eager to show that the “impossible” is what they excel at. That’s the StackPack culture.
Pooja: StackPath’s core cultural values encourage diversity and esteem – individual strengths and different viewpoints brought to the table. The company not only hunts down women leaders, but strives to have women leadership in most business categories. To me personally, the flexibility, autonomy and creative freedom within each team have been most attractive and beneficial.
Susie: StackPath has a very cohesive, “let’s do this!” type of culture. We’ve grown very rapidly and successfully, and that is because we know we can succeed – failure is not an option. We listen to anyone with a good idea – it doesn’t matter what your title is, how long you’ve been with the company, or your gender. Lance and others recognize a good idea when they hear one, and people are encouraged to speak up. Other companies can “walk the walk” by hiring women. When it comes to women in technology leadership, the US lags behind the UK and China by 16% and 20% respectively, and that just isn’t right. Just because tech is a traditionally male field, doesn’t mean that the best person for the job at a tech company isn’t a woman. Look at people for their skills and capabilities instead of focusing on current titles and roles. Badasses often come from unexpected places.
Launch DFW:// How does mentoring play a factor at Stackpath when it comes to supporting current and future women in leadership roles at the company?
Susie: While StackPath doesn’t have an official mentoring program, we do have a very open and collaborative culture. Even simple things like our Slack channel allow anyone to easily reach anyone else at the company. StackPath supports all of our employees, and recognizes people doing a good job in our company newsletter, and during all-company Town Hall sessions, etc.
Pooja: Our engineering teams have mentorship programs in place for new employees. Paired for 1-1 mentorship, support and encouragement of inquisitiveness and having an open door policy fosters learning, faster growth and team assimilation.
Kim: I’ve been blessed to have two amazing roles models at StackPath. Our CFO and Chief Legal Counsel are both women that embody true leadership. They take time out each day to not only provide encouragement to all employees in the organization, but are able to provide constructive feedback in a way that is motivational and uplifting.
Sherri: Mentoring is very important. Whether it’s a formal program or informal, leaders need to take the time. My experience has been that I always got more out of informal mentoring opportunities. Women mentoring women at StackPath is more of an informal idea. It goes to the idea that women in leadership roles need to always be aware of the example they provide to others – leaders set the tone. And we take the time to talk with others and provide feedback. Sometimes it’s about working with women to help them understand how valuable they are to their co-workers and the company, because women always seem to underestimate their value. And that has to change.
Carista: We’re still in startup mode so there’s not yet a formal program. I can tell you that within this group of women leaders we advise one another, are supportive and encouraging of each other, and are more effective in each of our roles because of that.
LDFW:// Finally, what advice would you give to a woman trying to get into the C-suite or a leadership role at her company?
Amber: Make sure you have all of the professional credentials that the guys you will be competing with have (education, professional certifications, etc.). Seek out challenging projects and exceed expectations. Hire smart people and be generous with credit for the team’s accomplishments.
Carista: Speak up.
Susie: Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something. If you want to try something, try something – you never know if you can do something until you give it a shot. And if you’re not sure really where to begin, find a mentor in the field you’d like to join and seek her advice.
Dawn: Keep on pursuing your ultimate job or career. It will happen!
Marissa: I think it is most important to ask for the positions you want to get into a leadership role. Women need to be assertive in the tech industry to be promoted or hired into a leadership role. Another piece of advice would be to document your successes and share them. Don’t expect people to just notice all of the good things you have done or been a part of when it comes time for reviews and/or promotions. Be prepared to highlight and talk about the things you have accomplished or why you are qualified for a specific role.
Sherri: Stay true to yourself. People won’t trust you if they sense you are trying to be something you’re not. Love what you do every day and the people you work with. It’s critical to find the right company to be your “work home”. You will spend way more time with the people you work with than your family each week. Don’t settle. Try to do the right thing for the company every day, try to move the company forward. Deliver high quality work product, on time, every time. Absorb every drop of knowledge you can from your leaders, your co-workers, the people you support, and your team. Think of the other people in the company as your customers. Always believe you have more to learn, and try to fill your tool kit with tools that will benefit you in the long run with well-rounded experiences. In the long run you will be recognized for the value you bring to the company, and to those around you. And there are no short-cuts.
Kim: The biggest piece of advice I would give to women is to be confident in what you know and to not be afraid to share this with your co-workers and your leadership team. Approach all situations with an objective demeanor yet listening to what others have to bring to the table.
Pooja: It is a constant battle, but step out of your comfort zone. Be fearless. Not everything will go right, but quick course corrections and forward movement are critical. Hang it on your wall, make it a screensaver or get it tattooed — “Do what you like and like what you do”!
A special thank you to StackPath and the Naveen Jindal School of Management for their support of this inaugural installment of Walk The Walk.
Photography by Dustin Estrada & Tim Hoang.
Shot on location at the AC Hotel Dallas Downtown.