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Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: Emily Washington of Precisely On The 5 Leadership Lessons She Learned From Her Experience

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Washington.

Emily joined Precisely with the acquisition of Infogix, where she led product strategy. She is responsible for driving enterprise-level product strategy and roadmaps for Precisely’s data governance, data quality, data prep and MDM capabilities. Emily works closely with customers and engineering teams to drive development, introduction, and adoption of all new products within these spaces.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I originally went to college to be an English teacher and a career in technology never crossed my mind. After school I landed a job in Silicon Valley working in customer support for a dot.com. I loved the team, the energy, and fell in love with the technology space. Eventually, I moved back to Chicago, where I’m originally from, and got a job as an executive assistant for global research and development (R&D) for a HR payroll software company. I was passionate about learning software development and how customers use it and my career evolved from there.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

The most interesting story is my journey here! If you had told me 20 years ago that I’d still be here and be in this type of role, I would’ve thought you were crazy. I am very proud of where I started, where I am today, and every opportunity I’ve landed along the way. I’m excited to continue down this path to see what else I can accomplish.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was scheduled to conduct my very first external presentation to a customer to demo a new product we were developing and I was terrified. I ran around practicing my demo to anyone I could find and easily spent over 20 hours practicing. But I still found myself panicking right before the meeting. I went through my presentation without any hiccups but during the demo, the product stopped working. I was mortified! What’s worse, I realized I clicked the wrong link.

After some fumbling, I got back on track, finished the presentation, and thought it went horribly. I was wrong. The customer purchased the new product based on the demo. This taught me that sometimes things are completely outside of our control: sometimes demos don’t work and that’s ok. What’s more important is to trust yourself and your expertise — confidence can go a long way when building relationships!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I’ve been with my company, now called Precisely, for nearly 20 years, but, through M&A, I have seen quite a bit of change. I feel lucky to be working for a company that invests in growth and constantly brings in more rockstar talent and capabilities. Learning new things and feeling like I’m helping make a difference motivates me. Throughout my career here, I have directly been a part of acquiring six companies and selling our company three times. And each time, I have been lucky enough to work with fantastic new teams, learn a new market or capabilities, and have had the full support of my leadership as I expand my responsibilities and personal growth.

Precisely is in one of the hottest technology markets with some of the strongest capabilities available. And I get to help the largest organizations in the world implement data integrity, while working with this incredible team. There’s nothing better than that!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m working on a number of exciting projects! Currently, my favorite one involves taking our current product capabilities to a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model to set our customers up for future growth. Through this work, we are placing a big focus on an easier user experience and enhanced integration to enable non-technical users to be able to better leverage data.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

While we’ve made a lot of progress, we still have a lot of work to do. As someone who’s career path took me to the technology industry somewhat by chance, I wish that when I was younger it was better explained that my grades in math and science classes did not mean I was not necessarily cut out for a job in STEM as an adult. I think there’s more we can do as parents and teachers to break down that stigma.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

The biggest challenge I think we as women face is perceptions of our confidence. I am highly confident in the technology space I’m in. My female and male peers are too. The difference I see is women walk a fine line between confidence and perceived arrogance or difficulty to work with. Continuing to raise awareness of this stigma helps and surrounding yourself with a support system and mentors that provide positive reinforcement goes a long way.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

I think there are two big myths surrounding women in STEM. The biggest is men are automatically better than women at math and science. I never considered a career in STEM as a child because I had zero confidence early on in my math and science skills. I saw boys around me acing those classes. I learned the hard way over the years that this is a complete myth. Today, I manage multi-million dollar budgets, develop software pricing models, and understand software code.

The second is that women are not interested in STEM positions. I fully understand and see the gender gaps, but I do believe the interest and demand for women in STEM positions is there. I work with many women in this field who are elevating their careers in this space and I’m lucky to be working for an organization that is very passionate and invests heavily in Women in Technology. Being around this influence is a constant reinforcement of how many brilliant women are in this field.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Don’t rely on outside influence to open up doors for you. While there are external influences that can help remove barriers for women in STEM, it’s a two-way street. You have to remove barriers too.

Building confidence is not always easy, but it’s always achievable. I often am in situations where I don’t think I’m capable of something, but once I do it, I feel fearless.

There is no such thing as “I’m not good at math or science.” I got my degree in English and literature partially because I previously believed I wasn’t good at STEM. I have since learned that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s okay to admit when you don’t understand something and ask for help. Reaching out and asking for help when you don’t understand something will not make you look “dumb,” in fact, it can open up new opportunities for you.

Celebrate the accomplishments and don’t over-analyze the failures. Focusing on failures or getting so stuck on doing the next thing makes it easy to overlook how far you’ve come. Every step in my career is attributed to both successes and failures, but sometimes I move too fast to reflect.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

It may seem cliché, but show kindness and empathy. I think being in tune to what individuals on the team are going through, whether in their job or personally, supporting them, and removing any roadblocks, helps make everyone more successful.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

My biggest piece of advice is to set clear objectives and trust the team to run. Working my way up through the organization, I’m used to being an individual contributor, so I have to constantly remind myself to step back and empower the team to do what they do best.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am lucky to have incredible support from many individuals over the years to help me get where I am. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of the global head of development at my first job out of college, where I landed the executive assistant role. As a female leading a large engineering and support team, I saw early in my career that women can be in leadership positions in technology. At that time, I didn’t fully understand the disparity in the field and I came to appreciate how critical that was later in my own career. My boss’ encouragement and support to help me grow as I began my career helped give me the confidence and path I’m still on today.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’d like to think I have! While I don’t know the scale in which I’ve been able to do so, for me, it starts with my 12-year old daughter. When I found out I was going to be a parent, I told myself that if I can positively influence her and encourage her to do anything she wants to do, everything else will fall into place. My daughter sees what I do and I’d like to think that’s one way I’m bringing goodness that she will pass to others as she grows up.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I think we need more kindness and positivity in our work environment. We always hear stories of “simple acts of kindness” that trigger chain events. I’d love to find a way to bake that concept into the remote work culture. It’s so easy to forget the small things — especially now that so many of us aren’t in a physical office.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Stop being afraid of what could go wrong, and start being excited about what could go right” by Tony Robbins. I have learned that the thing that has gotten in my way more than anything is fear of failure. As soon as I get out of my own way and take risks, I realize how much I can accomplish and how fun it can be.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Michelle Obama. I’ve always been in awe of her strength, grace, and intelligence.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.