Inspirational Women In STEM: “Go to the source, seek to understand and then step back”, With Laura Handler of Sovos

Penny Bauder
Jul 12 · 6 min read
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My advice to women leaders is the same as my advice to anyone leading a team of ambitious people who want to further their careers. Do they have a clear definition of what it means to thrive? Do you know their preferences? Do you know where they get stuck? Have you asked them? Go to the source, seek to understand and then step back. Help your team members define success and map out a path, and then keep showing up for them.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Handler. Laura draws on more than 10 years’ experience directing teams to solve business problems. She is Sovos CEO Andy Hovancik’s “Swiss Army knife,” focusing on strategic initiatives, executive alignment and employee engagement. Previously, Laura spent more than eight years at Tocci Building Companies, where she was director of service design and strategy. Laura has been recognized as Maverick of the Year by the Stevie Awards and Women of FIRE (Finance, Insurance & Real Estate) by Banker and Tradesman. She earned her Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a Master of Business Administration from Bentley University.

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

Change has been the thread of my career. I love working in an industry that is being transformed by technology, and I get energized by the opportunity to drive change and improvement in that atmosphere. I’m interested in how people can best work together when the landscape around them is shifting.

I moved from building information modeling to tax compliance software when I came to Sovos. People raise an eyebrow at that transition, but it made perfect sense for me. Both are changing incredibly quickly, and are places where process improvement can make a major difference. At Sovos, I’m the chief of staff, and I’m also a bit of a Swiss Army knife. My change mandates here have given me the opportunity to refine our approach to regulatory analysis, build our customer success team and lead one of our primary lines of business as interim GM.

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

Some of my favorite books when I was a kid were those in the “Little House” series. I’m drawn to the idea of exploring new territory and knowing so much will emerge from it. Working amid disruptive change is like that, and that vision comes to me often at Sovos — when we acquire a new company, or when I start a new initiative and meet the team for the first time. Several years ago, I remember meeting with our regulatory analysis team for the first time as their leader. Everyone in that room, including me, was envisioning the change to come — without completely understanding what it would bring. Over the coming quarters, the team and I embraced an expanded mission along with new processes and structures to enable it. It wasn’t without challenges (something worth doing rarely is), but I look back on my time on the team fondly because of what we accomplished together.

Any moment when you announce a change is momentous. I’ve had the chance to experience a lot of those pivot points, when what was is gone and what will be is not yet. They are all interesting, like seeing the prairie for the first time.

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?

Early in my career, I wanted to be a better presenter. I worked with an architect who was so compelling when he spoke to groups. I remember mimicking his cadence and just imitating his mannerisms, which probably was not a great idea. What’s right for a middle-aged man doesn’t necessarily work well for a young woman. I had to learn how to read the room and respond authentically, and there were plenty of awkward missteps along the way.

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

What has always made Sovos special is our people and our culture. I felt it when I first interviewed at Sovos. Everyone I met seemed smart, driven and open to change. The reality of working at Sovos is no different; it’s how we behave, our core values. The past few months have amplified that. We moved more than 1,400 employees around the world to work from home in March, and the team has not missed a beat since. I work with adaptable, proactive, collaborative, accountable, professional people every day. That is important at any time, and especially so now.

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

We’re offering free tax filing support for companies affected by COVID-19. It’s a difficult time for a lot of businesses, and they’re feeling stretched. Meanwhile, tax regulations are evolving rapidly, and that can add to the stress. We’d like to help, and this is one way we’re reaching out to customers and future customers to give them a hand.

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?

I am not satisfied with the status quo of anything, ever. There is always room for improvement when it comes to opening doors for underrepresented groups in business and in tech, and we certainly have seen the urgency around this need in recent weeks. I’m not an expert in the HOW we all move forward on this issue, but I certainly understand the WHY. Businesses thrive on a diverse set of experiences and perspectives. We have to approach getting there as we would any other change initiative: put the vision front and center, identify the quick wins and building blocks to change, and rally champions and allies to the cause.

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

One of the myths is that women need to be considered as a separate entity. Women leaders are leaders. Every time we put “woman” in front of our achievements, we put a question mark after our own equality.

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

My advice to women leaders is the same as my advice to anyone leading a team of ambitious people who want to further their careers. Do they have a clear definition of what it means to thrive? Do you know their preferences? Do you know where they get stuck? Have you asked them? Go to the source, seek to understand and then step back. Help your team members define success and map out a path, and then keep showing up for them.

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’m on the board of a local community share agriculture farm, which reminds me daily about the challenges of food access — an issue I care about deeply. While I don’t see myself as the person likely to inspire a movement around this need, I do work to enable others, to inspire them and to help them get comfortable with the change they want to make.

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

I have a team member who keeps a Bingo card of Laura-isms. One that she gets to mark off a lot is Everett Dirksen’s quote, “When I feel the heat, I see the light.” The most challenging times often show us what really needs to get done.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Penny Bauder

Written by

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Penny Bauder

Written by

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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