Power Women: Tamara Scott of TechnologyAdvice On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman
An Interview With Ming Zhao
Big goals: I’m an extrinsically motivated person, so setting out a big goal and building a plan to achieve it really works for me. It also helps me focus my time, because otherwise I’ll chase squirrels all day just to appease my curiosity.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tamara Scott.
Tamara Scott is the Managing Editor of TechnologyAdvice.com and SmallBusinessComputing.com. She guides content strategy, writes vendor and buyer content, and maintains high editorial standards among content creators. Tamara lives in Nashville with her husband and two children where she writes fiction and putters in her pottery studio.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
Sure! I’m the second of four children, and while we had a pretty middle-class life, I understand now as an adult many of the ways that my parents cut corners to give us the things we needed. My family moved a couple of times when I was a kid, so my best friends were often in the books I could carry with me. I read and wrote stories starting pretty young, although it wasn’t until I was in high school that I really thought of myself as a writer. Writing has been my touchstone throughout my life. It’s been the way that I figure out how I feel, how I understand the world, and how I clarify my thinking.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
My career path has been all over the place, which I think is becoming more common. I went to college to be a high school English teacher, and I taught in Nashville Metro Schools for 6.5 years. But I got burnt out because I couldn’t build an emotional wall — I really felt for the kids and carried their issues home with me. After a couple jobs in SEO, content writing, and a short editorial stint at a well-known agency that’s really a content mill, I got laid off from a customer support position at a marketing reporting company. I enjoyed the writing part of that job, but I was still taking home all the emotional baggage from surly customers. The company had to lay off 20 of its 25 employees, and they gave us the best severance gift I didn’t know I needed: time with a career counselor to help us find a new position. After looking at my resume and the positions I was currently applying to, she asked me what I wanted to do all day every day. I said, “I want to write.” She pointed out that everything I applied for was in customer service, “Why aren’t you applying for writing jobs? You’re a writer.” I hadn’t thought of myself as a writer, even though I had been doing it since I was a kid. I just needed someone to point it out.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’m what we call a “boomerang” at TechnologyAdvice. After about 7 months of working at TechnologyAdvice, there was a lot of turnover in the marketing department. Mostly it was due to having a young workforce who were looking for other opportunities to grow. I happened to get an offer from a mentor to start a content marketing program at another company about that same time, so I left as well. Over the next four months, my mentor ended up leaving and my new boss was not what I expected — and they moved me from writing to managing Google Ads accounts. I gave my two weeks almost immediately. During that time TechnologyAdvice called me up again to see if I would come back to write for them. I jumped at the chance to return, and I’ve never been happier in my career. It’s not a particularly exciting story, but I think it taught me a lot about following the job that I actually wanted to do.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Organization: I’m all about processes and planning because it gives me the mental space to give singular focus to my writing when I need it. At many other positions, we didn’t take the time to plan out what content we needed, so we were always under the gun. That atmosphere can result in burnout and an underperforming strategy, and that’s something you can’t afford.
- Curiosity: I am a voracious reader and consumer of content. Sometimes it means that I make really weird analogies because they’re influenced by my current reading/audiobook/podcast obsession, but mostly it helps me draw connections that can help people better understand the topics I write about. I’ve done several book presentations for the company just because I like sharing that knowledge.
- Empathy: I’ve had a lot of bad career experiences, which makes me highly sensitive to the emotional toll work can take on all of us. I try to give as much context as possible when I have to call a surprise meeting, even if I just say, “you’re not in trouble,” because I carry the emotional scars of a layoff, too. Understanding the emotional context that others are working in really helps you frame the information you have to bring them or the ask you have to make of them.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
Ha, is “the patriarchy” an acceptable answer? But seriously, I think it’s because we have this scarcity mindset about power. We assume that any woman in a position of power or leadership must have gotten there by standing on the shoulders of others, grinding her stiletto into their backs. But that’s such an outdated view of women in leadership. And that same feeling that there can be only one at the top has direct correlations to other problems with inequality in our society — many people assume that if other people have more, there’s less for me to have. In my experience, the people who empower others tend to be more successful.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
Early in my teaching career, I went during my planning period down to the copy room. Down the hall from me, there were two middle-aged men — one of whom was carrying a video camera — wandering the hallways. I stopped them and asked them if they needed help getting to the office. They said no, they were looking for the gym. I noticed they didn’t have a visitor’s pass on, and then I noticed that the camera’s red “record” light was on. I told them I’d escort them to the office and that they needed to turn the camera off. I laughed it off, until the video from that encounter was on the news that night in a segment on the lax security in the public schools. The security expert pointed me out as the only one who stopped the intruders, but followed that up by saying, “Good girl, she did everything right.” Good girl? I was in charge of 150 students a day, but I’m still considered a girl? That made it feel like the expert was brushing off my insight and knowledge of the situation as a lucky break, not the professionalism I knew I was showing in that situation.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
I really try hard to not take ownership of other people’s reactions to me that have nothing to do with me, because otherwise I could just carry everyone else’s emotional baggage and have no room for my own. But I like to use humor to put people at ease and lighten situations, where appropriate. It also helps to get to know people a little bit better and try to find common interests. Just one connection point can really bridge a divide and make you seem more human to others.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
Let’s get more women in power. Representation matters. The day that Kamala Harris was named VP, I was breastfeeding my daughter and realized that she will grow up in a world where a woman has always been in the second-highest office. And I think that no matter your politics, that’s a huge step forward. But we need to continue to look objectively at the contributions of women and people of color, and continue to promote their leadership. We’ve only just begun there.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
How much time do you have? Mostly those situations occurred when I worked in positions that were inherently lower on the power structure. As a restaurant server there were always the creepy regulars who wanted hugs from the woman servers. I once worked for a guy who had the entire company interview for a reality show. During that call he played up the extremely brief romantic relationship he had with a woman employee. Thankfully that show never happened, but having to stand witness to his insistence and her denials that there was still a sexual tension between them was beyond uncomfortable.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Thankfully, most of the challenges around proving your worth in your position are less prevalent than ten or 20 years ago. But there are still issues around emotional and secretarial labor in the workplace that have to be addressed. I like to take notes during meetings so I can remember what has happened, but I have had to stop volunteering to take meeting minutes because I will miss something important if I’m busy writing down everyone else’s insights. The same is true for the office culture: I’ve worked in so many offices where the women clean the kitchen by default, because otherwise it doesn’t get done. The company will hire someone to clean, but not until women refuse to do this kind of work just like men have neglected (passively refused) to do the work in the past.
Along those same lines, women have to reframe their own work. So many of us were brought up being told that we were bossy when we were actually just being assertive. I work a lot with my woman reports on reframing their needs for themselves. Instead of labelling an ask as needy or nagging, I remind them that they are asking for clarification. Instead of being bossy, they are setting clear expectations. Women still tend to apologize for their leadership, despite having earned it and more.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
Making your career and your personal life work together is an ongoing process and the struggle keeps evolving as your relationships and your family evolves. My main struggle is remembering why we live the way we do, and keep coming back to that when the guilt or sadness start to creep in.
My children go to daycare full time, and both my partner and I work. We are lucky enough to have salaries that allow us to send both our children to daycare full time so we can both work full time. I love my children and love spending time with them, and I sometimes mourn that they spend so much time out of the house and away from us. I try not to count the waking hours that we get together on weekdays, because they’re always too few.
But I remind myself, over and over again, that I know that I am not a good mother, partner, or person if I’m not intellectually engaged and challenged by my work. It’s the work that I do outside of the home that helps me be better when I’m with my family at home.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
When I was on maternity leave for my second child, we were just a couple of months into the pandemic. Like nearly everyone else, we were entirely at home all the time. Lack of sleep, the neediness of a new baby, and the isolation of the lockdown were all weighing on me really heavily. So I started a newsletter. I didn’t really care if anyone followed it, but I needed to start writing again. I missed the coherence of thought that writing brings, and I missed sitting down to work every day.
In those first couple of newsletters I started to realize that having a career and showing my children that it’s just as important for Mom to have a career that she cares about as it is for Dad to have the same. I needed my children to see that my work was important and it contributes to the household.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
I wore heels to a wedding the other day, and I couldn’t walk after the first three hours. My husband sighed and said “the things we do to women,” which is his favorite way of lamenting the patriarchy. My thoughts on heels notwithstanding, I’ve really come around to caring about my appearance as a thing I do for me. I’ve just recently started reinvesting in skin care. I think I even have a routine? 25-year-old me (who slept in her makeup) would be shocked.
I don’t think that makeup, couture clothes, or heels make a leader. But if those things make the leader feel more confident or comfortable in her position, then by all means she should wear them. I’m lucky that I’m not often called to make public appearances, so no one questions my jeans and tshirts or air-dried hair. As far as makeup is concerned, I do as little as I can get away with so that I don’t hate what I look like in a Zoom call.
I don’t think it’s superficial at all, however. Leaders who are in the public eye get judged on their appearance because it’s an easy target. I think that whether beauty has inherent value is largely dependent on the leader’s ability to filter the feedback and discard what doesn’t make sense for them.
How is this similar or different for men?
I think it’s unfair to think that men in leadership (or otherwise!) don’t have to conform to cultural beauty standards. They’re standards for a reason. While men don’t have to worry about makeup or heels, they still come under pressure to wear a uniform and project an aura of health and wellness. If they didn’t have to worry about beauty standards, why would Mark Walburg get up at 2:30 am?
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A support system: the nuclear family was meant for at least one of the adults to be in the home. We rely heavily on daycare, our parents, our friends, and service providers to help us keep the house going, so both my partner and I can work.
- A range of interests: I am a full-time writer and editor, I freelance for a couple of publications, run a newsletter, and write fiction. But to balance all of that I also do pottery, run, and garden. These things let me put my writing projects in the back of my brain to rattle around and figure themselves out while I’m moving my body (somewhat) mindlessly.
- Big goals: I’m an extrinsically motivated person, so setting out a big goal and building a plan to achieve it really works for me. It also helps me focus my time, because otherwise I’ll chase squirrels all day just to appease my curiosity.
- Organizational systems: plural. I have the work calendar, the home calendar, the calendar on the refrigerator, my daily to-do list in my bullet journal, and my work deadlines in a project management tool. Then there are all the content strategy and measurement systems we’ve set up to keep our team producing at peak performance. I’ve given up on the “one software to rule them all” dream, because each of the other systems serve a very specific purpose.
- Boundaries: I work really hard all day, but I turn off my notifications when it comes time for KidOps (kid operations) at the end of the day. I don’t have much time with them, so I want them to get my attention during what little time we do have. I have also worked hard to learn my own capacity for work, attention, and focus. If I can’t focus, I’ll often go for a quick walk to clear my head. Otherwise I’ll throw more mud on the situation while spinning my wheels.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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.
Brené Brown. She is that special mix of academic, writer, thinker, storyteller that really appeals to me. And she’s not afraid to be tough and vulnerable at the same time. I’m really inspired by her writing, but I’d love to pick her brain on how she makes it all work.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.