Women Of The C-Suite: Claudette Archer of AyasdiAI On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive
An Interview With Ming Zhao
The strength/power of female colleagues. Sometimes you just need another woman’s perspective, whether you’re in a rut about something work-related or just having a bad day. Trust me, it’s necessary.
As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite” , we had the pleasure of interviewing Claudette Archer.
Claudette Archer has over 20 years of experience in marketing leadership positions. In her current role as Chief Marketing Officer of Symphony AyasdiAI, Claudette brings a wealth of knowledge across branding, content marketing, communications and digital and social media.
Thank you for joining us in this series. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
A combination of things probably. Before I started College, I was intent on going into Human Resources and started down this path on a Business Studies Diploma. But then on my Marketing module, the lecturer had us do a Case Study and it just made perfect sense, intrigued me and was enjoyable. When reviewing my Degree focus, I took the Marketing specialism which covered Buyer & Consumer Behavior, International Marketing, and Market Planning & Control. It was a great foundation and the perfect launch pad for my career.
Technology seemed to be my natural calling (Telecoms and Software specifically), and this continued when I moved to the US. To date, I’ve added some new industries to this roster including Online Advertising, Management Consulting, Cybersecurity and now Financial Crime. The funniest thing is, I remember in my early career when recruiters asked me where I didn’t want to work, I always said in technology. Go figure!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Not sure interesting is the appropriate term, but actually explaining to my colleagues what marketing entails was a very necessary conversation. There is a lot of misconception about what it actually involves in practice — a lot of them probably thought we just turn up at a few events and speak to folks and that’s how we get leads.
It’s hard for those from the outside to appreciate all the moving parts — to name a few: branding/PR, SEO, digital/social channels, thought leadership, partner/channel networks, influencer engagement, etc. and what each brings to the equation. Having full oversight of this function is what drives me and maintains my focus.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson did you learn?
I’m not sure I would ever put funny and mistake in the same sentence, so unfortunately nothing readily comes to mind.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Honestly, my parents. My mother left Jamaica first and came to London to establish herself, and we followed with my dad a few years later. They always drummed it into us that Education was key and that our hard work would pay off. I was never the brightest or smartest kid in class, but I was determined and relentless. After completing my degree, I did a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing and then started to work my way up the ladder. Qualifications are great, but experience is priceless.
Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It’s 2022, period. Diversity is not only long overdue, but necessary for success. I was reading about how trying to recruit women can be challenging when an organization lacks diversity because female candidates are less inclined to join an organization where they are so underrepresented. So, it is tough for organizations who are just getting the ball rolling, but once it is, fostering a culture of diversity and representation becomes increasingly more natural.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society?
Organizations need to use their voice so that they are recognizing what we could do better and what we should be doing better. For example, last year when the Black Lives Matter protests were put in the public spotlight, I saw a lot of C-suite people release bold statements and emails out there without any real substance behind it. With these kinds of issues, it’s not unheard of that these are released more with brand image in mind than genuine concern. So ultimately, organizations need to put their money where their mouth is and create actionable plans to see through diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
In just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
An executive always needs to have oversight of the bigger picture to ensure all the moving parts achieve that goal.
Are there any “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive?
One myth is that as an executive, the crux of what you do is to delegate roles and responsibilities. That is definitely one component, but depending on the size of the organization, your role can get a lot more hands-on than simply delegation. In those early stages when resources are limited, that means wearing many hats, handling specific tasks yourself and getting your hands dirty. Honestly, I prefer to keep my toes in the water to understand and recognize what my team is doing. I think it makes you a better leader and also shows your empathy with their roles and a desire to ultimately help improve their status quo.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
One of my sisterhood group chats recently shared a list of compiled traits that have historically been deemed as female (basically attributing soft skills) and masculine (hard skills). But really, why can’t we possess both? When you look at the masculine skill stereotypes, it says: focused, confident, logical, stability, assertive, etc. Then when you review the feminine side, it’s: emotional, intuitive, creative, caring, maternal, passive — and although these can definitely be true, putting people into these two buckets of skills within the workplace ends up putting men in more leadership roles. We need to break these stereotypes. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve seen — we’re always seen as touchy-feely, soft, warm individuals but does that mean I’m not confident? Does that mean I’m not focused? Does that mean I’m not assertive? Absolutely not. We shouldn’t be subject to gender-specific assumptions when it comes to workplace skills.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I think the job description was pretty accurate largely because we’re still in the startup bucket. It was a case of “responsibility for the function” trickling down into responsibility for doing specific tasks myself. Rather than having a huge team to distribute all of these roles and responsibilities to, I actually continue to get stuck in.
Personally, I enjoy that. I don’t think I ever want to be so far removed that I don’t understand or can’t personally do the functions that my staff are executing. I think any effective leader needs to be able to roll their sleeves up and step in. Even if it isn’t your forte, how can you make somebody better at their specific role if you don’t actually understand what it is they’re doing?
In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
I think being focused is key; when you have your eye on the prize, you don’t become distracted by minutiae and have a singular focus on achieving that objective. An ideal leadership style would be akin to a coach where individuals are steered towards achieving their personal development goals within the remit of the organizational objectives.
Subsequently, an Autocratic style would likely be doomed to failure. Those individuals who adopt the approach of “by any means necessary” with a total disregard for those employed to achieve the corporate goals. Leaders with this trait would likely experience limited “buy-in” from their teams, significant lack of input and ultimately no loyalty. The tenure of such an individual would likely be a short one.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The buck stops with you whether you initiated/touched/contributed to a specific task or function. There is nowhere to hide.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions because you cannot always have all the answers. A fresh perspective is often great to help ideate a solution to a stagnant problem.
- There are no stupid questions. My knowledge of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning currently amounts to 18 months, compared to my colleagues who have decades of experience. The only way to learn and perform my role effectively is to learn from them.
- The power of your partner/supplier network is priceless. I have a good one and was able to re-engage several previous vendors, as they’re trusted and reliable, thus providing me with one less headache.
- The strength/power of female colleagues. Sometimes you just need another woman’s perspective, whether you’re in a rut about something work-related or just having a bad day. Trust me, it’s necessary.
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?
Beauty isn’t something that even features in my thinking. I am a professional and need to convey that to those I interact with. My focus is to ensure that just like an interview, I have one opportunity to make a positive impression that could be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship with a potential customer/vendor/partner/employer. They need to realize the value that I could bring and feel confident in my capabilities, period.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?
My initial thought goes to The Bottomless Closet, which is a charity that helps women who have been out of work and need to get back into the workplace. I would like to take that a step further and help incarcerated women find their feet upon being released. The ability to help support somebody with basic skills like how to write a resume, prepare for an interview or even learn how to budget their finances would be my choice.
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
I would probably say Rafael Nadal and Venus Williams. Apart from the fact that I’m a huge tennis fan, Venus has taken black women to the upper echelons of the game and has been a strong advocate for pay equality. On top of that, she’s already elevated her presence with her sportswear line — she’s looking after her future because she’s accomplished the “here” and is now thinking about what’s coming down the pipeline. Rafa is equally amazing and his sportsmanly conduct is exemplary. He is empowering the next generation of players through his own tennis academy and is regarded as the ultimate nice guy on the circuit.
I can’t play tennis to save my life, but watching them brings me so much joy.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.