3 Confessions A Female Executive Told Me About Succeeding In Tech
It’s hard to make ripples in the world.
What’s even harder is kicking ass and taking names as a woman in tech. Wendi Sturgis, a long-time friend and colleague, is a hugely successful female executive who’s learned a thing or two about thriving in this competitive, typically male industry.
I recently had Wendi on my podcast, and it was a blast.
We talked about her legendary career — from holding senior executive positions at Oracle and Yahoo, to her current role as Chief Customer Officer at Yext, a red-hot startup in New York. She also serves as Vice Chair of the Step Up Women’s Network.
This gal is an incredibly inspiring leader.
And she shares powerful advice that every woman in business should hear:
1. Know how much money you need to make and don’t be shy about it.
Wendi wants to make a boatload of money, and she’s not shy about admitting that to everyone from friends to potential employers.
And listen, the fact of it is:
You need to be honest with yourself about money.
Everyone has a different relationship with it, so it’s important to understand your desires and motives. How you view money — as an indulgence, security blanket, a means to an end — has a profound impact on your self-worth and earning power.
Like a lot of us, she began noticing the importance of money when she was a child. For her first nine years on earth, Wendi’s parents had no money. We’re talking eating Spam, shopping at Kmart, her mother waitressing while her father worked three jobs. But eventually, things turned around. They made more money, moved to the right side of town, drove a Mercedes, and even took ski trips to Vail. This really set Wendi apart — it’s unusual to see both sides by the time you’re 18.
Through this first-hand experience, Wendi knew she preferred having money to scraping by. But this is why that’s really important: understanding that money can bring security has made Wendi fearless when it comes to knowing her worth. And when telling others what she needs.
Wendi said that ever since one boss gave her a big bump in salary, she’s set her standard of living. And she’s not going below that salary ever again.
Even when she joined a startup, she stood firm and said,
“This is my floor. I can’t live below that.”
But knowing your worth is easier said than done, which is why you’ve got to talk openly with others about money.
2. Get comfortable talking about your career with friends and mentors.
Talking about your work and what you earn is difficult for anyone. It’s even harder for women. But you need to get educated on what’s a reasonable salary in your industry, and find people you feel comfortable talking about this with.
If you don’t feel alright talking to one of your closest confidantes or mentors about money, you’re going to have a really hard time asking an employer to pay you more.
Wendi and her friends (both male and female) talk candidly about compensation. She also has mentors who have helped her with understanding opportunities, the costs that come with them, and negotiating for income equality. Her co-workers know exactly what she makes, and they advise each other on whether it’s worth taking a certain project or job.
The long hours in tech are not for the faint of heart, and it helps to have someone to compare notes with.
Wendi told me her best friend from Georgia Tech was recently offered a promotion from senior director to vice president:
She’d get a raise of $40,000 and a coveted VP title — a title that most people want, herself included. But why did she really want the job? Was it the money, the responsibility, the title? These are all important questions you need to be asking. The new position would be a lot more work and responsibility, and the friend is a mother of three. It would require her to be away from her family a lot.
Together, they really poured over how this would change her life. Afterward — and I think Wendi really shocked her friend here — she advised her not to take the promotion. “Absolutely not.” Wendi convinced her that $40,000, especially after taxes, was not enough in exchange for what she’d be giving up: a fulfilling family life. And the friend didn’t sacrifice the amazing balance she’d achieved between work and life.
Being true to yourself, and to your family, is just as important as chasing your dreams.
3. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, genuinely and authentically.
Wendi admitted she comes from a long line of salty-tongued people, and it can be challenging to be an executive while also being true to your personality.
It’s all about being aware of that juxtaposition and finding the right balance. And I’ve been known to tip that balance a little — on the cursing side, of course.
When she’s in a public setting, on stage at a conference, or interacting with clients, she refrains from profanity and thinks of herself as a role model.
You won’t find her wearing low-cut tops and miniskirts with towering heels to the office either. While she doesn’t want to be objectified, she wants women to know that they can be stylish and still succeed. If part of being your authentic self is being fashionable, feminine, and attractive — don’t shy away from that. Own your identity and don’t apologize for being beautiful or wearing makeup.
That said, many businesses are more masculine than feminine, and you need to be able to talk to different people.
It’s important to be well-rounded.
That will help you connect to anyone, whether they’re a college football enthusiast, a Prada handbag aficionado, or a fellow parent.
Wendi is awesome, and I thank her from the bottom of my whiskey-stained heart for enlightening me and sharing her advice on the female experience in the tech workplace. If you want to hear the rest of my conversation with Wendi, head to Legends and Losers.