Be brave, be a good listener, celebrate failure, and most importantly, be yourself.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Beth Westmoreland, Blackbaud’s Chief Technology Officer.
Mary Beth is responsible for leading worldwide product, technology, and analytics strategy, architecture, user experience and innovation across the company’s entire solution portfolio. Mary Beth joined Blackbaud in 2008 and has over 30 years of experience in software engineering and product development. Prior to Blackbaud, Mary Beth was vice president of research and development at Ipswitch, Inc. where she led software engineering, design, and operations across the company’s global product portfolio. Before Ipswitch, she spent 15 years at the Savannah River National Laboratory where she started as a programmer and eventually managed the company’s Enterprise and Technical Systems Engineering organizations.
In both 2019 and 2017, Mary Beth was named one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology by the National Diversity Council — a definitive list that honors the most extraordinary female leaders, influencers and achievers impacting the technology industry. Mary Beth is a trustee at her alma mater, Immaculata University, where she graduated with a degree in Mathematics and Physics. She is also a member of the Advisory board of Clemson University’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, a board member of Charleston Women in Tech, and a AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Even back in grade school, I can remember being most excited about my math and science classes. In 5th grade, my class built a simple computer out of an old wooden desk, and a space shuttle out of wood and metal flashing. It was awesome! And my passion for math and engineering never faded.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Working at Blackbaud has been one of the most interesting, exciting and challenging times in my career. I’ve been part of an executive leadership team working to transition our technology, solutions, services, and business to a SaaS/Cloud Software company. This has necessitated changes in how we engineer solutions, how we work together, and how we serve our customers. I’ve learned so much through this journey!
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’ve made so many mistakes! One of the funniest mistakes I made was when I was working at a highly secure lab facility where people and their possessions are subject to search. I had just come back from maternity leave and was using a breast pump during the day. The Lab didn’t have a mother’s room, so I decided to pump in an empty office. It didn’t have a lock, but I was getting desperate and didn’t have other options and so I decided to make it work. Some of the guards walking by heard the electric pump and wanted to investigate. They opened the door just as I was finishing up, and said they needed to inspect the device. That was fun to watch! It was embarrassing and hilarious all at the same time. 😊
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Blackbaud’s customers and culture are special. Our teams are doing amazing, innovative work that serves the social good community. It’s so fulfilling to hear from our customers that we’ve helped them raise more money to help the homeless, cure diseases, grant more scholarships, educate more children… I could go on. On some days, I literally get to hear how we help change lives — like when one of our customers told us that they were able to deliver one million more meals annually as a result of efficiencies enabled by our technology solutions. There is something profound about seeing how our work helps people and organizations do more good in the world.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
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?
No, I’m not satisfied with the current progress of women going into STEM fields. It’s a complicated issue that I believe is impacted by educational approach, gender stereotypes (even at a very young age), and the perception that STEM careers aren’t fun and/or accessible to women. I think seeing more role models, gaining more encouragement, getting more visibility into exciting engineering careers, and being exposed to more gender-agnostic educational approaches would help pave the way.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be brave, be a good listener, celebrate failure, and most importantly, be yourself.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I think it’s important to scale by creating a strong leadership team that works really well together and embodies a learning culture. In fact, your direct reports should be each other’s “first team”, working together to solve problems, support each other, cultivate a great culture and run a strong business. A trusting, collaborative team will accomplish so much more together than working as individuals.
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?
My husband and I both had demanding jobs when my son was born. I remember surviving on 3–4 hours of sleep per night, working 9–10 hour days, and trying to be a great mother and wife. My husband and I had to coordinate on baby hand-offs, daycare pickups, and the inevitable sick day, and all three of us were exhausted. As my son grew, we realized that he needed more of our time, and we knew we had to make a change as a family. That’s when my husband gave me the best gift ever and decided to resign his Engineering Manager position to stay home with our son. It radically changed our lives for the better and I’ll be forever grateful to him for making that choice.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m proud to have an impact through volunteering, through the work our customers do, through mentorship, and through board membership.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be yourself.
I was one of only a few other female programmers when I started my first job out of college. I felt like I stood out, but not in a good way, and I remember wanting to blend in more. I started to dress a lot more conservatively because I didn’t want to be seen as a “girl”, and I didn’t speak up as much in team meetings because my voice sounded so different. I remember my sister asking why I was dressing so “frumpy” and challenging me to just be myself. It was great advice that I took to heart and that still serves me well. Companies should staunchly support and celebrate people with all of their differences. And, we thrive as individuals and do our best work when we are appreciated for who we are.
2. Learn, Learn, Learn
30 years ago I was writing C code for VAX/VMS systems to calculate complex environmental models. Today, software runs the world! Our phones, our cars, our thermostats, our watches, our TV’s, how we learn and get information, how we communicate… and because of that, almost every company is a software company! Technology is changing so quickly and in order to keep up with it, we need to be constant students. And, it’s a lot more fun to work with different tools on different projects as we progress as engineers and leaders.
3. Maintain confidence
Every great engineer has tried the stuff and failed. That’s a big part of how we learn and find the best solutions. And, most engineers work in teams with other smart people who have differing opinions. There have been so many times when my confidence has been shaken. I’ve felt like folks may be thinking that I don’t know what I’m doing, that they don’t respect me, or that I’m the weakest link. I’ve learned that those feelings tend to dissipate fairly quickly and continue to remind myself of that even today.
4. Community matters
It can be isolating to be part of a small minority where differences are very visible and bias is present. Having a community where I feel supported and appreciated helps me so much! At Blackbaud, we’ve invested in creating a community of our senior women leaders where we can be candid, supportive, caring, helpful, and understanding. We lift each other up and cultivate a healthy culture across the company. It really matters.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff
I can sometimes get down on myself if I drop something or make a mistake. I don’t like disappointing anyone by missing an email or being late for a meeting. What I’ve learned is that sometimes those things are not preventable, that no reasonable person expects perfection, and in the scheme of things, sometimes these “misses” just don’t matter anyway. So, don’t waste energy sweating the small stuff… save it for celebrating the big WINS!
You are a person of great 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 not sure it will bring the *most* amount of good, but I would love to see more young girls and women pursue careers in technology.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Eleanor Roosevelt said that we should “Do one thing every day that scares you”. Trying new things, taking chances, putting yourself out there and failing sometimes can be terrifying, but also empowering! I try to push myself to do something to learn and grow every day.
Some of the biggest 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 🙂
Ruth Bader Ginsburg.