“Empathy is important.” With Penny Bauder & Janet Giesen

This really applies to any leader, female or male. I would advise them to place trust in the people on their team. Currently I lead a cross-functional team where everyone is a subject matter expert in their area. As their leader I need to point them in the right direction, help remove any obstacles in […]

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This really applies to any leader, female or male. I would advise them to place trust in the people on their team. Currently I lead a cross-functional team where everyone is a subject matter expert in their area. As their leader I need to point them in the right direction, help remove any obstacles in their way, and provide course correction as needed. But in the end I need to trust that they have the expertise required to execute on the tasks they are responsible for.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janet Giesen.

Janet currently serves as Head of Operations and GTM at SaaS backup provider Metallic (a Commvault venture), where she directs the venture’s operations, marketing, channel program, and systems.

Before bringing Metallic to market, Janet was a GM and VP at Shutterstock, where she built their API partner program into an eight-figure business line, then grew the enterprise/SMB business from $175M to $250M in 18 months. Previously she worked at American Express, where she more than doubled revenue from the company’s B2B affiliate and digital partner program. She holds an MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business.

In addition to bringing to market innovative new digital services, Janet is a champion for business diversity. Through her participation in organizations like the Commvault Women in Technology group, and events such as Conversations with Women in Software (hosted by Oracle and SmartBrief) and the Women in BD & Technology panel (hosted by SAP with Firneo), Janet advocates for a greater role for women in both the tech industry and in corporate functions like business development, where women have traditionally been underrepresented.

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

Ientered the tech industry in a bit of an untraditional way. I did not grow up taking many STEM courses, beyond what I thought I needed to take. I never envisioned having a career in STEM — in fact, my senior thesis in college was on urban poetry. After graduating from college with a liberal arts degree, I started working in the book publishing industry, so I could put my degree to good use.

It was around 2005, and as a recent college-grad I was assigned to work with the digital book sellers — like Amazon and the online division of Barnes and Noble. At the time publishers did not think they were as important as the big brick-and-mortar bookstores.

As I learned more about the new digital services these companies were working on, I realized that this was the business I really wanted to be in. I think seeing an early prototype of the Kindle was what crystalized for me that the technology industry was where disruptive things were taking place, and I wanted to be a part of that.

So I made a career pivot, and got my MBA at NYU, taking a lot of classes related to digital business and keeping my eye out for digital or technology-oriented roles. Then after I got my MBA I joined American Express where I worked on B2B digital partnerships.

From there I went to Shutterstock, where I built their API program and scaled their enterprise and SMB platforms. Then, in 2018, I joined Commvault. Now, as VP of Operations and Go-to-Market for Metallic, a new Software as a Service (SaaS) venture from Commvault, I am working to deliver companies a SaaS solution that addresses one of the most important tasks they face in today’s digital economy — how to protect the data they use to run their business.

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

When I joined Commvault we had some early versions of SaaS-type data protection products. But around 18 months after I started at Commvault the decision was made to really lean into this market. This led to me being recruited to lead marketing and operations at what was basically a SaaS data protection start-up venture within Commvault.

We had some secret code names for the venture. First Terra Nova (New Earth) and then later Project Turin, since Turin, Italy is well-known for high-end sleek design. After much deliberation, we ended up selecting the name Metallic, which is something unexpected for a data protection offering — it conveys strength yet flexibility, and plays a bit on the idea of a hardened, well-protected cloud.

With so much chatter in the technology and software industries, I wasn’t sure we would not be able to keep this project secret, but we did. When we launched it last October we surprised the industry with it — and customer reaction to it so far has been great.

In addition to being able to keep the project under wraps, I think another thing that is interesting about Metallic is that not many “traditional” software companies would be willing (or able) to do something like it. We were able to secretly incubate a startup building a new product — an enterprise-grade cloud backup and recovery solution — designed to expand the firm’s business in a new market — in this case mid-market companies. That was pretty cool!

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?

When I first starting out in the business world, I was blissfully unaware of hierarchy. For example, I would get in the elevator and say hi and make small talk with very high-level Penguin Random House executives. And then get strange looks from my coworkers and others in the elevator after the executive stepped out.

While I have come to learn you have to aware of people’s different roles in the organization when speaking to them, I still think the occasional elevator conversation isn’t a bad thing.

For one thing, I don’t think executives mind it that much. Moreover, I think in business today you can’t take hierarchy too seriously. Yes, when you join a company you need to listen and get the lay of the land. And you have to make sure to respect the opinions of those who have more experience and are more senior. But you should not let hierarchy get in the way of trying to do what is right for the business, or in the way of treating everyone you work with in a dignified but friendly manner.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

I think the thing that makes Commvault stand out is that we manage to combine the stability needed for customers to trust us to protect their critical data with a commitment to relentless innovation.

So it has its feet firmly planted on both sides of the fence — the rock solid technology of experienced, battle-tested IT companies, combined with a startup’s willingness and ability to reinvent itself to address its customers’ needs.

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

We are working on a lot of exciting new projects to expand Metallic into new areas. We’re entering new international markets, adding new partners, and otherwise launching projects that will increase the number of companies who use Metallic to protect their data.

This offering helps people because it can address “panic moments” when someone thinks they may have lost data. Panic moments like when a key member of the finance team leaves a laptop on a plane, when a coworker accidentally deletes an important Office 365 file, or when their company is hit by a ransomware attack. When data disasters like these hit, it is not going to cause any significant financial or other damage — rather it will be an inconvenient incident that they can recover from quickly.

Increasing the use of Metallic will also result in fewer people experiencing stress or other mental anguish when a data disaster occurs. Like it says on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic.” If a data disaster hits you, just use Metallic to recover the data from a backup stored in the cloud or on-premises, and get back to work.

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’m not satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM and I don’t think many of my peers are satisfied, either. I think we all believe that we should see more women working in the tech industry and more women occupying senior leadership positions in this industry.

That said, over the past few years there have been many positive social and corporate changes that are helping change the status quo. There is a lot more support in schools for women interested in studying STEM than there was in the past. There is better mentoring for women in the tech industry and better support systems. Increasingly, companies are making diversity a core value for their organizations. But we still have a long way to go in all these areas.

Also, as far as diversity, it is not just about promoting gender diversity. We need all kinds of diversity. And we don’t need it just because it is the right thing to do for people in unrepresented groups — we should be doing it because diverse backgrounds and perspectives lead to higher performing teams. Which is why if corporate leaders want their companies to be successful, they need to make diversity not just something written up in their company’s value statement, but also something they directly task their managers to encourage — and then hold these managers accountable to this task.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I think one of the unique challenges for women in STEM is looking around and finding you are the only woman in a meeting or on a team. For the most part, that is simply not something that most men in STEM have to deal with — and for many women this experience can make them feel isolated.

When confronted by the challenge of being the only woman in the room, I think women should try to not let it matter. Don’t let this situation be a barrier to your success, or your company’s success — speak up and act as you would otherwise. It is only by acting like it does not matter that it really won’t matter.

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

I think one of the biggest myths, or at least misconceptions, about women in STEM is that groups like Women in Technology are exclusionary, when they are really about promoting inclusion. They are about breaking down barriers, not building them up.

Yes, these groups provide camaraderie and support to women in STEM-related fields — but they do so by helping women overcome the challenges that are keeping them from becoming more integral to their organizations.

That is why I think it is important that these groups and events be open to and include men, and that the topics covered be as universal as possible. Yes, there might occasionally be difficult issues addressed in these group discussions or panels. However, the goal is not confrontation, but collaboration, providing support to everyone in the organization as it works address these issues and become diverse.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Empathy is important. Everyone has a life outside of work.

One of the greatest assets a leader can have is empathy. Everyone has a life outside of the office, and everyone wants to feel that is understood by their leader and team. For example, one of my children fell very ill suddenly and I had to drop everything to be with him for a week in the hospital until he thankfully recovered. My boss was very understanding and others on the team jumped in on key projects. I will never forget this and I want to do this for others. When life gets in the way for someone, try to help them — that is how you create loyal employees who then care about you and the company.

Grit is equally important.

There is a TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth about this, but one of the key success factors in life is grit. Grit is really important for a leader because you need to weather storms for your employees: whether shielding them from things that could distract them from key objectives or passing along things that can help them move forward. You need to be a consistent leader and come in every day ready to go. You need to instill grit into your team as well. Which you can — grit is something that can be influenced from the top-down.

Tell your team the “why.”

I have always been motivated by leaders who give the reasons for decisions, and transparent explanations of why certain things are happening within a company. Now I try to do that for my teams. This is true of a new company initiative, a critical business decision, or a sudden change in direction. If people understand the why, they understand what went into the decision and feel more a part of it.

Play the long game — drive results, and you will get noticed.

It can be very easy to get drawn into gossip or to try to play politics. When I worked for American Express, the CEO at the time, Ken Chenault, spoke to a group of us and said something I will never forget: When in doubt, keep your head down, drive results, and you will get noticed. And he was right — if you consistently deliver results on important areas for the company that has more impact than overthinking the politics.

Set an example for more junior women.

This is a tough one, but I have realized as I advance in my career, more junior women look to me on how to speak, act, even to dress. I have realized how important it is to set an example. Setting an example does not just help other women understand how to advance in their career, it encourages them to come to you for help with the challenges they are experiencing as they try to do so. For example, in my career I’ve had multiple women come to me for advice in handling uncomfortable comments they have received in the office, and wondering how to handle them or what to do. I have supported them each time and also coached them on how to handle the situation going forward. It has happened to me, so I need to help others here.

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

This really applies to any leader, female or male. I would advise them to place trust in the people on their team. Currently I lead a cross-functional team where everyone is a subject matter expert in their area. As their leader I need to point them in the right direction, help remove any obstacles in their way, and provide course correction as needed. But in the end I need to trust that they have the expertise required to execute on the tasks they are responsible for.

I always ask members of my team to provide their recommendations on how to solve a problem. There is a lot of power in the phrase “My recommendation is…” in communicating a point of view. Now, decisions can’t always be made based on consensus and everyone’s recommendations, but you want to encourage an open dialogue in which your team feels comfortable coming to the table with their own thoughts on the matter. By providing your team with the space they need to share their ideas, you can better tap into their expertise while also motivating them to deliver better results.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I have discussed this in the past with an executive who had a lot of experience managing large teams, and he described the process as similar to conducting an orchestra. The people in an orchestra play a lot of different instruments, just as the people on a large team are likely to have many different roles and responsibilities. But the conductor has to guide all those different musicians to work in harmony to play a piece of music — just as a business leader has to get all the members of a large team to draw on their own unique skills to achieve common objectives.

One of the problems with conducting an orchestra, or a large team, is that those further in the back might have a hard time seeing your baton, so they may fail to understand what the common objectives are. Which is why constant, even repetitious communication of your objectives is important — you need to make sure everyone is moving in the same direction. Part of that is on you as the leader, but you also have to make sure this cascades down to your direct reports, and they are constantly communicating the objectives as well. Otherwise “those in the back” might not hear it, or hear it enough.

Commvault’s CEO, Sanjay Mirchandani, is really good at this. He makes sure to repeat the company’s objectives — simplify, innovate, and execute — all the time. But he also makes sure that other members of the executive team are communicating them, to ensure this message cascades down, and is top of mind for everyone in the organization. In addition, it is those other leaders in the organization who will be in a better position to see if someone is not understanding or otherwise focused on those objectives.

So, if I can mix analogies a bit, a good leader has to orchestrate their organization, using a baton to constantly communicate to their team the organization’s objectives. But they also have to be able to pass this baton to other leaders in their organization. These leaders should also be orchestrating their teams around these objectives, and course correcting any teams that might be moving in a direction that doesn’t align with the objective.

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?

I have been very fortunate to have some great mentors in my career who have helped me get where I am today. For example, at Shutterstock the VP of Corporate Development, David Fraga, really believed in me (he is now COO at InVision). Over time he kept giving me larger business deals to drive and business areas to grow — including a seven-figure technology integration I closed with one of the world’s leading social media platforms.

He did not do this recklessly — he talked me through each project and made sure I was ready to take it on. Those experiences have helped me a great deal with Metallic, where my experience doing new businesses incubation, building partnerships, and driving growth have proved very helpful in the development and launch of Metallic.

I have also sought out other types of mentors — for example, those who can provide me with guidance on being a strong business leader while also being a strong parent. They have helped me with things like how to adjust your work habits and priorities as your kids get older, so you make sure you are always giving them the support they need. By sharing their perspective on how they dealt with situations with their children that I am currently experiencing, these mentors have really helped me out.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have tried to bring goodness to the world myself by “paying it forward” and mentoring others myself. In fact, I still keep in touch and provide support to people I worked with years ago.

Sometimes this support is as simple as resume help, sometimes it can be more complex, like helping them take on greater responsibilities by working with them to improve their negotiation skills. It is not just good for them though, it is good for me too — I love coaching people by talking through problems together.

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 would like to inspire people to learn more about and become better negotiators. I am fascinated by negotiation — both the how and why people negotiate. And in studying negotiation I have learned one of the keys to success is to understand your counterpart.

I think if people worked harder to better understand their counterparts — not just in business, but in politics and elsewhere in society — it would bring a lot of good to the world. In fact, this is one of the reasons I have both the Washington Post and Fox News in my news feed — I want to understand where all the parties are coming from in politics.

Too often, people come to an issue that needs to be negotiated with just their own perspective. You have to see the other side if you are going to get movement in a negotiation and come together to a resolution that is satisfactory to all sides.

That is just one example of how the basic principles of negotiation could help us resolve some of the issues we face in the world today. If we want to really understand each other and be more bipartisan, then leveraging some basic skills of negotiation and thinking about others’ perspectives could help make a difference.

Some of these principals are described in the book Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. So if I could inspire more people to learn more about negotiation, understanding others, and otherwise study these principals, so that they could better use negotiation to come together with others, that would be great.

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

My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” was relayed to me from one of my mentors.

I am not sure who originally said it, but the quote was, “If it is not tough, you are not in the game.” It resonated with me then, and over the years I have continued to come back to it when I have faced tough career situations.

These situations were hard, and I often questioned if I was dealing with them in the right way — as sometimes there is no correct answer when making a tough business decision; there are only different options and you have to pick the best one you can at the time. During those moments, I reminded myself that if things feel especially tough, chances are you are working on something important to the company and for your career.

Given the additional stress that we’ve all been dealing with recently due to the coronavirus crisis, one other life lesson quote has become more relevant to me than it was before, “Remember: resting is an action. Allow yourself time to rest.”

Once you think about resting that way and add resting to your to-do list, you can do it without guilt because you feel like you are accomplishing something. That can be a powerful mindset shift.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders 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 🙂

I would love to have lunch with Blake Lively. She is a powerhouse — an actress with an amazing film career, a mother to three children, a strong point of view and aesthetic, and a good enough cook to work as a pastry chef for an evening at Per Se.

She accomplishes all of this while at the same time staying true to her values as she raises her family in rural upstate New York. I’d like to learn how she maintains the balance she seems to have achieved in her life, while still succeeding in several different areas.

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