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“Finding “Work-Life Balance” is a myth, especially for women in Tech fields”, with Penny Bauder & Cynthia Gumbert

Finding “Work-Life Balance” is a myth, and especially for women in Tech fields. There’s never a perfect balance or a great time to take off for family: you just need to be OK with some chaos and assertive about what you need. Being in tech means a never-ending set of tasks so it’s easy to […]

Finding “Work-Life Balance” is a myth, and especially for women in Tech fields. There’s never a perfect balance or a great time to take off for family: you just need to be OK with some chaos and assertive about what you need. Being in tech means a never-ending set of tasks so it’s easy to get into a trap of constantly running hard and thinking, “I can’t start a family now,” or “I can’t leave early to pick up the kiddos.” The work tasks will always be there, and no one regardless of gender will get everything done and find the right balance.


As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cynthia Gumbert. Cynthia brings more than 20 years of software and hardware experience, having held marketing leadership positions at CA Technologies, Dell, and fast-growing technology startups. Before joining SmartBear as CMO, she led the marketing organization at Quick Base. As a business executive dedicated to both brand growth and driving a quantitative approach for results, she has repeatedly supported double-digit and triple-digit growth at startups. Cynthia built the global demand center for Dell, overseeing a large-scale global rollout of a demand generation process and tools used by thousands of marketers. She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from MIT, a master’s degree from Tufts University, and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School.


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

Igrew up a “nerd” in a time before STEM was in our vocabulary. I have always been enamored with where technology could take society and with finding better ways to do things. I wanted to create “cool technology” from a young age and started as a materials scientist because that to me was almost magical — a field that gives us tangible things that behave in amazing ways. I worked on growing diamonds, glass that turns blue in the sun (by accident!), and many interesting materials throughout school and for some years afterwards.

However, I was also interested in leadership and marketing and moved away from a hands-on technical career into management. My passion for marketing started when I traveled the world helping to market and sell test and measurement equipment for computer chip wafers. Despite being the most cutting edge of technology, this sort of manufacturing remains imperfect and a small defect can cost so much. I saw how improved quality tangibly helped so many customers around the world. My marketing career has continued in technology: both software and hardware. There is always something that can be done a lot better and companies may look cutting-edge on the outside but need so much help to improve. I made it my goal to continue in “B2B” tech and help lead the greatest software and innovative products that make the world a better place, one improvement at a time.

SmartBear is focused on helping product designers, developers, and QA engineers with more efficient and effective quality testing, and overall delivery of apps that ultimately work well for customers. There’s always something to fix. It’s so much fun to help people get better at what they do and see their results.

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

I opened a few positions for people to join the marketing team at SmartBear. Immediately after I posted a leadership position for corporate communications, a “super fan” of SmartBear sent me and several team members a message that this is his dream job. He had articles he already wanted to write for the company, a passion for what we were doing, and he wanted to help be the voice of the company. Needless to say, we hired him. I’ve never in my career had such an enthusiastic follower, and I’m learning that there are more who are willing advocates out there in our communities. It’s so nice to have products and an attitude as a company that generates a following.

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?

Not sure how funny this is, but it did take me longer than usual to figure out all the products and tools that SmartBear covers. There are about eight major ones and over a dozen more, some of which are behind the scenes and not as prominently marketed. It seemed that every few days after I started, I asked the “newbie” question of “wait, another product?” It became a bit of joke for a while, until I figured it out!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

SmartBear is unique in that we have several very popular open-source projects as well as a number of commercial products. We serve test/QA engineers, software developers, and product designers. What stands out most is that we, the company, “host” our products and the communities of millions of engineers are a large part of who markets and sells them. They get together to discuss best practices, help each other out, ask us for features they need, and share their stories.

Every time we do a webinar to share a new capability or a recommended best practice, we get thousands of developers and testers interested. It’s so exciting to witness such a vibrant and passionate community!

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

Our marketers work closely with the SmartBear product developers to make it easier for users to figure out what tools can help them fit their needs. We want to allow them to try any of these out in their environments. We are working on some exciting self-service access to a wide range of capabilities for our products’ users, making it easier to adopt what they need and start using new capabilities on their own. Much more to come on that in the next few months!

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 don’t see STEM as a unique and singular “field” with a status quo. There are significant differences in the presence of women and female leaders among sub-communities within STEM. For example, women are still vastly under-represented among software developers. However, the testing and QA field is a somewhat different picture. In fact, the most famous test industry influencers and leaders seem to be primarily women. Is it because role models have influenced many to choose testing/QA as a career? Are they doing something different and better with recruiting from schools in the first place? Is testing a more diversity-accepting culture than development? I don’t know the single primary reason for the difference, however I recommend that the dev industry and other STEM fields that are severely lacking of women learn from certain fields that have more diversity in general. The testing industry is also evolving amazingly fast with adoption of automation, AI, and other advancements. I believe the diversity within that field is a big reason why they are moving so quickly with new technologies and capabilities.

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?

A long-term career in specific STEM fields needs to appeal to more young women as they start their first job. Various STEM industries as a whole need to promote mentorship, put more role models front and center, and remove cultural roadblocks that may drive women away early into a STEM career. Role models in particular need to be accessible. I see a lot of industry events for women in tech with fantastic speakers, but then you’re back at your company doing your day job without someone like that who is there for you. There’s still a lot of offensive banter, unconscious bias, and other factors that make it hard to keep women completely motivated and enthusiastic day in and day out. Changes need to happen at a company or departmental level. Starting a grass-roots women in technology group, or designating a formal mentorship program inside each and every tech company will help change things.

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

Finding “Work-Life Balance” is a myth, and especially for women in Tech fields. There’s never a perfect balance or a great time to take off for family: you just need to be OK with some chaos and assertive about what you need. Being in tech means a never-ending set of tasks so it’s easy to get into a trap of constantly running hard and thinking, “I can’t start a family now,” or “I can’t leave early to pick up the kiddos.” The work tasks will always be there, and no one regardless of gender will get everything done and find the right balance.

For women, it feels much harder to ask for the time off when needed because there’s a dated and underlying perception that women will drop out of the workforce, and be unfocused at work if they have a family, and that spirals into a much more difficult culture for women. Over the years, men who have reported to me state when they need time off for family or other personal matters. Women generally (but not at the senior leader level) tend to ask for permission, make sure it’s OK, and also apologize for being away from work. This is all for the same time-off benefit that the company offers. I’ve caught myself doing that many times over the years, and feeling guilty about every vacation. The work will always be there, the vacations and family time — much less so.

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.)

  1. Take the time to find a good mentor, someone outside of your department or team ideally so you can talk openly with them.
  2. Speak up in meetings. I have always been vocal and found that when you share your opinion or even ask a question, you become noticed, and seen more as a top/strong contributor to the team. It also brings out people who are less tolerant: who interrupt you, joke about what you’re saying, or disagree. Use those opportunities to raise issues with your manager or others when they see that behavior.
  3. Market your work more than you think you need to. Be relentless about sharing what you’ve accomplished and how it relates to your goals. I learned early on that doing great work and achieving a lot does nothing for your career unless you advocate for yourself. Not every manager has the tendency to market the work their team members have done unless it’s pointed out to them.
  4. Learn what the company’s objectives are at the highest level, and learn what your manager’s objectives are. This is not always shared very well. Relate your work to that, even if it seems obvious to you. I have overseen people in mid-level management roles who implemented or integrated technology to do something new and cool. They position the accomplishments as a result of a lot of work, without relating to how it helps move the company’s or the leader’s objectives forward. That’s an easy trap to fall into.
  5. Be a bit of a “chameleon”. [There’s an HBR article which I can’t find right now] The most effective leaders in industry and politics adapt to their environment by researching and understanding their audience. I learned early on not to come into a situation with a specific playbook and style but to adapt to what the needs are of the people, the culture, the company, and environment that I’m walking into. Show you understand what they care about in order to get your needs met. This is kind of a basic sales and marketing skill — understand the customer — but in the end, everyone is their own marketer!

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

For me, this is the same for great men leaders as well as women: Share your goals as a leader early and often, state that you’re there to help make everyone successful, and ask lots of questions. Being curious will open the team up to sharing their own conclusions about what needs to be done, and stories about their past, and will start a great team relationship. I’ve found that by sharing some past mistakes and asking them to do the same, everyone wants to really make things better and will see you as the best kind of leader, rather than just a “boss.”

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

A large team needs excellent reporting and goals tracking so that people know exactly where they stand. Also, clear career pathing is important for people to know, in conjunction with their managers, what they need to work on to continue progressing.

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?

The general manager of my division when I worked at Dell invited me in to present at a number of senior leadership meetings. This was the group leading a division made up of over 20,000 people. He heard about my work and valued my opinion since I was working to change how we measured success. It helped me gain a lot of confidence in being at the top levels of an organization and formulate a presentation in language that was effective to that group. In a particularly early morning meeting one day, he left the room for a few minutes and came back smiling with a tray of coffee for everyone. It was so inspiring to see an overall kind and nice person effectively lead a team of thousands. He helped not just get me in a better positioning in my career, but also as a role model of a great leader.

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

I take part in a number of mentoring activities, both formal and informally through people I know in my network. I enjoy helping people earlier in their careers get past obstacles and make the best decisions for themselves. It also greatly helps me to listen to what people are asking for in mentorship and produce a piece of advice within the context of what they need. It forces me to think about forks in the road and if I really would follow my advice and leave my comfort zone.

I’ve also helped a friend start a company, creating website content and promotional emails. It’s fun to use marketing skills outside of work, and help grow something new.

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’d love to start a worldwide mentorship “matchmaking” network. I believe some of these have started already, but maybe the key is to allow people to be anonymous, ask a one-off question, or request a match with an ongoing mentor.

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

I have a lot of quotes I like, but this one is especially inspiring since I believe everyone can be great.

“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.”

-Abraham Lincoln

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 🙂

This is a long-shot! But I’d love to meet President Obama someday: Not specifically for political affiliation, but because I admire his leadership style, level-headedness, and talent in understanding and tailoring his style to audiences in a very genuine way. We also share a birthday!

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