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“I think the biggest myth that exists is that women who work roles like marketing, sales, or customer service aren’t technical” with Penny Bauder & Kate O’Neil

The biggest myth I think exists is that women who work roles like marketing, sales, or customer service aren’t technical. Engineering isn’t the only technical role anymore. When I think about my own path in marketing, it’s had very technical components — implementing and integrating enterprise software systems, dealing with large and complex data sets, […]

The biggest myth I think exists is that women who work roles like marketing, sales, or customer service aren’t technical. Engineering isn’t the only technical role anymore. When I think about my own path in marketing, it’s had very technical components — implementing and integrating enterprise software systems, dealing with large and complex data sets, managing software development projects, and simply using technology to develop new marketing campaigns faster. These are just a few examples of how technical traditionally non-technical jobs have become. This is not to say that being technical should be a requirement for sales, marketing, or customer service jobs, but a lot of us have (and can) learn a lot of technical skills along the way.


As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate O’Neil. Kate is co-founder of Teaming, a technology platform that provides tools to build better teams. Kate is the former VP of Marketing at LeanKit (acquired by Thoma Bravo in 2017) and she has 12 years of high-growth B2B technology marketing, business development, and sales experience.

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

Thanks for having me! In college, I interned for an industrial sewing machine company. The company was a multi-generational family business founded in the early 1800s. I was lucky enough to see how every department worked — from the manufacturing floor to sales, marketing, service and accounting. Seeing a nearly 200-year-old company innovate and grow into a technology company opened my eyes to what’s possible with technology. The CEO also gave me a shot to do things I had no business and certainly no experience doing. I’ll always appreciate that and I try to pay that forward with the interns I get to work with.

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

We just started the company in April, so I’m hoping the most interesting things are still yet to come! But, the most interesting thing that’s happened to me so far is moving to Nashville. I commuted to Nashville with our last company but when that company sold and my co-founders had the idea to start Teaming, I knew I needed to make the move. I spent the last ten years working in technology in Atlanta. Atlanta’s technology scene boomed in that time and it was scary to leave that market. But, it’s been the best decision. I’ve received such a warm welcome from other technology folks here and there’s a great buzz around the city. It feels like Atlanta 10 years ago. With the combination of companies like Amazon and AllianceBernstein moving here and exciting startups like Built Technologies, Beachy, and us [Teaming], it feels like the right recipe for another booming tech city!

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?

Funniest? Funniest would probably be that for a few months we “fit” 4 people into a one-person, windowless office. It was a game of human Tetris anytime anyone had to come or go!

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

The people who work here make the company stand out. In our last company (acquired in 2017), we realized enterprise software can impact people’s lives for the better and we wanted to take that forward into Teaming. One story that comes to mind is how we helped a claims department of a major insurance company. They typically took weeks to respond to claimants, some with terminal illnesses. We helped them get their response time down to days. Their manager actually got teary on the phone with us when she told us that. No one thinks about the claims agent when they put in an insurance claim but it’s a really hard job.

The greatest satisfaction we got from this experience and many others like this, was working together. We created a positive outcome for our customer because we were a great team. At Teaming, we’re doing just that. We’re creating the tools to help people build great teams.

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

I’m 100 percent all in on Teaming right now. We believe that the approach taken by many organizations with regard to coaching and performance management is backwards. There are all these tools out there that help managers manage individuals and they all promise a more engaged employee. We believe that an employee’s engagement, and by definition their performance, is correlated most with how effectively that employee’s whole team is able to trust, rely on each other, and collectively find purpose and meaning in their work. Yet, there are no tools that take a team-first approach to doing these things. We’re doing that. We’re helping people put their team first, and by doing so, create higher individual engagement and job satisfaction.

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 or Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I’m definitely not satisfied with the status of women in tech. There are so many things that need to be improved, but I think they all boil down to one primary issue: The goal of all technology is to improve what it means to be human, but we can’t fully realize the human benefits of technology if women aren’t equally represented at the forefront of creating it.

I don’t think there is a single answer about what specifically needs to be done to increase female participation in Tech and STEM. It’s a complex issue that will require a multifaceted solution. For me, access to a great education opened my eyes to the technology world. I can’t imagine it would be any different for most women and girls out there. So, if I could improve one thing to get more women into STEM, it would be to make a great education accessible to all girls and women. There are a lot of groups, politicians, and technologists doing just that! They deserve our time, attention, and funding support too.

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 a lot of these challenges have been well documented and I agree with a lot of what’s been said on this topic. As I mentioned, a challenge I would first improve is access to a technology education for women.

A unique challenge that doesn’t seem to get enough coverage is around maternity leave. My own survey of friends and family tells me that the technology sector is leading in this country by providing the necessary time to bond with children after they’re born. Great strides have been made but ample, paid maternity leave needs to become a standard. Another issue I think we need to address is to provide better support for mothers (and fathers) when they come back from maternity leave too. Some companies offer flexible hours or part-time hours to get into the swing of working and parenting. All of that is great. But, I think we need to do better in re-onboarding our mothers and fathers into their jobs as well. The technology sector specifically moves so fast, it’s like you’re starting a completely new job when you come back from maternity leave, no matter how long it is. Offering post-leave flex time only helps a little to catch up on what you’ve missed; you need reorientation from your team and your company. I’m hoping re-onboarding programs for mothers and fathers can become an industry standard too.

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

The biggest myth I think exists is that women who work roles like marketing, sales, or customer service aren’t technical. Engineering isn’t the only technical role anymore. When I think about my own path in marketing, it’s had very technical components — implementing and integrating enterprise software systems, dealing with large and complex data sets, managing software development projects, and simply using technology to develop new marketing campaigns faster. These are just a few examples of how technical traditionally non-technical jobs have become. This is not to say that being technical should be a requirement for sales, marketing, or customer service jobs, but a lot of us have (and can) learn a lot of technical skills along the way.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why? What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

  1. Find mentors and tools to help you build a great team. Great teams are rare because they are so hard to create, but the characteristics of great teams are all the same. People on teams need to feel psychologically safe with each other, they need to know the impact of their work, they need to find meaning in their work, they need to be dependable and to depend on others, they need to have accountability for their work, and they need to have a goal with a way to measure success.
  2. Be yourself. Sounds simple, but I still struggle to do it. To be yourself, you have to know your strengths and weaknesses. (I’m still struggling with this one too!) You have to know when you can compensate for your own weaknesses and when you have to find others to compensate for you.
  3. Believe in your team. Even when you aren’t sure they’ll hit the goal, complete the project, or whatever else comes their way, believe in them anyway. Trust that they will get there. As their leader, it’s your job to help them get there faster and, most of the time, you have to slow down to speed up. Trust between the team is, by far, the most important requirement for being a great team. You can’t build trust quickly, but when it’s present, the team will go faster than you can imagine. As a leader, you can create situations and exercises that present opportunities for team members to decide to trust the team, and you, too. You’ll get the time investment of building trust back in spades. Ninety-nine percent of the time, when I put trust in my team, the quality of the work far exceeds my expectations too.
  4. Listen to your team. You might never agree with them, but it is important that the team feels heard, just as you expect to be heard by them. In my experience, when there’s trust on the team, better ideas have a way of bubbling up. Very often, they’re ideas I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. In listening, you’ll learn more about the problems the team is facing. You’ll know the difference between problems they need to solve on their own and obstacles you can help move out of the way. Most importantly, you’ll get feedback on yourself and how you can become a better leader to the team.
  5. Be consistent with your team. It’s really important to plainly communicate about goals and expectations with your team. The team may agree with everything, disagree with everything, or somewhere in between. What’s more important is to be consistent about goals and expectations. I think this is where a double standard can exist for female leaders over their male counterparts. Consistency can present differently in men than women, I suppose. Ironic, isn’t it?

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

Mostly, I’d give the same advice as the last question. I’d add that creating a system for communication throughout your team is important. It becomes increasingly difficult and costly to get everyone in a room at the same time. But, if you’re intentional about the way you communicate, you will keep your team aligned and maintain the continuous trust-building environment you’ve all worked hard to create.

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?

Finally, an easy question to answer! I am most grateful for my mom. She made sure every door, and every possibility, was open for me as a child and she taught me how to open my own doors too. She didn’t finish college herself, but she taught me to love learning and insisted on giving me the best education one can have. She taught me about the satisfaction that comes after a hard day of work. She taught me to appreciate the people and possibilities around me and she taught me to give more than I receive.

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

I like to think that I’ve helped to create places where people love to work. It seems small to say that here, but I hope to continue to do that. I think goodness in the world spreads fastest through small but personal gestures.

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.

This might not seem big at first, but let me explain. We talk to a lot of people about the way they conduct team meetings because the team meeting is often a foundational ritual for the team. I’ve heard from countless women who shared some version of this story in their team meetings: “I got feedback that I appeared administrative and subordinate to my male peers so I stopped taking and distributing shared meeting notes.”

Our research shows that people consider half of their meetings a waste of time. The primary reason meetings are considered a waste of time is because no one records or follows up on action items from these meetings. The average knowledge worker spends 62 hours per month in meetings, so half of that time, or nearly a full week per month, is considered a waste of time. In salary cost alone, wasted time in meetings costs US companies $37 billion.

What if one person, male or female, in every meeting this week recorded and distributed notes to the team? How much time, money, and energy would we save? How much more could we do? Most importantly, how great would it feel to be on a team where everyone takes the notes, and supports the team?

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

My favorite quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

I’ve kept this quote pinned to my bathroom mirror for years. It motivates me to contribute to the world in the ways I know how and to explore contributing to the world in new ways. It reminds me to appreciate the unique nature of everyone’s contributions to the world. And, it reminds me that supporting and appreciating each other is the most gratifying thing we can all do.

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.

Claire Hughes Johnson, chief operating officer at Stripe. My co-founders and I have been following her for a long time. Many of her talks have impacted our thinking and the design of Teaming. Claire and Stripe have taken a more humanistic and effective approach to operating the company. I’d love to ask her about a million more questions about how the company has come so far with that approach and her own career path.

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