“Stop networking, and create meaningful relationships instead” With Penny Bauder & Marissa Tarleton

Stop networking, and create meaningful relationships instead. There is great value in finding someone who can mentor or coach you. A strong, deep support system will help you understand what is derailing your confidence and help build your strengths. Sure, working a room with surface-level conversations can kick-start new connections, but it’s what you do with […]

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Stop networking, and create meaningful relationships instead. There is great value in finding someone who can mentor or coach you. A strong, deep support system will help you understand what is derailing your confidence and help build your strengths. Sure, working a room with surface-level conversations can kick-start new connections, but it’s what you do with those connections after the networking events end that really matters.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marissa Tarleton the President of Aceable, a leading mobile-first education platform for certification and training products. Tapping into over 20 years of experience in e-commerce and marketing leadership, Marissa serves on the forefront of Aceable’s mission to deliver innovative, outcome-focused courses that empower people to thrive in life and succeed at what they do. As Aceable’s lead strategist in growth and brand development, she works to revolutionize how consumers access mobile training and certification through the company’s digital marketplaces that benefit both individuals and brands. Prior to joining Aceable, Marissa served as the chief executive officer at RetailMeNot and served in leadership positions among top brands such as Dell and Ogilvy & Mather.

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

I developed an interest in marketing and e-commerce while working at Ogilvy & Mather as an account executive on the IBM e-business campaign. In this role, I learned first hand how e-commerce influenced consumers in digital retail and shopping environments, and I was hooked by the pace and innovation. With aspirations of leading a major e-commerce and mobile brand to new heights, I decided to get my MBA, which focused on marketing and management information systems studies. Upon graduating with my MBA, I was tapped in by Dell where I quickly moved into e-commerce leadership roles. Through a lot of hard work and support there, I excelled through the company’s ranks to hold a top leadership position at one of the most globally-recognized e-commerce brands in the world.

I left to join RetailMeNot and further develop my experience in marketing leadership and mobile e-commerce platforms. I was promoted to chief executive officer (CEO) of RetailMeNot in 2018, and we acquired RxSaver a year later. In my role as CEO, I led a 500-person-plus global marketplace that connects consumers to savings and retailers, brands and restaurants to an audience of 700M consumers annually. I worked to reorient the company’s brand to be the go-to ultimate savings destination, implemented evolved marketing strategies, redeveloped our methodology for measuring and securing short- and long-term media coverage.

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

Starting a new leadership role at Aceable during a time when the physical office has closed down due to a global pandemic has been super interesting. The ease of quickly getting to know your team and building trust when you don’t see them face to face or even have a chance to have a quick coffee together has been challenging. It has forced me to think of new and virtual ways to build relationships and trust. A few tips include spending extra time introducing both personal and professional “care abouts” both in one-on-ones but also in groups, setting up virtual brown bags to just answer open questions and get to know people, and last, taking the time to personally meet everyone on the team even if via a quick one-on-one phone call.

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?

While presenting to everyone in the company, I lost WiFi service due to my son’s online gaming with his new home built gaming PC. I continued to talk about Q3 priorities for 5 minutes while frozen and derailed the meeting. It was not my proudest moment, but it does speak to how we are all going through balancing home, children, working online and leadership in the best way we can.

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

At Aceable, we believe in empowering students through digital high stakes learning. We think that everyone should have access to certification and value-added training and that it should be both high-quality and cost-effective. Learning should be a positive, engaging experience achieved through innovative, outcome-focused courses that ultimately empower individuals to excel in their lives and succeed at what they do. We have done this in driving and real estate already in the United States, and we plan to tackle many more areas of certification that students of all ages need. What makes Aceable stand out is, not only do we help students succeed, but we make something that can be cumbersome and difficult, now pleasant and fun! We open new doors for students, and they have a great time along the way.

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

Right now, we are focused on developing our real estate certification and training through AceableAgent to help anyone impacted by unemployment find a new opportunity if real estate is a focus. We are in 10 states and growing and have had over 37,000 students take their real estate pre-licensing course with us to date. We are thrilled to be able to apply the Aceable online learning platform to help consumers find new jobs!

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?

The STEM world is still very much dominated by men. Although women make up half of the U.S. college-educated workforce, only 28% of science and engineering jobs are held by women. Given that women drive 70–80% of purchase decisions, e-commerce especially needs gender diversity, particularly in top-level leadership positions. Now is the time for women to make a mark on this still-developing industry by driving innovation, developing thoughtful strategies for growth and sustainability and finding new ways to reach today and tomorrow’s consumers and brands.

Our education systems need to be encouraging, embracing and uplifting girls and young women who show interest in areas of computer technology, science and education. We have to break the stigmas that have told women for years that STEM is a “boys club” by getting the message out there that not only are there opportunities for women within these sectors, that the industry would benefit from having their unique insight and expertise. Opportunities for learning and career development in this workforce area need to be accessible and cost-effective to women.

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?

  1. Women don’t see or have access to role models and mentors. If you don’t see people like you, you tend to assume you don’t belong.
  2. Also, women, and other unrepresented groups of people, are faced with stereotypes and bias which often guides young women down other paths.

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

  1. You need to be a man to work in tech. Gender balance is a priority for most in the tech space. While we are a long way from where we need to be, we are making progress. Companies, leaders, educators and applicants need to be part of the solution to get to gender balance in tech.
  2. You need a tech background to work in tech. I found my way into tech from a background in Political Science, Asian Studies and Advertising. Not all careers in tech have “techy education” or backgrounds. It drew me in due to the range, consumer orientation and balance of creativity and science.

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.)

This is my go-to list of tips for women building careers.

  1. Stop networking, and create meaningful relationships instead. There is great value in finding someone who can mentor or coach you. A strong, deep support system will help you understand what is derailing your confidence and help build your strengths. Sure, working a room with surface-level conversations can kick-start new connections, but it’s what you do with those connections after the networking events end that really matters.
  2. Ask for what you want. Raise your hand for new opportunities and allow yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Being direct about what you want, and then doing whatever it takes to make it happen, will build perseverance and potentially help grow your skills in areas outside of your natural expertise. If you don’t speak up, who will?
  3. Know who you want to be. Do not define yourself by your job. Define yourself as a colleague, a friend, a mother, a daughter or whatever you are passionate about, and get to work that way. The more confidence you have in who you are, the more likely you are to find people who believe in you as well and help you keep your sense of self while achieving your goals.
  4. Figure out what you’re good at and thrive in those areas. Every single one of us has natural talents, areas of expertise where our skills seamlessly fit and where we can add real value. I am a huge proponent of stepping outside of comfort zones to learn new skills, but you shouldn’t downplay the areas in which you can thrive. In fact, exploring new opportunities can open up doors to other areas in which you may have overlooked your strengths.
  5. Surround yourself with people who inspire and encourage you. The power of a reputation is meaningful in one’s career path, and this is supported by the strength of your inner circle — bosses, peers, employees. Mentoring circles are a great way to get access to a diverse set of perspectives. The benefit of surrounding yourself with

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

Challenge your team, encourage them to take risks, but most importantly, work on building a team culture that bonds them, builds empathy and finds common ground. Community and culture matter more than anything right now. That connection will drive loyalty, compassion and results.

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

Hire great leaders to support you. You can’t do it alone. Make sure they balance you and your skill sets.

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 parents have always served as professional mentors and motivators in my career. My father, who served as a successful General Electric executive early on, instilled in me the drive to make a difference in the world and be successful in managing a career and family. He was instrumental in helping me to take risks in my career and be confident enough to take on anything I set my mind to. My mother also provided tremendous support and encouraged me to chase my professional aspirations. There were many times in my life where I hit dead ends and she was there to support me through those times and help me correct my course.

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

Community and giving back matters to me and we find ways within my company and within my family to give back. I particularly care about organizations that impact children and animals in need, women and the environment. I am always looking for more ways to get involved, but some of my favorite family time is volunteering together outside and making a difference in Austin.

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 think it would be about disrupting the current education system. With the current state of the cost of education in the United States and the trends in unemployment, I would love to help drive change in the role that technology and self-driven interest play in building education that helps people get closer to their dreams versus the standardized, cookie-cutter and the somewhat biased state in our education system today.

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

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” — Walt Disney

I believe reflection is important, but I mostly believe in focusing on what is ahead versus spending a lot of time on the past.

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 🙂

Michelle Obama. As a role model for women and African-Americans, I am inspired by her work as an advocate for poverty, education, health and fighting bias.

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