“Take care of yourself first” With Penny Bauder & Lisa Duerre

The only way we can truly address this critically compromised context is by creating space for women in tech to have an equal seat and voice at the table. It requires a new work paradigm — flex schedules, returner programs, honoring wellbeing and mental health, and intentionally cultivating far-overdue conversations on diversity, equality, and inclusion. Unless every […]

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The only way we can truly address this critically compromised context is by creating space for women in tech to have an equal seat and voice at the table. It requires a new work paradigm — flex schedules, returner programs, honoring wellbeing and mental health, and intentionally cultivating far-overdue conversations on diversity, equality, and inclusion. Unless every voice is represented with equality and respect, our industry will continue limiting our collective potential. And that is willful negligence.

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

Lisa Duerre is the founder of RLD Group, a boutique executive coaching and consulting firm for leaders in tech, and #1 international bestselling author. She served as a kickass female Silicon Valley tech executive for 25 years without an engineering degree at some of the top tech companies in the world. Lisa has personally helped 25,000 employees get kickass results at work, build high-performing teams, and be present for the moments that matter. Connect with Lisa at

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

Growing up I dreamed of being an elementary school teacher because I wanted to help children be their best selves. As a college student, I realized I wanted to make a broader impact and get the perks of corporate compensation. After going to college in Silicon Valley, I recognized leadership gaps in the tech industry and realized I could get paid to learn and teach leadership skills in tech. That led to me earning my business degree with a Human Resources emphasis. What started as an internship launched my career in tech where I’m often one of the few, if not the only person at a round table who’s a ‘people’ person. That’s been my unfair advantage for over 25 years now impacting companies, employees, and loved ones of leaders in tech all over the world.

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

Tech is the ultimate always-on, never-good-enough culture that chews up amazing leaders and spits them out into rehab, divorce court, or worse. My life changed forever when I found myself working on an important briefing for the senior leadership team while sitting in the emergency room as the medical staff tried to rule out if I had a heart attack. That was my wakeup call — thankfully, not a heart attack, just horrible side effects from the third round of antibiotics for chronic bronchitis. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was burned out as a tech executive. I chose to put my ‘oxygen mask on first’ and successfully rebooted from burnout still inside the tech space. I call it my CTL+ALT+DEL as I controlled my choices, I switched from always on to intentionally on and off and I deleted my limiting beliefs and fear-based decision-making. After my reboot, I gained clarity on priorities, boundaries, and let my inner voice take the lead. I colored my hair with a streak of purple (something I wanted to do for years!), pierced my nose, and shed the corporate straitjacket I put on myself of what a leader in tech is ‘supposed’ to look like.

I rejected the limiting belief that leaders in tech have to act or look a specific way, especially as a woman, for the tech industry to accept us. That’s straight-up bulls***. Be you. Shake the status quo. When you’re excited, say “Dude!” (that’s what I do). Life is too short to stay in the straitjacket of someone else’s expectations of you.

I could also tell you about the time I jumped on a helicopter to Monte Carlo to plan a sales conference for 3,000 with zero idea where I was staying once I arrived. There was of course a hotel booked for me. I just trusted I’d do the next right thing on this trip instead of controlling it all and not enjoying the journey. When I landed in Monte Carlo a car and driver picked me up and took me to the hotel. I trusted and it was fine. Sometimes life is about getting on that plane (or helicopter) knowing the tremendous potential of the destination is valuable enough to make the trip without knowing where you’ll land.

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?

Years ago someone came into my office with a very early version of the Palm Pilot enabled with phone capabilities. I was so new in tech that I wondered, “Who needs a Palm Pilot that can make phone calls?” Yep, I’m still laughing about that one. The lesson: if you’re going to be in tech, you can’t afford not to know what’s happening in tech tomorrow. I had to get really smart quickly to understand the role of R&D, sales, customer support, everything — that lit a fire under me to get off the sidelines and into the game.

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

I’m on a mission to show leaders the way to lead with their heads and hearts. I believe leaders in tech need world-class insight to get kickass results at work, build high-performing teams, and be present for the moments that matter. It starts with reflection and emotional intelligence (self-awareness) and being curious about each of your employees. their career and life goals. What inspires them, motivates them, and even what pisses them off. As a personal brand, leaders in tech trust me to help them stop burning out in their careers and personal lives and ignite their impact.

I could share story after story, instead of just one story, about how different clients told me, “You saved my life.” “You saved my marriage.” “My kids don’t hate my work because I know how to have good boundaries that are great wins for my company and my family.” Make no mistake — I’m not a life coach — but I’m fascinated about ensuring their unspoken ‘care abouts’ are their health and wellbeing. A healthy organization isn’t possible without a healthy leader guiding the way.

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

We recently launched our newest coaching program called the Impact Playbook for Leaders In Tech. It’s built on the premise that a tech leader can’t afford to just be technically savvy anymore — we must be people-wise in how we lead our organizations and teams. The Impact Playbook helps educate leaders on difficult conversations at every level of leadership by combining heart-based leadership with their technical know-how.

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?

Truthfully, hell no. There’s no way I’m satisfied with the current status quo for women in STEM. As a country, our parental leave sucks. Female leaders in tech don’t have the tools, resources, or support we need to adjust to parenthood or care-giving for a loved one as a family-minded leader in tech. For starters, there’s the absurd belief where organizations treat younger, potentially parent-minded rising leaders as a long-term risk because “she’ll probably want to quit or scale back in a few years to start a family so why bother, and then there’s the Mommy Track where other decision-makers in tech say they’re afraid to put too much on you because you’re also a mom and can’t possibly be a kickass leader because you now have a family. Again, that’s all absurd. Co-creating a win-win for work and family is the way to go. Assuming and labeling otherwise is just bulls***.

We need to build a complete infrastructure that welcomes and champions women in STEM. Where are the women at the top of organizations who can show other women in STEM that “Yes! You can do this too!” We need more role models, mentors, and advocates at every level and in every industry niche for STEM. Having a mentor was the catalyst for my career where I learned how to navigate politics and leverage true influence early in my career. Knowing other exec moms and crowdsourcing ideas and lessons learned made a huge difference when I became a working parent. Family-minded female leaders don’t have to choose between having a career and having a family! They do have to be clear on their core desires and priorities.

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 recent survey by TechJury shows that only 26% of all computing jobs are held by women. Turnover rate is over twice as much for women than men in tech jobs. In the thirty-year span from 1980 through 2010, 88% of all info-tech patents were made by male-only teams compared to only 2% — two percent! — of female-only teams during that same time.

The ‘good ol’ boys club’ of the tech industry creates significant disadvantages against women. Discrepancies, gaps, discrimination, harassment, even criminal atrocities are committed against women in tech on a daily basis around the world. VC funding, promotions, leadership opportunities, underrepresentation, the list goes on and on!

I recall a distinct conversation not long after returning to work in the months following my daughter’s birth. I was the only woman at a tech exec roundtable with a CEO and this was the topic: co-creating structure, tools, resources, and support for parent-minded women in tech. What was striking about this experience was how I was the only female in the room.

After listening to the rest of the room discount and even for some, altogether dismissing the expressed needs of parent-minded women in tech, I spoke my truth, shared from my personal experience as well as the experience of several other women in different organizations in our industry. The response? Disbelief and dismissal of my perspective in an area where I was the only one qualified to speak from experience.

The only way we can truly address this critically compromised context is by creating space for women in tech to have an equal seat and voice at the table. It requires a new work paradigm — flex schedules, returner programs, honoring wellbeing and mental health, and intentionally cultivating far-overdue conversations on diversity, equality, and inclusion. Unless every voice is represented with equality and respect, our industry will continue limiting our collective potential. And that is willful negligence.

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

That you have to act like a man. The myth is that the only way to get ahead is to act exactly like your male counterparts. You have to leave your personal life at home. When I was officially stepped into my first tech executive role, I felt significant pressure to be one of the ‘guys’. It felt inauthentic, and frankly, crappy to feel like I couldn’t be the same person who earned that opportunity. It wasn’t until I rejected that notion and pressure and embraced who I truly was that I felt my leadership could reach its greatest impact.

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. Don’t bring your boss a problem without having an idea of at least one possible solution. A problem without an idea to solve it is just complaining.
  2. “No” makes way for a “Yes!”. Saying “Yes!” to everything given or asked of you clouds your perspective and leads to busyness. Saying “No” at the right times gives you the runway and leeway to keep a fresh perspective. It also sends a message that you have boundaries and are confident in your personal power
  3. Get to your meetings early. Relationships are built before meetings start. Information trades hands when relationships are solid. Build your relationships with opinion leaders, alliances, sponsors, and true advocates.
  4. Know your industry! Your customers, colleagues, competitors — these are critical details in business. Unless you know your industry well, you’re never going to become a true business leader.
  5. Take care of yourself first. Most female leaders in tech who I’ve worked with have never felt safe to take a mental health break, even for a day. We’re not taught that or even necessarily wired for that in the tech space. This isn’t about getting a massage or spa day with your girlfriends — it’s about blocking time to let your mind decompress from the always-on, never-good-enough pressure in our industry.

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

Know thyself: your strengths, what energizes you, what drains you, your most productive times of the day, your biases, and your non-negotiables. Be curious. Get to know your team. Invest in understanding where your organization is heading right now and where it could head a year from now if you were the only one calling the shots. Get skilled and confident at having difficult conversations. I highly recommend reading Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson.

Be prepared to leverate the moment of power when someone asks you how things are going. Rather than the typical answer of “Good,” or “Busy,” be prepared to let your work (and your team’s results) stand out in your answer. This way you are of service to the person asking, and you’re ensuring they are aware of what you are working on. It’s an opportunity not to miss.

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

A large team is a complex system of designations, personalities, competing priorities, and power struggles. Great leaders of large teams tie everything back to the ‘why’, not the ‘how’ or the ‘what’ in their communications.

Structure your organization based on the business at hand and your vision for the future. Delegate, train, and mentor your replacement because you will be replaced someday so you can continue growing and evolving. It’s good for you, the team, and your customers. You may have someone who doesn’t have all the tech skills but they have the aptitude and appetite to learn. Help them close the gap and watch the magic happen. Know your own exit strategy. Understand your greater purpose and desires for what you want your eventual exit to look like and what you want your exit to catapult you toward once you leave — and we all leave at some point. Without a plan, you’ll be unprepared or inspired for what’s next.

Also, be a multiplier. A multiplier is someone who uses their intelligence to amplify and bring out the smarts and capability of those around them. Another book recommendation: Multipliers by Liz Weisman.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My coach and mentor Denise Brouillette was a lifesaver for me when I first started in tech and throughout my career. She was a true advocate and coach who saw my potential in me well before I saw it in myself. Denise helped me realize my true gifts and talents and I am forever grateful for her impact on my life. I was attending a Leadership Development program at work — Denise was leading it — and I was the only female participant in the program.

When I had my one-on-one coaching meeting with Denise, I started to cry in our meeting about how hard it was being the only woman and a non-engineer on the leadership team. At that moment, Denise started showing me how to cut through the bulls*** and focus on bringing my best self to the rest of the experience. Before we finished, she helped me check my makeup and get back out there. When I asked her if anyone would notice, she told me, “Oh, honey, they’re all too busy focused on themselves to notice your makeup changed. You get out there and show them what you can do that nobody else brings to the table right now.” Everyone needs a Denise sometimes.

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

People who work with me are better leaders. Heck, who am I kidding, the truth is they are also better people, better partners, and better parents because they get kickass results at work, build high-performing teams, which makes them happier overall, and can be present for the moments that matter to them.

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. 🙂

Amplify Women’s Voices. It’s time to give women the stage and respect our voices. We need to intentionally amplify through every conversation, decision, and situation by giving credit to the women who bring extraordinary ideas and insight to the table.

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

“If your goals aren’t synced with the substance of your heart, then achieving them won’t matter much.” Danielle LaPorte

This quote was the basis of my reboot from burnout. It ignited my heart to get clear what I was chasing through my list of to-do’s and goals. Before burnout I chased outer attainment and society’s version of success — now I chase feeling energized, impactful, and connected.

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 🙂

Brene Brown — Taking off the corporate straightjacket I was wearing in tech started with reading her work about authenticity and vulnerability.

India Arie — Her music and storytelling keeps me grounded and it opens my eyes to larger issues to tackle as a leadership strategist and advisor.

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