One of the highlights of the HR Technology Conference and Exposition for me over the past couple of years has been the Women in HR Technology event. A half day event occurring on the first day of the conference, it brings together some of the most successful women in the space to address questions like how do we attract more women into tech and HR tech roles, and how do we help those in the field overcome the challenges of working in a historically male dominated field to thrive and ultimately grow into leadership roles?
One of the sessions on this year’s agenda is a panel discussion with several highly successful and highly regarded women in the HR technology space called “Climbing the Leadership Ladder.” In advance of the session I had the chance to catch up with some of the panelists.
Here's what Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network, had to say about her own leadership journey, what we all need to do in our workplaces to support women, and how Ellevate Network is helping to close the gap.
Can you start out by telling us a little about who you are and what you do?
I’m Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network. We’re a global professional women’s network dedicated to closing the gender achievement gap in business.
What did your specific leadership journey look like? How did you get to where you are now? What were some of your stumbling blocks, and what/who helped you to achieve your success?
My leadership journey started in my late 20s, when I took on the role of manager for the sales team of the startup Vault.com. My stumbling blocks were similar to many in their first management roles. New management is hard for anyone, as leading in a way that is authentic to you is crucial, but doesn’t happen overnight.
I expanded within the organization, ultimately leading the Global Operations team, which was a fantastic opportunity to lead people from a variety of cultures, who all had different communication styles and backgrounds. This experience led to a greater understanding of the power diverse teams and perspectives can have on creativity and driving change.
As the leader of Ellevate, I continue to learn and grow every day. I’ve really enjoyed this part of my leadership journey, because I am working at a company so mission-driven and dedicated to having an impact on women in the workplace, as well as in driving innovation and creativity around how we solve the problems associated with the gender achievement gap. My role offers the invaluable combination of being able to lead with my values and have an impact on the world.
You will be participating in a panel discussion at HR Tech called “Climbing the Leadership Ladder” as part of the Women in HR Technology event. The description of the session says “The research is unquestionable: Companies and the economy perform better when they fully engage women. The presence of women leaders in the workplace sends a strong gender diversity message, attracting and encouraging others to reach for similar opportunities while providing role models and mentors.” Yet despite the research, we are still not there, and promoting more women into leadership roles, especially in technology, still seems to be an ongoing issue. What do you think are the biggest challenges and how do we get better?
There are three clear things that need to happen within the workplace.
- We need companies that value culture, families, and people beyond a line-item in P&L. These companies should create environments that are conducive to employees being their best selves. This includes paid leave policies, business policies for travel and workplace hours, and supporting employees managing stress and external circumstances causing stress. Companies need to look at their employees as whole people, support them, and have policies that support them. This creates a better workplace.
- We need to create workplaces that allow employees to better understand their coworkers. We need to build awareness around where someone comes from, why their opinion matters, and how we can better support one another. This can help break down the biases that keep people back and keep women marginalized.
- We need companies to make diversity a priority. Companies should call for diversity and equality, and make it one of their core business KPIs alongside profit and the bottom line. This is a good way of showing everyone that you value both diversity and the workforce itself. You can’t be what you can’t see. If women and minorities don't see representation in high-level roles, it makes it that much harder see themselves there. If business leaders make diversity a priority and clearly state a commitment to creating change, they will stem the tide of attrition that many companies are currently experiencing.
The mission of The Ellevate Network is to “close the gender gap in business by providing women with a community to lean on and learn from.” What are some of the specific things that you offer to help achieve that?
Ellevate Network offers a variety of tools and resources to help women get ahead, but what makes Ellevate so unique is that we are cross-industry, cross-geography, and cross-function. We know that community is at the core of helping women get ahead. Our members are able to tap into a community that provides education, training, and support, as well as a community that has influence within business and society to change the game and lift all of us up.
We ensure that the impact of community is felt through our events, one-on-one conversations, thought leadership, and Squads program, which is an online peer mentoring program aimed at accelerating the positions of women in business.
What advice would you offer to HR professionals trying to make a difference in closing the gender gap in their own companies?
HR professionals find themselves in a unique role, as they can foster trust within the workforce to listen to employees’ words and really be their advocate, providing a platform for unheard voices as a driver for change. They are also tapped into leadership, and can use their influence to make changes and align leadership goals in the direction of equality, business growth, and success.
What advice would you give to women who are on their own leadership journeys, especially those trying to advance in traditionally male dominated industries like tech?
Leverage the power of community. Create connections inside and outside of the workplace, which will provide peer support and problem-solving. Speak up when you see something wrong. It’s not always easy to speak up, but you can find a way that’s authentic to you - whether it’s voiced in a one-on-one or a group meeting.
Find an employer who values you and your place in the workplace. When you’re in a position of power, make sure you’re looking at women in groups underrepresented in the workforce and giving them opportunities to rise up, as well.
You can hear more from Kristy along with the rest of the Climbing the Leadership Ladder panel during the Women in HR Technology event on Tuesday, September 11th at 9:30AM.