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08 Mar, Monday
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A conversation about women leadership

It’s no secret that Utah businesses could use more women in the C-Suite. In partnership with Walker Edison, we spoke with women leaders on how they made it to the top, and how we can get more women to join them.

Elle Griffin: In partnership with Walker Edison, today, we’re going to be having a conversation about women leadership. I’m Elle Griffin, editor in chief of Utah Business. Today, I’m going to be moderating a discussion with Joanna McKenna, president at Walker Edison; Trina Limpert,  CEO at RizeNext; Melissa Burdick, president at Pacvue; and  Kerri-Lynn Primmer Morris, CTO at Microsoft.

The first thing I wanted to ask to all the women here with us today, is what was the one moment that changed your careers? 

Kerri-Lynn Primmer Morris: Mine was that I moved to Utah, I was job hunting, and Microsoft reached out to me, and went through what they were expecting, and talked about my expectations. And it was then to think about what I would do next in my career. I didn’t expect to end up in big tech, but I took a moment to myself and said, “You know what, I really think I can do this.” So here I am, two and a half, almost three years now at Microsoft.”.

Trina Limpert: It’s not just one moment, but it’s the willingness to shift in something you’re not comfortable in, and extend yourself, and push yourself, and get into something that just you’d never would have thought in a million years what you would be doing, but you go and figure it out. I think there’s been a lot of those moments in my career. I’ve worked in customer experience,  in sales and marketing, and it was always from a technical perspective. And all of those different experiences aggregated to giving me more of a high-level leadership ability to converse across business units, enterprises, and organizations that I wouldn’t have had if I would have stayed in my niche.

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Joanna McKenna: I would add the same. I think it’s been the ability to lean into different roles as they came up in opportunities and I think that it’s been just a number of these different moments that have put me on the trajectory that I am. But if I were to call out one, I think it would be making the move to go to Amazon several years ago. I think anybody who’s ever worked at Amazon would say that it’s the best MBA that you can get when it comes to technology and e-commerce. And I think that would be the pivotal moment for me when I knew that I was really going to stay in this e-commerce, information technology side of my career.

Elle Griffin: How did you learn what you needed to learn for your current role? Because I mean, you’re all top executives in your field, and that doesn’t just come naturally. How did you learn and get the skills you needed to manage your current roles?

Trina Limpert: I’m still learning. I’m still growing. You never learn it all. I tell the women we work with, “Throw it out the door, you don’t need to know everything. You need to know how to learn, how to reach out, and how to figure it out.”  

Joanna McKenna: I’d second that. But what I think isn’t rewarded is people raising their hand and saying, “Hey, I don’t know how to do this.” I think there’s still a stigma of people thinking that they can’t do that. But that’s what sets you apart at being constantly in this moment of learning because you should be constantly challenging yourself. Everyday should be you learn something new today about your job or about the business, or about your partners.

And I think the more you can feel comfortable in the environment culture, the company you’re working at to raise your hand and say,” I don’t know how to do this, but I’d love to learn,” and then, making sure that those leaders are being responsive and supporting you to give you either the tools or the capabilities, or the education to get you to that next level.

Melissa Burdick: I’d say that a couple of things have helped me.  I have a cofounder who is strong in areas that I am not, I hire people that have strengths where I’m weak, and then, lastly, I have a huge network. And so, I’m old, I have lots of people I know, collected through the years, people who worked at Amazon so, identifying those people who know sales strategy, know this thing, and whenever I have a question [has been helpful.]

Elle Griffin: Are there areas, other places you can go to get this advice to learn, to grow, that’s maybe even outside of the individuals at your company, if that’s not already there?

Kerri-Lynn Primmer Morris: I use LinkedIn voraciously to keep in touch. I actually try to make certain that I know all of the people that I’m linked to because then they truly will be there if you need that assistance. But also, for me, many of the folks that are on my team are such deep experts. They might as well be my equal in another manner. I’m not a data scientist but I have a brilliant data scientist that works for me. And I actually think that it makes for a more cohesive team. We try to operate inside of our huge ecosystem. We actually try to operate and emulate some of the aspects of startups where there’s shouldn’t be egos. 

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Trina Limpert: One of the things that came to my mind before was that there’s a big clarification between mentors and sponsors.  And mentors at an executive level, you need those just as much at any other level. Somebody you can go to get coaching, or talk through a situation. Mentoring is critical, but it’s not necessarily something that’s going to get you up your career. Where sponsorship comes into play is finding people that will be an active advocate for you. That will voice saying, “Hey, did you hear what Trina did? Did you just see what she did? Did you know that this was going on?” And is vocally ramping you up in the organization and also outside of your organization. So, you’ve got your internal prepping and grooming, and sponsorships, you need to have both mentors as well as these advocates and sponsorships that help level you up. I would say most of my biggest leaps in my career have come because I’ve had a sponsor that said, “Promote her, you need to move her up.”

Elle Griffin: It seems we’re striking a nerve here, because I’ve got three questions now on this topic. And everyone is asking the same thing. How do you find these people? How do you get these people to support you? 

Joanna McKenna: I would say there are people within your organization though sometimes you have to look outside of your department. I can’t say enough about cross collaborating with other leaders, and supporting other teams and their initiatives that maybe might be out of your wheelhouse or not exactly the roles and responsibilities that you’re tasked with, but that shows initiative.

And there’s a lot of amazing talent within each company. And if you don’t put yourself out there and make yourself known, find ways to whether it’s attend brown bag lunches, attend other meetings for other teams to see what they’re working on, how can you help. I think that’s a great way to get in the face of other leaders who can then help sponsor you within that organization.

Melissa Burdick: You have to self-promote in a way that isn’t in a bragging way, that’s annoying to your teammates into your management, but also, that demonstrates your value, so that you can have your sponsors advocate for you.

And if your manager doesn’t help you or promote you, or sponsor you? There’s a point at which if that’s the case, it may not be the right place for you because your manager is such an important part of your career projection, the person that promotes you, the person that helps you get to that next level. 

Trina Limpert: We had this issue at one of my previous companies and one of the first things I started doing was weekly status reports, whether my manager was asking for it or not, I just stand say, “Look at everything I’m done. Look at everything I’m going to be doing. Here’s where I’m at.” And just that little bit of continued communication is not like in your face, “Look at me,” and tooting your own horn but just a way to ease into it.

Kerri-Lynn Primmer Morris: Trina, I love that as a vehicle. I also use something like that. And if something is noteworthy, I’ll often send it to my higher ups to highlight it. Or I will ask if I’m working with another team, I will ask the leaders of that team to do so because that’s even more impactful. I also have found circumstances of where I’ve had to explain the difference between mentorship and sponsorship.

I worked with a manager who really thought that he was being a great sponsor. And the reality was he’s being a great mentor, but not a great sponsor. And in the end, it was on me to finally say, “This is what that looks like to me.” It looks like figuring out who you can go to tell them that I’m ready for the next level. And there was an aha, “Okay.” And then, the discussions thus forth where we’re slightly different, but the key was all about communicating those expectations. 

Melissa Burdick: And to that one of the questions, how do you find your sponsor? Or even how do you find a mentor? One of the things I think is a good thing to do is what Joanna was saying, figure out what you want to do. Find that person who’s in that next level role that you want to be in, and seek them out to be your mentor, especially your mentor so you begin to learn. 

Elle Griffin: How do we get pay equity when we can’t see what other people’s salaries are?

Melissa Burdick: There’s a lot of public sites out there that have these average ranges from LinkedIn,Job Site, to Glassdoor. And the other thing I would say is to never take your first offer, always negotiate, always. Never take your first offer. That’s definitely something to do when you take your next job.

Elle Griffin: I think it’s interesting when the employer comes to the hiree first, and says, “What is your expected pay range?” Because that’s how the person being hired can get in trouble because they’re might lowball themselves or they’re worried about over asking. One HR officer told me to say, “I’d I would like to be paid what your chief marketing officers being paid.” So that you get this level of equity among like, who they’re already paying in similar positions. And I thought that was interesting because it gives you a new starting point of equity.

Kerri-Lynn Primmer Morris: And also, flip the question and ask, “What is the range for this role?” And if they press you further, you need to say, “I just want to be paid fairly annd I want to understand the range for this role.” Make them throw out the first number.

Trina Limpert: Yeah. I would say before you get into interviews, ask the recruiter what the range is. Have that conversation before you even get scheduled for interviews to make sure the job is the right fit. And make sure you understand that what the salary ranges. 

Elle Griffin: How can we get more women into positions of leadership?

Joanna McKenna: We have a goal this year. I think 40 percent of our leadership roles to be women by the end of 2021 and I’m challenging all the leaders and their department heads to make sure that 50 percent of candidate pools are women. And even if you don’t offer the job to win you, you’re going to offer it to the best person who has the best skill set that meets the needs of the role. But I think it is starting with what is your diversity and inclusion roadmap? What are the goals against that? How do you get involved with that with your HR team, to make sure that we’re holding teams accountable, and leaders accountable, to making sure that they’re reaching these goals, to drive better inclusion of women in higher roles.

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Kerri-Lynn Primmer Morris: Help be a sponsor for others. 

Melissa Burdick: The other thing, too, is really identifying maybe why aren’t women being promoted? Or why aren’t there more women in leadership positions? I looked to a company like Starbucks. I’m in Seattle. But Starbucks is a heavily female company. They’ve got a lot of women in leadership. They also have childcare right at Starbucks, where it’s very easy to drop your kid off and have them there. It’s very hard to get childcare when we’re at work. I know when I was at Amazon, I was running out the door, at 4:45 to try to pick up my kids at childcare by the time. And all the men were able to stay later and continue to work. So, what are the things that you need at your company to help women be more successful?

Elle Griffin: I’m still getting comments left and right with more mentorship questions so, I’m going to ask this in two parts. The first is, if you’re looking for a mentor, is it okay to go above your boss and ask for advice from your boss’s boss? And as a person in leadership yourself, do you intentionally seek out people beneath you to offer them mentorship or to help be sponsors of them?

Joanna McKenna: I think absolutely, you should reach out to your boss’s boss, their boss. As leaders, especially, Walker Edison, and even at Amazon, a lot of your goals and performance from a personal development standpoint were also tied to, are you mentoring someone? How many people are you mentoring? How are you supporting other people within your team and across other departments? I’m a huge supporter of mentoring people, whether you’re in the same industry, or if you’re in a different industry.

Melissa Burdick: I would add on to that, you really have to be in the driver’s seat of your mentorship where you’re driving coffee meetings with them. So, you’re scheduling it on their calendar. You’re coming with an agenda to ask them questions.

When I was at Amazon, I had mentor, but I don’t think I really managed the relationship, as well as I should have. Not really putting myself in her shoes to know. She’s super busy. So, when Joanna is going to give me 30 minutes of her time, I need to come to her with my questions. Like, how can I grow my career? What should I be doing? What skills do I need?

Elle Griffin: Informal mentorship piece is awesome and  it’s underdiscussed.  It’s really a huge learning tool if we can take advantage of. There’s also Facebook groups that connect people in a certain industry, but there are so many places you can go where it’s not a formal mentorship, it’s just other people that are looking for the same thing and can offer it if you can just ask a question on a message board or something. That can go a long way.

Anyways, thank you all so much for joining us. We’ve reached the end of our hour, but we will be… we did record this and we’ll be sending it out to everyone who attended and did not attend. And if you have any other questions, feel free to jump on our Slack channel. You can get that by subscribing at utahbusiness.com/newsletter. Thank you so much.

Utah Business provides award-winning, in-depth journalism on the tech and entrepreneurial businesses at the forefront of our nation's economy. Our print and digital publications reach millions of executives across the state and our live and in-person events provide deep-dive access into the industries shaping our future.