Inclusion Is the Way Forward: Reflections From a Gathering of Female Leaders
Yesterday, Smartsheet had the honor of hosting more than fifty female leaders from the Seattle community. The occasion? Stacey Cunningham — the first woman to be president of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in its 227 year history — was in the Northwest and wanted to visit Smartsheet. We saw this as a unique opportunity to bring local female leaders together to connect and meet Stacey.
Much of our own leadership team was also in attendance, and not just women; we included several men per our practice at Smartsheet: we don’t exclude in the name of inclusion. (This became a theme of the panel discussion: Men need to be involved in conversations about gender equality and the success of women in leadership — and their awareness, empathy, cooperation, and alliance helps us all succeed.)
The lunch program included a fireside chat with the NYSE’s Stacey, which extended into a panel including our own CFO Jenny Ceran who helped take Smartsheet public with a successful IPO; Jill Angelo, CEO and founder of Genneve, a line of personal care products and telehealth service for women experiencing menopause; and Joanna Lohkamp, co-founder and managing director of WMP Capital, an investment banking firm founded and run by women. Our new CMO, Anna Griffin, was our wonderful moderator.
Stacey and the rest of the panel covered a lot of ground, and I’d love to share a few of my takeaways from this event.
Go After It — and Then Talk About Your Success
At one point panelists were asked, “What advice would you give your younger self?”
“If you’re curious and you’re thinking about doing something, go after it,” Jill shared. She added that what we don’t know can be a gift — one that enables us to grow and learn, something she learned all too well when founding Genneve.
Jenny, our CFO, agreed that it’s important to take on new opportunities, even if that means learning a lot of new things quickly. “Believe in yourself … and don’t give up,” she added.
Joanna, whose impressive past experience includes serving as a CEO, CFO, and COO at various organizations, shared that she had learned from her father that if she just worked hard and stayed humble, she’d be rewarded. Over time, she’s learned the importance of marketing herself in order to be recognized for her abilities and achievements, and encourages other women to do so through her various leadership and volunteer positions.
Inclusion Is the Way Forward
As a people leader, the idea of inclusion is especially important to me. Panelists discussed how we can provide more women with networking and job opportunities to help them get into positions of leadership, as well as how we can include men in the journey toward gender parity at the leadership level.
Stacey told a story of running a successful options trading event, and her boss telling her that she wasn’t allowed to run the event again unless she had more women in attendance. She remembered looking around and realizing just how few women were in the room, then protesting to her boss that there just weren’t that many female traders to invite. He told her that was no excuse, and that she should go down a layer or two in organizations and invite those women.
WPM Capital’s Joanna, who volunteers for several organizations focused on getting more women to serve on boards, talked about the importance of women getting together to network and support each other, while at the same time involving men, and introducing those male leaders to women who are board-capable and ready to serve.
Smartsheet CMO Anna told a story about her first job in tech after working in advertising for many years. She was invited to a “Women in Tech Breakfast,” and wondered “Why ‘women’? Why isn’t it just ‘breakfast’?” She then asked the panel, “Are we ever just going to have ‘breakfast’?”
To me, that question is a touchstone for our work toward gender parity. Until we see that women make up at least half of the employees in each role — including executive leadership — I believe that it’s vital for us to create these focused spaces for important, and sometimes challenging, conversations.
Live Your Values, Love Your Work
One of the leaders in attendance was Sherilyn Anderson, CFO of glassybaby, a company that makes beautiful hand-blown glass votives (and a Smartsheet customer!). Sherilyn shared that glassybaby was founded with the core mission of helping to alleviate the struggles of cancer patients who could not afford their basic needs during treatment. To date, glassybaby has donated nearly ten million dollars to non-profit organizations that support this mission.
I love glassybaby’s message and what they represent: the idea that we can make a real difference in our communities by doing work we love.
Creating a Space for Conversation
I was so excited to listen to and learn from all of the impressive leaders at this event. Hearing about their experiences energized me, and reaffirmed for me that we have the power to dream big and reach our goals— and help others attain theirs.
As someone who has often been the only female leader in the room, I found it inspiring to be with many other female leaders, to hear their unique stories and thoughtful perspectives.
This event was also a good reminder of the importance of having these critical conversations and fostering connections with people inside and outside of our organization. Relationships create a sense of belonging, open up opportunities, and drive innovation.
As we look to serve our organizations and our community, it’s important to recognize that those connections strengthen us and help make us individually, and collectively, more successful. I’m excited about our commitment at Smartsheet to keep this conversation going and to continue to create the diverse and inclusive organization we aspire to be.