Women in Project Management
A five-part series exploring gender diversity in the workplace.
By Linda Henry
Women in Project Management
A five-part series exploring gender diversity in the workplace.
By Linda Henry
Gender inclusivity at Smartsheet drives a collaborative culture
Support of teammates, trust in leadership, feeling like you can make a difference. These are the intangibles that give employees a feeling they’ve landed at a great place to work. Sure, great benefits, education incentives, a flexible work from home policy, and a commitment to work-life balance figured into why Smartsheet was recognized by Comparably for its inclusive and equitable workplace culture as one of the Best Companies for Women in 2021, but the intangible benefits are what stood out when talking with the eight Smartsheet women featured in this article.
Not all who wander are lost.
Circuitous career journeys
A fascinating characteristic among these women is they’ve all had circuitous career journeys that led them to Smartsheet and roles in project and product management. It turns out this is not, as one might assume, a trait specific to women in the workforce, but one common among modern professionals – in particular those navigating today’s careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. We all remember being asked when we were young, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Often those childhood dreams got pushed aside for pragmatic reasons. In the case of these women, the course adjustments seem more situational, with rapid technology shifts presenting opportunities not imagined when they set out on their career paths. A few mentioned being in the right place at the right time as the world was changing and their interests evolved and they explored opportunities presented to them. These explorations spanned many countries and the ability to speak or write in a diverse array of languages, including English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, C++, and Java. What these women all have in common is their ability to organize tasks, keep track of multiple activities, and collaborate across numerous, distributed teams. All attributes that helped lead them toward these opportunities. It is no wonder they are good at what they do.
Let’s meet them.
Jenny was born and raised in Seattle. She attended college at Gonzaga, then studied abroad in Florence and Spain where she found her passion in learning about and working with people and cultures. After working at Microsoft for a couple of years she took a role at a B2B startup. At the startup she worked in Events, Market Management, and Project Management. In 2010, she moved to Singapore and worked for Blackberry Research in Motion helping to launch new products in the Southeast Asian region. When her daughter was very young, she moved back to the United States to be closer to her family. That’s when she joined Smartsheet, at the time a small company with about 30 people.
Born in India, Rekha came to the United States to pursue her college education. After earning a Masters in Computer Science and Engineering, she started her career as a software engineer. She discovered she liked interacting with customers and solving their problems. Like many people in technology careers, she got the startup itch and worked for several startups in the Seattle area and even tried her hand at creating her own. She joined Smartsheet in 2018, right after the company’s IPO. She found the product and mission interesting and is now in a leadership role in product management.
Lulu’s degree is in archeology practices yet after graduating from college she took an internship in online video and web production. That led to working in PR at a film studio, then event production, followed by production at a major retailer working on enhancements to its CMS, and then to a social media editorial role. She decided through these career shifts that she wanted to be a project manager. And that is what she does at Smartsheet where her focus is digital and web project management.
Jennie graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in English Literature, and began her career in criminal justice reform for the nonprofit, The Innocence Project. She later worked for a USAID contractor doing Global Health Supply Chain work. Eventually, she moved to the West Coast from Washington, DC and took on a variety of roles in project and event management. She found her niche after realizing her skills as a Project Manager could be used to grow her career quickly in a wide variety of industries. A recruiter contacted her about Smartsheet where she started as a contractor, then transitioned to a full time employee six months later. As her scope continues to widen, she remains inspired that our software makes a lasting impact on start-ups and nonprofits, and industries such as healthcare.
Laura has a graduate degree in International Policy. After eight years in Washington, DC she decided to make a significant career switch when she pivoted from her role as a Federal employee working for the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force. In her government role, she was a program manager and a congressional appropriations liaison, helping the Department of Defense modernize its financial and logistics enterprise systems. This included identifying risks and providing transparency into what was going well in order to receive and manage program funding. After discovering a passion to understand the government sector, she was eager to enter tech in the private sector and became intrigued and impressed by the Smartsheet product. She joined the company as a project manager and has enjoyed being able to apply and grow her PM skills in a marketing context.
Starting her career after college working in sales, Brianne stepped back to determine what she loved to do and found that her passion was ensuring customers happiness and success. She had a good friend who worked at Smartsheet and in 2017, decided to pursue a role here in Customer Success – a great opportunity to work with other teams and get to know our broad range of customers. In her four years at Smartsheet she has worked with customers ranging from Commercial SMB retail to Large Enterprise Healthcare and Life Sciences. This past February she joined the Brand Activations team where she finds joy working on projects to elevate our partnerships with the Seattle Kraken, Climate Pledge Arena, and Special Olympics.
After earning her degree in Business Marketing, Victoria began her career at a small consultancy firm where she was able to grow her career, wearing many hats. She spent time as a project manager and marketing integrator at multiple consulting agencies before bringing her extensive agency background to Smartsheet in 2019, where she started as a marketing project manager then moved into the brand management team.
Catherine was born in France. She studied English and Spanish with a minor in Business, double-majoring in German linguistics and tri-lingual translation. After graduation, she taught French and German in England, followed by a stint working for a US company in Paris, then moved to Germany where she worked for a large Japanese shipping company. Catherine moved to the US where she discovered localization and honed her skills at Microsoft. She joined the RealNetworks gaming business group, RealArcade, as an international project manager.
She made the switch to a gaming startup that produced a card game for young girls – a perfect fit as her two daughters were very young and the perfect audience for the product. She collaborated with a gaming magazine publisher in Paris and various publishing houses in the UK and elsewhere. She loved working alongside artists, writers, and publishers and learning about the creative process. When the 2008 financial crisis hit, Catherine decided to explore consulting and worked part-time at Microsoft. She discovered Smartsheet in 2014 and started as a consultant before joining full-time eight years ago. She is now the localization manager with a role spanning many key groups, from Engineering to Marketing.
On feeling supported
In consolidated research including its 2018 study “When She Rises, We All Rise,” Accenture found that a culture of equality in the workplace helps everyone advance to higher positions and leads to innovation, which in turn translates to economic potential. These Smartsheet women revealed some of the most important aspects of the company’s culture in terms of empowering their careers. At the top of the list is the feeling of being supported and valued.
“I feel valuable, trusted, and given the leeway to be autonomous. The work is interesting and broadly applicable and I have the ability to make an impact,” said Lulu Richter.
People care about getting work done. “Agency work was more about driving ROI, less about making an impact. Here I feel extremely valued,” said Victoria Lichtenshtein. “I really feel the love of everyone. We believe our values and want to make the world a better place. We share a belief that everything we do should be user-centric and designed to help empower our customers to succeed in whatever their goals are. It’s our North Star.”
“At Smartsheet I feel empowered to drive meaningful change,” said Rekha Raghu. “We have a strong feeling of collaboration and a shared mission. We help each other through coaching and mentorship. It feels like a close-knit community even as we’ve become a larger company. Smartsheet has a focus on the customer and driving value, human connections, and seeing customers as teammates.”
Jennie Ives stated that right off the bat she felt her voice was heard. “The company is founded on mutual respect and autonomy. A lot of trust, including trust in leaders to push us forward. It’s far and away the best place I’ve worked over nine years and four companies.”
“I’m especially proud of our people and culture leadership,” said Laura Murdock. “During the pandemic they took initiative and put a lot of thought into planning and communicating how we would work in the future, and did so with a caring and professional mindset. It’s apparent that Smartsheet puts employees first.”
Catherine Ploue-Smith has worked for Smartsheet for eight years. “I love the company, love the software, and trust our leadership. I’m confident about what’s coming next as we continue to evolve.” While her scope grows bigger, she stated she is more calm and confident about Smartsheet and the work she wants to accomplish. “I feel really good collaborating with my boss and am excited about entering new markets.”
Jenny Gruening noted the feeling of being supported as a mom. “Smartsheet does a good job as a company embracing parents. My kids come barrelling into my office after school and people welcome seeing them on Zoom calls. My team understands and supports each other. Everything we do is an extension of the Smartsheet experience, values, and core messaging.”
While Brianne Laird stated how awesome it’s been to watch Smartsheet grow and adapt, her eyes lit up when talking about customers. “We do a good job of putting customers first, elevating them.” She spoke of the culture of sharing ideas freely and giving open feedback and how common it is for people at the company to connect outside of the office. “People really care. I love to be around people and learn from people. Our office space is set up to support teams in a flexible, creative environment, conducive to establishing a feeling of connectedness.”
Mentoring, leadership, and opportunities
To kick off Women’s History Month in March, Smartsheet held a panel discussion featuring female senior leaders. Min Wang, VP of Digital Marketing, presented her advice for career development.
And so we come full circle, from circuitous career journeys, to product and project management roles within the Smartsheet supportive culture, to what these women still hope to achieve. While all of this female empowerment drives innovation and increases the bottom line, it has also created a culture of wanting to lead, to continue to take risks, and to lift a hand to young women who want a career in STEM — or perhaps even to those who may not have discovered there are such opportunities awaiting them.
Rekha Raghu views her career as a marathon not a sprint. She wants to empower her teams and continue to have an impact working for a company that aligns with her personal values and mission.
Empowering teams and organizations and individuals inside and outside the company to flourish is important to Jenny Gruening. She wants to continue to travel wherever the road takes her on her journey and doesn’t want to be parked in a niche.
Surrounded and inspired by awesome, strong women, Laura Murdock credits her daughter for motivating her to be her best self at work, and also keeping her work-life balanced. She loves that Smartsheet fosters a feeling where everyone has your back and wants you to take risks and pursue what’s important.
Brianne Laird finds joy working with partners as she previously did working with customers. She loves bringing value to our Smartsheet partners and teaming with Smartsheet customers who are McLaren Formula 1 sponsors, as well as engaging with the account team, using her PM skills to get systems built such as the ticketing system for Climate Pledge Arena. She loves to volunteer at events to help elevate our partnerships.
It’s important for Victoria Lichtenshtein to provide impact as a team leader, as well as being a good mentor and role model to other professionals. Her biggest goal is to become an admired and respected leader.
Catherine Ploue-Smith is the event manager for the Pacific Northwest Chapter of Women in Localization in Seattle. Her goals include collaborating on specific initiatives and delivering materials — perhaps as a contributing professor in localization. Drawn to smoothing the path for young people in tech, she wants to continue mentoring, and supporting ongoing work around new careers at the confluence of language, computer engineering, and artificial intelligence.
Lulu Richter wants to become a more strategic contributor to processes, long-term planning, and product development.
Jennie Ives wants to keep moving in responsibility and help the company grow and evolve. Big on process improvement, she loves variety day-to-day.
Smartsheet strives to build an inclusive environment that encourages, supports, and celebrates the diverse voices of our team members, who also represent the diverse needs of our customers. These women are a testament to that mindset.